Yorkshire is knee deep in monastic houses from the great foundations such as Fountains and Rievaulx to the smaller but no less fascinating Kirklees Priory with its links to Robin Hood. Part of the reason for the great number of monastic foundations in Yorkshire is the fact that the early monks wanted to live like the Desert Fathers – on their own in the wild. It was also excellent land for sheep once it had been cleared, although the monks of Jervaulx made their reputation as breeders of fine horses. The Yorkshire Moors must have seemed very wild a thousand years ago. Then there were the monastic patrons and benefactors. So far so good – but what about Derbyshire surely it was no less wild and surely to goodness there were plenty of patrons eager to save their souls? It’s not as if its a million miles from Yorkshire either (though clearly the traffic restrictions currently in operation on the M1 are doing a very good job of creating that impression). In actual fact the large monasteries did have extensive links with Derbyshire but rather than establishing monastic houses they established granges – or farms. Roche Abbey had a number of granges in the White Peak.
The abbey that most immediately springs to mind is Calke Abbey which now bears no resemblance to an abbey and which is in the hands of the National Trust. A bit of research revealed that it wasn’t an abbey, it was a priory in the hands of Augustinian Canons – so that’s me told. The priory at Repton is its daughter house. Now I’ve always known Repton for its links to Vikings so clearly I’m not doing very well thus far.
Gresley Priory became a parish church and Darley Priory – another Augustinian stronghold turned into an eighteenth century stately stack whilst its guest house became an inn rejoining in the name “Old Abbey Inn” just in case a passing historian should miss the obvious. Then there’s Dale Abbey in Deepdale. Then there’s Bradbourne Priory and Breadsall Priory. Each and every one of these was run by the Augustinians. As might be expected, Derby boasted more than one monastic foundation including the Augustinians.
The Benedictines were the first monks to settle in Post-Conquest England. Their robes were black. The Cluniacs were aliens – all under the control of the mother house in France and the Augustinians were priests who went outside the precincts of their monastic houses to minister to their flocks. The later additions to the monastic fold were the twelfth century Cistercians who looked to a life of poverty and hard work – which brings us back to the Cistercians of Rievaulx and Fountains.
Now, all I need to do is reach for my copy of Derbyshire King’s England by Arthur Mee and a road atlas and plan my route.
The Freelance History Writer is a brilliant blog that I follow. Thought that this was an interesting post in the light of the day school on Thomas Cromwell that I taught this week. Lots of great detail.
Richard Williams was the son of Morgan Williams who came from Putney and Catherine Cromwell, the sister of Thomas (pictured here). Morgan was a brewer, possibly originally from somewhere near Cardiff.
Richard entered Thomas Cromwell’s household in 1530 having previously done a stint as a servant with Thomas Grey the second Marquis of Dorset. In 1529 Thomas made a will, in the aftermath of the sweating sickness which killed his wife and two daughters. Richard can be found here listed along with ‘poor relations.’ Thomas remedied that particular problem when he arranged his nephew’s marriage with financial advantage in mind. The lady in question was called Frances Murfyn, the daughter of Sir Thomas who had been Lord Mayor of London. She came with several properties.
Richard remained in Thomas’s household and conducted business on his uncle’s behalf ultimately taking on the surname Cromwell – incidentally he was also the great grandfather of Oliver.
In addition to the change of name Richard demonstrated many of the hardheaded attitudes towards wealth that his uncle exemplified. Richard was noticeably enriched by the suppression of the monasteries both at the time and in the years afterwards when the crown first rented the confiscated lands out and then sold them. His reputation was such that the Pilgrims of the Pilgrimage of Grace singled him out as someone who was responsible for the despoiling of centuries of monastic tradition. Richard, apparently not unduly concerned, was part of the posse headed up by the Duke of Suffolk which put down the Pilgrimage in the eastern counties.
In 1537 Richard began to buy up properties in Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire. He was also knighted by Henry VIII at this time. By 1542 he was the first knight of the latter shire. In 1543 he was made a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and found himself in charge of infantry when war broke out with France. In 1544 he was made Constable of Berkely Castle – which wasn’t at all bad for a man who’d made no secret of his sorrow when Uncle Thomas had been executed. He was also a very wealthy man by this time and an MP as well. No doubt his uncle would have been very proud of him.
Gregory, born about 1520, was the only son of Thomas and Elizabeth Cromwell. Gregory’s two legitimate sisters died along with his mother of sweating sickness when Gregory was nine.
Thomas Cromwell sought to ensure his son’s well-being and education in the aftermath of his bereavement by sending him to nuns to be cared for. Cromwell knew many abbesses having gained a reputation as a man of business, legal advisor and arbitrator: an irony probably not lost upon the nuns when they were unceremoniously booted out of their homes. After Gregory outgrew the nuns Cromwell sent his son, aged about fifteen, to be educated in Cambridge where he worked hard according to the letters that his tutors sent Cromwell but without the gifts that Cromwell himself demonstrated for language and learning. It must have been frustrating for Cromwell, a self-made and apparently self-taught man, to see his son provided with the best education that money could buy but apparently lacked the skills to make most use of the education which his father provided.
One of the letters that Gregory’s tutor sent to Cromwell reveals a narrowly averted tragedy. Gregory’s room-mate accidentally set fire to his bedding and caused much damage but, fortunately, no loss of life. Cromwell was called upon to compensate the tutor for the loss of his possessions. Other letters cover more mundane affairs such as the need to feed a clothe the growing boy.
In a bizzare twist of fate Cromwell arranged for Gregory to marry Elizabeth Seymour in 1537– sister of Jane Seymour so was the brother-in-law of the man who had his father executed in 1540– Henry VIII. So technically Henry VIII was the uncle of Gregory’s children. Gregory did not suffer from his father’s fall from favour instead he went on to become a baron owning extensive lands in Leicestershire and in Rutland. He was created a baron less than five months after his father’s execution and would eventually regain some of the lands that the king had confiscated when Cromwell was found guilty of treason.
Gregory died in 1551 of sweating sickness. His letters demonstrate the depth of his affection for his wife and his children. There is no picture of him that is known. It is odd given the number of pictures of Cromwell painted by Holbein that none was commissioned of Cromwell Junior. There is however a possible picture of Elizabeth Seymour who went on to marry for a third time after Gregory’s death.