Leicester Abbey
Leicester Abbey, the Abbey of Saint Mary de Pratis ("St Mary of the Meadows"), standing about a mile (2 km) north of the city of Leicester in the riverside meadows on the west bank of the River Soar, was built under the patronage of Robert le Bossu, Earl of Leicester. It was founded as a community of Augustinian Canons, the canons regular of the Order of Saint Augustine. Canons regular follow a similar, but perhaps less rigid rule than monks, following a rule set down by Saint Augustine in a letter to a convent in his diocese. The abbey was one of the largest and most influential land owners in Leicestershire, thanks to contributions by important patrons such as the Earl of Winchester, Simon de Montfort, Alan la Zouche, Ernard de Bosco and, finally, the Crown. The abbey certainly held more manors than any lay lord.

Cardinal Wolsey
The abbey is perhaps most famous for its connection to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England, who was for a time the most powerful man in England, second only to the King. In spiritual terms, his power even surpassed that of the Archbishop of Canterbury (the Primate of All England). Wolsey, at one part, was a candidate for the papacy on the death of Leo X, when Adrian VI was elected. Wolsey fell out of the King’s favour in 1529 and went north to visit his Archdiocese of York. A year later he was accused of high treason and ordered to return to London. On the way, he stopped at Leicester Abbey. As he arrived, he told the abbot, "I am come to leave my bones among you.” Wolsey died at the abbey on 29 November 1530 and was buried within the walls of the Abbey church, where today a monument stands on his supposed resting place. From the disgrace of Wolsey, the path to schism from Rome was short, and the inevitable fall of the Abbey of St Mary de Pratis of Leicester. The clothes manufacturers Wolsey is based nearby in Leicester and the company is named in honour of Cardinal Wolsey.

The canons regular in fact supported the Oath of Supremacy of the King, and the abbey would have become the cathedral of Leicester. However, it had problems of its own, far from the reaches of spiritual politics. The Abbey was in debt. The canons owed £411 10 s 0 d (£411.50). The last abbot, John Bourchen, surrendered the abbey to Thomas Cromwell, Wolsey’s old secretary. He set up what was believed to be a scheme to save the Abbey (despite his firm belief in the dissolution of the monasteries)"the sale of the abbey’s land and possessions. The scheme (unsurprisingly) failed. The canons disbanded, and the land was granted to the Marquess of Northampton, who later sold it to the Earl of Huntingdon, who built a house in the grounds of the abbey, using the Abbey's stone. The Abbey's main gatehouse, which gave access to the cloister that flanked the abbey church, some boundary walls and later farm buildings have survived. In 1613, William Cavendish, the first Earl of Devonshire, acquired the property, and it became known as Cavendish House. It was used as the headquarters of Charles I after his forces occupied the town in late May 1645, shortly before the Battle of Naseby. The house was burnt down following the royalist defeat at Naseby (though it is unclear who set fire to it) and never re-built. In 1931 the precinct of the abbey was incorporated into the Victorian park called Abbey Park, which had previously been confined to the area between the river and the canal. All of the former mediaeval abbey precinct is now a Scheduled monument. The scheduled area includes not only the footprint of the abbey church and the main abbey buildings (The outline of which was set out in stone once it had been identified in the 1920s) the older parts of the precinct wall which are in stone and line the northern, north-eastern and north-western sides of the precinct, and the brick part the precinct wall, known as Abbot Penny's Wall (which was erected around a southern extension to the precinct c.1500) and the remains of Cavendish House.


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