Could you leave historical allegations of medieval piracy in East Anglia unchecked? Our crowdfunders didn't! See what they discovered.
Want to join, follow or support our dig at RSPB Minsmere? Well, you can! We’re hoping to unearth the truth about Suffolk’s medieval ‘pirate priests’ and we want you to help us!
Priests were often the subjects of pirate raids, but were some priests ever pirates? Leiston Abbey was originally built nearly 1,000 years ago at Minsmere – three miles from where it stands today. Over the last three years, we’ve been excavating the ruins of , but we’re now heading back to it’s original site because we’ve heard that while they were living there, the priests of Leiston Abbey had been accused of behaving like pirates. The question is, can we find the archaeological evidence to prove whether these accusations were actually true? With your help, we can find out!
Leiston Abbey is one of Suffolk’s finest medieval ruins, and over the last three years our crowdfunded digs have unearthed lots of new evidence about the littleknown order of Premonstratensian priests who built it. We know that it was moved to its current location in 1363. Following a catastrophic flood, the priests dismantled their abbey and moved it stone-by-stone three miles further inland, to where it stands today. But before that, the abbey stood for nearly 200 years out in the wilds of Minsmere. We’re heading back to the original location to see how much of it we can recover. Plus, we want to find out whether the historical rumours that they used it as a place to hide stolen ships is really true!
Only archaeology can provide the answer. Support, follow or join the dig and YOU can learn about archaeology, all while helping us investigate allegations of medieval piracy!
RSPB Minsmere is now a world famous bird reserve, but 1,000 years ago it was the home to this little-known order of Premonstratensian priests. Above ground, all that remains of the original abbey are the ruins of a small chapel. Although this chapel was partially demolished and turned into a pillbox during WW2, there’s still plenty more evidence to be found underground…
Probably the most intriguing thing about the ruins at Minsmere is a big rectangular feature, about 100m long. Earlier researchers have said it was a fish pond, but a close reading of the abbey’s historical documents hints that it might once have been a navigable docking facility, or even the yet-to-be-located ‘Harbour of Minsmere’. This is one of the main features we want to investigate.
We’re not talking piracy in the sense of crossing oceans in search of bounty, but in a more general (and less romanticised) sense of generating an income by illegally co-opting ships.
In fact, the Curia Regis Rolls record several allegations of piracy levelled at the Abbot of Leiston Abbey for co-opting shipping that should by rights have been landed at the nearby harbour of Dunwich:
“Thomas, pleading for the king and himself, said that when on 28th October 1293 he arrested in the port of Minsmere a certain ship of Stephen le Frere containing goods to the value of £20 in order to take toll and placed them within the liberty of Dunwich. The abbot and others, together with others unknown, insulted, beat, wounded and ill-treated him, and the next night took the ship with the goods out of the liberty of Dunwich and into the abbot’s liberty along a certain channel leading from Minsmere to Leiston Abbey, and continue to detain the said ship, in contempt of the king, to the damage of the said Thomas of £20. He offers to prove this.”
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to immerse yourself in a real, live, in-progress excavation attempting to uncover a medieval monastic mystery. If you’ve got any questions about arrangements for joining us in the field before you pledge your support, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0333 011 3990.
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