Suppression Of The English Monasteries Essay, Research Paper SUPPRESSION OF THE ENGLISH MONASTERIESDURING THE REIGN OF KING HENRY THE EIGHTHAn EssayTABLE OF CONTENTSChapter 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3Chapter 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13Chapter 3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35Chapter 4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45Chapter 5 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53Chapter 6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66Chapter 7 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71Appendix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73Chapter 1INTRODUCTION TO IMPORTANT PERSONAGESAND PREVALENT SOCIAL CONDITIONSIN THE 1520’s AND 1530’sIn the years 1536 and 1539 A.
Suppression Of The English Monasteries Essay, Research Paper
SUPPRESSION OF THE ENGLISH MONASTERIESDURING THE REIGN OF KING HENRY THE EIGHTHAn EssayTABLE OF CONTENTSChapter 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3Chapter 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13Chapter 3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35Chapter 4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45Chapter 5 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53Chapter 6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66Chapter 7 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71Appendix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73Chapter 1INTRODUCTION TO IMPORTANT PERSONAGESAND PREVALENT SOCIAL CONDITIONSIN THE 1520’s AND 1530’sIn the years 1536 and 1539 A. D. there occurred two events in England that were destined to alter its whole religious character. In these two years the King of England, Henry VIII, forced through the English Parliament two acts that sealed the fate of the Catholic Church in England. They were the “Act for the Dissolution of the Smaller Monasteries” and the “Act for the Dissolution of the Greater Monasteries”, re-spectively. In this paper I will explore the events and the reasons behind these events, which led to this complete and total break with a religion that had been embraced by England for centuries. Naturally, the most important of the people involved in these suppressions was King Henry VIII for it was during his reign that the monasteries were suppressed. When Henry’s father died in 1509 Henryascended a throne which his father had made remarkably secure, he inherited a fortune which probably no English king had ever been bequeathed, he came to a kingdom which was the best governed and most obedient in Christendom. Upon taking the throne Henry married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon, who was destined to be a main character in a religious controversy which shook all of Europe. After ascending to the throne it soon became apparent that Henry was not as frugal as his father. Perhaps he was expending all the energy stored up while his father was alive for he was at that time watched so closely that he might have been a girl. He could go out only through a private door, and then he was under the supervision of specially-appointed people. No one could speak to him. He spent most of his time in his room which could only be entered via the king’s chamber. He never spoke in public unless it was to answer a question from his father. One reason for this over abundance of protection may have been that the king, having seen his oldest son Arthur die shortly after marrying Catherine, feared for the safety of his only remaining male heir. But, whatever the reason, the result of this forced confinement was that Henry began engaging in activities, many of them costly, to ex-pend his energy. He held many jousting tournaments, went hunting and sightseeing and even decided on the most “kingly” of activities, war. Within weeks of taking the throne, Henry decided to go to war with France. One of the reasons causing Henry to arrive at this costly decision waswhatever else an English king may have been–and he was much else–he was still a leader in war. He must still ‘venture’ himself in battle, to use an old formula, and blood himself.Henry went to war with France in 1513 and during this campaign a man ap-peared on stage who was destined to play a part in the events to follow. Thomas Wolsey had been King Henry VII’s chaplain and had carried out some minor diplomatic duties which resulted in his being named Dean of Lincoln and made Royal Almoner.When Henry came to power Thomas Wolsey was “firm in the Council and As-cendent in the Church” but he craved still more power. The war with France gave him his opportunity. It was Wolsey’s work which made the campaign of 1513 successful. He provided Henry with a well-fed, well-equipped, healthy and disciplined army. Wolsey rode with Henry throughout the campaign, seeing that the troops built good shelters against the winter. The war enabled Wolsey to show Henry his organizational abilities. “Thus in a year he had been raised–at royal instance–from a mere dean to archbishop, legatus natus and primate of England.” “For the next fifteen years Eng-land’s foreign policy was Wolsey’s, . . .”. But, as is always the case, the mighty must fall, and when Wolsey was unable to obtain Henry’s desired divorce from Catherine, he fell into disfavor and in November of 1530 he was arrested for treason and died shortly afterwards. The vacuum left by Wolsey’s demise was filled by Thomas Cromwell who was the king’s chief minister by 1533. It was this man who carried out the suppression of the monas-teries. Heoversaw the breach with Rome and the establishment of the Royal Supremacy. He directed the immense opera-tion of the dissolution of the monasteries. He was either the direct or posthumous founder of the two Courts (we would say ministries) of Augmentations and First Fruits, which handled the new income from the dissolved relig-ious houses and the secular Church, and the two courts of Wards and Surveyors, which were designed to exploit more efficiently the crown’s feudal rights and lands.According to Thomas Starkey, who became chaplain to Henry in 1535, England was a land of social crisis. England was under populated at this time as a result of the black plague of 1348-1349 and repeated outbreaks of the deadly disease since. Yf you loke to the cytes and townys throughout thys reame [realm], you schal fynd that in tyme past they haue byn much bettur inhabytd, and much more replenyschyd with pepul then they be now; . . . . This assertion of a notable lack of people is supported by Francis Gasquet who saysalthough a hundred and fifty years had elapsed before Henry VIII mounted the throne, so great had been the ravages of the scourge, and so unsettled had been the interval, that the nation was still suffering from the ef-fects of the great sick-ness. It could hardly have been otherwise, when in one year, 1348-1349, about half of the entire population was swept away.As a result of this drop in population there were fewer people to feed. Thus, there was a “fall in the price of many, though not all, agricultural products”. This lack of able-bodied men allowed the hired hand to demand higher wages. As prices and rents fell and wages rose, many landlords were forced to go into sheep-raising because it required fewer hands and there was a big demand for wool on the continent. As a result, the practice of enclosure came into common usage with disastrous results for the small farmer. The peasants were forced off their holdings and into the cities where, for the most part, they had to choose between begging and steal-ing in order to live. The result was that many towns fell into decay as the people were forced to move. Ther yn no man but he seth the grate enclosyng in euery parte of herebul land; and where as was corne and fruteful tyllage, now no thyng ys but pasturys and playnys, by the reson wherof many vyllagus and townys are in few days ruynate and dekeyd.This statement is supported by Thomas More who saidthe cause of this decay is generally attributed to sheep-farming and the enclosure of lands. Wherever the finest wool was grown, there noblemen and Abbots enclosed all the land for pasture. They leveled houses and towns, and left nothing standing except the church, which they converted into a sheep house. They turned all dwelling places and all glebelands into a wilderness. Just as the common man was having financial troubles, so was the king, the main rea-son being war and inflation. The manner in which war could inflate expenditures can be seen from this run of figures: 1509, L65,097; 1510, L26,735; 1511, L64,157; 1512, L269,564 (Guienne); 1513, L699,714 (Flanders); 1514, L155,757; 1515, L74,006; and Wolsey’s foreign adventures proved even more expensive, the expenditures of 1522-3 costing al-most L400,000.The economic changes in Europe were also depleting Henry’s resources. Henry’s need of money was due to something that lay deeper than his own extravagance and rapacity. The whole of Europe was undergoing great economic changes, in con-sequence of the discovery of new trade routes and the im-portation of gold and silver from America, which depreci-ated the value of the coinage. Prices rose and the spending power of any fixed sum of money diminished. As the royal revenues were almost en-tirely customary and therefore fixed, it followed that the King was growing poorer while the expenses of government were constantly increasing as the nation emerged from feudal into modern life.Obviously, Henry had to find new sources of income and it was to Wolsey that this re-spon-sibility fell. In 1514 Wolsey introduced a “levy on wages, personal property, and rents, which grew to be a regular part of the system of direct taxation, though it lost its flexibility and eventually became merely a conventional expression for a parliamentary grant of about L80,000 to L100,000″.”In 1522 the cardinal imposed a forced loan on the rich, which brought in L200,000. In the next year Parliament was summoned and was asked for a tax of four shillings in the pound but the members were recalcitrant and eventually granted only two shillings.” So, in 1524 Wolsey was forced to attempt another forced loan but this time he was met with resis-tance. Even “priests denounced the loan openly and preached against it and stood for the rights and liberties of the people”. The reason for the resistance seems to be that the “loan” did not go through parliament and there-fore was not legally binding. The result was that Henry had to cancel his plans for an-other French invasion but he did learn a valuable lesson: for the rest of his reign all of his actions would be perfectly “legal”. Wolsey also tried to alleviate some of the problems caused by the practice of enclosure by sponsoring various anti-enclosure bills but they met with little success. “In 1518 a Chancery order was issued that enclosures made since 1485 were to be de-molished unless it could be shown that they were for the good of the country. Further orders followed in 1520, 1526, and 1528, but they remained largely dead letters.”Undoubtedly the black plague, which had devastated the general populous of England in the mid-fourteenth century, also had an equally disastrous effect on the monaster-ies. It was inevitable that the clergy who tried to help the suffering would themselves become infected with the deadly disease. Furthermore, it seems logical to assume that the ones to survive would, for the most part be those who would not get involved but, rather, flee to the countryside. The result was the survivors were the worst of the lot. This hypothesis is supported by various historians. Francis Gasquet says thatin the County of Norfolk, out of 799 priests 527 died of the plague; and William Bateman, the bishop, applied for and obtained from Pope Clement VII, a bull allowing him to dis-pense with sixty clerks, who were only twenty-one years of age, ‘though only shavelings,’ and to allow them to hold rectories, as one thousand livings had been ren-dered vacant by death, as otherwise service would cease altogether.Here we see the beginning of future troubles as unqualified people were given positions of responsibility. Philip Hughes says thatin many respects the monasteries in England never re-gained what they now lost [from the plague]. Very few indeed of them–comparatively speaking–were, hence-forward, suffi-ciently staffed even to carry out their pri-mary function of choral prayer in the way this needs to be done.This last assertion is supported by P. J. Helm who says “there were altogether about 825 religious houses of all types and the average number of persons in the smaller houses was not more than seven or eight”. The future of the monasteries seemed so bleak to some that they felt their end was in sight. When Bishop Fox of Winchester proposed to build a col-lege at Oxford for young monks of his cathedral priory, his friend Bishop Oldham of Exeter advised him to aban-don the plan and in its place to fund a college for secular priests. ‘Shall we build houses and provide livelihoods for a com-pany of bussing monks, whose end and fall we may live to see? No, no; it is more meet a great deal that we should have to care and provide for such who by their learning shall do good in the Church and common-wealth.’ Oldham’s ad-vice was not ignored, for in 1516 Bishop Fox and he founded Corpus Christi college, Ox-ford.Thomas Wolsey did not think things were as bad as Bishop Oldham implied but he did recognize that some of the monasteries were not able to do their jobs. So, in 1524 he appealed to Pope Clement VII “for authority to dissolve a number of ‘certain exile’ and small monasteries, and to appropriate their revenues and properties” for “founding Cardinal college at Oxford together with a preparatory or nursery college in his native place, Ipswich”. Obviously, Pope Clement VII thought Wolsey’s request legitimate for he allowed Wolsey to suppress twenty-eight houses in which the “number of inmates had dwindled to single figures. In only five was there a community of eight or more, and the net income in all but six was less than L200 a year. The total revenue of all the doomed houses amounted to about L2,300.” The man entrusted with all as-pects of the legal business of these suppressions was Thomas Cromwell. Although the king received complaints about the conduct of Cromwell and the other agents assigned to the suppression, Wolsey assured him that the complaints were unjustified. It has been said by many that it was Wolsey who planted in the king’s head the idea of increasing revenues by suppressing the monasteries. He suppressed certain small monasteries and took their revenue and lands. Thereby he trained the men, he set the example, he inaugurated the policy which ended in a prodi-gious economic Revolution: the greatest England has ever known. The dissolution of all monasteries after his death, and the distribution of their lands among the new adventur-ers. . . . It might also be remembered that Wolsey’s high-handed actions as legate a latere “rode papal jurisdiction in England to its death. . . . Wolsey provided for the king and for his civil administration a hint of the manner in which secular and religious controls, vested in the hands of one man, might be used to destroy catholic and feudal liberties and, after victory, to create a national state-church.” But, there was one thing the king and Cromwell failed to give proper attention to and it would almost cost Henry his throne in 1536. They forgot that the commons were greatly displeased with these suppressions of Wolsey and in some areas reacted violently. Although “there seems to have been little opposition to Wolsey’s measures by the inmates of the houses marked for suppression” (there were attempts to bribe Wolsey) “there were here and there signs of dissatisfaction amongst the townsfolk and people of the countryside, when it became known that a monastery in the neighborhood was to be surren-dered to Wolsey”. “At Tonbridge the townsmen petitioned for a continuance of the priory which they preferred to the promise of a school with scholarships at Cardinal College, . . .” but it was all to no avail. At Bayham in Sussex the resistance took the form of vio-lence. You have heard before how the Cardinal suppressed many monasteries, of the which one called Bayham in Sussex, the which was very commodious to the country, but so befell the cause that a riotous company, disguised and unknown with painted faces and visors, came to the same monastery and brought with them the canons, and put them in their place again; and promised them that whensoever they rang the bell, that they would come again with a great power and defend them. This doing came to the ear of the King’s coun-sel, which caused the canons to be taken, and they con-fessed the captains, which were imprisoned and sore pun-ished.Chapter 2THE REFORMATION PARLIAMENTThe end of 1530 saw Henrylaunch the claim to a national immunity against Rome’s sov-ereignty; it saw him announce a personal claim to imperial status which could neither acknowledge nor al-low any supe-rior on earth. It also saw the first attempt to manhandle the clerical estate within his realm.1 Although all responsibility for the following events must fall upon Henry’s shoulders, it seems safe to say that the inspiration for these actions was Thomas Cromwell. Throughout his political career Cromwell, unlike Wolsey, recognized the value of working through the House of Commons, and it was during his eight year pe-riod of ministry, 1532-1540, that the majority of the Henrican Reforms were carried out. By contrast, outside these eight years, the reign of Henry VIII has scarcely a single creative or revolutionary achieve-ment to its credit. The King’s will-power, his courage, his decisiveness, his immense capacity to inspire adulation, these preserved the integrity of the kingdom and paved the way for the long Elizabethan peace which Englishmen were to enjoy amid a chaotic Europe. But otherwise his personal touch proved sterile; he was too egotistical, too emotional, too interested in kingly pleasures, too conservative to initiate new techniques of government, new paths of progress for English society. Yet between the years 1532 and 1540 all is different. Creation, destruction and change are visible on all sides; . . .2 . Henry opened his assault upon the clergy on September 29, 1530. This put them on the defense which was the position they remained in for the rest of Henry’s reign. “In Michaelmas, 1530, fifteen clerics were cited to the King’s Bench on praemunire charges, charges, that is, of lesser treason, punishable with loss of goods and imprisonment.”3 But these charges were dropped, it seems, by the design of Cromwell. “The prelates shall not appear in the praemunire, . . . There is another way devised.”4 That “other way” was much more audacious. A few days after the death of Thomas Wolsey [November 30, 1530], the attorney general filed an in-junction in the king’s bench charging the clergy with a breach of the statutes of Praemunire and Provisors. These were statutes of 1351 and 1353 under which a ci-tation could be brought against anyone who sought satis-faction in Rome or elsewhere in cases which fell under royal jurisdiction. It was charged that the whole English clergy was guilty in the submission that it had made to Cardinal Wolsey during his legatine administra-tion. It was irrelevant that Henry had accepted this authority and had supported Wolsey in his exercise of it. The law was clear. The law was higher than the king.5The clergy quickly called a Convocation both in Canterbury and York. The Southern Convocation [in Canterbury] hoped to bribe the king with L40,000 but soon learned that Henry expected much more. Therefore, on January 24, 1531 they voted to pay the king L100,000 “as a grant to the king in acknowledgment of his defense of the faith against heresy”.6 This obvious attempt to bribe the king without admitting their guilt failed when on February 7 Henry sent the grant back or-dering the “clergy to confess their guilt and acknowledge him as ‘the Protector and Supreme Head of the Church in England’ having, moreover, in his dominions a cure of souls”.7 The bishops wanted to add the phrase “so far as Canon Law allows” but Henry re-jected this with a counterproposal of “after God”. Finally, on February 11, 1531, the clergy and the king agreed upon the title “the Protector and Supreme Head of the Church and Clergy of England, whose especial Protector, single and Supreme Lord, and as far as the law of Christ allows, even Supreme Head”. The obvious ambiguity of this phrase was questioned by the presiding bishop of the Northern Convocation, Cuthbert Tunstall. Bishop Tunstall wanted the phrase “only and Supreme Lord after Christ in temporal matters” inserted but Henry, in his reply, said that “you [Bishop Tunstall] first define the Church as the Body of Christ, and then propose I shall be the head of it in temporal matters, but the church so defined has no temporal matters”.8Bishop Tunstall backed down and the Northern Convocation bought their par-don for L18,840, 0s. 10d. Bishop Tunstall’s reservations about Henry’s intentions were proven justified early in 1532 when Parliament went into session. “Two acts of this session had a per-manent effect, and are vital forces to this day in English life: the act about first-fruits, and the submission of the clergy. The first is directly anti-papal, the other anti-clerical. . .”.9 The first-fruits act, otherwise known as the Conditional Restraints of Annates, was supposedly designed to prevent the outflow of money from England to Rome but it was ac-tually intended to put pressure on the pope to concede to Henry’s wishes. Since the Tudors came in, forty-seven years before, more than L160,000 in specie had found its way out of the realm to the pope, through the payments bish-ops were obliged to make on their appointment–pay-ment, in each case, of a sum equal to a third of the see’s annual revenue [other sources say a years profits]. . .”.10 The interesting aspect of this bill was that Henry had a year to enact it. Obvi-ously it was being used as a Damoclean sword to force the pope to approve of Henry’s divorce. The resistance Henry met in passing this bill demonstrates that, although the Parliament usu-ally went along with Henry, it was not a rubber stamp organization. Henry had to make three appearances before Parliament before the bill was passed. One might ask why the Parliament was so hesitant to prevent this outflow of money. The reason was that Parliament was not as ready as Henry was for such drastic ecclesiastical changes. This annates bill provided for too many contingencies for the Parliaments taste. Such asif the court of Rome endeavored to wield excommunica-tion, interdict, or process compulsory, then all manner of sacra-ments and divine service should continue to be administered, and the interdict, etc. should not by any prelate or minister be executed or divulged.11 From the above it is obvious that the majority of Parliament was not yet ready for a complete frontal attack on the clergy but, they were getting there. On March 18, 1532 the Petitions of the Commons was presented to the king. This document made twelve basic charges against the clergy of England. They are:1) The clergy in convocation make canons which may con-travene the laws of the realm and be prejudicial to the royal authority. They are written in an unknown tongue, so that simple people do not understand them. 2) The Courts of Arches and Audience have too few proctors and hence the law’s delays. The King is asked to appoint more proctors. 3) Summoners and Apparitors are constantly citing peo-ple to appear in court on frivolous charges. 4) Fees are generally excessive. 5) Priests take money for celebrating the sacraments. 6) Executors find it difficult to obtain probate of wills and have to make long journeys. 7) Prelates make pacts before instituting men to bene-fices and such pacts are simoniacal. 8) Bishops and Ordinaries present relations, being mi-nors, to benefices and during their minority enjoy the revenues. 9) The number of holy days is excessive, especially in harvest, and are the occasion of idle and wanton sports. 10) Innocent people are subject to vexatious examina-tion, and kept in prison without redress. 11) It is impossible to recover damages for wrongful ac-cu-sations. 12) Innocent people defamed as heretics are trapped by subtle interrogations about the high mysteries of the Faith, and any two witnesses, however unworthy of cre-dence, suffice for condemnation. The Commons concluded by imploring the intervention of the King, ‘in whom and by whom the only and sole redress, reformation and remedy herein absolutely rests and remains’.12 Critics of Henry’s methods and motives are quick to point out that this petition did not originate within the commons but rather was written by Thomas Cromwell. The Petition really emanated from the Court, as is proved by the fact that there are, amongst the State Pa-pers, four cor-rected drafts of it, the corrections in these being generally in the handwriting of Thomas Cromwell. . . .13 But, it should be pointed out that it was common procedure for the royal court to write up these bills, and it seems likely that the commons agreed with the charges for they supported the Petition. Henry asked the bishops to make a reply to these charges and on April 28, 1532 this was done. In it [the reply] the clergy asserted their immemorial right, derived from Scripture and the determination of the Church, to manage their own affairs, and emphasized the fact that it was their duty to decree what was true in faith and morals. They denied that their canons were contrary to the laws of the realm or infringed the royal prerogative.14 They concluded their defense with “an appeal to the King as protector of the English Church. . . “.15We therefore, your most humble bedesmen and orators, be-seech your grace’s highness–upon the tender zeal and entire love which your grace doth bear to Christ’s faith and to the laws of His Church, specially in this your grace’s own realm–of your accustomed and incompara-ble goodness unto us your said bedesmen, to continue our chief protector, de-fender, and aider in and for the execution of our office and duty, specially touching re-pression of heresy, reformation of sin, and due behaviour and order in the premises of all your grace’s subjects, spiritual and temporal, which (no doubt thereof) shall be much to the pleasure of God, great comfort to many’s souls, quietness and unity of all your whole realm, and, as we think verily, most principally to the great comfort of your grace’s majesty, which we beseech lowly upon our knees, so entirely as we can, to be the author of unity, char-ity, and concord as above, for whose preser-vation we do and shall continually pray to Almighty God long to reign and prosper in most honourable estate to His pleasure.16 “The clergy were soon to discover that they had to buy his protection with something more tangible than fair words.”17 On April 30, 1532 Henry sent the Ordinaries’ reply to the commons stating, “we think their answer will smally please you, for it seemeth to us very slender. You be a great sort of wise men; I doubt not but you will look circumspectly on the matter, and we will be indifferent between you.”18 On May 10 Henry followed this statement to the commons with demands of his own. Henry demanded that the Convocation promisethat they would not make and publish any new canons unless licensed by the king to do so and unless these canons had received the royal assent, and, secondly, they offered the whole existing body of the canon law for the consideration and judgment of a commission to be named by the king. This commission was to be made up of eight lay lords, eight members of the House of Commons and sixteen of the clergy, and only those parts of the canon law were to stand which the commission ap-proved.19 The next day Henry continued his assault by addressingthe Speaker and a deputation of the House: “Well-be-loved subjects, we thought that the clergy of our realm had been our subjects wholly, but now we have well per-ceived that they be but half our subjects; yea, and scarce our subjects; for all the prelates at their consecration make an oath to the Pope clean contrary to the oath that they make to us, so that they seem to be his subjects, and not ours’.20 The clergy saw the handwriting on the wall and on May 15, with only Bishop John Clerk dissenting, they acceded to the king’s wishes. “The die was cast. Henry’s cam-paign had shown beyond all possibility of doubt in what sense he took himself to be ‘Supreme Head of the English Church and clergy as far as the law of Christ allows.’”21 When the clergy finally surrendered to Henry he proved to beless anticlerical than his subjects, and in the last resort he honoured his promise to stand between the laity and clergy. Having used the Commons as a bugbear to frighten Convocation into handing him its legislative power, he then showed no enthusiasm concerning the rest of the lay de-mands and refrained from that radical overhaul or abolition of ecclesiastical jurisdiction to which the Commons aspired. Henry VIII was in fact the manipulator, not the creator, of anticlerical sentiment.22 This is not to say that Henry’s attacks on the Church were over, but he never did allow anti-clerical sentiment to destroy “the legal functions of the Church in society”.23 In August, 1532, Archbishop Warham of Canterbury died, and Henry appointed Thomas Cranmer as his successor. Cranmer returned the favor by granting Henry his long sought divorce on May 23, 1533. “Also in 1533 [February] Cromwell produced his most critical piece of legisla-tion–the Act in Restraint of Appeals. . .”.24 The opening preamble of this bill is very interesting for it defines how Henry viewed England and his position of power. Where by divers sundry old authentic histories and chron-icles, it is manifestly declared and expressed, that this realm of England is an empire, and so hath be ac-cepted in the world, governed by one supreme head and king, the same, unto whom a body politic, compact of all sorts and degrees of people divided in terms and by names of spirituality and temporality, be bounden and ought to bear, next to God, a natural and humble obedi-ence, he being also institute and furnished, by the good-ness and sufferance of Almighty God, with plenary, whole, and entire power, preeminence, author-ity, pre-rogative, and jurisdiction, to render and yield justice, and final determination to all manner of folk, residents, or subjects within this his realm, in all causes, matters, de-bates, and contentions, happening to occur, insurge, or begin within the limits thereof, without restraint, or provocation to any foreign princes or potentates of the world; the body spiritual whereof having power, when any cause of the law divine happened to come in ques-tion, or of spiritual learning, then it was declared, inter-preted, and showed by that part of the said body politic, called the English Church, which always hath been re-puted, and also found of that sort, that both for knowl-edge, integrity, and sufficiency of number, it hath been always thought, and is also at this hour, sufficient and meet of itself, without the intermeddling of any exterior person or persons, to declare and determine as such doubts, and to administer all such offices and duties, as to their rooms spiritual doth appertain; for the due ad-ministra-tion whereof, and to keep them from corruption and sinister affection, the king’s most noble progenitors, and the anteces-sors of the nobles of this realm, have sufficiently endowed the said Church, both with honour and possessions; and the laws temporal, for trial of property of lands and goods, and for the conservation of the people of this realm in unity and peace, without ravin or spoil, was and yet is administered, adjudged, and exe-cuted by sundry judges and ministers of the other part of the said body politic, called the temporality; and both their authorities and jurisdictions do conjoin to-gether in the due administration of justice, the one to help the other. . .25 .
“By calling England an ‘Empire’, Cromwell designated it a sovereign state, with a King who owed no submission to any other human ruler and who was invested with plenary power to give his people justice in all causes.”26 And this is what the bill provided for. By this act the pope’s juridical power over the English lay-man was utterly abolished; for the act laid down that appeals in cases about wills, marriages, rights of tithes, oblations and obventions should not henceforward be made to Rome but be heard and finally decided within the realm.27 But the complete breach with Rome was still not achieved. This act “prohibited ap-peals on wills, tithes, and fees, questions which concerned the property rights of Mem-bers of Parliament, and on marriage [Henry's divorce]. It did not prohibit appeals in cases of heresy.”28Although Mr. Russel is correct in saying that the breach was not complete, (”not till the following year would Convocation declare that he [the pope] had no more authority in England than any other foreign bishop, and Parliament declare Henry head of the English Church”29 ) the point was merely technical. For this bill interpreted the praemunire statutes in the broadest possible meaning, a meaning that Pope Clement VII could no longer ignore for it was this bill which gave Thomas Cranmer the power to grant Henry’s divorce. The situation is best summarized by Philip Hughes when he says, “To limit the exercise of the pope’s jurisdiction, albeit unlawfully, is not necessar-ily to deny it; to abolish it altogether can hardly be anything else than utter denial”.30Therefore, on July 4, 1533 Clement VIIexcommunicated the primate for judging the case, and ex-communicated along with him the other bishops who had taken part in the trial, Lee of York, Longland of Lin-coln, and Stephen Gardiner. And on the same day, . . ., the pope ex-communicated Henry also, unless, by Sep-tember he had left Anne and taken back Catherine; also the nuncio was with-drawn from London.31 Henry’s reaction was swift and decisive. Henry started a propaganda campaign di-rected against the papacy and reconvened the Parliament. Henry orderedthat arrangements be made with the bishops for sermons everywhere showing how the pope is subject to the council, and that he is not, by God’s law, any more authority in England than any other foreign bishop; and that whatever authority the pope has ever exercised in England had its ori-gins in the king’s good pleasure only.32 Furthermore, it was ordered that “proclamations are to be made, printed and posted ‘on every church door in England’, of the whole statutes of appeals, . . ., so that none shall be ignorant of the statute, and all men will be prepared to disregard any sentence from Rome against the king”.33 In summary, “there should, then, be an assault on the pope at home; and simultaneously a protective league should be organized abroad against his riposte, a league–even–with the admittedly heretical, Lutheran princes of Germany”. 34It is revealing that Henry considered Lutheranism heretical. Further demon-stration that Henry was not a reformer in the usual sense of the word can be found in the Six Articles of 1539. This act said thatall, who henceforward, denied Transubstantiation were liable to be burnt as heretics and to lose all their property as trai-tors, those who taught that, in order to receive the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, communion under both species was necessary, or that private masses were con-trary to God’s law, or that actual confession of sins to a priest was not nec-essary to the sacrament of penance, priests who married, and men or women who violated their solemn vows of chastity–all these were to be hanged as felons. . . .35 Henry also placed before the Parliament in 1534 “five new bills that would work out to the full the implications of the surrender of Convocation in 1531, of the Submis-sion of 1532, of the act of that year about annates and episcopal appointments, and of the Statue of Appeals of 1533″.36As Hughes points out, the reason Henry could now be so decisive was that heknew that at home he was safe. He had parliament with him, lords and commons, the landed interest and the traders; and he had for his agent the one political genius of the day, Cromwell. The churchmen had collapsed before the mere thought of his displeasure, while as yet not a single new penalty had been enacted to punish their opposition [this would be rectified]. Henry now pro-posed to secure his gains by a system of new personal oaths for all subjects, and of new, even bloody, penalties for disobedi-ence, against which neither rank nor any prestige of honour and holy living would be protection. The ‘reign of terror’, as it has been called, that was about to begin was not the cause of the first fundamental as-sents to the change, but an effect of the ease with which these had been obtained, a means de-signed to safeguard the change already made and to trans-form it, where this was necessary, from something notational to reality.37 The five bills passed by the spring session of Parliament were:1) The Ecclesiastical Appointments Act: Determined how vacancies were to be filled. The king would choose his man who would then be consecrated by an arch-bishop with no references made to the pope. 2) Dispensations Act: Took care of cases which formerly found their solution in papal licenses and dispensations. The money which formerly went to Rome in these cases now went to the Archbishop of Canterbury who turned most of it over to the king. Also, all monasteries which, because of papal privilege, were not under the con-trol of the diocesan bishop [about 300 houses] were now under the king’s control. 3) The Submission of the Clergy was now made law. 4) First Act of Succession: First act ever passed to regulate the succession to the crown. Henry’s lawful heirs are to be the issue from Anne Boleyn. 5) This act said “no manner of speaking. . .against the said Bishop of Rome or his pretended power. . .nor. . .against any laws called spiritual laws made by his authority and repugnant to English laws or the king’s prerogative shall be deemed. . .heresy”.38The passage of these bills was followed on March 31, 1534, by a thirty-four to four negative vote by the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury to the ques-tion of “Whether the Roman pontiff has any greater jurisdiction bestowed on him by God in the Holy Scriptures in this realm of England than any other foreign bishop?” The schism was complete. Meanwhile, the pope was finally taking some action on Catherine’s dilemma. On March 23, 1534 (word reached London on April 11) twenty-two cardinals in Rome voted that Catherine’s marriage to Henry was just and Henry must take her back. Henry, therefore, must take back Catherine, and pay her costs as well as his own. His petition was answered, his doubts resolved, by the authority which, as the divinely guided interpreter of God’s law, he had, seven years be-fore, appealed.39 Henry’s reaction was to further increase his propaganda program. Therefore, Henry made all the preachers preach an official sermon which denounced the pope. Henry also published an anti-papal treatise entitled A Little Treatise Against the Muttering of Some Papists in Corners. It statedthe Royal Supremacy. . .had really nothing to do with re-lig-ion. It was not a change in religion, . . ., but a matter of poli-tics, the ending of a monstrous usurpation that had been very profitable to the usurper but never justi-fied–a usurpation always grudged in England and ruin-ous to the realm.40Also at this time Cromwell decided thatif parliament’s chief business was to be the demonstration to Europe that England could get on perfectly well with-out Rome, then a necessary preliminary was insurance against disaffection, and for this there was nothing more necessary and useful than ‘to cause indictments to be drawn for the of-fenses in treason and misprision con-cerning the Nun of Canterbury–to know what the king will have done with the Nun and her accomplices’.41In 1525 a woman named Elizabeth Barton became ill for several months. “The ill-ness was accompanied by trances, in which she foretold coming events and asserted that the Blessed Virgin had appeared to her and foretold her cure at the neighboring chapel of Court-at-Street.”42 She was “cured” as predicted and thus came to the atten-tion of the church. Archbishop Warham appointed Dr. Edward Bocking, who was the cellarer of the cathedral monastery of Christ Church, to look into the affair. The commission made a favorable report and in 1525, at the age of sixteen, Elizabeth Bar-ton entered the Benedictine convent of St. Sepulchre near Canterbury. Dr. Bocking was appointed her confessor and director. She remained at Canterbury for eight years but was allowed to travel “on visits of devotion, or in her role of spiritual counselor and comforter of those in distress”.43In 1527 the Nun of Kent, as she was now called, came out against the king’s pro-posed divorce from Catherine. Her fame was such at this time that in 1528 she met with Thomas Wolsey and rebuked him “for his general neglect of his responsibilities and in par-ticu-lar for his share in the divorce proceedings”.44 As her fame continued to spread even Henry had an audience with her. She warned him to stop the divorce or he would be over-taken by catastrophe. As to whether she was having visions or not, it is hard to say. In a judgment of character the concurrent testimony of Warham, Fisher, and More and their esteem for Elizabeth Barton over a series of years, must carry considerable weight, and it goes far towards eliminating the possibility of complete and long standing fraudulence.45 On the other hand it seems plausible to assume she was a sick girl who was eas-ily influenced by those around her. There can be little doubt that she was eventually ex-ploited by a group of clergy centered on Canterbury–es-pecially one Dr. Edward Bocking, her spiritual director and a monk at Christ Church–who were opposed to the divorce and saw in her a useful weapon with which to harass the king.46 Under Dr. Bocking’s influence, the Holy Maid prophesied that “if Catherine suffered any wrong Henry ’should no longer be king of this realm. . .and should die a villain’s death’”.47If it had been any other time, Elizabeth Barton would probably have been safe from persecution, but with the situation as it was in 1533 Henry could not afford to ig-nore a po-tential source of trouble. For “if Bocking and the others had their way, she might have been used to stir the commons and fire serious unrest. . .”.48Another possible reason for Henry’s decision to strike against the Nun was that hewas moved by news or forecasts of his impending ex-com-munication [for divorcing Catherine] which took place on 4 July in Rome. In the sequel the chief aim of the king and his minister was to deprive both excommu-nication and prophet-ess of their credit by representing the former as effected by the latter, and the latter as de-luded or criminal.49 Therefore, “in mid-July (1533) he [Henry] ordered Cromwell and Cranmer to strike”.50 Elizabeth was questioned briefly in July and released. But in November she was arrested again and “was examined several times by the Council and the Star Cham-ber”51 and was charged with “having spoken and influenced opinion against the king’s divorce and second marriage, . . .”.52 We can deduce that sometime during this trial she confessed that “her revelations were imaginary, and had been suggested and en-couraged by Bocking and others”.53 Now it remained to discredit her in the eyes of the public. Thereforeon Sunday, November 23, 1533, she and her compan-ions. . .were placed on a scaffold at St. Paul’s cross to do public penance.54During this public displaythe nun was required to hand a form of confession to Dr. Capon, who read it to the people. “I dame Elizabeth Barton. . .do confess that I, most miserable and wretched person, have been the original of all this mischief, and by my falsehood have deceived all these persons here and many more, whereby I have most grievously offended almighty God and my most noble sovereign, the king’s grace. Wherefore I humbly, and with heart most sorrow-ful, deserve you to pray to Almighty God for my miser-able sins, and ye that may do me good to make supplica-tion to my most sov-ereign for me for his gracious mercy and pardon.55But the prayers were unheard for on April 21, 1534, under an act of Attainder (for it was not yet treason to speak against the king), “Elizabeth Barton, the Benedictine Bocking. . .were executed as traitors at Tyburn”.56This whole affair is best summed up G. H. Cook who saidalthough it had no immediate bearing on the general sup-pression, the affair of the Holy Maid of Kent; in which sev-eral religious houses were implicated, had some in-fluence in bringing monks into disfavour with Henry VIII, and hastened Cromwell’s plans for the consfication of monastic prop-erty.57Furthermore, Cromwell made sure that the autumn Parliament of 1534 corrected some defi-ciencies in the king’s power. The most obvious deficiency was the lack of a defini-tion of treason broad enough to handle cases such as Elizabeth Barton’s. The First Act of Succession had given a definition of treason but it made no refer-ence to speaking against the king. And if any person or persons. . .by writing or by any ex-terior act or deed, maliciously procure or do. . .any thing or things to the prejudice, slander, disturbance, or dero-gation of the said lawful matrimony solemnized between your majesty and the said Queen Anne. . .then every such person and persons. . .shall be adjudged high traitors, and. .shall suffer pains of death, as in cases of high trea-son. . . .58Therefore, the Treasons Act was passed in November, 1534. This definition of treason made it a crime to speak against the king. Be it therefore enacted. . .that if any person. . .do mali-ciously wish, will, or desire, by words or writing. . .to deprive them [Royal Family]. . .of their dignity, title or name. . .[or] pronounce, by express writing or words, that the king our sovereign lord should be a heretic, schis-matic, tyrant, infidel or usurper of the crown. . .being thereof lawfully convicted. . .shall be adjudged traitor, and that every such offense. . .shall be reputed. . .and adjudged high trea-son. . .and suffer such pains of death and other penalties, as is limited and accustomed in cases of high treason (emphasis is mine).59Also, in this same session of Parliament, there was passed the Supremacy Act which gave legal status to the king’s new powers. Let it be enactedthat the king. . .shall be taken, accepted, and reputed the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England, called Anglicana Ecclesia; and shall have. . .full power and author-ity from time to time to visit, repress, redress, reform, order, correct, restrain, and amend all such er-rors, heresies, abuses, offenses, contempts, and enormi-ties, whatsoever they be, by which any manner spiritual authority or jurisdic-tion ought or may lawfully be re-formed, repressed, ordered, redressed, corrected, re-strained, or amended, most to the pleasure of Almighty God, the increase of virtue on Christ’s religion, and for the conservation of the peace, unity, and tranquillity of this realm; any usage, custom, foreign law, for-eign authority, prescription, or nay other thing or things to the contrary hereof notwithstanding.60The Second Act of Succession was also passed in this session. This act gave the form of the oath which was provided for in the First Act of Succession. Ye shall swear to bear faith, truth, and obedience alonely to the king’s majesty, and to his heirs of his body of his most dear and entirely beloved wife Queen Anne, begot-ten and to be begotten, and further to the heirs of our said sovereign lord according to the limitation in the statute made for surety of his succession in the crown of this realm, mentioned and contained, and not to any other within this realm, nor foreign authority or poten-tate: and in case any oath be made, or has been made, by you, to any person or persons, that then ye (are) to re-pute the same as vain and annihilate; and that, to your cun-ning, wit, and uttermost of your power, without guile, fraud, or other undue means, you shall observe, keep, maintain, and defend the said Act of Succession, and all the whole ef-fects, and contents thereof, and all other Acts and statutes made in confirmation, or for exe-cution of the same, or of anything therein contained; and this ye shall do against all manner of persons, of what estate, dignity, degree, or condi-tion soever they be, and in no wise do or attempt, nor to your power suffer to be done or attempted, directly or indi-rectly, any thing or things privily or apartly to the let, hin-drance, damage, or derogation thereof, or of any part of the same, by any manner of means, or for any manner of pre-tense; so help you God, all saints, and the holy Evangelists.61Finally, the Annates Tax formerly paid to the pope was now ordered to be paid to the king. This ended the important acts of the autumn session of Parliament and also ended the Reformation Parliament. The legal settlement was now complete. It only re-mained to realize it in a few important public submis-sions, and to en-force its sanctions against the small band of highly placed recusants.62Therefore, in April, 1535 “all supporters of the pope’s jurisdiction were now ordered to be arrested, and on April 20. . .the priors of the Charterhouse of London, Beauvale and Axholme, and Dr. Richard Reynolds of the Bridgettine monastery of Syon”63 were ar-rested. They were charged with “denying the king to be supreme head of the English Church”64 and were sentenced to death. On May 4 they were put to death as traitors at Tyburn, hanged in their religious dress, against all precedent for the execution of criminous clerks, priesthood and mona-chism being thereby punished and warned as well as priests and monks.65As pointed out by Professor Hughes, the fact that they were executed in their clerical garb demonstrated the government’s contempt for the clerical estate as did the method of execu-tion. He was then hanged with a thick rope, and almost im-medi-ately cut down. He was stripped of all his clothes, except for his hair shirt. He was disemboweled, his heart was torn out and rubbed in his face, he was dismembered and one arm sent to be nailed above the door of the Charterhouse.66On June 19 three more members of the London Charterhouse were similarly executed. Following these executions were the executions of Bishop Fisher on June 22, 1535 and Thomas More on July 6, 1535. They were both convicted of refusing to take the oath of supremacy. At this time Cromwell decided to use the king’s new powers of visitation to compile the “Valor Ecclesiastious, a detailed assessment of all clerical incomes from those of bishop-rics down to those of vicarages and chapels”67, in order to collect the newly reinstated an-nates tax. Cathedrals, collegiate churches, parish churches, monas-ter-ies, convents and hospitals, all were summoned to produce their estate books and accounts. Their officials were heard on oath, their stewards and bailiffs and ten-ants; and soon the king knew to a farthing exactly how much the Church owned. . . . All was done according to a well arranged plan, and set down in orderly form, so that the king would know just what his new ecclesiastical revenue ought to be, that an-nual tenth of the income of every benifice–clerical or monastic–and that the tax of a whole year’s income paid every time a benifice changed hands.68Naturally many of the houses tried to represent their holdings as being less then they were. Ironically, these lies would return to haunt them. Chapter 3DISSOLUTION OF THE LESSER MONASTERIESIn January, 1535 Henry appointed Thomas Cromwell “vicar-general with authority to undertake, by himself or his agents, a general visitation of churches, mon-asteries, and clergy”.1Therefore, in July, 1535 Cromwell appointed various men to the task of visiting monasteries once again. This time there stated purpose wasto enquire whether divine service was duly observed, how many inmates there were and how many there ought to be, particulars of foundation and endowment, what special rules there were and how far kept, how well the Benedictine rule was followed, whether woolen shirts were always worn, and so on.2After acquiring this information, it would be decided how to improve the religious life. But, the “real” purpose of the visitations seems to have been to gather enough incrimi-nating evi-dence to justify at least partial suppressions in order to help alleviate Henry’s fiscal problems. As was pointed out earlier in this paper, the importation of American bullion was causing international inflation at this time. Henry was also faced with the possibil-ity of inva-sion by Spain or France in retaliation for his anti-papal actions of the last six years. This ne-cessitated his allocating more money to the military. It is possible to understand why, with these pressing monetary needs, the king’s eye would fall on the church as a way to solve his problems. The monasteries “had a gross in-come of a hundred and sixty thousand pounds and a net income of a hundred and thirty five”.3 “The property of the Church represented between one-forth and one-third of all the land in England. . .”.4In July, 1535 Thomas Cromwell sent his agents to visit the monasteries. The four principal visitors were Richard Layton, Thomas Legh, John ap Rice and John London. The first two were doctors of the university of Cambridge, London an Oxford doctor. The first three were, at this time, men in the middle thirties, Dr. London was somewhere about fifty. He was a priest, and so was Layton; the other two were laymen.5They carried with themtwo documents, a list of instructions, which was in fact a long questionnaire to be administered to each of the re-ligious, and a set of injunctions to be issued at the end of the visitations.6The “instructions” consisted of seventy-four questions for the religious and twelve separate questions for the nuns. Among the questions were:the number of the religious; revenues and possessions and ti-tle deeds of the house; the rule; whether the nov-ices were taught the rule, how they were educated and whether money was demanded for their admission; ob-servance of the relig-ious obligations, e. g. use of a common dormitory, common refectory, and of the offi-cial costume or habit; observance of the discipline of fasts, of silence and the rule of enclosure. Had any of the community abandoned the religious life? How was the superior chosen? Were his relations with the other sex correct? Had he favourites in the community? Did he favour his relatives at the expense of the monastic reve-nues or sell presentations to livings? Did he submit his accounts to the community and care for the property? Was there an inventory and was the convent seal kept from misuse? Were sick religious treated well; the duties of hospitality practiced; the archives well preserved? Were the subordinate officials competent and faithful? The nuns were asked whether they had made their pro-fessions in real freedom; how they occu-pied their time when not in choir; whether their relations with clergy and laymen were correct, and how often they went to con-fession and received Holy Communion.7The injunctionsbegan by reminding the abbot and community of the two oaths they had recently taken in respect of the Acts of Succession and Supremacy, and the first injunction laid down that ‘the abbot. . .shall faithfully, truly and heartily keep and observe, and cause, teach and procure to be kept’ all the laws and instructions relating to these two great issues, and that superiors ’shall observe and fulfill by all the means that they best may, the statutes of the realm made or to be made for the suppression and taking away of the usurped and pretended jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome within this realm’.8The injunctions went on to reduce the number of clergy by dismissing children who had been dedicated to the cloister by their parents, dismissing those who had entered as boys and those who confessed they were in the wrong vocation. Furthermore, the monks were for-bidden to leave their precinct. “Also, that women, of what state or degree soever they be, be utterly excluded from entering into the limits or circuit of this monastery. . .unless they first obtain license of the king’s highness or his visitor.”9 It was ordered “that they shall not shew no reliques, or feigned miracles, for increase of lucre, but that they exhort pilgrims and strangers to give that to the poor that they thought to offer to their images or reliques”.10It must have been known that some of these rules were unenforceable. Henry and Cromwell must have planned to use the inevitable infractions as grounds for sup-pression. This is supported by Professor Knowles who says the injunctions were in-tended to “drive them [the monks] either to petition for release or to disobedience which could be punished by suppression”.11 But, whatever the intention of the visitations and injunctions, the result was suppres-sions. In March 1536 sufficient evidence had been collected to justify Henry appearing himself in Parliament to declare the iniquities of the monks in the lesser monasteries [income of L200 or less a year}, to suggest their dissolu-tion, and to claim that their wealth should be appropri-ated to his own use.12Parliament agreed and shortly afterwards passed the "Act for the dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries" (this bill is in the Appendix) which suppressed all monasteries "with a commu-nity of no more than twelve and a net income of less than L200 a year".13 The opening line of this bill says that "manifest sin, vicious, carnal, and abomi-nable living is daily used and committed among the little and small abbeys. . ."14 and this is why they must be closed. We have no record of what Henry said to Parliament. It was much later said that Parliament was presented with a report called The Black Book; but if so there is no evidence of what was in it, or of anyone who saw it. It can-not have contained the fragmentary Comperta [reports of the 1535 visitations] which have survived, for, in the ensuing Act, Parliament piously thanks God ‘for divers and great sol-emn monasteries where religion is right well kept’, but in the Comperta the greater mon-asteries are made out to be as bad, if not worse, than the lesser ones. We can only con-clude that Parliament ac-cepted the word of the King.15But, by studying the letters sent to Cromwell by his agents, we will get some idea of the conditions they reported they found. One of the common complaints of the visitors seems to have been the number of relics and the image worship prevalent in the monasteries. Richard Layton wrote Cromwell from Monk Farleign, Wiltshire:I send you the Vincula of S. Petrus [fetters or girdle of S. Peter] which women put about them at the time of their de-livery. Ye shall also receive a great comb called Mary Magdalen’s comb, S. Dorothy’s comb, S. Margarets’s comb the least, they [the monks] cannot tell how they came by them, nor have anything to show in writing [that] they be rel-ics.16Layton also wrote to Cromwell about the relics he found at Maiden Bradley priory, Wiltshire, and at Bruton abbey, Somerset. I send you reliquaries; first, two flowers wrapped in white and black sarcenet that on Christmas eve, in the hour in which Christ was born, will spring and burgeon and bear blossoms, which may be seen, saith the prior of Maiden Bradley; ye shall also receive a bag of relics, where in ye shall see strange things, as shall appear by the scripture, as God’s coat, Our Lady’s smock, part of God’s supper on the Lord’s table, part of the stone [of the manger] in which was born Jesus in Bethlehem. . . .I send you also Our Lady’s girdle of Bruton [abbey], red silk, which is a solemn relic sent to women traveling which shall not miscarry enroute. I send you also Mary Mag-dalen’s girdle. . . .17Other letters paint a sordid picture of the life style in some of the monasteries. Cromwell’s agent, John Bartelot “found the prior of the Crossed Friars in Lon-don at that time being in bed with his whore, both naked. . .”.18Layton wrote from the Syon abbey that he hadlearned many enormous things against Bishop in the ex-ami-nation of the lay breathen; first that Bishop. . .persuaded one of his lay breathen, a smith, to have made a key for the door, to have in the night-time received in wenches for him and his fellow and especially a wife of Uxbridge. . .he was desirous to have had her conveyed in to him. The said Bishop also persuaded a nun, to whom he was confessor, to submit her body to his pleasure, and thus he persuaded her in confes-sion, making her believe that whensoever and as oft as they should meddle to-gether, if she were immediately after con-fessed by him, and took of him absolution, she should be clear forgiven of God. . . .19One more example comes from Dr. Layton and Dr. Legh. They wrote thatthe abbot of Fountains hath so greatly dilapidated his house, wasted their woods, notoriously keeping six whores, de-famed here by all people. . . . Six days before our access to his monastery he committed theft and sacri-lege, confessing the same.20But, contrary to what some historians imply, not all of these letters were anti-monas-tic. John Tregonwell, writing about the nunnery at Godstow, said that hefound all things well and in good order as well in the monas-tery and the abbey there, as also in the convent of the same, except that one sister thirteen or fourteen years past, being then of another house brake her chastity, the which for cor-rection and punishment afterwards was sent to Godstow by the Bishop of Lincoln, where now and ever since then she hath lived virtuous.21At Bruern he saidthe abbot is (as it appears to me) not only virtuous and well learned in holy scripture, but also hath right well re-paired the ruin and decay of that house, left by his prede-cessor’s negli-gence, and the convent (which heretofore were insolent) be-ing now brought to order.22From these examples it is apparent that the findings of the visitors were not categori-cally damning, but it is also true that some of the visitors, Dr. Layton in par-ticular, were over-enthusiastic in their search for damning evidence. In one letter to Cromwell, Dr. Layton wrote thatthe abbey here [S. Mary de Pratis, Leicester] is confed-erate, we suppose, and nothing will confess. The abbot is an hon-est man and doth very well, but he hath here the most obsti-nate and factious canons that ever I knew. This morning I will object against divers of them sodomy and adultery, and thus descend to particulars which I have learned of others, but not of any of them; what I shall find I cannot tell.23Another interesting aspect of these suppressions is that, even though the letters con-demn both small and large monasteries, the “Act for the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries” only suppressed the smaller ones. In fact, it goes so far as to praise the larger ones, saying “that divers and great solemn monasteries of this realm, wherein (thanks be to God) religion is right well kept and observed. . .”.24 Even more amazing is the fact that upon dissolution the religious were given the option of “going to another house of the order or ‘taking capacities’, that is, accepting dispensations from their vows of poverty and obed
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