Croxden Abbey, Staffordshire

DSC_0016In 1176 the Cistercians arrived in Cotton but three years later relocated to nearby Croxden.  The land was given by Bertram de Verdun, the lord of nearby Alton.  He was concerned not only for his own soul but also for those of his predecessors and also his descendants. Bits of Alton Castle (not open to the public) date to the twelfth century so are also part of Bertram’s building schemes.   Croxden is the oldest of Staffordshire’s Cistercian houses.  There were twelve monks and their abbot, an English man known as Thomas of Woodstock. They acquired endowments in Staffordshire, Leicestershire and in Hartshorne in Derbyshire amongst other locations from Bertram.  The land at Hartshorne was known as Lees and measured as a carucate. A carucate is of Norse origin and it signifies the amount of land that can be ploughed by one plough team of eight oxen in a season. Carucate is my word of the day! The monks also held Riston and Trusley in Derbyshire.

DSC_0015The choice of Croxden fits with the site selection that is almost uniform to Cistercian monasteries:

  1. by a river – River Churnet.  Usually the monks looked for a bend in the river where they had been granted land.  This method of siting the monastery meant that on most occasions the land was level and that there was agricultural land nearby as well as the opportunity for fish and the creation of fish ponds.
  2. in a valley (aren’t most rivers in a valley or on a plain?)
  3. remote – Staffordshire moorlands.

The Cistercians arrived in England in 1128 in Waverley.  Their foundations demonstrate a simplicity of design in harmony with the idea of obedience to their conformity to the Rule of St Benedict.  Most Cistercian churches for example have a “square” end of the kind that most medieval parish churches exemplify.  However, Croxden doesn’t.  It has an apse- not that much remains aside from the footprint and it has been separated from the main body of the church by the road that was driven through the village after the suppression of the monasteries.  I don’t think that any Cistercian Church survives in tact – possibly because of their habit of building in the middle of nowhere, thus there benign population in need of a parish church at the time of the dissolution – but I could be wrong.

DSC_0017The other feature of Croxden’s architecture to often appear in commentaries is the abbot’s lodging.  The first lodging appears between 1270 and 1290 but the following century Abbot Richard rebuilt a much more splendid dwelling – demonstrating the inevitable shift from poverty and simplicity.

 

In 1199 they  received lands in Ireland from King John  – the following year the abbot persuaded him to swap the lands for an annual annuity of £5.  In 1205 this was swapped again for land in Shropshire and in 1287 it was swapped for Caldon Grange near Leek.

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The thirteenth century saw Croxden at its most prosperous.  There may have been as many as forty monks at one time.  Revenues came from sheep and charcoal burning.  As a result there was extenisve building work as well as other purchases in William of Over purchased a house in London for £20.00.  However, the fourteenth century saw significant changes. As well as the Hundred Years War, Edward II and the Scottish levy there was also the fact that the abbey lost their key patrons.  The de Verdun family had supported them from the time of their foundation but in 1316 the last male of the family died so the title and estates were inherited by Joan de Verdun and her husband Thomas de Furnivalle.  He didn’t appear to understand the role of a patron and instead insisted on stabling his hoses and hounds at the abbey – not to mention the necessity of the abbey feeding seven of his bailiffs every Friday.  He also confiscated livestock and a cart.  Alton became a no go area resulting in the monks barricading themselves into Croxden for sixteen weeks beginning in March 1319. Eventually matters settled down – in 1334 Joan was buried at Croxden when she died in childbirth.  Stone coffins remain in the apse of the ruins.

 

In 1349 the plague arrived in Croxden.  It is recorded in the abbey’s chronicle but not how many of the monks succumbed.  Let us not forget famine and sheep moraine to add to the general joy of the fourteenth century.

 

Aside from the local bigwigs there was also the issue of dodgy royalty and the Scottish wars of independence. In 1310 the Crown required loans for a Scottish expedition and the abbey also had duties with respect to its landholdings.   In 1322 for example the abbot was taken to court for refusing to pay his share for the maintenance of  foot soldiers. By 1368 the abbey owed £165.  Nor did it help that the church roof had been releaded and the abbot’s house rebuilt (nice to know he got his priorities right.)  The following year the section of the abbey adjoining the church collapsed.  The list of problems facing the abbey continued to be chronicles.  There were also floods and storms.  By 1381 the abbot was in charge of six monks.

 

Somewhere along the line – the abbey was able to acquire more land on the Derbyshire/Staffordshire border. Hulton Abbey sold  90 acres of waste ground at Bradnop in the middle of the fourteenth century.  They also managed to acquire Sedsall. In 1402 they gained a house in Ashbourne from Henry Blore.  All these transactions are recorded in the form of royal licences.  Despite these new land acquisitions Croxden struggled to maintain its former wealth and it probably didn’t help that there were a series of law suits.

 

The visitation of 1535/36 valued them at less than £200 a year so they should have been suppressed with the smaller monasteries but the abbot paid a fine of £100 for a licence to continue.  Their income placed them as 67thout of  75 Cistercian houses according to Knowles and Hadcock cited in Klemperer. None the less in August 1538 Archbishop Cranmer wrote to Cromwell asking for a commission to be sent to Croxden, and on 17 September Dr. Thomas Legh and William Cavendish received the surrender of the abbey from the abbot and twelve other monks. One of the reasons that Cranmer was so interested in the fate of Croxden was because the much of the site of Croxden including the watermill was leased to his servant Francis Bassett (who assisted with the destruction of St Anne’s Well in Buxton.) In 1545 the estate was sold to the Foljambe family.

 

As for the monks, they all received their pensions. One of them became the vicar of Alton and he was still in receipt of his pension during the reign of Queen Mary.

 

Cromwell was always on the look out for tales of naughty monks but it seems that for much of Croxden’s history aside from the land deals and court cases that the abbots ran a tight ship. Tompkinson records that when in 1274 a lodger called Thomas Hoby was killed in a fight between grooms the entire household of the abbot’s servants were dismissed.

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The Victoria County history details its landholdings:  the manor and grange of Oaken, Lee Grange in Crakemarsh, and granges at Musden, Caldon, and Trusley; lands and rents in Croxden, Combridge, Great Gate, Ellastone, Alton, ‘Whytley’ in Leek, Onecote, Cotton, Dog Cheadle, Uttoxeter, Denstone, Calton, Caldon, Stafford, Orberton (in St. Mary’s, Stafford), Walton (Staffs.), Ashbourne, Doveridge, Derby, Hartshorne, Thurvaston (in Longford), Langley (Derb.), Burton Overy, Tugby, Mountsorrel (in Barrow-upon-Soar and Rothley, Leics.), Casterton, Stamford, Misterton (? Leics.), London, and ‘Sutton Maney’; the appropriated churches of Croxden, Alton, and Tugby and the tithes of Oaken, Lee, Musden, Caldon, and Trusley Granges; and a ‘wichehouse’ in Middlewich and Hungarwall smithy in Dog Cheadle.   The list doesn’t include the mills and fish ponds nor the saltpan in Cheshire by which method the monks added to their self sufficiency.

 

G C Baugh, W L Cowie, J C Dickinson, Duggan A P, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, R Mansfield and A Saltman, ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Croxden’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, ed. M W Greenslade and R B Pugh (London, 1970), pp. 226-230. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/pp226-230 [accessed 30 July 2018].

 

William D. Klemperer  Excavations at Hulton Abbey, Staffordshire 1987-1994

Tomlinson, John L. (2000). Monastic Staffordshire. Leek: Churnet Books

 

 

Brinkburn Priory and the monks who weren’t quite quiet enough!

BrinkburnBrinkburn is an Augustinian Priory.  Usually I’m not terribly keen on buildings that have been restored during the Nineteenth Century.  The Victorians were not always terribly sensitive in the changes that they made.  However, in this instance the priory church is a truly splendid thing.

Augustinian monasteries, as a rule, were always smaller than their Benedictine and Cistercian counterparts.  Exceptions include Carlisle and Hexham.  The twelfth century was the apex of the monastery building period in England and Brinkburn fits nicely into the timeframe being founded in the early 1130s, during the reign of Henry I, by William Bertram.

The first prior came from Pentney Priory in Norfolk.  In addition to their riverside  dwelling which can be accessed down a tree dappled hill the monks also owned approximately 3500 acres nearby.  They had other pastureland elsewhere in Northumberland as well as buildings in Newcastle including an inn. Pilgrim Street in Newcastle is supposed to have gained its name from the pilgrims who lodged there. They came to worship at Our Lady’s chapel at Jesmond.  There was also a Franciscan Friary where there were supposed to be relics of St Francis.   In the copy of a grant of a house to Brinkburn Priory in Northumberland, dated 1292, this street is called Vicus Peregrinorum.  In 1564, after the Dissolution of the monasteries the inn, or one of the inns on the street, was mentioned for coining false money.  In any event whilst the canons at Brinkburn may have not had the huge amount of acres of their Cistercian counterparts they knew how to turn a profit as in addition to the inn they also owned a shop in Corbridge.  More traditionally  they gained income from bequested  advowsons, that is to say the right to appoint the priest, at Felton and Longhorsely.

 

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So far, so straight forward.  Unfortunately Brinkburn is north of Newcastle and it became apparent during the reign of Edward II that living anywhere near the Scottish border wasn’t necessarily a very good idea. In 1315 Robert Bruce destroyed Brinkburn and its thirteen canons had to flee their home and beg for their bread.

The story goes that on one occasion the Scots raided as far south as Brinkburn but the priory was spared because of a thick fog.  The raiders passed them by.  The canons being a grateful sort of bunch rang the bells to give thanks to God and in so doing directed the Scots to priory. The canons having realised that ringing the bell wasn’t necessarily the smartest move they could have made had fled to the other side of the River Coquet.  The story continues to say that as the Scots burned the priory the bell which had summoned them ended up in the river – I’m not sure if this was as the result of the fire or some enterprising Scottish person trying to remove them for their scrap value.  In yet another version of the story it was the monks who hid the bell in the river – presumably not wanting one of their number to ring it anymore.  And finally, the poor monks were so strapped for cash that they sold the bells to the Bishop of Durham but when they moved the bells up the hill one of them ended up in the river.  Take your pick!

The canons must have been delighted by the news that the Scots had been defeated at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346.  Unfortunately three years later the Black death arrived and killed half of Northumberland. Things really seem to have gone from bad to worse for the canons.  During the early years of the Fifteenth century they suffered from reiver cattle raids and in 1484 the Scots turned up again and having stripped the place burned it to the ground.  Then there was the murder. In 1521 Richard Lighton, one of the Canons, was killed by Humphrey Lisle in a property dispute.

When Cromwell’s visitors arrived the priory was valued at only £69 so it was suppressed in 1536.  There were only six canons left at that time. After the dissolution Brinkburn changed hands several times.  On two occasions, Brinkburn’s owners lost their heads.  For a fair portion of the time the property was in the hands of the Fenwick family.  Eventually it passed into the hands of Richard Hodgson.  His son did some demolition work on the old manor house which contains the west range of the monastery.  The manor house he rebuilt was designed to be a picturesque building so much of the monastic masonry remains in situ.

The style of the church, for those folk who like to know these things, is somewhere between Norman and Gothic – the correct term is transitional.

 

Eneas Mackenzie, ‘The present state of Newcastle: Streets within the walls’, in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827), pp. 160-182. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/newcastle-historical-account/pp160-182 [accessed 6 July 2018].

English Heritage (2003) Brinkburn Priory

Roche Abbey

roche abbeyRoche Abbey near Maltby was founded in 1147 by Richard de Bully of Tickhill and Richard Fitz Turgis.  The valley where the monastery stands is narrow and split by the fast flowing Maltby Dyke- rather thoughtfully the patrons did not specify which side of the dyke the abbey would be built on which is why there are two funders because the valley was owned by both men with the dyke as the boundary of their lands.

Initially monks from Newminster in Northumbria settled the site on behalf of the so-called white monks, the Cistercians, who sought remote locations so that they could better adhere to the rule of St Benedict.  Newminster was itself the daughter house of   Fountains Abbey. Initially there would have been twelve monks and an abbot as well as a larger group of lay brothers.  The numbers have a direct correlation to the number of apostles.  The monastic population at Roche peaked in 1175 (ish) with fifty or so monks and twice as many lay brothers.  Unfortunately the economic wellbeing of the monks dwindled the following century when their sheep flocks became contaminated with a murrain and this was followed up at the turn of the fourteenth century with the Black Death which carried off the monks and the lay brothers.  In between times they had to contend with Scottish raiders during the reign of Edward II.  By 1350 the monks had returned to virtually the same as they had been at their founding with only fifteen brothers. In 1380 we know that the abbot of Roche – a certain Hugh Bastard – was taxed 45 shillings by Pope Nicholas.

 

It would have to be said that the early monks must have felt they had chosen their spot well when one of them found a cross carved into the rocks near their new home – hence the name de rupa.  The cross remained a source of holy inspiration and pilgrimage until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536.  Cromwell’s visitors to Roche noted the self-same cross under their list of superstitions.

 

Over time various other patrons bequeathed land or entitlement to the monks.  John de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey – and holder of nearby Conisbrough Castle gave the monks the advowson of Hatfield church meaning that they had the right to appoint the incumbent and levy the appropriate ecclesiastical taxes in that location.   Unusually for most monastic foundations Hatfield Church was Roche’s only ecclesiastical living.

 

However Roche did acquire other lands and gifts. Armethorp is described as “A knight’s fee held by the abbot of Roche (de Rupa)” in Inquistions Post Mortem of Edward III.  They also held land at Hallaby in the West Riding, territory in Nottinghamshire and Linconshire, Rossington in East Sussex, Derbyshire, Lincoln and York.  In Derbyshire the monks held granges at Oneash and Moneyash.  Monks who had committed sins in Roche were sometimes sent to Derbyshire as part of their punishment. For a complete list of Roche’s lands and granges click here https://www.dhi.ac.uk/cistercians/roche/lands/appendix.php

 

Realistically not much more is known about Roche, possibly because Cromwell\s commissioners sold manuscripts and parchment by the cartload for kindling, until the Dissolution.

Cromwell’s visitors were the dreaded  Thomas Layton and Legh.  In addition to noting the cross carved in the rock they charged five monks with the usual kind of immoralities and carted another off to York Castle on charges of treason.  He must have been allowed to return from York after the Pilgrimage of Grace because his signature is on the deed of surrender along with the rest of his bretheren.  It was signed in the chapter-house on 23 June 1538. (fn. 9)

Come to think of it the sinning can’t have been that terrible because all the monks were in receipt of their pensions.  The abbot was given  £33 6s. 8d. a year.  He wasl also allowed his books, the fourth part of the plate, the cattle and household stuff, a chalice and vestment and £30 in money at his departure. He may well have regretted having to say farewell to his house, his own personal cloister and  his kitchen.

The sub-prior (Thomas Twell) received £6 14s. 8d. and the bursar (John Dodesworth), one of the monks charged with gross misconduct in the notoriouscomperta, £6. Eleven other monks who were priests received £5 each; and four novices 66s. 8d. each.

Michael Sherbrook, rector of nearby Wickersley recorded the suppression of Roche recalling the words of his father and uncle, “as the Visitors were entred within the gates, they called the Abbot and other officers of the House, and caused them to deliver up to them all their keys and took an inventory of all their goods both within doors and without; for all such beasts, horses, sheep, and such cattle as were abroad in pastures or grange places, the Visitors caused to be brought into their presence: and when they had done so, turned the Abbot with all his convent and household forth out of doors.”

He continues to describe the destruction of centuries of craftsmanship – the Roche Limestone being a prized form of masonry in many ecclesiastical buildings. “It would have pitied any heart to see what tearing up of lead there was, and plucking up of boards, and throwing down of the sparres: when the lead was torn off and cast down into the Church, and the tombs in the Church all broken… and all things of price either spoiled, caryed away, or defaced to the uttermost.”

Sherbrook notes that his father was sympathetic to the plight of the monks but like many other men still took part in the destruction. His response was an honest one. “Well, said I, then how came it to pass that you was so ready to destroy and spoil the, thing that you thought well of? What should I do? said he. Might I not as well as others have some profit of the spoil of the Abbey? for I did see all would away; and therefore I did as others did.”

Another source for Roche’s state in 1536 comes from the inventory taken by the commissioners. It included everything from crucifixes to carthorses.

By 1627 the land upon which Roche stood had passed into the hands of the ancestor of the Earls of Scarborough.  By the eighteenth century the picturesque and ruined site was described by Horace Walpole as a “venerable chasm,” the fourth earl was so suitably impressed with this gem of information that he hired Capability Brown to make the place even more picturesque – this involved some further levelling of the stonework on the grounds that  not all ruins are picturesque.  Scarborough then built the so-called Banqueting Lodge so that he and his guests could admire the view whilst partaking of a fine dining experience and discussing suitably intellectual matters having been driven a mile and a half from the earl’s residence.

The remains of Roche, despite the remedial work of Lancelot Brown, adhere to the standard Cistercian plan beginning with the gatehouse to the west of the site.It was designed to impress visitors as they made their way down the valley to the abbey. The quarries from which the Roche Limestone come make for a rather splendid backdrop.  The area between the gatehouse and the church has been levelled so that the earl of Scarborough and his guests could enjoy the view but this is the area that visitors would have been made welcome.  Hospitality was an essential part of the monastic ethos.  Visitors would have been able to access the church which dated from the abbey’s foundation but which was remodelled and extended during the wealthiest times of the abbey’s existence.  Today the nave is an open vista punctuated by masonry stumps.  There is no sign of the night stairs that would have allowed the monks to access the church from their dormitory other than a handily placed sign.

The grandest part of the ruins are the remnants of the three storey transepts.  Each of the transepts contains two chapels of which rib vaulting and ruined piscinas remain as do the altar platforms.  The presbytery between the precepts has been largely robbed away.  As Lawrence explains the plans of Cistercian abbeys are standard and would have been inspected to ensure that there was no deviation.  The buildings to the south side of the abbey church contained the library and the cloister.  Buildings to the west of the cloister were for the lay brothers whilst on the other side of the cloister the library, chapter house and parlour could be found – the “engine” end of the abbey.  The southern side of the cloister housed the choir monks.  Like the lay brothers their refectory was on the ground floor with the dormitory running above it.  Next to the refectory was a warming room with a hearth for the elderly and infirm to warm themselves.  The latrines, hanging over the dyke, provided a ready made flush  – quite what the abbot would have made of that is another matter as his own dwelling lay directly opposite the latrines on the other side of the dyke.  He had his own house, cloister and hall in which to entertain important guests.  There was also a second kitchen and bakehouse situated nearby.

 

Lawrence, C.H. (2000) Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages.

 

‘Houses of Cistercian monks: Roche’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp. 153-156. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp153-156 [accessed 22 June 2018].

J E E S Sharp and A E Stamp, ‘Inquisitions Post Mortem, Edward III, File 5’, in Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem: Volume 7, Edward III (London, 1909), pp. 41-56. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/inquis-post-mortem/vol7/pp41-56 [accessed 22 June 2018].

 

 

 

Bolton Priory

bolton.jpgI often refer to Bolton Priory, standing on the edge of the River Wharfe,  as Bolton Abbey – it’s a fairly common mistake but the fact is that Bolton was home to a priory of Augustinian Canons.  They had originally set up home at Embsay having travelled to Yorkshire from Huntingdon in 1120.  The Augustinians were not only monks they were all also ordained priests.

It had a varied history which the History Jar has skirted in other posts.  In 1154 Lady Alice de Romille, the owner of nearby Skipton Castle, gave the land where the priory now stands to the Augustinian order.  The story goes that Lady Alice’s son Egremond had drowned in the the Strid, where the Wharfe narrows  it heads downstream.  The land near where Egremond drowned was given to the monks – Wordsworth waxed lyrical on the subject. A cynic might think that the real reason for the support of the Augustinians was that Henry I was keen to promote them and his aristocracy were keen to get in their monarch’s good books.

There was a Bishop’s Visitation in 1267 when Archbishop Gifford came to check the monastic accounts and to ensure that the inhabitants were following the Rule of St Benedict. The Victoria County History reveals that everything was not running smoothly Brother Hugh de Ebor’  rather than living in poverty and  money which he had handed to a member of his family in York for safekeeping.  There were also charges of incontinence.  Generally speaking the visitation did not go well.  the cellarer was not fit for office, the monks talked too much, a novice called John de Ottele wasn’t keen on some of the rules and had no desire to enter the monastic life and the sick weren’t looked after.   Gifford was the broom that undertook a clean sweep, appointed a new prior and told the malefactors to buck up their ideas.

Unfortunately a later visitation, made in 1280, reveals that monks were buying clothes and shoes that failed to meet the monastic ideal.  A number of them had private property.  The monks also seem to have continued with unnecessary chatter. The Bishop told them to stop gossiping and start paying more attention to divine service.

The Augustinians got on with running their priory until the fourteenth century at which point the Anglo-Scottish Wars went rather badly for the English when Edward II took over from his father and demonstrated a singular lack of skill at the Battle of Bannockburn. Scottish raiders did some serious damage to the buildings. An existent priory account roll details the cost of repairing the vandalism.  The site was temporarily abandoned in 1320 after a skirmish at Myton-on-Swale called the “White Battle”the previous year when some 12,000 Scots led by the Earl of Moray arrived on the scene.

The Black Death did not help matters.  The hay day of Bolton Priory was over but this did not prevent the Augustinians from returning to their monastery and beginning building work.

Building work was still going on at the Dissolution funded from the extensive sheep farms that the monastery owned.  The accounts also reveal that the monks owned a lead mine.  A new tower was begun in 1520 which was not yet finished.  The land was initially acquired by the  Clifford family as their ancestors were interred there but it then passed into the hands of the Cavendishes – where it remains to this day.

Ultimately a wall was built across the east end of the nave in the monastery church so that it could function as a parish church.

The image from the start of the post was painted by Turner in 1825.  It is in possession of the Tate.

 

Butler, Lionel & Given-Wilson, Chris. (1979) Medieval Monasteries of Great Britain. London: Michael Jospeh

 

‘Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Bolton’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp. 195-199. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp195-199 [accessed 9 June 2018].

Cardinal Wolsey and the monasteries

wolseyWe tend to think of Thomas Cromwell as the man who did for England’s monasteries but before he became Henry VIII’s Vicar General, Cardinal Wolsey had already demonstrated various ways and means of milking the cloisters.

Most famously between 1524 and 1527 he arranged the suppression of 29 monastic foundations in order to finance his school in Ipswich and Cardinal’s College Oxford.  One of Wolsey’s men of business  at the time was Thomas Cromwell.  In 1530 after the fall and death of the Cardinal, Cromwell spent five days in Canwell and Sandwell (Staffs) seeing to the winding up of the two priories there which had been closed to finance Wolsey’s educational enterprises.

It should be added that Wolsey was not doing something new when he suppressed the 29 monasteries.  He was copying  William Waynflete of Winchester who had suppressed foundations in Hampshire in order to fund Magdalen College in 1458.  Wolsey studied there so it is not hard to see where he might have got his inspiration from.

Nor for that matter was he simply suppressing English monasteries because he could do so – when he became papal legate in 1518 he also received a mandate from Pope Clement VII to reform the monastic establishment as he saw fit.  The papal bull for these suppressions also identified Cardinal Campeggio.  It is evident from the State papers that Wolsey was careful to keep his royal master informed of events.  Here is an extract of a letter dating from 1528 sent to Campeggio.

Sir [Gregory] Casale….where he received letters from the King and the cardinal of York, with orders to obtain certain favors from the Pope. Not being in a fit state to ride, he has caused his brother, the elect of Bellun, to repair hither. You will have learned what the King and Cardinal desire, namely, the union of certain monasteries to the value of 8,000 [ducats?], for the two colleges established by the grandfathers of his Majesty. As the Pope was able to grant this sine consilio fratrum, the bull will be expedited. … We have letters from the King and Cardinal to the Pope, to which an answer shall be sent when the “expeditions” shall have been made. 

This was all well and good whilst Wolsey had Henry VIII’s favour but as every English churchman was aware – if they fell from favour the charge they would face was one of praemunire i.e. maintaining papal authority above that of the monarch. The pope did not simply give Wolsey carte blanche to close what he wanted.  Each of the foundations was required to close with the consent of its patron or founder.  Consequently the charge of closing the monasteries was a bit of a mean one as Wolsey  had in many cases required the intervention or consent of the king (Butler and Given-Wilson).

Wolsey started his suppressions with St Frideswide in Oxford with its fifteen canons and an income of approximately £20 p.a..  The canons were transferred to other foundations. The properties and their estates and churches were either sold or leased.  Most of the other monasteries he suppressed also only had a handful of clerics and a limited income.  In Ipswich where he founded his school he suppressed the local priory and used its land as the site for the school.  Ten more monasteries in Suffolk closed to finance the Ipswich venture.

 

There were various ways of interfering in the monasteries aside from closing them down.  As readers might expect Henry VII and his tax advisors Empson and Dudley had a few wheezes of their own.  The Crown often interfered in the election of abbots and priors.  St Mary’s Abbey in York paid the Crown £100 so that it might have free elections as did Great Malvern Abbey.  The Cistercians coughed up £5000 to cover all their foundations. The practice continued in the reign of Henry VIII.  In 1514 Evesham paid £160 for a free election and further £100 was added to the bill for a certain cleric called Wolsey.  Later in his career he took to charging for appointment to office.  The abbot of Gloucester was supposed to have paid Wolsey £100 for the job as did the abbots of Chester and Peterborough.

Of course, 1514 was the year the Wolsey became Bishop of York.  The office was followed by the title of cardinal the following year.  As a bishop Wolsey had the right to carry out visitations within his diocese.  Effectively bishops could demand to see an abbey or priory’s accounts and make enquiries into the moral solvency of a foundation.  Wolsey could not only to pry into the corners of Yorkshire’s monastic soul but also the dioceses of Winchester, Durham and Bath and Wells.  In 1518 he became a Papal Legate and his rights to stick his nose into abbey habits became nationwide. The following year Wolsey sent three Augustinians off to visit all Augustinian foundations and it would certainly appear that he had it in for the Augustinians if the list of suppressed monasteries in this post is anything to go by.  Supporters of Wolsey identify his reforming vigour.  Opponents are more likely to comment on the visitation as a strategy for extortion.

In 1523 he was voted a monastic subsidy – think of it as a clerical tax headed for the chubby paws of the cardinal.  It should also be noted that monasteries made an incredibly generous number of financial gifts to England’s spiritual leader.  Whalley Abbey sent him £22  for example.

Later when Wolsey fell from favour and the charges against him were drawn up the suppression of the twenty-nine monasteries featured on the list as did his habit of sending his employees to influence monastic elections not only of abbots and priors but also of high stewards.  The charges of praemunire include one of “crafty persuasions.”

But back to Wolsey’s suppressions.  There is a note in Henry VIII’s letters and state papers sent to Master Doctor Higden the first dean and former fellow of Magdalen College on the 21 June 1527:  Of the late monasteries of St. Frideswide, Liesnes, Poghley, Sandwell, Begham, Tykforde, Thobye, Stanesgat, Dodneshe, Snape, Tiptre, Canwell, Bradwell, Daventrie, Ravenston; of lands in cos. of Essex and Suffolk; Calceto, Wykes, Snape; of monasteries suppressed in cos. Stafford, Northampton, Bucks, Oxford and Berks; Tonbridge, in Kent; and in Sussex.

List of monastic foundations suppressed by Cardinal Wolsey

  1. St Frideswide, Oxford.  (Augustinian)
  2. St Peter and St Paul Priory, Ipswich. (Augustinian)
  3.  Bayham Abbey (Premonstratsensian)
  4. Begham Priory
  5. Blythburgh Priory (Augustinian)
  6. Bradwell Priory (Benedictine)
  7. Bromehill Priory (Augustinian) – Suppressed in 1528 by Dr Legh.
  8. Canwell Priory (Benedictine)
  9. Daventry Priory (Cluniac)
  10. Dodnash Priory (Augustinian)
  11. Farewell Priory (Benedictine nuns)
  12. Felixstowe Priory (Benedictine)
  13. Horkesley Priory (Cluniac)
  14. Lesnes  Abbey (Augustinian)
  15. Medmenham Priory  (Augustinian)  Medmenham  would later be the site of the notorious eighteenth century Hellfire Club.
  16. Mountjoy Priory (Augustinian)
  17. Poughley Priory (Augustinian) – Thomas Cromwell valued it at £10
  18. Pynham Priory (known as Calceto)  (Augustinian)
  19. Ravenstone Priory (Augustinian)
  20. Rumburgh Priory (Benedictine)
  21. Sandwell Priory (Benedictine)
  22. Snape Priory (Benedictine)
  23. Stanesgate Priory (Cluniac) – Visited by Dr Layton.
  24. Thoby Priory (Augustinian)
  25. Tiptree Priory (Augustinian)
  26. Tickford Priory (Augustinian)
  27. Tonbridge Priory (Augustinian)
  28. Wallingford Priory (Benedictine)
  29. Wix Priory (Benedictine nuns)

The value of the monasteries that Wolsey closed came to £1800 – or one decent sized manor.  He used his administrative team to evaluate and suppress the monasteries.  Thomas Cromwell would use the same men on a far grander scale from 1535 onwards.

Butler, Lionel and Given-Wilson, Chris. (1979) Medieval Monasteries of Great Britain. London: Michael Joseph

 

Heale, Martin. (2016) The Abbots and Priors of Late Medieval and Reformation England. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Hutchinson, Robert (2007) Thomas Cromwell: The Rise And Fall Of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister  London: Orion

‘Henry VIII: November 1528, 11-20’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 4, 1524-1530, ed. J S Brewer (London, 1875), pp. 2134-2150. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol4/pp2134-2150 [accessed 24 April 2018].

‘Houses of Cluniac monks: Priory of Stanesgate’, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2, ed. William Page and J Horace Round (London, 1907), pp. 141-142. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol2/pp141-142 [accessed 24 April 2018].

 

Sir John Pole of Hartington (d.1397)

 

DSC_0174John Pole of Hartington (the picture is of Hartington Church) in Derbyshire held some important offices in the Duchy of Lancaster – not least being the steward of the High Peak – which I think you’ll agree is a rather wonderful title as is the title of forester of Crowdecote – another of John’s nice little money spinners. The Crowdecote office came with the purchase of land which appears to have occurred shortly after Pole inherited the family lands in the area. The Parliamentary website also suggests that it was the purchase of the land at Crowdecote which first brought Pole into the orbit of Gaunt’s sphere of influence certainly it was from this time that Pole acquired grazing rights to land in Hartington in the ownership of Gaunt as part of the Duchy of Lancaster  (Hartington had been in the hands of the Ferrers family until involvement with de Montford’s rebellion saw his estates ending up in the hands of Edmund of Lancaster).

We probably shouldn’t be too surprised, either, to learn that Pole became a member of parliament following his links to Gaunt – it is pure supposition to consider the idea that Pole purchased the land at Crowdecote with the single aim of improving his political and financial standing by hooking up to the Lancaster bandwagon but it certainly isn’t outside the realms of possibility.

In 1381 Pole can be found suppressing revolting peasants – a role which he continued throughout his career in Gaunt’s service as in 1386 he is on the record arresting people following unrest in Worksop. Ironically it was probably his role as an assessor of tax in 1379 that led to the unrest in the area in 1381! He is also noted as being sent off  in 1395 to lean on juries in Staffordshire along with other men in Gaunt’s retinue…suddenly its all sounding very mafia-ish.

 

More importantly so far as history’s knowledge of Pole is concerned is his keenness to take people to court – lawyers are good at written records and consequentially we know quite a lot about him.  He first appears in 1376 suing someone from Alstonfield for poaching and there are also records of him suing his own family over the inheritance of the manor of Sheen which had been split for a number of years due to the way it was inherited but when the manor was finally reunited under John’s tenure he promptly sued the previous occupants for laying waste the estate – presumably they weren’t too happy about the fact that the manor was ultimately going into John’s hands and took what they could whilst the going was good. Ultimately another John Pole would sell the manor of Sheen to Edward IV.

 

Our fourteenth century Pole appears to have recognized which side his bread was buttered and became on of the duchy’s most loyal supporters in the region. In return he gained preferential rates for grazing in the High Peak as well as an annuity of £10 a year as one of Gaunt’s retainers – crucially both in times of peace and war. He was newly knighted in 1386 when he set off for Spain with John of Gaunt and Constance or Constanza of Castile in John’s abortive campaign to claim the Spanish throne. Fortunately for Pole he avoided succumbing to the disease that rampaged through Gaunt’s army and returned to Derbyshire.

 

When he returned to England he appears to have continued extending his land holdings in Derbyshire and Staffordshire. His behaviour either on his own behest or for his master seems to have caused major disagreements with the abbot of Dieulacres in 1395.

Dieulacres, a Cistercian Abbey near Leek, had a bit of a reputation! The abbot was prone to suggesting that it was put upon but the Victoria County History for Staffordshire paints a rather different picture as this extract demonstrates:

 

The abbey appears as aggressor as much as victim in numerous breaches of the peace in the area during the later Middle Ages, the abbot maintaining armed bands like any troublesome lay magnate. A royal commission of inquiry in 1379 recited ‘information that one William, Abbot of Dieulacres, desiring to perpetrate maintenance in his marches and oppress the people’, had kept a band of 21 retainers ‘to stay with him . . . to do all the mischief they can to the people in the county of Stafford and that they have lain in wait for them, assaulted, maimed, and killed some, and driven others from place to place until they made a fine with them’. In 1380 a similar group was indicted for having beheaded John de Warton at Leek by command of Abbot William. The abbot surrendered and was imprisoned, but he was soon pardoned and released. At the beginning of Henry V’s reign the county was in a very disturbed state, and among the many indictments was one involving a monk of Dieulacres and a servant of the abbot. They were accused of being members of a group of 80 who had broken into William Egerton’s park at Cheddleton in 1413 and stolen ironstone.

 

So the dispute between Pole and the Cistercians was probably a rather lively one which has been relegated to a passing footnote of history. 1395 also saw Pole being charged with the illegal use of hunting dogs – whether it was connected to the abbot is another matter entirely.

 

Pole was probably dead by 1397 because he disappears from the register and his son, another John, is described as a minor. John senior’s widow, Isobel, went on to marry Sir Thomas Beek, another member of Gaunt’s retinue. Isobel and Sir Thomas appear in the records in several land ownership cases at the time as well as sueing Henry Marion, William Perkson, William de Tyderyngton and Hugh del Grene, for treading down and consuming her grass at Alstonfield – I should add that it was the cattle of the aforementioned doing the trampling and eating!

 

The family tradition for suing all and sundry was maintained by young John when he came of age because he promptly sued his mother and step-father for failing to account for their stewardship of his estates – including at Alstonfield- the general feeling being that they had lived rather well on the proceeds.

 

I have the feeling that I will be returning to the Poles at some point. And before anyone asks; I know that they were related to the Poles of Radbourne in Derbyshire and linked to the Chandos family but not to the de la Poles (dukes of Suffolk) or to the Pole family who were Henry Tudor’s cousins (Henry married off Margaret Plantagenet- daughter of the duke of Clarence- to his cousin Sir Richard Pole – she went on to become the Countess of Salisbury and was brutally executed by Henry VIII). I should add that that particular Pole family came from Cheshire. A casual glance at the map reveals that it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the two families were somehow linked but the two sets of Poles were distinctly separate entities so far as known history is concerned.

DSC_0173.jpg

 

G C Baugh, W L Cowie, J C Dickinson, Duggan A P, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, R Mansfield and A Saltman, ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Dieulacres’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, ed. M W Greenslade and R B Pugh (London, 1970), pp. 230-235. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/pp230-235 [accessed 22 August 2017].

 

POLE, Sir John de la (d.c.1397), of Hartington, Derbys. and Alstonfield, Staffs. Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993.  Available from Boydell and Brewer

Derbyshire Monastic houses

In Yorkshire prior to the dissolution of the monasteries there was approximately one monastic house in every one hundred and nine miles. In North Yorkshire that dropped to one in every eighty-two miles. It’s impossible not to think of the great Cistercian establishments and the ruins that still dominate the landscape.

It’s a bit of a different story in Derbyshire.  There were no Cistercian foundations swelling in the area.  Of the seven houses, not counting Bradbourne which was a cell of Dunstable Priory in Bedfordshire, five were Augustinian and two were Premonstratsensian.

Here’s a map. Click on the map to change its size and on the bullet points for further information about each of the monastic foundations in the region:

The pattern of their dissolution followed the national pattern with visitation followed by surrender and suppression.  In addition to which thirty monastic houses held land, manors and benefices in Derbyshire.  Whilst Henry VIII’s change of “ownership” didn’t leave dramatic ruins in its wake it did change land ownership and the balance of power in the area.  Francis Leake and Sir William Cavendish both pocketing valuable estates.  The former’s descendants would become the earls of Scarsdale whilst the latter’s decedents would become the dukes of Devonshire.

Layton and Legh again – letters from the North.

640px-Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01Time slips on, two weeks into February and I haven’t had my accustomed snoop around Thomas Cromwell’s letters. I’d have to say the pattern is very familiar in terms of the letters’ contents. This month it is very clear that the repercussions of closing the monasteries were beginning to be felt in the wider community; that Layton and Legh may have been colleagues but they didn’t trust one another further than they could see one another and vied in a long distance game of one-up-manship to be Cromwell’s best buddy. And finally it is also clear from these letters that Cromwell took the opportunity that death and forced surrender provided to seize the moment and place men of his own choosing in post – in order to line his own pockets – quel surprise.

Lord William Howard sent a missive at the beginning of February to Cromwell pointing out that the monks of St Oswald’s in York were second to none for “good hospitality and good order,” or they had been until Cromwell’s visitors had arrived bandying their strictures left right and centre. Howard suggests that Cromwell relax them pronto as he needed somewhere to stay. This does, of course, raise the interesting question of where did folk stay after the dissolution of the monasteries – inn keepers must have been dancing jigs in the street upon the news that their competitors had been put out of business.

 

Meanwhile the Bishop of Norwich had popped his clogs and Cromwell’s agent Sir Thomas Rushe wrote on the 3rd to say that he was ‘active in searching and guarding the plate’ of which there was a great deal or in other words the bishop’s belongings had just become Crown property. There was also a flurry of letters on the 3rd from Whitby. Clearly the abbot and his visitors hadn’t got on particularly well as we’ve already seen, not least because the abbot insisted on declaring his innocence in regard to anything unabbottish in no uncertain terms.He’s now complaining that the strictures set upon the care of monastic scholars at the abbey will only result in trouble.  He probably wished that he was involved in piracy by that point in proceedings.

It goes quiet in the north until February 7th when Layton provides Cromwell with an update as to his travels:

This day I had been at Fountains to make the election, but that I tarry in York to induce a lewd canon and his flock, if possible, to surrender his house of 140l. good lands and only 40 marks of it in spiritual tithes. I had contrived this matter long before now, if a little false knave in York had not been a “doggarell” of the law and a “pursevant” of Westminster Hall. Dr. Leigh keeps the visitation whilst I go forward with these matters. The prior of Gisborowe, a house of 1,000 marks, has resigned into our hands privily. If you make no promise of that house to no man till we come up to London, we shall by the way spy one for it meet and apt, both for the King’s honor and discharge of your conscience and also profitable. If the treasurer of York knew of it, he would make hot suit for a young man of that house, a very boy for such an office. On the 8th we pass to Carlisle. We have done all in Northumberland, and at Shrovetide trust to see you. York, 7 Feb.

You have to admire their speed and efficiency!

On February 9th Marton Priory, an Augustine establishment, in North Yorkshire surrendered. Marton Priory has an interesting history and its fair share of real mischievous monks if the visitation of 1314 is any indicator.  Amongst their number was  Brother Roger who seems to have seen rather more than his fair share of the ladies: Ellen de Westmorland living at Brandsby, with Beatrix del Calgarth wife of John de Ferlington, Eda Genne of Marton, Maud Scot of Menersley, and Beatrix Baa, relict of Robert le Bakester of Stillington are identified as having been a little bit too friendly. His penance was to fast and eat vegetables on a Wednesday. Just in case diet had no impact on his private habits he was also forbidden from speaking to women…though I get the impression that speaking was the least of the problem. In 1536 Thomas Godson, the prior, seems to have recognised that changes were afoot and handed over the keys and the seal of the priory without any coercion or indeed evidence of naughtiness.  Perhaps his appointment as rector of Sheriff Hutton Church, the living of which was in the hands of the priory, has something to do with it. (As an aside this is the church where Richard III’s son Edward of Middleham is buried.)

Thomas Barton, one of Cromwell’s agents and a man local to the area acquired the property of Marton Priory.

 

The following day, the 10th,  Cromwell received a letter from the borders from William Barlow who complained that althought there were monks and priests in the area that the ordinary people were sadly lacking in their understanding of the Gospel. Presumably they were all far too busy reiving one another’s sheep and cattle or at deadly feud with one another.

 

Also, on the 10th a letter arrived from Legh repeating much of the information in Layton’s letter and taking credit for Guisborough. It can only be described as toadying. He acknowledges that there are other of Cromwell’s men who are more learned than he but he suggests that if Cromwell were to make Legh his chancellor he would be the most profitable appointment.Interestingly ‘profitable’ is the word that Layton uses.  Clearly Cromwell never managed to leave his old persona as a man of business too far behind him. Legh concludes by saying that he keeps three things in his mind – God, the king and gratitude to Cromwell. I shall be taking note of that particular letter in the event of any job applications I may need to complete. It’s short but covers a mountain of ground between bribery and crawling -you may wish to apply other phrases but I couldn’t possibly comment. In between times Legh tells Cromwell that Sherbourne has surrendered and “I have been at Mountgrace and Hull, and find them there and in all other places ready to fulfil the King’s pleasure. Layton is now at the monastery of Fountaines to perform your mind.”

Clearly there were no noteworthy misdeeds to record at either Mountgrace or Hull.

 

‘Henry VIII: February 1536, 11-20’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10, January-June 1536, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1887), pp. 108-126. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol10/pp108-126 [accessed 13 February 2017].

‘Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Marton’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp. 223-226. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp223-226 [accessed 3 February 2017].

 

23 December – Of Samuel Pepys, three nuns, a turkey and that man Cromwell.

pepysWith only two days of my metaphorical advent calendar to go I really should be getting a bit more festive – so with no further ado allow mw to introduce the turkey – property of one Samuel Pepys. In 1660 Mrs Pepys was troubled by the art of spit roasting the aforementioned bird. In fact you can read every single 23rd December that Pepys ever recorded should you feel the urge by following the link:

http://samuelpepystoday.com/?day=1123

 

A swift search of the net reveals that in the UK ten million turkeys are eaten each Christmas. I had thought it was a relative new comer to the Christmas table. After all, you only have to think of Ebenezer Scrooge and the prize goose that graced the Cratchets’ table to realise that the turkey has not always been the bird of choice but apparently, and I really am sorry about this because I had hoped to avoid him today, that the first turkey arrived in England in 1526 and, yes, the first monarch to eat turkey was Henry VIII though it was Edward VII who made them into a popular festive meal.  For more about festive birds read the History Extra article here.

Since it’s proved impossible to bypass the terrible Tudor I should probably also mention that Dr Legh, one of Cromwell’s monastic visitors, was wandering around Huntingdonshire on his way north on the 23 December 1535. He took it upon himself to visit Hinchinbrooke  Priory.  Sadly the prioress, Alice Wilton, was very unwell and the sight of Legh was enough to finish her off.  Legh promptly took charge of the keys and the money coffers before asking Cromwell what he should do next.

There being only three nuns in addition to the prioress and it being a poor establishment the priory was swiftly suppressed. Ownership passed on to Richard  Cromwell who was the son of Morgan Williams who married Katherine Cromwell, Thomas Cromwell’s sister. Richard took his uncle’s name and benefited from his uncle’s patronage to the tune of several large chunks of monastic land including Hinchinbrooke Priory and Ramsey Abbey.  Hinchinbrooke was to become famous as the birthplace a couple generations down the line of  Oliver Cromwell.
‘Henry VIII: December 1535, 21-25’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1886), pp. 340-350. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol9/pp340-350 [accessed 6 December 2016].

‘Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Hinchinbrook’, in A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1, ed. William Page, Granville Proby and H E Norris (London, 1926), pp. 389-390. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/hunts/vol1/pp389-390 [accessed 7 November 2016].

Dr Richard Layton

Visitation_monasteries.jpgI’m still perusing Henry VIII’s letters and papers. One of today’s letters to Cromwell is an eyebrow raiser so I couldn’t resist it. The letter  containing scandalous information about a nun from Syon was written by Richard Layton who has been mentioned many times in this blog but has never had his own post – so I thought that today’s metaphorical advent could be Dr Richard Layton.  This image shows the monastic visitors arriving at a monastery with their cavalcade of out runners or “rufflers” and much fanfare.

Here’s the letter:

Bishop this day preached, and declared the King’s title, to a church full of people. One of the “focares” openly called him false knave: “it was that foolish fellow with the curled head that kneeled in your way when ye came forth of the confessor’s chamber.” Must set him in prison, to deter others. Learnt yesterday many enormous things against Bishop in examining the lay brethren, —that he had persuaded two of them to have gone away by night along with him, but that they lacked money to buy the secular apparel, —that he tried to induce one of them, a smith, to make a key for the door to receive wenches at night, especially a wife of Uxbridge, dwelling not far from the old lady Derby. He also persuaded a nun, to whom he was confessor, ad libidinem corporum perimplendam, and that she would be forgiven if she confessed immediately after each occasion, and was absolved by him. She wrote him many foolish letters, and would have got his brother, the smith, to have pulled a bar of iron out of that window where Cromwell examined the Lady Abbess, and at which they used to commune by night. He got the sexton also to assist him. Intends to make further search this afternoon both of the brethren and of the sisters, and will certify Cromwell tomorrow morning. Most of the brethren are weary of their habit. Such religion and feigned sanctity God save me from!

 

To all intents and purposes Layton presents himself as a loyal subject of the king and a religious reformer.The letter sums up his rather tabloid writing style; his approach to the visitation of the monasteries and his strategy of looking for gossip amongst the lay members of a community. The letter even contains an example of the rather delightful habit of referring to anything carnal in latin in order that messengers carrying his communications to Cromwell might not be tainted with the knowledge of a letter’s contents. In this case the literal translation is “the passion of their bodies fulfilment.”

So who was he? Layton was a Cumbrian descended from the Layton who owned Dalemain at that time.  Dalemain had been in the hands of the Layton family since 1272. It would leave the family in the seventeenth century due to the fact that there were six daughters and no sons.  If you go far enough back up the family tree its possible to find Nevilles  but the Laytons weren’t nobility they would be more correctly defined as gentry. Layton’s mother was a Tunstall – Cuthbert Tunstall, the Bishop of Durham, was his uncle.   He was  born somewhere near the turn of the century. Moorhouse notes that he was supposed to have thirty-two siblings (Moorhouse:27), another one of them became an MP.  It is clear however that with such a large extended family Layton had to look to his own skills for advance.  He was also, somewhat ironically, related to Robert Aske one of the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace who rebelled against the dissolution of the monasteries and I think that there’s a priest hole at Dalemain demonstrating that the family weren’t all as keen on reform as Richard.

It would appear that Layton, having finished his education and been received into the priesthood, entered Wolsey’s service.  This was a conventional enough progression in the   Tudor civil  service which still drew on the Church for its clerks at this time.  He appears to have had a number of livings in London including on at the Tower of London but as it required his presence he resigned from it fairly swiftly when better opportunities arose.

He came to the forefront of the changes that were occurring in the 1530s because of his acquaintance with Cromwell.   As the King’s Great Matter became ever more pressing he found himself interrogating the likes of Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher – his education and ordination giving his  questions legitimacy.  Cromwell must have found his old colleague efficient and effective because he sent him along with Thomas Ap Rice to the University of Oxford to undertake an investigation there as well.

The following year, August 1535, he found himself heading up the team of visitors rootling through the monastic houses of England and Wales with a list of pre-prepared questions in hand but always reporting back to Cromwell who arranged their findings into two groups: firstly, the Valor Ecclesiasticus which contained the accounts and lists of relics; secondly, the Comperta or ‘Black Book’ which contained all the monastic misdeeds. Layton had a hand in the construction of the questions and also in the injunctions which were issued at each visit.  An example of the latter would be the prohibition on leaving the monastic enclosure.  This prompted many letters to Cromwell complaining about the unreasonableness of the strictures involved.  It should be noted that  Layton was the only ordained cleric on the team of visitors.  Initially there seems from Cromwell’s letters to have been some jockeying for position between Layton and Legh, another visitor.  Both told tales and complained about one another but generally speaking Layton emerges in history as Cromwell’s chief visitor.

Layton gathered confidence with each foundation he visited.  His task was to inspect the accounts, uncover any poor practice from failure to obey the rule of St Benedict to encouraging superstitious practices as well as administering the oath of supremacy.  He seems particularly good at sniffing out scandal amongst the monks and nuns of the places he visited – much of it with a tabloid quality!  The letter above is a case in point – it reads like a particularly bad bodice ripper; although interestingly he did sometimes note a blameless monastic foundation.  Bristol and Durham received a clean bill of health from Layton. Having said that it is worth remembering  that Layton  was related to Cuthbert Tunstall who as bishop was also the titular abbot. Having finished visiting the southern monasteries, narrowly avoiding being burned in his bed whilst visiting Canterbury, he volunteered to visit the northern monasteries – it was after all a lucrative task. He set off just before Christmas 1535. As a consequence of his dependence on Cromwell for advancement his letters are often toadying and nearly always full of tales of naughty nuns and monks.

Layton managed to make himself so disliked that he together with Thomas Cromwell and  Legh are identified in the list of the pilgrims grievances in 1536 with a request that these “wicked” advisers be punished.  Not that this had any effect! As the monasteries closed it was Layton who journeyed around the country accepting the surrender of many of the monasteries that he’d inspected earlier.  It is impossible to know how many bribes he took for recommending former monks to new posts.

Layton became rector of Harrow-on-the-Hill and rather lucratively in the north he was appointed Dean in York on 23 July 1539.  He helped himself to rather a lot of York’s plate and pawned it for his own benefit. This only surfaced after his death when the deanery were forced to redeem the items in question.

By now he had a reputation as a ‘can do’ man so he found himself on the team  investigating the validity of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. He’d already had a role at Anne Boleyn’s trial.  In short his career follows the path of many Tudor administrators but it was through his work on the monasteries that he attained notoriety.

His career as a diplomat began to extend in the period that followed. He became English Ambassador in the Court of the Netherlands. He was with the Queen of Hungary in March 1544 dealing with safe conduct passes.   We know this because he receives a mention in one of her letters to Chapuys. It is from the Spanish archives that we can learn about his illness and his death. He died in June 1544 in Brussels.

For those of you who are a little Henried out I will try to find something less Tudor tomorrow.

‘Henry VIII: December 1535, 11-20’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1886), pp. 318-340. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol9/pp318-340 [accessed 6 December 2016].

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/layton-william-1514-5152