One of the most important issues in doing any sort of historical research is finding sources contemporary or nearly so, to the times you want to write about. In researching the history of the East Yorkshire (aka Holderness) coastline I’ve reason to be grateful to one Thomas, Abbot and Chronicler of Meaux Abbey – although he was a bit long in words and wind. I thought I would enrich your day by explaining how his Abbey came to be founded.
The story of the founding of Meaux Abbey has much to do with the age and girth of one William le Gros, (Known as Fat Willy to his friends), Count of Aumale and, at the time (around 1151), the Lord of Holderness. Fat Willy had a problem. In his younger and slimmer days he had taken a vow to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. However this was one of those things in life that just kept getting put off until in 1150, now elderly, with a waistline that you would need a week to walk around, William looked for a way to be released from his vow.
A chance meeting with Adam, a monk from Fountains Abbey provided the solution. He could be released from his promise to pilgrimage if he stumped up the funds to establish a religious community. Adam selected what he considered a suitable site, thumping his staff on the ground and proclaiming to the few interested sheep grazing close by:
“Here shall be ordained a people worshipping Christ.”.
Unfortunately, William had already earmarked the land for his own hunting playground and tried to convince Adam that other, more worthy sites were available. He cajoled and threatened but Adam was nothing if not determined. He and his staff stood firm and the abbey was built in 1151, populated by monks from Fountains Abbey and led by Adam who presided as abbot until 1160.
Perhaps, after all though, Fat Willy had the last quiet laugh. The site Adam chose was not the best. It was located, about 12 miles inland from the coast, in the flood plain of the River Hull. Although amply provided with water, woodland and pasture the land around was marshy and liable to flood causing the abbey severe problems at times. In fact, the community at Meaux was regularly beset with difficulties and struggled against pestilence, debt, lawsuits and conflict both within the abbey itself and with other religious communities.
When the uxorious Henry VIII came on the scene taking unto his bosom the wealth of the monasteries, Meaux Abbey was already in some disrepair and it didn’t take much to reduce it to rubble. Today a few lumps and bumps in the middle of the field are all that remain of Fat William’s gift and Adam’s abbey.