Selby Abbey is located approximately 22 kilometres south of York, close to the Ouse river. It was an independent Benedictine house which came under the diocese of York. The first sacrist, Benedict, came from St Germanus, Auxerre, in 1069. The abbey was medium-sized, usually inhabited by around 30 monks, and it owned considerable lands, from which it earned most of its income. Medieval manorial records at U DWE include court rolls for 1377-1403; judgements 1490-1544, 1603, 1606, 1613-1614, 1618; 17th century fines and pains of the abbey court and leet court and miscellaneous deeds dating from the 13th century to 1586. Manorial records and abbey title deeds are also to be found through U DDLO and U DDLO2 (Knowles, The heads of religious houses, pp.69-70; Tillotson, Monastery and society, pp.7, 13-14, 16-18).
In addition to the manorial records held by Hull University Archives, U DDLO/20 and U DWE together comprise most of the abbey's surviving account rolls, mostly from the 15th century. Many of these have been translated and printed by John Tillotson in Monastery and society in the late middle ages: selected account rolls from Selby Abbey, Yorkshire, 1398-1537 (1988). Tillotson has located 132 account rolls for Selby Abbey, 65% of them at U DDLO/20 and the remaining third transferred from the Westminster Diocesan Archives and catalogued as U DWE (Tillotson, Monastery and society, p.32). From these Tillotson has reconstructed life at the abbey.
The abbey's finances were run by the obedientiaries, or monks holding certain offices or obediences. At any one time, about half the monks at the abbey held an obedience. These ranged in reponsibility and importance from the bursar at the top to the keepers of the choir and refectory. The most successful administrators held several offices at once: for example, Peter de Roucliff was a full member of the house for at least 55 years and held the offices of bursar and extern cellarer together several times and eventually became prior in 1407 (d.1432-3). The bursar's income from rentals and tithes was in the order of £600 per annum during his time and this money was employed widely in the running of the abbey: for example, he paid servants (stewards, minstrels, choristers etc.), paid out pensions, gave money to beggars, bought wine, bought barrells to put the wine in, paid out for the repair of buildings, buying iron for ironwork made by local crafstmen and so on (Tillotson, Monastery and society, pp.28-30, 43-45).
Obedientiaries of medium importance included the kitchener, whose job it was to provision the abbey with the help of the granger (grain supplies) and the extern cellarer (livestock and wool) and the pittancer, who paid out £1 per annum to all the monks, but also picked up other bills such as the repair of farm cottages, paying ferry costs and some farm wages. The kitchener and the pittancer also received their income through rentals and tithes, amounting to approximately £40-£80 per annum. At the bottom of this hierarchy were obedientiaries like the infirmarer, whose job it was to tend the sick on £2-£3 per annum, and this income was also gained through rentals (Tillotson, Monastery and society, pp.10, 29, and passim).
The monks clearly ate well. The kitchener purchased meat including piglets, capons, partridges, geese and ducks, fresh and dried fish, eggs (probably from ducks), salt for preserving, spices, especially cumin, for flavouring (at 2d a pound compared with 18d a pound for pepper and 9s 6d a pound for saffron), honey for sweetening food (at 10d a gallon compared with the occasional splurge on almonds at almost 3s for a dozen) and beans, peas and oats, figs and raisins (Tillotson, Monastery and society, pp.150ff). They also drank well, much grain going towards making ale. By the early 15th century the Benedictine rule forbidding the consumption of meat had fallen into abeyance and the bursar was not averse to ordering three bullocks to fatten for Easter (Tillotson, Monastery and society, pp.121, 150ff).
The earliest visitations of Selby Abbey in the 13th century revealed extreme relaxation of Benedictine rules and abuses such as nepotism and incontinency; one abbot was accused of financially supporting several women in the town, another of spending abbey funds on a sorcerer 'in an attempt to get the corpse of his drowned brother out of the Ouse'. Criticism of houses such as Selby led to a movement for reform and Tillotson suggests that the Selby records bear out the fact that this was largely successful by the early 15th century (Knowles, The religious orders in England, pp.94-5; Tillotson, Monastery and society, pp.7, 10-13, 24-6).
Notwithstanding the reform Selby Abbey joined the other religious houses in being dissolved at the reformation. U DDLO and U DWE contain surveys and valuations of Selby and its surrendered properties dated circa 1540, as well as 16th century grants of abbey property to various lay landowners, notably Leonard Beckwith. Some 16th century rental and account books post-dating the reformation are in U DDLO2 and the record of Sir Anthony Nevil's sale of Selby land to Beckwith in 1551 can also be found in U DDLO2. An idea of the value of this property can be gleaned from the sale in 1595 of the manor and rectory of Selby for £6200 (DDLO/20/95). Old abbey lands changed hands a few times, being owned by the Petre family during the 18th and early 19th century before passing to the Denison family and being incorporated into the diffuse estates of the earls of Londesborough in the mid 19th century. The Petre family continued to hold Selby papers until the beginning of the twentieth century when they deposited them in the Westminster Diocesan Archives (Tillotson, Monastery and society, p.32).