Time 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].