Thomas Ragon, Abbot of Vale Royal

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Vale Royal Abbey in Cheshire.

Thomas Ragon was the eighth Abbot of Vale Royal Abbey, Cheshire. His term of office lasted from 1351 to 1369. His abbacy was predominantly occupied with recommencing the building works at Vale Royal—which had been in abeyance for a decade—and the assertion of his abbey's rights over a satellite church in Llanbadarn Fawr, Ceredigion, which was also claimed by the Abbot of Gloucester.

Abbot Religious title

Abbot, meaning father, is an ecclesiastical title given to the male head of a monastery in various traditions, including Christianity. The office may also be given as an honorary title to a clergyman who is not the head of a monastery. The female equivalent is abbess.

Vale Royal Abbey Former Cistercian abbey in Cheshire

Vale Royal Abbey is a former medieval abbey and later country house in Whitegate England. The precise location and boundaries of the abbey are difficult to determine in today's landscape. The original building was founded c. 1270 by the Lord Edward, later Edward I for Cistercian monks. Edward had supposedly taken a vow during a rough sea crossing in the 1260s. Civil wars and political upheaval delayed the build until 1272, the year he inherited the throne. The original site at Darnhall was unsatisfactory, so was moved a few miles north to the Delamere Forest. Edward intended the structure to be on a grand scale—had it been completed it would have been the largest Cistercian monastery in the country—but his ambitions were frustrated by recurring financial difficulties.

Cheshire County of England

CheshireCHESH-ər, -⁠eer; archaically the County Palatine of Chester) is a county in North West England, bordering Merseyside and Greater Manchester to the north, Derbyshire to the east, Staffordshire and Shropshire to the south and Flintshire, Wales and Wrexham county borough to the west. Cheshire's county town is the City of Chester (118,200); the largest town is Warrington (209,700). Other major towns include Crewe (71,722), Ellesmere Port (55,715), Macclesfield (52,044), Runcorn (61,789), Widnes (61,464) and Winsford (32,610), Northwich (19,924)



Vale Royal Abbey had been founded on its present site by King Edward I in 1277. [1] Although intended to be the biggest and grandest Cistercian church in Christian Europe, [2] building work was very much delayed (Edward had vowed to found the house in 1263, but recurring political crises, his own crusade, and the Second Barons' War prevented any work whatsoever taking place at least 1270). [3] Work progressed until the 1280s when the abbey's construction was once again delayed by national events; this time, Edward's invasion of Wales. The King took not only the money that had been set aside for Vale Royal but also conscripted the masons and other labourers to build his Welsh fortifications. [4] By the 1330s the monks had managed to complete the east end of the church. [5]

Edward I of England 13th and 14th-century King of England and Duke of Aquitaine

Edward I, also known as Edward Longshanks and the Hammer of the Scots, was King of England from 1272 to 1307. Before his accession to the throne, he was commonly referred to as The Lord Edward. The first son of Henry III, Edward was involved from an early age in the political intrigues of his father's reign, which included an outright rebellion by the English barons. In 1259, he briefly sided with a baronial reform movement, supporting the Provisions of Oxford. After reconciliation with his father, however, he remained loyal throughout the subsequent armed conflict, known as the Second Barons' War. After the Battle of Lewes, Edward was hostage to the rebellious barons, but escaped after a few months and defeated the baronial leader Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. Within two years the rebellion was extinguished and, with England pacified, Edward joined the Ninth Crusade to the Holy Land. The crusade accomplished little, and Edward was on his way home in 1272 when he was informed that his father had died. Making a slow return, he reached England in 1274 and was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 19 August.

Cistercians Catholic religious order

The Cistercians officially the Order of Cistercians, are a Catholic religious order of monks and nuns that branched off from the Benedictines and follow the Rule of Saint Benedict. They are also known as Bernardines, after the highly influential St. Bernard of Clairvaux ; or as White Monks, in reference to the colour of the "cuccula" or white choir robe worn by the Cistercians over their habits, as opposed to the black cuccula worn by Benedictine monks.

Second Barons War 1260s civil war in England

The Second Barons' War (1264–1267) was a civil war in England between the forces of a number of barons led by Simon de Montfort against the royalist forces of King Henry III, led initially by the king himself and later by his son, the future King Edward I. The war featured a series of massacres of Jews by Montfort's supporters including his sons Henry and Simon, in attacks aimed at seizing and destroying evidence of Baronial debts. After a rule of just over a year, Montfort was killed by forces loyal to the King in the Battle of Evesham.

Thomas Ragon [6] was elected abbot of Vale Royal in 1351, two years after the death of his predecessor, Robert de Cheyneston. [7] [note 1]

Robert de Cheyneston was Abbot of Vale Royal Abbey, Cheshire between 1340 and 1349. De Cheyneston had already been a monk at the Abbey before his election as Abbot.

Rebuilding the abbey

In 1353, Edward the Black Prince wished to "continue and complete the work begun by his great-grandfather." For this purpose, Thomas was granted a tenth of Cheshire's 5,000 mark fine (which the county had previously agreed to pay in exchange for delaying the eyre), and he also provided another 500 marks [10] when he visited Vale Royal in 1358. [11] Thus, the Abbot was able to continue the building works on the Abbey as his predecessors had done; [12] these works were expected to take six years. [2] . However, the following year, in October 1359, during a massive storm, much of the nave (including the new lead roof put in place by only the last abbot) was blown down and destroyed. [12] The destruction was comprehensive, ranging "from the wall at the west end to the bell-tower before the gates of the choir," whilst the timber scaffolding collapsed "'like trees uprooted by the wind." [13]

Edward the Black Prince Eldest son of King Edward III of England

Edward of Woodstock, known to history as the Black Prince, was the eldest son of King Edward III of England, and thus the heir to the English throne. He died before his father and so his son, Richard II, succeeded to the throne instead. Edward nevertheless still earned distinction as one of the most successful English commanders during the Hundred Years' War, being regarded by his contemporaries as a model of chivalry and one of the greatest knights of his age.

Mark (currency) Currency or unit of account in many nations

The mark was a currency or unit of account in many nations. It is named for the mark unit of weight. The word mark comes from a merging of three Teutonic/Germanic words, Latinised in 9th-century post-classical Latin as marca, marcha, marha or marcus. It was a measure of weight mainly for gold and silver, commonly used throughout Western Europe and often equivalent to eight ounces. Considerable variations, however, occurred throughout the Middle Ages.

An eyre or iter was the name of a circuit traveled by an itinerant justice in medieval England, or the circuit court over which they presided, or the right of the monarch to visit and inspect the holdings of any vassal. The eyre involved visits and inspections at irregular intervals of the houses of vassals in the kingdom. The term is derived from Old French erre, from Latin iter ("journey"), and is cognate with errand and errant.

Repairs slowly took place over the next thirteen years, and it was undoubtedly Abbot Thomas who was responsible for the "unique chevet of seven radiating chapels" that were installed, although the overall stature of the remodelled church was smaller than before. [14] Abbot Thomas had personally contracted with the Master Masons completing the work: they would build the church while he would organise the construction of twelve chapels—and pay for them. However, Thomas does not appear to have adhered to the terms of the contract, as only three years later, the Prince of Wales had to order him to do so. [11]

Royal service

"Emboldened by the revival of royal munificence the abbot and convent embellished their incomplete church with a chevet of thirteen chapels, alternately polygonal and four-sided, at the east end; unique in England, it is thought to derive from Toledo cathedral." [11]

Victoria County History

Thomas performed royal service when required (for example, in 1364 he took the fealty of John de la Pole) [15] and also held a number of offices outside his abbacy. He was keeper of Aberystwyth Castle's gate, farmer of that town's subsidy, and rector of Llanbadarn Fawr, Powys, from early 1361. [16] Under Thomas, the Abbey also received the advowsons of Lampeter and Llanbadarn Fawr church from a close advisor to Edward, the Black Prince. In 1360 these had been granted by King Edward III to the Prince of wales, who in turn granted them to members of his householdPeter Lacy, Richard Wolveston, John Delves and William Spridlington [17] [note 2] —who in turn "appropriated" [17] [note 3] them to Abbot Thomas. [20] [note 4] This was with the Prince's blessing, as it was intended to be a royal donation towards restoring the church after its earlier partial destruction. Llanbadarn Fawr was a wealthy church, whose rector was no mere rector; the wealth of his church almost gave him abbatial status. [12] [note 5] Henceforth, Abbot Thomas and his successors were declared to be "henceforth the true abbot of the church." The abbey's own chronicle, The Vale Royal Ledger Book, states that "the abbot himself being present, all the men aforesaid and the other tenants did their fealty in full court and acknowledged the said abbot to be rector of Llabadarn Fawr and their lord." [24] Abbot Thomas visited the church in 1361. [25]

Fealty Pledge of allegiance of one person to another

An oath of fealty, from the Latin fidelitas (faithfulness), is a pledge of allegiance of one person to another.

Aberystwyth Castle Grade I listed castle in Ceredigion

Aberystwyth Castle is a Grade I listed Edwardian fortress located in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Mid Wales. It was built in response to the First Welsh War in the late 13th century, replacing an earlier fortress located a mile to the south. During a national uprising by Owain Glyndŵr, the Welsh captured the castle in 1404, but it was recaptured by the English four years later. In 1637 it became a Royal mint by Charles I, and produced silver shillings. The castle was slighted by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.

Farming or tax-farming is a technique of financial management in which the management of a variable revenue stream is assigned by legal contract to a third party and the holder of the revenue stream receives fixed periodic rents from the contractor. It is most commonly used in public finance, where governments lease or assign the right to collect and retain the whole of the tax revenue to a private financier, who is charged with paying fixed sums into the treasury. Sometimes, as in the case of Miguel de Cervantes, the tax farmer was a government employee, paid a salary, and all money collected went to the government.

Dispute with Gloucester Abbey

The advowson of Llanbadarn Fawr church was to occupy much of Abbot Thomas' energies, as it became the locus of a dispute between Vale Royal and Gloucester Abbey, which later objected to the gift, as Llanbadarn Fawr had previously been a cell of Gloucester's. [26] [note 6] The church was wealthy enough to make it worth quarrelling over: it controlled no less than ten chapels, and brought in an annual income of at least £120 per annum. [23] Even though Vale Royal had received permission from the Bishop, the King and the Pope, Gloucester Abbey still objected, and the case was to drag on many years after Thomas' death 9not being resolved until 1399). [30] The case was to cause ill-feeling within Vale Royal Abbey itself, as well as into North Wales. Even into the fifteenth century, Abbots of Vale Royal were unable to travel to Llanbadarn Fawr without fear of assault on occasions. [26]


Abbot Thomas died in the summer of 1369, probably from pestilence, [31] and in 1383 he was mentioned as being a "former" abbot around the time of the Black Prince. [7] He was succeeded by one Stephen, who, however, is not recorded in contemporary records as holding the office until 1374, so there may well have been another lengthy interregnum. [15] [32]


  1. Interregna such as this were not uncommon in the administration of medieval ecclesiastical institutions. However, they could be dangerous to the abbey itself. It was not uncommon for "various unscrupulous (but generally nameless) individuals to treat properties of the abbey as their own;" [8] worse, the abbey's lands and charters reverted to the King on the death of an abbot. [9] The King had an unassailable regalian right to appoint a custos to govern the abbey in the King's name. During this period, the crown would garner the profits from the abbey, with a stipend being put aside for the sustenence of the monks and other essential inhabitants. [8]
  2. Spridlington was at this time Dean of St Asaph (1357–65) and was later Bishop of St Asaph (1376–82). [18]
  3. The wording used by contemporaries to describe the process. The enrolment of 18 February 1361 says, that the Bishop of St David's, Thomas Fastolf, "in answer to their petition appropriates to the abbot and convent and their monastery the said parish church of Lampadervaure, with the chapels of Castel Walter, Lanelar, and Kellonrod, dependents of the same." [19]
  4. This was not unusual. Those in possession of advowsons would often grant them to other ecclesiasts, with the expectation being that they would be better equipped to find a worthy incumbent, for which they received a pension from the profits of the advowson. In fact, more often than not, they would appoint a rector on a small stipend, and keep the bulk of the endowment for themselves. [21] From the fourteenth century it became common practice to utilise this as a means of alleviating a religious house of its debts: The reign of Edward III, notes F. R. Lewis, saw 539 such instances. [22]
  5. Llanbadarn Fawr was a wealthy house: It had ten satellite chapels, and was worth £120 per annum. [23]
  6. Although, it should be said, not since 1136. [27] However, disputes such as this were not uncommon at Vale Royal; Ragon's predecessor, de Cheyneston, was in a similar dispute with Shrewsbury Abbey from almost the moment he took office (and which itself had begun in Robert's own predecessor's time and continued [28] for three years, eventually costing Vale Royal £100 to settle. [29]

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  1. Robinson et al. 1998, p. 192.
  2. 1 2 Bostock & Hogg 1999, p. 2.
  3. V. C. H. 1980, pp. 156–165.
  4. Platt 1994, p. 65.
  5. Robinson et al. 1998, p. 193.
  6. Brownbill 1914, pp. 20–23.
  7. 1 2 Smith & London 2001, p. 318.
  8. 1 2 Mason 1996, p. 33.
  9. Saul 1997, p. 75.
  10. Bostock & Hogg 1999, p. 3.
  11. 1 2 3 V. C. H. 1980, pp. 156–65.
  12. 1 2 3 Lewis 1938, p. 25.
  13. Colvin 1963, p. 256.
  14. Midmer 1979, p. 315.
  15. 1 2 Ormerod 1819, p. 72.
  16. Green 1998, p. 216.
  17. 1 2 Lewis 1938, p. 24.
  18. Jones & Le Neve 1965, pp. 37–39.
  19. P. R. O. 1911, p. 548.
  20. Green 1998, p. 92.
  21. Davies 1928, pp. 415–16.
  22. Lewis 1938, pp. 24–25.
  23. 1 2 Williams 2001, p. 274.
  24. Brownbill 1914, p. 145.
  25. Lewis 1938, p. 29.
  26. 1 2 Williams 2001, pp. 274–75.
  27. Burton 2013, p. 32.
  28. Brownbill 1914, pp. 62–83.
  29. Fishwick 1874, p. 32.
  30. Williams 2001, pp. 274–5.
  31. Latham 1993, p. 22.
  32. Ormerod 1819, p. 82.