I’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).