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abbeys and priories

abbeys and priories. Abbots were the spiritual heads of the larger monasteries (abbesses for nuns), with priors in charge of smaller or daughter houses. Until the Reformation, some 27 mainly ‘mitred abbots’ attended the House of Lords. Great abbeys like Evesham, Pershore, Buckfast, Selby, or Sherborne had vast estates. The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535, which preceded the dissolution of the monasteries, identified some 563 religious houses. The largest group, with more than 170 houses and 22 nunneries, belonged to the Augustinian canons, whose first house at Colchester was founded c.1100. Next came the Benedictines, or black monks, with some 130 houses and over 60 nunneries. The Cistercians, or white monks, had some 76 houses in England and Wales, often built in remote areas, and the remains of Tintern, Rievaulx, and Fountains are among the most beautiful in the country. The proliferation after the Reformation of private estates such as Woburn abbey, Hitchin priory, or Grantham Grange demonstrates that most of the monastic estates finished up with the gentry or aristocracy. See also monasteries.

J. A. Cannon

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