9th April 1537.
Rievaulx was the earliest Cistercian Abbey in Yorkshire, the toponymy being a corruption of Ryevale.
Today in 1537 the Abbot, Prior and twenty-eight monks were forced to sign the Deed of Suppression of Furness, Cistercian Abbey, in present day Cumbria.
The Abbey was founded by Stephen, Count of Boulogne in 1123, before he became king. It was the second largest monastery in the country after Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire.
It later developed a harbour at Walney Island to promote trade in iron, as it owned mines on the Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea.
Henry VIII’s monastic Dissolution may have postponed the Industrial Revolution in that the Cistercians at Rievaulx were developing a prototype blast furnace for the large-scale production of cast iron, when they were evicted in 1538.
An inventory of that Abbey lists a ‘bloomsmithy’ at Laskill, North Yorkshire four miles away. With an increasing demand for iron, ‘bloomsmithies’ made tools, ploughs and cartwheel rims.(1)
Further south, high yielding iron-ore was also available in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, and in 1267-8 it was reported that Tintern Abbey’s monks had a mine and tanneries, a wealth reflected in increasing building ornamentation and comfort in monastic life.
By the end of the 13th century, the monks of Tintern, were farming more than 3,000 acres of arable land on the west side of the River Wye and had more than 3,000 sheep producing high quality wool.
As a consequence Tintern Abbey was one of the richest religious houses in Wales and as fish was such an important part of the diet, the Abbey controlled the fishery rights on the Severn estuary.
Affairs of the land; drainage and land management along with commerce resulted in a more business orientated monastic life as trade developed, tending to break down some of the isolation once sought by the early Cistercian monks.
Monasteries were sited in every area of Britain and constituted a phenomenal part of the wealth production in the middle ages in Britain, especially from wool. Most of the manual work was done by lay members, as monks would have spent most time at their devotions and manuscripts.
This wealth came from lands granted by royal charter giving them control over wide communities as their tentacles spread wide over the surrounding land.
With many Cistercian Houses being situated on the high wolds and land away from the growing urban centres, as enormous producers of wool, they attained a wealth and concern with secular affairs.
This power meant that they found themselves drawn into contact with the Crown and political influence, with its associated pleasures of hunting, hawking and wining. Eventually this power was represented in the House of Lords, where the more powerful abbots acquired seats.
It was this seduction with secular power which would inevitably lead to monastic confiscation, as Furness Abbey and others were regarded as ripe pickings by Henry VIII.
(1) It was identified by Gerry McDonnell of Bradford University, as a more refined and efficient technology than found before.