The monks of the Cathedral Priory, Christchurch, Canterbury were uppermost in Cromwell’s thoughts this week in 1535. The monks wrote to Cromwell on the 25 November complaining about their prior, Thomas Goldwell, who had accused them of not living according to the rule of St Benedict. In addition “He retains six persons under 24 years of age in the monastery against their will, &c. He is avaricious, and pretends to be poor; but of late, as God would, his treasure was disclosed.” If that wasn’t bad enough the next letter contains accusations and counter accusations of murder and poisonings. This was swiftly followed up with accusations that prayers had been made on behalf of the pope rather than the Bishop of Rome – something contrary to the Act of Supremacy. Interestingly no further action seems to have been taken.
In all honesty Cromwell’s dealings with the priory weren’t without drama. Layton visited the priory in October 1535 and was nearly burned whilst he slept. The fire damaged the priory but the monks may well have wished that Layton had been a bit more singed on account of the injunctions which he issued in regard to food, prayer and wandering around outside the priory walls. He also banned the abbey fairs and keeping shops inside the monastery – which does seem a reasonable request.
Ultimately the priory would be suppressed in 1538 with the prior, still alive despite his concern, being awarded a pension of £80.00 p.a. The number of monks had gradually dwindled but there were jobs for a dean and twelve canons in the newly constituted cathedral church. The newly organised cathedral wasn’t without its detractors. There’s a letter from Cranmer to Cromwell expressing the view that things could have been done differently. Cromwell transferred much of the property from the priory into the hands of the new cathedral along with other monastic properties.
The correspondence between Cranmer and Cromwell is an interesting aside. The former, Henry VIII’s married Archbishop of Canterbury, had links with Lutherans and reformers across Europe. It is his wording that sees the Church of England developing with the foundation of the Ten Articles in 1536 and then the so-called Bishop’s Book which expands on the theology contained in the articles. Evangelical or not, the archbishop was doing the King’s bidding and the articles of 1539 written by three English reformers and three Lutherans didn’t meet with Henry’s approval so never saw the light of day. Post 1540 the religious climate would change once more so that by the time Henry died England’s beliefs were officially almost as catholic as they had been before the break with Rome – except of course Henry was still in charge and there were no monasteries.
‘Henry VIII: November 1535, 21-30’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1886), pp. 288-310. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol9/pp288-310 [accessed 2 November 2016].
‘Houses of Benedictine monks: The cathedral priory of the Holy Trinity or Christ Church, Canterbury’, in A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1926), pp. 113-121. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/kent/vol2/pp113-121 [accessed 7 November 2016].