1155 Battle Abbey Charter

William I granted the abbey a rough circle of land surrounding the abbey, known as a leuga. Starting due east and following a clockwise direction the abbey’s land was bounded by Bathurst, Hedgland, Crowhurst, Catsfield, Puchehole, Westbece, Bodeham, Whatlington and back to Bathurst. Many of these villages still exist today. In addition to the leuga, William also granted other valuable manors to the abbey including Alciston in Sussex and Wye in Kent.

The town of Battle was planned and built next to the abbey. Dwellings, some with workshops, were built for the craftsmen, tradesmen and farmers and who would support the abbey. Each tenant paid rent to the abbey, commonly of 7d or 8p a year, plus some donated labor. Such tenancies was known as messuages. Amongst the tenants in the town of Battle were a cordwainer, cobblers, leather-workers, weavers, a goldsmith, millers, bakers, cooks, brewers, herdsmen, plowmen, reed-cutters, carpenters, gardeners and even a bell-caster.

Although usually a royal prerogative, William I allowed the abbey the salvage rights on ships wrecked on the Dengemarsh shore of its Wye manor. The abbey exercised this right in 1155 when a ship with a cargo of ornaments and treasures was wrecked on the Dengemarsh shore. The crew was not able to repair the ship in the allowed time and Battle Abbey was able to claim the salvage. The abbey also had the right to beached whales and craspies (dolphins) for their meat.

Unfortunately for the abbey, William I did not grant the abbey a written charter and an abbey such as Battle would represent a valuable source of income. The first claim against Battle came from Archbishop Stigand of Chichester, who initially insisted that Gausbert come to Chichester to be blessed as abbot. This would acknowledge the episcopal oversight of Battle by Chichester. This did not please William I, who forced Stigand to go to Battle for the blessing.

Before becoming the abbot of St Martins, Battle, Gausbert was a monk in the abbey of Marmoutier. The abbot of Marmoutier tried to make Gausbert pay homage to Marmoutier. The astute Gausbert politely declined. There were also numerous land disputes with local barons, especially during the Anarchy. In this period, King Stephen granted all of Kent, including Battle’s valuable manor at Wye, to William of Ypres, his mercenary commander.

The diocese of Chichester, under Bishop Hillary again tried to assert Chichester’s episcopal rights over Battle. Unfortunately for Hillary, Walter de Luci, the abbot of Battle was well connected with Henry II court. Henry’s Justiciar (chief councilor) was abbot Walter’s brother, Richard de Luci. In the summer of 1155, Walter de Luci was able to return to the monks of Battle with a charter sealed by Henry II.

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