History does not record a single event of interest that took place within the abbey walls while Cistercian monks actually inhabited Medmenham between 1207 and 1536. It's what happened to a woman around the time of its founding and to a man two hundred years afters its dissolution that spark interest--and, in the case of what happened in the 18th century, an infamy that reverberates today.Share
THE FOUNDING: The person responsible for the abbey's existence was Isobel de Bolebec, a woman of strength who was determined to have a say in her own life. This was no small feat in the early 13th century, especially for an heiress.
The de Bolebecs were a family that possessed extensive land at the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, mostly in Buckinghamshire. Isobel was the daughter and co-heiress of Hugh de Bolebec--builder of a stone castle with a moat--and is believed to have been born shortly before his death in 1165. Her first husband was Henry de Nonant, Lord of Totnes; they had no children together.
The mound is all that remains of
Bolebec Castle, destroyed by Oliver Cromwell
At some point Isobel granted lands to the abbey of Woburn, an existing house of Cistercian monks, and they decided to expand, using those lands. Medmenham Manor had belonged to her father, and she decided to bestow the land between the manor and the Thames to the Cistericians. She was clearly a pious woman who believed in religious patronage--she is best known for being a major benefactress of the Dominican order in England. In 1204 a colony of Cistercians began to live in the newly constructed abbey on the Thames. (Read more.)