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A King's Gift to the Cistercians
Beaulieu Abbey was founded in 1204, when King John made a gift of land here to the Cistercian Monks. Abbeys were places where men could withdraw from the mainstream of life and spend their time solely in the service of God. Afte r a period of initial enthusiasm, standards began to decline. New orders were founded in an attempt to return to this idea; one of these was the Cistercian order. The Cistercians were founded in 1098 at Citeaux in France by St. Robert. The monks were requ ired to take vows of poverty, chastity and silence; any food or clothing was to be the result of their own labour.
The Cistercians were popularly known as 'The White Monks' The name deriv ed from the colour of their habits which were a direct contrast to the black worn by the Benedictine order. White, it was felt, symbolised the purity and aspiration of their reformist ideals.
Beaulieu was one of the larger Cistercian foundations. The New Forest was a suitable location; the area was thinly populated, some building materials were at hand, there was a supply of fresh water and it was close to a navigable estuary. Beaulieu was King John's only religious foundation. A legend tells of Joh n oppressing the Cistercian community only to experience a nightmlare in which he was being beaten by a group of monks. On awaking and still feeling the blows on his back, he decided to make reparation by giving the Cistercians a tract of land for the building of an Abbey. Additional land was later granted by John's son, Henry III.
Already part of the King's hunting ground, it was the site of a hunting lodge and had the name 'Bellus Locus Regis', the beautiful place of the king, and the monks who came over from France rechristened it in their own tongue, 'Beaulieu', pronounced Bu-lee as we do today.
In June 1204, 30 monks arrived from Citeaux to begin the building of the Abbey; by th e end of the century some 200 men lived and worked within its precinct.
The abbot, being a person of some importance in the country, served on government commissions and was employed by the king on diplomatic missions which often involved travel abro ad. The abbot, the prior and nine officials administered the Abbey. Beneath them came the choir monks and lay brothers. The fo rmer devoted their time to church services and contemplation, the latter provided the manpower which kept the Abbey and its farms and forests running. In addition a seasonal work force of hired labour was employed to help with practical tasks.
The mo nks were issued with two sets of clothing, one for winter, made from Beaulieu wool, and one for summer, made from lighter Irish cloth. They consisted of ankle-length cowls with hoods and two-sided sleeveless aprons to be worn over the top. Additional capes and mantles were provided for those working outdoors.
At this time the population of England was 4.5 million, of whom 17000 were members of religious orders. Many of them were inspired by religious fervour, but in a society where warfare seemed con tinuous and levels of disease and unemployment were high, the security of a religious house was attractive, and many were begun during these years.