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A Royal ‘Resident’

1646

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King Charles I was briefly held prisoner in the city. He was on his way to London to be imprisoned, prior to his execution. He was held in the Abbot’s Gaol, which is next to the west gate of the cathedral. There were many local supporters who included the Orme family.
Evidence of the Gaol
One of the old wooden doors of the gaol can be seen in Peterborough Museum. The goal is currently used as a retail space.  





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The Arm of St Oswald

1000

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A monk from Peterborough Abbey stole the arm of St Oswald from Bamburgh Castle and took it to his abbot at Peterborough in an effort to gain favour. Oswald was a convert to Christianity and King of Northumbria from 634 to 642. He spent much of his early life in exile, but when he returned to fight for his throne, he raised a cross and prayed for victory. Oswald won the battle and ruled as king of Northumbria until his death. While Oswald was king, he became known for his piety and generosity. During the celebration of an Easter feast, he supposedly gave away all the silver plates along with the food to the poor. The chronicles say his chaplain; Bishop Aidan blessed Oswald, saying “may this arm that has been so generous never perish”. When Oswald died in battle against King Penda of Mercia in 642, his arm was taken to Bamburgh where it remained uncorrupted. The arm remained the primary relic of Peterborough and the chapel of St Oswald still has a watch-tower where the monks safeguarded it day and night. St. Oswald’s arm disappeared from the chapel during the reformation along with its silver casket.    





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Hereward the Wake

1070

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Hereward the Wake (known at the time as Hereward the Exile) raided the monastery and town with an army of Danish mercenaries, ostensibly to stop the wealth of Peterborough from falling into the hands of the new Norman Abbot. The Danes “came with many ships and wanted [to get] into the minster, and the monks withstood so that they could not come in. Then they laid fire to it, and burned down all the monks' buildings and the town, except for one building. Then, by means of fire, they came in at Bolhithe Gate. The monks came to meet them, asked them for peace, but they did not care about anything, went into the minster, climbed up to the holy rood, took the crown off our Lord's head… They took there so much gold and silver and so many treasures in money and in clothing and in books that no man can tell another…” By now the town is becoming known as ‘Burgh’ or ‘Burgh St Peter’ – Peterborough.





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Chronicle Writers (and a Wild Hunt)

1127

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Much of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was written at Peterborough Abbey in this period. It is one of the key sources for medieval history. Today it is preserved in the Peterborough D and E Manuscripts. Another chronicle was written here by a monk called Hugh Candidus, which tells the story of the abbey. One tale he told was of a corrupt abbot, Henry d'Angély, who was a rather godless and worldly man. He planned to loot Peterborough of its wealth. As a result a dread portent followed in the form of a spectral 'wild hunt' sent to terrorise the area. 'In the very year in which he came to the abbey, marvellous portents were seen and heard at night during the whole of lent, throughout the woodland and plains, from the monastery as far as Stamford. For there appeared, as it were, hunters with horns and hounds, all being jet black, their horses and hounds as well, and some rode as it were on goats and had great eyes and there were twenty or thirty together. Many men of faithful report both saw them and heard the horns...'    





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Market Makes a Medieval New Town

1143

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King Stephen visited and stayed at the monastery in 1143, granting a market charter. This allowed Abbot Martin de Bec to create a new market area to the west of the monastic precincts. He was then able to bankroll the building of the new monastic church. The monks created new commercial streets around the outside, leading to the first ‘new town’ development in Peterborough and effectively the street plan which still exists as the city centre today. The market square was later infilled with St John's church and the Guildhall or Buttercross. This almost halved the market square, but provided a religious centre for the townspeople.





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More Holy Relics for Peterborough’s Abbey

1174

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Construction of the Becket Chapel and adjacent hospital began in 1174. They were built to house many of the monastery’s holy relics, not least the relics of the newly canonised St Thomas Becket. Becket had visited the abbey with King Henry II in 1154, but was later murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. Abbot Benedict acquired some of Becket’s relics for Peterborough Abbey which were to encourage pilgrims. These included the flagstone his head laid on as he died; a bottle of Becket’s blood (said to never congeal); and furthermore Becket’s bloodied undergown he was wearing as he was murdered. The latter was ceremonially washed on feast days; the washing water was then collected and sold to pilgrims as a cure-all. The Becket Chapel survives today as the Cathedral’s tea-room.





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Peterborough Revolts!

1381

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An assault was made on the monastery by local rebels during the Peasants’ Revolt. The rebels were put down by the intervention of troops commanded by the Bishop of Norwich, as described in a contemporary account by Henry Knighton: “Likewise at Burgh (Peterborough) the neighbours and tenants of the abbot rose against him and proposed to kill him – which they would have done without redress had God not laid his restraining hand upon them at the last moment. For help came in the shape of Lord Henry Despenser, bishop of Norwich, who arrived with a strong force. He prevented the malefactors from carrying out their aims and scattered the mob, paying them back as they deserved. Sparing no one, he sent some to death and others to prison. Some were struck down with swords and spears near the altar and others at the church walls, both inside and outside the building. For the bishop gladly stretched his avenging hand over them and did not scruple to give them final absolution for their sins with his sword”  





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The ‘New Building’

1496-1509

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The Presbytery roof was renewed and an extensive building programme undertaken at the east end of the Cathedral creating the 'New Building'. It is an excellent example of late Perpendicular work with fine fan vaulting designed by John Wastell, who went on to work on Kings College Chapel in Cambridge. The building was commissioned by the penultimate abbot, Robert Kirkton, who funded some of his works by corrupt means, demolishing local properties and confiscating common land.





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Katharine of Aragon

1536

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Katharine of Aragon, Spanish princess, first wife and queen of Henry VIII, is buried in the monastic church. Katharine died at Kimbolton, where she was living after her marriage to Henry had been annulled, on 7 January 1536, most likely of cancer. She was ordered to be buried at Peterborough Abbey as the nearest great religious house that befitted her status, whilst not giving her a burial in London where she might have been politically embarrassing. Her funeral was held on 29 January 1536. The heart of the funeral cortege included a coffin wagon covered with black velvet, as were the six horses pulling it; Heralds and fifty servants in black carrying torches; four banners in crimson taffeta and four golden standards. At the door of the abbey church the body was received by four bishops and six abbots and placed under a canopy lit by a thousand candles. Today Katharine is remembered annually by a commemorative service and series of events at the Cathedral and elsewhere in the city around the anniversary of her burial, 29 January. Many visitors place pomegranates – her heraldic symbol – on her tomb.





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Dissolution of the Monastery

1539

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The great abbey of Peterborough was closed and its lands and properties confiscated by the king, Henry VIII. Orders had come the previous year to get rid of any relics, and the Abbey’s collection was destroyed. In the spring of 1539, Henry called a Parliament, and legislation was passed to enable all monastic property to be conferred on the crown: all the remaining monasteries were to go. Whilst some monasteries offered resistance, and the monks were dealt with harshly, Abbot John Chambers surrendered the Abbey seal with no resistance when Henry’s commissioners arrived on 29 November 1539. Chambers received an annual pension of £266, 13s 4d. Many monastic buildings were pulled down, with lead from the roofs melted down into lead ‘sows’ for sale.