Vale Royal Abbey - John Henry Cooke 1912
caution !! this is an initial draft ... these notes are on my server for safe keeping !!
Our own family history inevitably focused on the local history of Cheshire where we had spent most of out time. When working through the Deep History of Cheshire we discovered a brilliant book by John Henry Cooke. In 1911 John Henry illuminated some of the fascinating happenings on our patch with a compelling story of Medieval times which set the scene for our own bits & pieces. We concurred with all his wit and philosophy, and were so enthralled that we recorded our own personal interpretation of his novel 'Ida'. Just a few 'notes' so we don't have to re-remember some of the salient points ...
Friends, who long ago joined the great majority, wrote many history books on
Cheshire which resulted in months & years of happy & interesting research for me.
A commercial acquaintance told me I could have been
more profitably occupied. But busy men have to have a hobby. Searching for simple honest truth
and as correct a picture as circumstances & records of the past ages permit
was a rewarding investment. This zeal for local history has unearthed the finest bit of
ancient literary composition which has ever been written the 'Chronicles of
the Foundation of Vale Royal Abbey'.
The story starts as Prince Edward visited the Holy Land to exterminate the Pagans.
It is a pity sometimes to disturb tradition even for the sake of truth. Edward I started his endowment in Darnall but soon moved to a more pleasant situation, which he called Vale Royal.
Many difficulties surround me in stating dates & circumstances several hundred years ago, with absolute accuracy. But the story may possibly convince any reader, who may honour me by a perusal of this historical novel, that considerable research has, of necessity, taken place to find out the large substratum of truth which permeates the element of fiction on which otherwise the book is based.
King Edward set an example unsurpassed by any modern monarch in the matter of active life and work, and travelling as he did twenty and thirty miles a day on horseback along almost impassable roads, he subdued Wales, conquered Scotland, and established our first
We see powerful steam engines, traversing the country from one end to the other. Each such engine represents years of thought by the highest talent the Empire has ever possessed. No one man produced it, our present engineers have built upon the reputation, knowledge and skill of dead men.
Facts which have lain covered with the dust of five hundred years.
The prime object of monastic life and particularly the Cistercians from Hereford & Castile was always supposed to be to mumble, yet the more closely that their life is examined, the more clearly does it exhibit the element of associated labour.
The monasteries were the nurseries of art & science, monks were men of letters, historians, jurists, philosophers, physicians, students of nature, founders of schools, authors of chronicles, teachers of agriculture, indulgent landlords and advocates of genuine dealing with the peasantry.
Photographs make the novel somewhat unique, and certainly more interesting.
The Nun's Grave.
Cistercian Order - white off shoot of black Benedictines. Active helping a prisoner in Hereford, and securing Wife Eleanor in Castile,
We have the Cistercians appearing in white on the occasion of the funeral of their relatives, expressing not only by their garments, but by their smiles, the joy which we should entertain, but do not emphasize, namely, our belief that our deceased friends have gone to a better home.
Let glass windows be white only, no splendid ritual, no elaborate music. Abbot's Walk now bearing the rustic name of Mill Lane.
We meet the Barons and Simon de Montfort.
Why Ida a nun within the precincts of a monastery for the celibate White Monks?
3. A Dream.
In my Father's house are many mansions. From simplicity & truth to doctrinal differences. Religion was a marketable commodity. One the Anglican, another the Roman, and the third the Nonconformist. Each says the other is wrong. Yet I had only one common table for My last Supper.
The right of the individual to general haziness, exaggeration of trivial differences, was not only showing intolerance, but also assisting those to whom they were most vehemently opposed. Discord was disheartening, the confusion rapidly developed into revolt, a mixture of sectarian hatred and cash.
She begged in her simplest style to be taken back to the savages, where at least some sense of propriety prevailed where the virgin soil had not been cultured to such a degree as to destroy all vitality and growth.
Fragrance of these natural gifts with smiles & happiness everywhere with no ceremonial effusions, complete freedom, with a liberty which never developed into license.
4. Mea Culpa.
Every man has a bag hanging before him in which he puts his neighbour's faults, and another behind him in which he stows his own - Macbeth.
Lighted with the glow of thoughts, all the rules of St Augustine were powerless to prevent, to punish, this passion.
Each monk accused his brother but I want the truth, free from the embellishments, I want to possess a love which dies for others not lives like thine to save thyself from perdition. Impress upon her young mind not to put her trust in princes.
5. Kings Messenger.
It is the curse of Kings to be attended by slaves that take their humours for a warrant. Find a young damsel to join the King's service but the King hath no power within these sacred precincts.
6. King's Visit.
The rules did not say that he must not love. He thinks and thinks, why should he love? Was not pure love for a sweet girl rather to be cherished as being the nearest earthly approach to the love of God ?
Consider the lilies of the field, for they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you that Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these.
Yet a lily was more lovely than a king, and therefore was entitled to more honour than the greatest of kings.
7. Mystery Play.
The irresponsible illiterate is, after all, responsible for much of our history. Might was right, as compared with to-day, when right is might. The plays were a medium of instruction. Two 'brothers' in conflict and Hugh Higham's advice.
A woman was the cause of the fall of the first man, and now is the Priory fallen altogether. Two villains one representing the Church and the other the State.
We meet the Salt Town of Northwich, Watling Street and Sir Peter de Dutton.
God bless the King and the Heir of Dutton. The ghost of these Dutton Woods.
10. Halton Castle.
Take them to the Castle dungeon, there to await His Majesty's commands. One was duly enrolled in the service of the King of England, sworn to protect all His Majesty's liege subjects, and in particular the Maid of Overton, the other professeth to be of the army of the King of Heaven, and weareth uniform which shows him to be a wolf in sheep's clothing.
11. Trial by Ordeal.
There is some cloud on every landscape, some mildew on every flower.
One of Edward I's cares was to complete the judicial reforms begun by Henry II. The Courts of the King's Bench delivered respected 'equity'.
It was Edward II settled purpose to fling off the yoke of the baronage but in a few months the power of the Parliament was once more supreme. King Edward II had himself taken the trouble to hear and decide this matter personally, but he was a monarch with few good qualities. 'Aye, aye, that will do.' He had evidently arrived at some conclusion satisfactory to himself. What was truth for a good king makes bad law for a bad king.
12. Joust Justice.
Justice, while she winks at crimes, stumbles on innocence sometime. Marriages at that time in history were accustomed to be performed without much ceremonial and almost anywhere and at any hour of the day or night.
Ida was only a country wench.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought
The King's freedom is confined to a very small garden by his conscience.
His power to do what is right or wrong is subject to review by a large body of irresponsible critics, the whole nation, even then, mostly fools. The last ghost, which troubled him least, was the execution of his own personal, infallible judgment and the decree he had made to be consequent on the result of the water joust.
14. Court Jester.
Not such a fool as he looks. Captain was away tasting the ale, as well Priscilla's lips. New brewed ale ain't taken too deep a root
Ida AWOL again.
15. St Mary's.
Benedictine Convent dedicated to St Mary. Let us draw on one side the thick dusty veil of six hundred years, and learn what the valuable manuscript discovered at Vale Royal informs us.
One wonders whether it was by sweet persuasion or austere demand these extraordinary privileges were obtained.
A farm in Wharton not very distant from Over Church, which is to-day called 'The Nun House Farm', and which belonged to St Mary's.
English was first heard at the opening of the Session of Parliament at Westminster in 1363.
The story of Hugh?
In Cheshire, we know Sir Peter is the seed plot of respected gentility
17. Sir Barney in Chester
The very best ale in Chester is brew'd to-day by Mester Adams at the Churton Arms.
Sir Peter, I wanted your opinion. I can't settle this matter myself. If I go to Vale Royal, I must do my duty to God, my King and the people, and then what is to become of Ida ?
18. Sir Barney's Choice.
We meet The Devil
19. John's Choice.
It was the love and honour of Ida pitted against the love and honour of God. He was aiming at a perfection which surpassed human nature. The rules of St Benedict did not, could not, prevent blushing.
She boldly grasped the cross she had to bear, and sweetly kissed the one she loved to wear.
20. Call at St Mary's.
21. Vale Royal Abbey.
Red sandstone excavated from the Abbey quarry at Eddisbury. The abbey was a centre of light and civilized life and knowledge.
Do you wish the world were wiser? Well, suppose you, make a start.
The real official had to see that Corn came in from the Abbey granges, and flour from the Bradford and Darnhall mills.
Abbot Peter, was the first to reside in the new Abbey. It was during his term of office, on the Feast of the ascent of the Blessed Virgin, the 15th day August 1330.
At that time, although Vale Royal had, according to the Foundation Charter, a house where glass was made for the stained windows of the church, windows in other parts of the Abbey were often unglazed or badly glazed.
22. World Outside Chester.
Magna Charta had been granted. King Henry III had issued his first proclamation to his people in the English language.
Chaucer, the great English poet, was not born until Father John had reigned at Vale Royal for over ten years.
A century had to elapse before William Caxton. Potatoes our staple food of to-day were then unknown in England. Convent ale was more probably flavoured with horehound, nettles, and other herbs.
The Abbey estates were large, and comprised not only Yale Royal and its inner and outer parks, but the manors of Darnhall,
Over, and Weaverham, also the manor of Conewardsley (probably close to the present Tower Lodge of the New Park), Gayton in Wirral, land at Mooresbarrow, Nether (Little) Over, Bradford, Sutton, Lostock Gralam, Twemlow and Stanthorne, the moor and pond of Oakmere, one salt pit at Middlewich, houses and land in the city of Chester, eighteen shops called cobblers' shops in Bridge Street of
the same city, as well as land in East Street, one salt pit in the town of Northwich, a house at Kingsley, an oxgang of land at Rudheath, rights of pasture and wood to burn in all the King's forests in the county, a stone quarry, a building within the Abbey grounds for the making of glass, the churches of Kirkham, Frodsham, Weaverham and the Castle of Peak.
The monks were to be free from all scot and geld, and all aids of Kings.
23. Abbot Peter.
The history of the foundation of his Abbey and the lives of the four Abbots who preceded him to make the Abbey Leger more complete for those who come after him.
24. Sermon Love Incarnated.
Nothing can justify a long sermon. If it be a good one, it need not be long : and if it be a bad one, it ought not to be long
For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.
25. Ida's Choice.
I slept and dreamed that life was Beauty, I woke and found that life was Duty.
26. Devil Stranger.
Every one that flatters thee, is no friend in misery. Words are easy, like the wind, faithful friends are hard to find.
After many messengers and many good deeds, came to prove His love.
29. Dutton Hall Minstrels.
The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.
Travel through the village of Wareham, now known as Weaverham, then across the ford of the Weaver at Acton, until they reached 'home' at Dutton. It's perhaps as well to see both sides of life. We are obliged to have the material as well as the spiritual armour.
St Mary's Return.
There's not a joy the world can give like that it takes away. There was a freedom, a liberty, an absence of restraint she could never hope to enjoy again. Duty is a stern master!
Sir Peter indulged somewhat freely in the celebrated ales of the hostelry, the strength of which was somewhat proved by his subsequent rollicking mood.
They travelled down to Chester to find trade at the port. There was a good harbour to which many traders both of Chester and other parts of England resorted with their ships, to the great profit of the inhabitants. There was a crowded concourse of foreign traders landing direct at the Watergate.
The port was ruined by silting up so that no merchant ships could approach within twelve miles or more.
we meet Mattins, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers or Evensong, and Compline.
We have been engaged on this labour of love ever since you personally spoke to us about it, and on the day of your consecration, we will hand to you, in our own handwriting, our personal account of the above matters, that the same be preserved for the benefit and use of those who, in some profane age, may have pulled to pieces our temporal building.
She was married to Christ!
When your life here is finished, let it be ordered that this manuscript come with you to Yale Royal, to be placed in our archives. Its production shall ensure, if I be not alive, that your body be placed in front of our High Altar as a record of your holy life and of our esteem.
The original cannot be traced, but fortunately, our great Cheshire antiquarian, Sir Peter Leycester, saw it in the year 1662 and perceiving its historical importance, made a copy of it, which copy is now in the British Museum.
I deem it sufficient for me to set down things here in unpolished words, so that the history of things may be easily understood by all who read these pages, for out of two imperfect things, it is much better to have a righteous rusticity than an erring eloquence.
Life is like a sheet of paper white, on which each one may write His word or two ; and then comes Night.
The city streets were badly paved and ill-lighted, foul and objectionable refuse and garbage abounded everywhere, the walls were in a dilapidated condition, the gates dangerously rotten,, disturbances not infrequently arose through the turbulence of soldiers or an unsavoury horde of vagrants. Public places were made horrible by the sight of gibbets on which the heads and quarters of executed criminals were fixed.
34. The Grave.
At Vale Royal, in Cheshire, on a calm summer evening, there is sometimes heard plaintive dulcet music hovering over the Nun's Grave, and now and then a deep responsive sigh from the depth of the earth.
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