Founded in 1132, Rievaulx Abbey was the first Cistercian abbey to be established in the north of England. It rapidly expanded to become one of the richest and spiritually renowned centres of monasticism in Britain. The name Rievaulx is a Norman misuse of Rye Vallis, or Rye Valley, where it is located.
However, its decline was almost as swift. An ambitious construction programme, combined with a loss of revenue from wool production caused by a sheep epidemic, ultimately led it into debt. Its ill fortune was compounded by the Black Death and raids from Scotland.
The abbey was suppressed as part of Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538. Although largely dismantled the abbey's ironworks were retained and expanded with the addition of a blast furnace. By 1640, local supplies of raw materials had been exhausted and it was closed. In the 18th century, it gained new popularity as a romantic ruin, through the works of writers and artists.