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Cistercian Abbeys: COGGESHALL

Name: COGGESHALL Location: Little Coggeshall County: Essex
Foundation: 1140 Mother house: Savigny
Relocation: None Founder: King Stephen and Queen Matilda
Dissolution: 1538 Prominent members:
Access: Private property

Coggeshall was founded by King Stephen and Queen Matilda in 1140. It was the last of the Savigniac daughter houses to be founded before the order was merged with the Cistercians in 1147. The colonisation of the house by monks from Savigny was only natural considering that the house of Savigny was situated within King Stephen’s county of Mortain. Stephen was count of the Norman county of Mortain for several years before St. Vitalis died in 1119. It is not now known whether they Stephen and Vitalis ever met, although it is thought that the degree to which Stephen and Matilda were drawn to the reformed monasticism of Savigny suggests that Stephen had at least fallen under the influence of the founder.(1) Coggeshall itself was situated within the honour of Boulogne in England, lands which Queen Matilda had inherited from her father, Count Eustace of Boulogne. The foundation was most likely to have been Queen Matilda’s project.

Coggeshall’s earlier years were overshadowed by a long-running law suit which resulted from its attempts to remove a settlement from one of its estates.(2) During the peasants revolt of 1381 some of the insurgents entered the abbey and carried away goods and charters, writings and other muniments, which seems to suggest the abbey was not particularly popular at the time.(3) In the years leading up to the reformation the house suffered from internal disorder, with the deposition of two abbots before Henry More, the last abbot of Coggeshall, agreed to surrender the house in 1538.(4) In 1535 the net income of the house was valued at £251. This meant that the abbey narrowly escaped the first round of the Dissolution in 1536.(5)
After the house was surrendered, it was acquired by Thomas Seymour, who demolished the church, and by 1581 the estates were held by the Paycock family who built the house which still stands to the eastern side of the east range. The surviving remains of the abbey are in the grounds of the house and are not normally accessible to the public.(6) The medieval gate-chapel is now used as a parish church. The chronicle of the theologian Ralph, who became abbot of Coggeshall in 1207, is considered as a primary source for many of the events of King John’s reign.(7)