Monthly Archives: October 2016

Letters from monastic visitors

640px-Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01The first week of November 1535 brought a flurry of letters to Thomas Cromwell’s door. His monastic visitors were in East Anglia and the South of the country at the time. The letters he received from his visitors, local gentry and from the clerics themselves are typical of the correspondence he received during the collection of information for the Valor Ecclesiaticus and the Comperta in 1535 and 1536.  Visits would continue until 1540 when the last monastery was suppressed – Cromwell would himself be executed the very same year – who says Henry VIII didn’t have a sense of irony?

 

Thomas Legh (Leigh) wrote of the priory at Fordham near Norwich on November 1 1535. He painted a bleak picture of the aged Gilbertine prior and a monk “at death’s door,” who “begged to be released from a bondage they could no longer endure.” As chance would have it Thomas Cromwell’s own confessor was a Gilbertine monk called Roger Holgate. He was the master of Sempringham. Perhaps it was for this reason that the Gilbertines were excluded from the act that dissolved the lesser monastic houses in 1536. Fordham eventually surrendered in 1538. The surrender document reveals three canons and the prior suggesting that the priory wasn’t in such a grim state as Legh’s letter of November 1st 1535 suggests not least because someone else had written to Cromwell that very same week asking about the disposal of the ‘goodly’ farmhouse at Fordham.

 

The monks of Chertsey were clearly not at death’s door at the beginning of November 1535. They were busy complaining about their abbot who seemed to be selling off the plate and the abbey’s woods. They had much in common with the monks of Worcester who had already been visited. They sent several letters to Cromwell making accusations, justifying themselves and making counter accusations in a ‘it was his fault’ sort of way.

 

It must have come as a pleasant surprise, depending upon your point of view, at the end of the week when Cromwell received a letter from the Benedictine Abbot of Athelney, Robert Hamblyn, asking to be allowed to leave the precincts of the abbey in order to do the abbey’s business. He notes that the visitor there, one Tregonell, found the abbey in good order. Athelney’s clean bill of health would not save it from dissolution. It finally surrendered on Feb 8 1539 despite the pleas of the abbot.

 

Grist to Cromwell’s mill of anticlerical justification for the closure of monastic houses was provided when John Ap Rice wrote of another Benedictine establishment. The Abbot of Bury St Edmunds met with very little approval on account of his dodgy financial practices and gambling habits. Apparently “he lay much forth in his granges” and spent money at dice and cards and in building; also that he did not preach and had converted farms into copyholds. “He seems addict also to superstitious ceremonies.”

 

The superstitions were related to the abbey’s relics which included “the coals that Saint Lawrence was toasted withal, the paring of St. Edmund’s nails, S. Thomas of Canterbury penknife and his boots and divers skulls for the headache, pieces of the Holy Cross able to make a whole cross of, other relics for rain.” I must admit a degree of curiosity regarding the inventory.  Ultimately all the relics would be sent to Cromwell – let’s hope that the “divers skulls for the headache” helped him as he worked late into the night accounting for all that monastic wealth.  And further more – were the relics to cause rain or to prevent it? Occasionally it could be wished that Mr Ap Rice was slightly more detailed in his written accounts to Cromwell.

 

As with the monks of Athelney Ap Rice left an injunction that they were not to leave their precinct and as with Athelney the abbot immediately wrote to Cromwell asking permission to go out and about on abbey business. He also saw fit to give Cromwell an annual pension of ten pounds that was later increased – whilst it didn’t save the abbey it certainly made the abbot’s life much easier in the long term with regards to his pension and associated perks.

 

Ap Rice also noted in his letter that he’d dismissed a number of monks at Bury who hadn’t reached their twenty-fourth birthday.  This confirms the rumours contained in Chapuys’ (the Imperial Ambassador) letters of that week which talk of rumours of youthful monks being dismissed from their monastic houses.

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‘Houses of Gilbertine canons: Priory of Fordham’, in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2, ed. L F Salzman (London, 1948), pp. 256-258. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol2/pp256-258 [accessed 30 October 2016].

‘Henry VIII: November 1535, 1-5’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1886), pp. 248-262. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol9/pp248-262 [accessed 12 September 2016].

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Howden Minster

DSC_0225.jpgToday Howden is a sleepy little town between Doncaster and York. The ancient county of Howdenshire under the jurisdiction of the Prince Bishops of Durham no longer exists as an administrative entity but in the medieval period Howden lay at the center of a thriving hub. It was a residence for the Prince Bishops of Durham to provide a headquarters in the south (I know – for those of you who think the Watford Gap is in the north, it is a concept that may be difficult to compute but Northumbrians and Cumbrians will no doubt be nodding approvingly).

As well as providing a residence well away from the turbulent Scottish border it also allowed the canons who lived in the minster precincts to administer the bishop’s lands. They set up a grammar school in about 1265 to teach Latin and song to the choristers. The school remained in use until 1925.

 

Before the Norman Conquest the church belonged to the monks of Peterborough Abbey but in 1080 it was gifted by Wiliam the Conqueror to Wiliam of Calais who was the Bishop of Durham at the time. Howdenshire also came under the jurisdiction of Durham. William of Calais initially aimed at creating a monastic foundation but it did not thrive so the way Howden was staffed had to be changed – more on that in a moment.

 

All that remains of Howden Minster today is its west end which now serves as Howden’s parish church. The Oxford Dictionary defines a minster as a large or important church. It may have cathedral status but not always. Probably the best-known minster with cathedral status in the country is York Minster. The ruins of the larger medieval foundation at Howden are cared for by English Heritage.  Double click on the image at the start of this post to open its webpage in a new window.

 

Just to confuse the issue still further Howden Minster used to be a collegiate church meaning that it was the residence of canons or a college of priests with the word college simply meaning an organized group with rights and duties. It was founded by Robert, Bishop of Durham, in 1266, for Secular clerks, and dedicated to St. Peter and St. Cuthbert. “There were originally five prebends, to which a sixth was subsequently added.” The canons were all priests despite the description of them as being “secular.” All the phrase means is that they weren’t Augustinian, i.e. they didn’t take monastic vows, although presumably the Bishop of Durham would have taken a dim view if they hadn’t lived a fairly monastic life with all the usual eschewing of women and wealth. Thus, very loosely, the foundation at Howden was not monastic like an abbey it was more of an administrative part of the bishop’s diocese with the canons as administrators.  They were led by a dean rather than an abbot or prior.

 

The community of priests was not self-supporting in the way that an abbey or a priory was self-supporting although it was self governing – hence the existence of a chapter house. The Bishop of Durham elected to use the prebendary system which sounds complicated but simply means that the canons received an income or stipend from a nearby parish church; in this case Barnby, Howden, Saltmarsh, Skelton, Skipwith and Thorpe.

 

Nowhere is this better demonstrated that the canons of Howden were not part of a monastic foundation than by the fact that whilst England’s monasteries were dissolved in the reign of Henry VIII it wasn’t until 1548, in the reign of Edward VI, that collegiate churches, including the one at Howden, were abolished. Thomas Cromwell’s monastic visitors did come to Howden because the record of their findings still exists. In 1535 the value of the college is given as £96 8s. 10½d. gross, and net £61 2s. 10½d. Had it purely been a monastic foundation it would have fallen well within the limits set for the identification of smaller monasteries of £200 a year or less and been dissolved in 1536.

 

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The current building was erected in the thirteenth century  in a geometric style and it is thought that masons who worked on the Notre Dame de Paris and then on the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey during the reign of Henry III (King John’s son) came north to work on Howden Minster reflecting its importance at that time.   By the fifteenth century a chapter house had been added. Another feature of the medieval minster were its chantries including one with an altar dedicated to St Cuthbert.

The income of the minster was also helped by the existence of a shrine where John of Howden was buried.  He was Eleanor of Provence’s (Henry III’s wife) confessor and gained a reputation as a saint although he was never canonised.  His death and burial in 1275 added an extra stream of income for the canons. He’d started building a new quire during his lifetime and prophesied that he would achieve his goal after his death if not before.  After his death, miracles occurred at his tomb, including one on his own funeral when he was seen to raise his arms out of his coffin.  His tomb was visited by royalty including Edward I and Henry V.

 

It will come as no surprise to followers of English Civil War history that Parliamentarians stabled their horses in Howden Minster or that they broke up the organ and used the pipes as whistles. In addition to Roundheads the weather wasn’t particularly kind to the minster and in 1929 arson destroyed its tower and the choir stalls which were replaced by Robert Thomson of Kilburn, the famous Kilburn Mouseman on account of the wooden mice than can be found lurking on his creations. Howden Minster is famous for the number of mice that can be spotted on its furniture and woodwork. Apparently there are nearly forty of them in residence.

 

DSC_0243.jpgAmazingly there are some medieval survivals in Howden including three statues, one of which is thought to present the Virgin Mary. Not everyone is in agreement as to who the lady might be but one thing is for sure she is a stunning survival and one which must have been carefully protected across the centuries.

 

 

 

Hoveringham – Hoxton’, in A Topographical Dictionary of England, ed. Samuel Lewis (London, 1848), pp. 566-569. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-dict/england/pp566-569 [accessed 10 October 2016].

 

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Adam Becansaw’s letter to Cromwell

640px-Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01I’ve been doing one of my favourite things, reading Henry VIII’s letters and papers.  In particular I look for the correspondence between Cromwell and the commissioners charged with visiting all the monastic houses in England and Wales during 1535/36. As Vicar-General Cromwell organised a national visitation of monastic houses.  It was the first and last time such a thing was done in England and Wales.

Today I was delighted to come across a rather wonderful letter of complaint from one of Cromwell’s abbey visitors who was clearly hard at work in Wales during the month of October 1535.

A priest, Adam Becansaw, working for Cromwell wrote from the diocese of St Asaph that one of his fellow visitors  Robert Ap Rice’s son Ellis Ap Robert (clearly following the Welsh method of naming) was not really being a terribly good example to the monks that he’d come to find fault with.  It turns out that he’d acquired a young woman in Coventry “whom he took from her mother,” and was also using the King’s commission in taverns to get freebies and better lodgings.  Becansaw, the letter writer, goes on to add that the letter should have been accompanied by sixty pounds worth of goods from the bishop of St Asaph but young Ap Robert’s behaviour had apparently given the locals courage to refuse payment.  The letter is dated the 14th October 1535.

Becansaw took a dim view of ‘concubines’ full stop – whether they belonged to the clerical classes or his fellow commissioners.  He’d already seen off the women of the priests and monks of Bangor.  In 1536 they wrote to Cromwell saying that Becansaw had been unreasonable in not allowing them to have any contact what so ever with women because whilst they agreed that perhaps they shouldn’t come into monastic private quarters that really and truly they were required to run the kitchens and provide hospitality to travellers. (Williams: 282).

Elsewhere in Wales,  Becansaw was concerned that the clergy and local gentry were doing very little to enforce the Act of Supremacy.  Or in other words, in places like Llandaff, it was business as usual despite what the king might say in London.

Rather more alarmingly when the visitors arrived at Vale Crucis the abbot, one Robert Salisbury, was arrested for highway robbery and forgery (which conjures a picture).  He was carted off to the Tower of London.  Further research on the ‘inter web’ reveals that Salisbury was known to have a bit of a dodgy reputation when he took on the job and several of the monks of Vale Crucis had relocated themselves to other abbeys as a consequence of his tenure so that there were only six monks in residence.

So at the end of this post I’m left with more questions than I’ve answered- what happened to Ellis Price or Robert depending on the name system you wish to follow?  What about his woman?  What happened to the abbot of Vale Crucis? Yes, its a cliff hanger – but I’m not totally sure I’m going to find all the answers any time soon.  It is however one of the reasons why I like delving around in primary sources.  You meet new and ‘interesting’ people on a regular basis.  Needless to say I was supposed to be looking for something else!

 
‘Henry VIII: October 1535, 11-20’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1886), pp. 195-218. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol9/pp195-218 [accessed 12 October 2016].

Williams, Glanmor. (1993) Reformation and Renewal in Wales 1415- 1642 (Oxford History of Wales vol III).

 

 

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Princess Mary’s opposition to the divorce

princess mary.jpgIf Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was invalid it followed that eleven-year-old Princess Mary was illegitimate. This in turn would prohibit her from the crown and make her less valuable on the international marriage market. No doubt, this was one of the reasons that Catherine remained adamant about fighting to keep her position rather than taking herself off to a nunnery as Cardinals Wolsey and Campeggio helpfully suggested prior to the Blackfriars trial where Catherine challenged the court’s authority.

 

Later, after Parliament enacted the necessary laws that broke with Rome and Henry’s marriage to Catherine was annulled by Thomas Cranmer the Princess Mary was used as a weapon by Henry to ensure that Catherine was compliant, although Catherine’s letters to her daughter are suggestive of shared martyrdom. The girl, now seventeen and no longer a princess but a bastard was refused permission to see her ailing mother, she lost her household and her governess. In 1533 at the point when this occurred, Lady Salisbury (Margaret Pole)  offered to pay for Mary’s household out of her own purse but the king would have none of it, or perhaps Anne Boleyn would have none of it. Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, reported that Anne had said she would have Mary for her chambermaid.

 

Mary’s opposition to the king was seen in the fact that she continued to be called the Princess Mary rather than the Lady Mary even when her servants suffered the indignity of having Mary’s insignia removed and replaced with Henry’s own. She told anyone who would listen that if she disavowed her mother that she would ‘offend God.’ It was a very personal resistance that directed itself to the king from Beaulieu where Mary was staying at the time.

 

When Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth was born, Mary’s chamberlain Lord Hussey was told to change Mary’s name to lady rather than princess. He tried. Mary informed him that until the instruction was received in writing then she was a princess.

 

Henry reacted badly. He sent officials to browbeat and threaten his daughter. In December 1533 the duke of Norfolk was required to fetch Mary to serve in her half sister’s household. He told her that she was to go to the Princess of Wales. Mary told him that the title was hers by right. Norfolk gave her half and hour and two ladies in waiting to accompany her. He did not become involved in the argument. He followed orders.

 

Norfolk left Mary in  Hatfield in tears but Henry complained he had been too soft on the girl. The ladies-in-waiting were removed and Anne Boleyn’s aunt Lady Shelton was put in charge of the ex-princess having been given a list of instructions about her treatment.

 

Henry put Mary’s refusal to comply with the change in her status down to her bad blood. It would only be after the death of Anne Boleyn that Henry would begin to soften towards his eldest, formerly legitimate, daughter and even then she would be required to submit to the king’s will before a reunion could take place.  On the 15th June 1536 Mary signed the document which recognised her parents’ marriage as unlawful and recognised Henry as the head of the Church of England.

Poor Mary; she went from her father’s pampered darling to being ill treated, neglected and isolated.  She was forced to act in direct opposition to her religious beliefs and all this had happened as her character formed. Her only allies during this time seemed to be the Spanish.  No wonder she looked towards Spain when her turn to ascend the throne arrived.  She was undoubtedly scarred by the whole experience.

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Reginald Pole – White Rose and Cardinal

reginald pole.jpgThe Pole family descended from Margaret, Countess of Salisbury (the daughter of the duke of Clarence who was allegedly executed in a vat of malmsey and Isobel Neville – elder daughter of the earl of Warwick a.k.a. The Kingmaker). She had four sons; Henry (Lord Montagu), Arthur, Reginald and Geoffrey.    There was also a daughter called Ursula. Had Richard III won the Battle of Bosworth and remained childless and Margaret’s brother the young earl of Warwick been deemed unfit to rule then his heirs would have been the Poles.

 

Young Reginald was born in about 1500.  He was educated by the Carthusians in Sheen and from there studied at the universities of Oxford and Padua and from there to Paris; all at the expense of his royal cousin King Henry VIII.  There is a note in Henry’s accounts describing him as “Mr Pole, the king’s scholar.”

In the summer of 1530 he became caught up in the King’s Great Matter.  In addition to using the Leviticus 20:21 and checking with Jewish communities in Europe as to their interpretation of the Old Testament in order to undermine Catherine of Aragon’s countering Deuteronomy argument, Henry also sent messengers  to the great university to elicit their opinions on the matter.  On May 1 Henry asked the University of Paris for an opinion and made Reginald his “dearest relative” the chief correspondent on the matter.

Reginald seems initially to have backed his cousin.  His letters record that Paris found in Henry’s favour but that the other faction were looking for a counter-opinion. (Bernard: 214).  By the end of the year, however, Reginald appears to have been having second thoughts. It was perhaps his concern over the divorce that led him to turn down Henry’s offer of the archbishopric of York following Wolsey’s demise.  Henry must have thought that Reginald would be in favour of the divorce to offer him the post.  He needed as many bishops on his side as possible. Henry offered the post to Reginald for a second time and saw him in person to discuss the matter.  Apparently the sight of Henry was enough to convince Pole that he couldn’t go agains this own heart on the matter.  He even sent a lengthy apology on the subject which no longer exists.  In it he warned of the dispute that might arise if Princess Mary was disinherited and reminded Henry of the Wars of the Roses – which was perhaps not an entirely sensible thing to do as it reminded Henry about who had the Plantagenet blood flowing through their veins and who might have been monarchs in other circumstances.

 

In January 1532 Pole went off to Europe to continue with his academic studies and to keep a low profile which he did until 1535 when Henry demanded that he wanted Reginald’s opinion on the subject of Henry’s supremacy, the divorce and the break with Rome.  Henry  helpfully sent him some books on the subject. By the time Henry had his answer Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher were dead as were the Carthusian monks of the Charter House in Sheen who’d taught him as a boy.  Reginald described Henry as a ‘wild beast’; being like a dirty barrel and incestuous (perhaps a reaction to the fact that Henry had an affair with Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary).  It was perhaps not a response designed to win friends and influence people nor was it a very private response as it was soon published all over Europe; later Reginald would claim that it was without his consent.

Henry politely suggested that Reginald return home for a face to face discussion.

By now Pope Paul III was in charge and he suggested that perhaps Reginald’s welcome would be rather too warm if he set foot on English shores.  It can’t have helped that the Imperial Ambassador, Chapuys, had suggested that perhaps Reginald might be able to marry the Princess Mary and take the crown from Henry in 1534. The small matter of Pole’s religious orders seems not to have worried the ambassador unduly (though Pole didn’t celebrate his first mass until Queen Mary was on the throne). Chapuys had already told the Pole family to keep Reginald in Europe rather than at home where he’d most likely have ended up in the Tower at the very least.

On 22nd of December 1536 Reginald was made a cardinal having made a name for himself in Rome where his humanist education leant itself to the reform of the Catholic Church from within.  To add insult to Henry VIII’s injury Reginald was made papal legate of England in February 1537.

Reginald’s actions reminded Henry that there was such a thing as a ‘white rose faction’.  The Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 was ultimately used to round up Reginald’s mother and brothers following the Exeter Conspiracy.  It hadn’t helped Lord Montagu that he’d sent a letter to Reginald berating him for the contents of his book on the subject of Henry’s supremacy and the break from Rome. The poor man must have squirmed horribly when Thomas Cromwell turned up to visit him especially to read chunks of his brother’s rebuttal of Henry’s actions.  Even the Countess of Salisbury had written to Reginald demanding that he come home and face the music.  Both these letters had been seen by the King’s council before they were sent to Reginald (Seward: 295).  By 1539 Geoffrey was in the Tower and he in his turned implicated the rest of his family. He, his brother and his mother would be executed.

Reginald, in Europe, found himself facing assassination attempts that would continue throughout Henry’s life was increasingly disturbed by the extent to which the Church in England faced destruction.  Ultimately he sought the help of Francis I of France and also Catherine of Aragon’s nephew, Charles V, arguing that Henry was worse than the Turkish threat.  Charles chose not to invade England and Reginald’s name found its way onto a bill of attainder in 1539. Henry VIII had come to hate his Plantagenet cousin. For Englishmen who didn’t want to lose their catholicism he became an alternative to the Tudors.

 

It was only when Henry VIII’s daughter Mary took the throne after the brief reigns of her half brother Edward VI and the nine days queen Lady Jane Grey that Pole returned to England after a long career as a papal diplomat.  He’d even been suggested as pope.  Mary wrote to her cousin asking for spiritual guidance, his attainder was reversed and despite a lack of concord with Mary’s spouse Philip II of Spain he stepped foot on English soil once more at Dover in 1554.  The country was Catholic once more.  He sought now to heal the breach with Rome – notable amongst the victims of Mary’s determination to wipe Protestantism from English thoughts included the burning of Thomas Cranmer who Pole replaced as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Reginald Pole died on the 17th November 1558 on the same day as Queen Mary.  Their plan to return England and Wales to Catholicism bound to fail as Protestant Princess Elizabeth was now hailed Queen Elizabeth I.

The portrait of Pole pictured at the start of this post may be found at Hardwick Hall, a National Trust property, in Derbyshire.

Bernard, G.W. (2005) The King’s Reformation. New Haven and London: Yale University Press

Seward, Desmond. (2010)  The Last White Rose: The Secret Wars of the Tudors. London: Constable

 

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