It was the ideas of Cluniac monks that freed the Church from feudal supremacy, and in the 11th century produced a Pope Gregory VII.; the spirit of free investigation shown by the heretics of Orleans inspired the rude Breton, Abelard, in the 12th century; and with Gerbert and Fulbert of Chartres the schools first kindled that brilliant light which the university of Paris, organized by Philip Augustus, was to shed over the world from the heights of Sainte-Genevive.
The great figure of this period is unquestionably the French Cluniac Urban II., who led the Hildebrandine reformation with more vehemence than Gregory himself and was the originator of the crusades.
The rule, as was inevitable, was subject to frequent violations; but it was not until the foundation of the Cluniac Order that the idea of a supreme abbot, exercising jurisdiction over all the houses of an order, was definitely recognized.
In the district between this and North Walsham are Paston, taking name from the family which is famous through the Paston Letters, and the fragments of Bromholm Priory, a Cluniac foundation.
During the Carolingian epoch the custom grew up of granting these as regular heritable fiefs or benefices, and by the 10th century, before the great Cluniac reform, the system was firmly established.
The abbey was founded in 1163 as a Cluniac monastery by Walter Fitzalan, first High Steward of Scotland, the ancestor of the Scottish royal family of Stuart, and dedicated to the Virgin, St James, St Milburga of Much Wenlock in Shropshire (whence came the first monks) and St Mirinus (St Mirren), the patron-saint of Paisley, who is supposed to have been a contemporary of St Columba.
The manor, which had belonged to the Cluniac monks of Bermondsey, passed through various hands to Edward Alleyn in 1606.
She was already the home of the Cluniac movement, the centre from which radiated the truce of God, the chosen place of chivalry; she could supply a host of feudal nobles, somewhat loosely tied to their place in society, and ready to break loose for a great enterprise; she had suffered from battle and murder, pestilence and famine, from which any escape was welcome.
These were later written on paper and fixed to the Paschal Candle, a custom which in his day survived in the Cluniac churches.
The first English house of the Cluniac order was that of Lewes, founded by the earl of Warren, c. A.D.