Tag Archives: Edward Seymour

Thomas Beccon – reformer, propagandist and barometer of England’s Reformation.

Thomas_Becon.jpgBeccon or Becon was born in Norfolk around 1510-12, so during the first eighteen months of Henry VIII ascending the throne. He was educated in Cambridge where he studied under the tutelage of Hugh Latimer. He was ordained in 1533 – just as Henry VIII’s marital disputes were hotting up in more ways than one.  Despite the fact that Henry VIII passed a series of laws that changed the management and government of the Church making Hal the Supreme Head of the Church of England, religion and belief itself didn’t change very much.  Essentially Henry VIII remained a Catholic throughout his life. This was rather unfortunate for Beccon who  travelled along the road towards Protestantism  preaching his views to anyone who might care to hear. He was arrested in 1540 for preaching Protestantism and was forced to recant his beliefs.  To avoid further problems he stopped preaching and took to writing tracts under the assumed name of Theodore Basille.  Between 1541-43 at least eight works were published.  Sadly for him the pseudonym ploy was not entirely successful as Bishop Gardiner wasn’t without employees who knew how to wheedle the truth out of people.  Beccon found himself recanting for a second time whilst chopping up three of his books in public to show how very sorry he was for having written them in the first place.  In 1546 thirteen of his books were on a list of prohibited texts that were burned as an example to the populace.

Beccon seems to have spent these difficult years until the death of Henry VIII wandering around the Midlands doing a spot of tutoring and generally trying to avoid having to recant for a third time as that presumably would have meant burning him as well as his books.

However, in 1547 when Edward VI ascended the throne he became the chaplain of the Lord Protector Edward Seymour where he could write openly about his beliefs, acquire a decent living and begin to aspire to making social as well as religious changes.  

In 1553 things took a turn for the worse for Beccon when Mary I ascended the throne and promptly tried to turn the clock back.  This was the third stage of the English Reformation (broadly speaking).  Aside from Beccon’s Protestant inclinations there was the small fact that as an ordained member of the clergy he really shouldn’t have had a wife according to Mary I’s beliefs. In August 1553 he found himself ensconced within the Tower of London and removed from his living.  In March 1554 he was released and promptly left the country going to Germany where he was certain of a more friendly welcome. He actually became a tutor in the household of the Landgrave of Hesse.

He returned to England from Marburg where he taught at the university when Elizabeth I ascended the throne ushering in the fourth phase of the English Reformation (broadly speaking). He became a canon of Canterbury Cathedral and secured a number of benefices in Kent including that of Sturry.  He wasn’t entirely popular with Elizabeth I as although he’d welcomed Elizabeth I as the “English Deborah” (i.e. the saviour of her nation) he’d also subscribed to John Knox’s view about the “monstrous regiment of women” – which didn’t necessarily go down terribly well with Elizabeth.  He died in June 1567.

Beccon is credited with writing more than sixty texts however the book I’m interested in today is entitled The Jewel of Joy which was aimed at ordinary people and their beliefs as I’m giving a talk on the Dissolution of the Monasteries in Derbyshire in July. It includes an insight into Derbyshire at the time of his wanderings in the 1540s – I might add that he saw the county as “barren” in a spiritual sense claiming that because of the ignorance of many of its inhabitants they found themselves clinging to catholicism and lacked the “spark of godliness.”  The text is partially autobiographical.  He explains that having recanted for the second time at the foot of St Paul’s Cross he decamped from London to “avoid the ravening paws of these greedy wolves.” First he went to Thetford to visit his family and from there he set off to the Peak District intent on earning his living as a tutor. He didn’t known anyone and he didn’t expect a welcome.  Apparently he didn’t get one either as he described the locals as “rude and uncivilised:”

But all the religion of the people consisted of ‘hearing matins and masses, in superstitious worshipping of saints, in hiring soul’s carriers to ring trintals, in pattering upon beads, and such other Popish pedlar’. Yet the people where I have travelled, for the most part, are reasonable and quiet enough, yea, and very conformable to God’s truth. If any be stubbornly obstinate, it is for want of knowledge and because they have been seduced by blind guides.

The only exception to this appears to have been  in Alsop-En-La-Dale because of  John Alsop (yes the name is a clue as to that particular gentleman’s authority within the place).  Alsop En La Dale is about five miles north of the market town of Ashbourne.  And it was here that Beccon discovered a kindred spirit. Not only did John Alsop show Beccon his prized Coverdale Bible, written by Miles Coverdale in 1535 being a translation of the Bible into English, but he also showed him his library which contained many reforming treatises including some of Beccon’ own works (obviously Beccon didn’t look like an arch-conservative in the pay of Gardiner):

In a little village called AIsop En Le Dale, I chanced upon a certain gentleman called Alsop, lord of that village, a man not only ancient in years, but also ripe in the knowledge of Christ’s doctrine. When we had saluted each other, and I had taken a sufficient repast, he showed me certain books, which he called his jewels and treasures. To repeat them all by name, I am not able, but of this I am sure, that there was the New Testament after the translation of that godly learned man. Miles Coverdale, which seemed to be as well worn by the diligent reading thereof as ever was any mass book among the Papists. In these godly books – I remember right well that he had many other godly books, as the Obedience of Christian Man, The Parable of the Wicked Mammon, The Revelation of Anti- Christ, The Sun of Holy Scripture, The Book of John Frith against Purgatory, &c. – this ancient gentleman, among the mountains and rocks, occupied himself both diligently and virtuously.

And on that cheerful note I’m off to occupy myself both diligently and virtuously cooking dinner!

 

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Sir Thomas Wentworth

NPG 1851; Thomas Wentworth, 1st Baron Wentworth by Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artistDecember 2 1542

Cromwell, for the time being on this blog is no longer with us, and in Henry’s world had had an unfortunate experience with an axe on 28 July 1540. Henry’s letters and papers show how things changed after the demise of his second great administrator – the Privy Council became an important administrative machine once more. The minutes are terse to put it mildly.

 

“Meeting at Hampton Court, 2 Dec. Present : Canterbury, Russell, Winchester, Westminster, Gage, Browne, Wingfield, Wriothesley. Business :Letter written to Sir Thos. Wentworth and Sir Hen. Savell to receive Scottish prisoners from the lord President.” Canterbury is, of course, Thomas Cranmer and Winchester is Stephen Gardener.

 

Sir Thomas Wentworth, Sixth Lord Despenser (not sure how the family got that title – I’m adding it to my list of ‘need to find out’) and First Baron Wentworth  of Wentworth West Bretton in Yorkshire (although he was originally from Suffolk – the Suffolk property having been acquired by the Yorkshire Wentworths as part of a marital transaction) is the chap behind today’s metaphorical advent door. He and Jane Seymour, Henry’s third queen, were cousins. Margery Wentworth, his aunt, was Jane’s mother. Thomas’s son, inventively also named Thomas, would thrive under the rule of Edward VI and his Seymour relations.

 

But back to Sir Thomas – his own mother Anne Tyrell was the daughter of Sir James. For fans of historical whodunits, yes, that is the Sir James Tyrell suspected of the murder of the princes in the Tower – demonstrating yet again that the Tudor world was a small world. One of Sir Thomas’s sons-in-law was Sir Martin Frobisher the famous Elizabethan explorer.

 

Wentworth’s climb up the career ladder began with service in the household of the duke of Suffolk, Charles Brandon – who was of course married to the king’s sister – Princess Mary. It would appear, according to Brandon’s biographer that Wentworth was first recruited to Suffolk’s service in 1513 – meaning that young Wentworth was only about twelve at the time but he grew to become one of Suffolk’s most senior officers having been knighted by Brandon along with his cousin Edward Seymour in 1523. He would go on to serve as Edward VI’s Lord Chancellor as denoted by the white staff of office in his hand.  The National Portrait Gallery notes suggest that this was added to the portrait after it had originally been painted.

 

Wentworth also became associated with the duke of Norfolk- so not so much a new man even though he was only raised to the peerage in 1529 (he succeeded his father to the Despenser title and the manor of Nettlestead upon his death in 1528) so much as an old one drawing on powerful connections to improve his ranking in the Tudor world of ‘Top Trumps’.

 

Despite his northern affiliations he remained loyal to Henry VIII during the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace turning up to support the king with one hundred men in tow. He had already nailed his colours to the mast when he became one of the signatories of a letter asking Pope Clement VII to permit a divorce between Henry and Katherine of Aragon.  He went on to be a noted reformer although interestingly he does not appear to have benefitted from the sale of the monasteries. According to Franklin-Harkrider, Miles Coverdale praised Wentworth for his godliness. This hadn’t stopped him being part of the jury that had condemned Anne Boleyn.

 

His loyalty was rewarded. He was at Edward VI’s christening; was part of the party that welcomed Anne of Cleeves and Henry even deigned to visit him at his home at Nettlestead in Suffolk that same year – with Catherine Howard.

 

But back to letter dated 2nd December 1542. There were apparently two hundred noble Scottish prisoners and approximately eight hundred from the massed ranks of Scottish hoi polloi in English hands following the Battle of Solway Moss  which took place on the 24 November 1542. The most important of the Scottish prisoners were escorted to London by Wentworth and Saville where they arrived on the 19th of December suitably adorned with the cross of St Andrew. They were committed to the Tower for safekeeping until the 21st of December when they were paraded before the Lord Chancellor who chastised them on behalf of the king for their naughtiness in arriving with an armed force on England’s borders. Having been duly slapped around the back of the legs they were not returned to the Tower’s naughty step but having given their parole sent off to spend the festive season with assorted members of the nobility including the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk.

 

 Franklin-Harkrider, Melissa. (2008) Women, Reform and Community in Early Modern England: Katherine Willoughby, duchess of Suffolk and Lincolnshire’s Godly Aristocracy, 1519-1580 (Studies in Modern British Religious History). Martlesham: Boydell Press

Gunn, Steven. (2015) Charles Brandon: Henry VIII’s Closest Friend . Stroud: Amberley Publishing

Keith, Robert (1735) History of the Affairs of Church and State in Scotland accessed from https://archive.org/details/historyofaffairs03keit (03 December 2016).
‘Henry VIII: December 1542, 1-10’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 17, 1542, ed. James Gairdner and R H Brodie (London, 1900), pp. 643-655. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol17/pp643-655 [accessed 17 October 2016].

 

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Muchelney Abbey

Tiles from Muchelney AbbeyMuchelney Abbey on the Somerset Levels was founded by the Saxon Kings of Wessex.  Unfortunately it is impossible to be precise about which one, as some of the charters granting land to Muchelney are medieval forgeries.  Evidence does suggest that King Ine of Wessex founded the abbey and then King Athelstan refounded it when he gave gifts to the abbey – in thanks for his victory over the Vikings at Brunanburgh or possibly as an ‘oops I’ve been a bit of a naughty boy’ offering in relation to his involvement in the murder of the Atheling Edwin in 933. The confusion about the abbey’s foundation may be because the area suffered under the Vikings.  After all, Muchelney is in the vicinity of the hovel where Alfred the Great burnt the cakes. Wedmore, where there was once a royal palace and where Alfred made a treaty with Guthrum is just up the road.

 

The ruins that remain today date from the twelfth century and reflect the Norman desire to found or support existing monastic houses.  There is also a very smart sixteenth century staircase in the abbot’s residence that must have looked a bit out of place when it became a farm house after the dissolution as well as some wonderful recumbent lions over the fireplace which date from a century earlier.

 

Muchelney is mentioned in the Domesday Book.  It turns up again some five hundred years later in Thomas Cromwell’s Valor Ecclesiasticus as being worth £447 with eight monks in addition to the abbot and prior. It had never been a large monastery – Glastonbury was too close for that to happen.

 

There were earlier visitations. The Victoria County History for Somerset mentions a visit in 1335 when the Bishop of Shrewsbury found the Benedictine monks sleeping in richly covered beds and going off for their meals on horseback rather than eating in the monastery itself. In addition the cloisters were being polluted with the presence of the laity – and not just men either. The Bishop also noted that the church was in a bad state of repair. The monastery was swiftly reformed by a new abbot but it didn’t spare the monks from a visit by the Black Death.

 

Cromwell’s commissioners also sent many letters about Muchelney.  The commissioner who arrived in January 1538 was Thomas Leigh (he made himself deeply unpopular during the first phase of the dissolution in Yorkshire.)   By 1538 Leigh had a handy assortment of damning phrases with which to write to his master. He described the abbot as being of “doubtful character” and the monks “unlernyd.” Unlearned or not the brethren at Muchelney could see which way the wind was blowing and swiftly surrendered the abbey into Leigh’s hands.

Henry VIII granted the abbey to his brother-in-law the Earl of Hertford.  The Earl, Edward Seymour whose sister Jane Seymour married the king two years earlier, went on to become Protector of England during his nephew Edward VI’s minority.

Seymour kept the abbot’s lodging turning it into a farm house which he let out to tenants. He used the rest of the monastery as a quarry.

When Seymour was executed for treason Muchelney returned to the Crown where it remained until 1614 when it was sold off by James I.

The church of Muchelney which stood next door to the abbey was not part of the abbey itself – so Seymour couldn’t strip the lead from the roof or take away its dressed stone!  However, the abbey had the living for the church. This meant that they could appoint the priest. An informative display also mentions the fact that the abbey was responsible for providing the vicar with bread and ale every day, meat twice a week, and eggs and fish on the other five days.

 

Victorian excavation of Mucheleny Abbey revealed medieval floor tiles belonging to the Lady Chapel. These were placed inside the church where they remain today as a reminder of how beautiful English abbeys must have once been.

 

 

 

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A monk, a bishop and a heretic – Robert Ferrar

foxe289Robert Ferrar, a lad from Halifax, was an Augustinian Canon who showed sufficient talent to leave Yorkshire and go to Oxford University where he became a student at Merton University.  The Augustinians had a policy of each of their houses sending at least one monk to receive an education.

It was probably while he was at Oxford that he came under the influence of reformers  and the works of Tindale.  Certainly when Cardinal Wolsey investigated heresy in Oxford Ferrar was one of the men arrested and punished.  Wolsey forced the students who had been discovered with banned books to witness their destruction.  He was, however, allowed to complete his education.

Ferrar returned to Nostell Priory in 1533.  Three years later, Thomas Layton, one of Cromwell’s visitors arrived at the monastery to conduct its visitation.  The prior was very sick.  In fact, he died not long afterwards.  Ferrar was appointed prior probably because of his reforming sympathies.  When the monastery surrendered in 1539 he received a pension, eventually married and had three children.

Ferrar’s quiet family life intersected with his role in the Reformation Church of Edward VI.  He was appointed chaplain to Edward Seymour (the Lord Protector) and  then Archbishop Cranmer as well as Bishop of St David’s.  In this latter role he helped to reform the Welsh church.  It was this that brought him into conflict with his parishioners and resulted in him being imprisoned in London upon the fall of Seymour where he remained until Mary Tudor came to the throne.

Ferrar was in difficulties not only because he was a protestant but also because he was married.  Mary refused to recognise the legality of Ferrar’s marriage and he was deposed of his see.  He was tried for heresy by Archbishop Gardiner and found guilty.  He refused to recant.  He was sent from London to Carmarthen in February 1555 where he was placed on trial.  Eventually he was burned at the stake.  Foxe recounts the fortitude with which he met his end.  Double click on the image to go to Foxe’s account of Ferrar’s trial, imprisonment and death.

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