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Leicester Abbey, or to give it it’s correct name, the Abbey of Saint Mary de Pratis (St Mary of the Meadows), was built by Robert le Bossu, Earl of Leicester. It was founded as a community of canons regular of the Order of Saint Augustine. Canons regular follow a similar, but perhaps less rigid, lifestyle to monks, following a rule set down by St Augustine in a letter to a convent in his diocese.

The abbey was one of the largest and most influential land owners in the county, 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.

The abbey is perhaps most famous for it’s connection to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England, was 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 England). Wolsey, at one part, was a candidate for the papacy on the death of Leo X. However, he lost the Holy See to Clement VII.

And yet, he fell out of the King’s favour. As he returned to York, he stopped at Leicester Abbey. As he arrived, he told the abbot, "I am come to leave my bones among you”. The archbishop died that night, 26th November 1530. He was buried within the walls of the Abbey church, and 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 canons regular in fact supported the supremecy of the King, and the abbey would have become the cathedral of Leicester. However, it had problems of it’s own, far from the reaches of spiritual politics. The Abbey was in debt. The canons owed £411 10s 0d. 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 Marquis of Northampton, who later sold it to the Earl of Huntingdon, who built a house in the grounds of the abbey.

The abbey land later came into the possession of the Cavendish family – the Earls of Devonshire. The house became known as Cavendish House, and was used as the Headquarters of Charles I before the Battle of Naseby. After the loss at Naseby, what Royal troops remained plundered the house.