Delving into Cromwell’s correspondence …again

640px-Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01It’s that time of the week when I take the opportunity to ferret through Henry VIII’s 1535 papers in order to find out what Cromwell and his friends were up to during the coming week.  There’s no prizes for guessing that many of the notes were about monasteries and money.

It was becoming clear, thanks to the kinds of questions that Cromwell’s visitors had been asking across the south of England, that the king and Cromwell had plans for the Church’s belongings. As a consequence abbots and priors were beginning to dispose of their assets in an attempt to squirrel away a nest egg before the writing on the wall turned in to disconcerting fact.

Unfortunately for the brethren, and indeed sisters, they weren’t very good at fencing their goods or effecting swift or secret sales as is recorded on November 11 1535 by Thomas Legh and John Ap Rice in a letter to Cromwell. “At many places where we go they have sold lands and goods before we came, and prepared to go away and utterly relinquish their houses; as at a lewd nunnery hereby, called Crabhouse, where they sold lands to Mr. Conysbie, which we have sequestered and stayed the prioress from further alienation.”


Elsewhere there were all sorts of dodgy goings on in Llandaff which Adam Becansaw hints at but rather coyly doesn’t detail – perhaps Cromwell was of a gentle disposition after all and easily shocked. “We found the bishop and his archdeacon named Quarre guilty, not only of great ruin and decay in their mansions, but of other great faults.”


Meanwhile the Prior of Bokenham, who may or may not have been selling off the family silver, was attempting to bribe Cromwell to the tune of 26 shillings whilst trying to cosy up to the Vice Gerant with the news that some of the younger members of his priory were not ‘godly disposed,’ which, presumably, was music to Cromwell’s ears but not necessarily something which reflected terribly well upon the prior.


A rather predictable pattern is beginning to emerge – no doubt it will be continued over the next few weeks until the Pilgrimage of Grace flares up as the local populace of Lincolnshire fear that not only will their monastic houses be suppressed but that their local churches will be closed down. It will add a bit of variety into the equation when the Duke of Norfolk reaches for his quill and paper.

‘Henry VIII: November 1535, 6-10’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1886), pp. 262-271. British History Online [accessed 17 October 2016].
‘Henry VIII: November 1535, 11-20’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1886), pp. 271-288. British History Online [accessed 5 November 2016].




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 [accessed 12 October 2016].

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