Tag Archives: Valor Ecclesiasticus

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

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Garendon Abbey, granges and a spot of drunkenness

lh_leicestershire_garendonhall_fs.jpgGarendon Abbey in Leicestershire near Loughborough was a Cistercian abbey founded in 1133 by Robert, Earl of Leicester. The first monks at Garendon probably came from Waverley Abbey which was the first Cistercian monastery in England. As it happens Garendon is the only Cistercian abbey in Leicestershire.

 

Don’t get carried away with the notion that the earl of Leicester was a particularly spiritual or generous man. Survey of his endowments and bequests to the Church by Postles reveals that he gave land which he regarded as of little value to him to a range of monastic orders. Postles describes his actions as “spiritual insurance.” Given he was also alive and kicking during the reign of King Stephen his actions undoubtedly held a political dimension.

 

images-101Over time the monastery at Garendon acquired more generous land bequests in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire making them agriculturally viable. The monks could do what the Cistercians were very good at, sheep farming, through the grange system. We know exactly what the monks of Garendon owned because of the existence of a cartulary in the British Library. A cartulary is a list, or file, of charters, privileges and legal rights which is how we know that the monks  at Garendon owned granges at Roystone near Ashbourne, Biggin and Heathcote – all in Derbyshire and described by Mick Aston in Monasteries in the Landscape.

 

Essentially a grange was a monastic farm, stud or industrial unit. It was a way of managing monastic landholdings effectively. The system was developed in the twelfth century by the Cistercians or white monks as they were known on account of their undyed woollen tunics. The system was then utilized by the other monastic orders. Each unit could be managed by a few lay brothers who reported directly to the cellerar of the abbey.   It all went swimmingly well until the Black Death of 1349 and then labour became something of an issue. Some granges effectively became monastic holiday homes or were required to take on labourers according to the seasons. Those granges that farmed sheep remained the most efficient ones because very few people were required to tend the flocks. At Roystone Grange the monks stopped farming and leased the grange to tenants reflecting the changing economy of the period.

 

In 1225, however, according to the Cistercian  History the abbey was exporting wool to Flanders and they had a chapel in Cripplegate, London. The problem for the Cistercians who were initially an austere order and who sought to live in isolation away from the temptations that had beset the Benedictines was that sheep farming made them wealthy which led to backsliding. In addition, it appears that the monks at Garendon weren’t without their personal foibles. One of their abbots is recorded as having been married, which rather goes against the vows of chastity whilst another of the brethren was purported to have converted to Judaism. There was also a small problem at the end of the twelfth century with drunkenness and brawling amongst the abbey’s inhabitants. They got themselves into debt and hid robbers. In short Garendon, if accounts are to be believed, was the kind of abbey that encouraged anti-clericalism and drove the demand for reform.

 

The Valor Ecclesiasticus reveals that in 1535 the abbey was worth £160 per annum so was defined as one of the lesser monasteries. Over the centuries, if Cromwell’s visitors are to be believed, the monks hadn’t really changed their unfortunate habits either. Five of them were guilty of “unnatural vices” whilst a further three were fed up with being monks. It was however found that five children were maintained by the monks’ charity along with five “impotent persons.” Twelve of the monks were described as being of good character.

 

Unsurprisingly the abbey was suppressed in 1536 with the abbot receiving £30 pension. The abbey and the land upon which it stood ended up in the paws of Thomas Manners, earl of Rutland.  He paid just over two thousand pounds for it. The abbey was partially demolished whilst the cellars and drains were incorporated into a manor house which remained in the Manners family until it passed into the ownership of the dukes of Buckingham when it formed part of a dowry.

Garendon House, as it was known, was in its own turn demolished in the middle of the twentieth century. The lost country houses website puts its disappearance down to general neglect and death duties in 1964.  According to Wikipeadia the rubble from the house is somewhere under the M1.

 

 

‘House of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Garendon’, in A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 2, ed. W G Hoskins and R A McKinley (London, 1954), pp. 5-7. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/leics/vol2/pp5-7 [accessed 8 November 2016].

Aston, Mick.(2012) Monasteries in the Landscape. Stroud: Amberley Publishing

Postles, David. The Garendon Cartularies in BL Lansdowne 415 (http://www.bl.uk/eblj/1996articles/pdf/article7.pdf) accessed 14 November 2016

http://www.lostheritage.org.uk/houses/lh_leicestershire_garendonhall_info_gallery.html (accessed 14 November 2016)

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King’s Mead Priory, Derby

 

DSC_0491The Benedictine nunnery of King’s Mead in Derby dedicated to the Virgin Mary was the only Benedictine foundation in Derbyshire and its inhabitants were initially under the spiritual and temporal guidance of the abbot of Darley Abbey – an Augustinian foundation.  History reveals that in the twelfth century there was a warden who acted as chaplain to the nuns as well as looking after the nuns’ business affairs. The nunnery grew its land holdings over the next hundred or so years so that it included three mills at Oddebrook. One of the reasons that this may have occurs was because Henry III gave the nuns twelve acres of land. Because the king had shown an interest it is possible that more donors followed suit in an effort to win favour. Equally donors such as Lancelin Fitzlancelin and his wife Avice who gave land and animals to the nunnery in 1230 or Henry de Doniston and his wife Eleanor could expect a shorter term in Pergatory after their deaths because the nuns would be expected to hold them in their prayers as a result of the land transaction.

 

By 1250 the nuns of King’s Mead and the abbot of Darley Dale were out of sorts with one another. It was decided that the nuns should go their own way and that the abbot of Darley Dale would cease interfering with their business. The land holdings of both organisations were perused and a division occurred.  The nuns were required to give some land to Darley Abbey but it was at this time that the church and living of St Werburgh in Derby along with other agricultural land was signed over to the nuns.

The pattern is similar to countless other monastic foundations across the country, so too are the difficulties that befell the nuns. Sadly they ended up so deeply in debt due to cattle morrain that by 1327 that they had to ask the king for protection as they were not able to offer hospitality to visitors to Derby. This raises an interesting question. Who exactly were the nuns petitioning? Edward II reigned from 1284 until 1327 but he was forced by his wife Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer to hand over his crown to his son, Edward, in January 1327 before being whisked off to Berkeley Castle where he died on the 21st September 1327 (if history is to be believed) due to an unfortunate accident with a hot poker. The petition must therefore have been addressed to King Edward III but realistically it was Mortimer who was in charge at this point in proceedings.

 

Things looked as though they were improving with the appointment of a new prioress, Joan Touchet, and custodians who could make the books balance. However the priory was still struggling seven years later. Joan was still in charge in 1349 but she died that year. It was the year of the Black Death.

 

After this time the nunnery seems to have ticked along without cause for concern. A possible reason for this could well have been the charter from Henry IV granting the nuns payment of one hundred shillings every year from the town of Nottingham. Another reason could well have been the fact that it was Derbyshire’s only nunnery so it had the monopoly on educating the daughters of Derbyshire’s leading lights.

 

Things start to look uncertain for King’s Mead with the reign of Henry VI. The County History reveals the tale of the abbot of Burton demanding the back payment of twenty-one years rent. The prioress, a lady called Isabel de Stanley wasn’t having any of it:

 

Wenes these churles to overlede me or sue the law agayne me ? They shall not be so hardy but they shall avye upon their bodies and be nailed with arrowes; for I am a gentlewoman comen of the greatest of Lancashire and Cheshire; and that they shall know right well.

 

With hind sight, it may have been a bit of a foolish thing for the abbot of Burton to do though he can’t have known that Henry VI would end up murdered in the Tower or that the only Lancastrian claimant left standing would be the  step son of one Thomas Stanley. The name Stanley should be ringing bells by now! The prioress was related to Thomas Stanley who just so happened to be Margaret Beaufort’s husband and she of course just so happened to be Henry Tudor’s mother…

 

Not that being cosy with the Tudors was something that would serve future prioresses of King’s Mead very well. The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535, identifies Joan Curzon as prioress and gives the annual value of King’s Mead as £18 6s. 2d. and that the priory was in debt. The nuns of King’s Mead had already had a bit of a shock before the arrival of the visitors. The year before a fake visitor called James Billingford, who claimed to be the queen’s cousin arrived to inspect the barns. He was shown to be a fraud but it wasn’t long before Layton and Legh, Cromwell’s unfunny double act, arrived to poke into King’s Mead’s shady corners. They found nothing apart from a fragment of Thomas of Canterbury’s shirt which was venerated by the pregnant ladies of Derby. Interestingly, despite being the only nunnery in Derbyshire King’s Mead was not given a stay of execution. Perhaps the Prioress didn’t know that Cromwell was open to financial gifts or perhaps the sisters couldn’t afford to pay. In any event the nunnery was suppressed in 1536.

 

In 1541 the site fell into the ownership of the Fifth Earl of Shrewsbury and by the nineteenth century nothing remained apart from the name Nun Street.

 

 

 

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Croxden Abbey- Dissolution, William Cavendish and King John…

croxden-abbey-hero.jpgThe Cistercian abbey of Croxden, in the care of English Heritage, is in Staffordshire, one of approximately thirty religious houses across the county. Its story is similar to many other monasteries. It built its wealth on sheep in the twelfth century and then ran into debt as the political landscape of the countryside changed. By the late thirteenth century it was considerably poorer as a consequence of Edward I’s wars with Scotland and the loans it was forced to make to the warrior monarch. Murrain, plague and poor harvests didn’t help. It never recovered. It’s income in 1535 was given as £103 6s. 7d. which was substantially less than its early income and provided Cromwell with evidence, if he needed it, of the decline of the monasteries.

The Valor Ecclesiasticus reveals that money was paid out to seven laymen who fulfilled essential roles including stewards and bailiffs including the steward of Croxden, Ashbourne, and Caldon, the bailiff of Ashbourne and Caldon. The document for its suppression identifies its full estates of which several were in Derbyshire. Not that the division of land was always simple. Take Trusley, near Derby, for instance. Some of the land around the village belonged to the monks of Croxden whilst other parts belonged to some of Derby’s community of nuns.

By rights Croxden should have been suppressed in 1536 along with the rest of the smaller monasteries but the abbot paid a £100 and received a licence to continue. Two years later on the 17 September 1538 Dr Legh – an infamous abbey visitor and William Cavendish, equally well known at the time but less mentioned in this blog until now, received the surrender of the abbey. Along with the abbot, Thomas Chawner, who received a pension of £26 per annum there were twelve other monks. As with the other abbeys the building was stripped of everything valuable whilst the abbey’s water-mill, its lands and the rectory at Croxden were rented to Francis Bassett who just happened to work for the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. The archbishop wrote to Cromwell on December 14 1538 asking him to “accomplish his suit.”

250px-William_Cavendish_c1547.jpgWilliam Cavendish had been a servant of Cardinal Wolsey.  He also seems to have been very efficient at taking the surrenders of abbeys.  According to Bess of Hardwick’s biographer, Mary Lovell, there was a point in 1538 where he was overseeing ten surrenders a week. He’d begun by auditing the abbey at St Albans and gone on to gain a job with the Court of Augmentations when it was set up in 1536 by Cromwell specifically to oversee the transfer of Church land to the Crown. He earned twenty pounds a year in addition to the ‘profits of office.’ As Lovell observes, the Cavendishs were not alone in making their fortunes from the reformation but Cavendish seems to have been rather good at it. As for William, these days he is more famous for his third wife – Bess of Hardwick, the foundation of Chatsworth House and his role as Mary Queen of Scot’s jailer.

 

The monks received their pensions and were required to sign for them. There is a receipt dated May 28 1541 for one Robert Clarke. Another of the monks, a man called John Stanley, became Vicar of Alton in 1546 until his death in 1569. We know this because along with three other men we have the records of his pensions in 1557-58.

A swift search on the Internet revealed the interesting fact that King John’s heart is rumoured to be buried in the grounds of Croxden Abbey whilst the rest of him was buried in Worcester (http://www.farmonthehill.co.uk/local-history.html accessed 4 November 2016 19:45). This information completely sidetracked me from monks being kicked out of their home by Henry VIII, Cromwell and Cavendish.  It sent me off down the side alley of Croxden’s relationship with King John.

Apparently John awarded the monks of Croxden an annuity of £5.00 each year from the Irish Exchequer in 1200. An English Heritage research report shed that much light on the assertion of John’s heart but what about something more academic than a legend? The Gentleman’s Magazine (volume 38) asserts that the descendants of Bertram de Verdun were buried there – so far so good, he was the founder after all and the same sentence references King John’s ticker. In fact Victorian tomes trip over themselves in their desire to identify Croxden as the last resting place of at least one bit of King John. The Antiquarian and Architectural Year Book for Staffordshire explains that John’s physician was also the abbot of Croxden – which would account for the grisly souvenir.  Another text dating from 1829 identifies the abbot as Ralph de Lincoln but misidentifies Croxden as being in Leicestershire. A book dating from 1844 references a British Museum text from the Cotton collection which looks at the Chronicle of William de Shepesheved who details the fact that John’s bowels were buried at Croxden. The whole thing is starting to sound decidedly offal.

 

Have I been there? No, not yet – but trust me when I say that I shall shortly be finding a reason for being in the vicinity and I shall be studying English Heritage’s interpretation boards with great interest.

 

Graham Brown, Barry Jones Croxden Abbey and Its Environs London: English Heritage

Lovell, Mary S. (2006) Bess of Hardwick:First Lady of Chatsw0rth. 

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 Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/pp226-230 [accessed 13 October 2016].

 

‘Henry VIII: December 1538 11-15’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 13 Part 2, August-December 1538, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1893), pp. 438-455. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol13/no2/pp438-455 [accessed 23 October 2016].

 

‘Henry VIII: May 1541, 26-31’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 16, 1540-1541, ed. James Gairdner and R H Brodie (London, 1898), pp. 409-429. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol16/pp409-429 [accessed 18 October 2016].

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Letters from monastic visitors

640px-Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01The first week of November 1535 brought a flurry of letters to Thomas Cromwell’s door. His monastic visitors were in East Anglia and the South of the country at the time. The letters he received from his visitors, local gentry and from the clerics themselves are typical of the correspondence he received during the collection of information for the Valor Ecclesiaticus and the Comperta in 1535 and 1536.  Visits would continue until 1540 when the last monastery was suppressed – Cromwell would himself be executed the very same year – who says Henry VIII didn’t have a sense of irony?

 

Thomas Legh (Leigh) wrote of the priory at Fordham near Norwich on November 1 1535. He painted a bleak picture of the aged Gilbertine prior and a monk “at death’s door,” who “begged to be released from a bondage they could no longer endure.” As chance would have it Thomas Cromwell’s own confessor was a Gilbertine monk called Roger Holgate. He was the master of Sempringham. Perhaps it was for this reason that the Gilbertines were excluded from the act that dissolved the lesser monastic houses in 1536. Fordham eventually surrendered in 1538. The surrender document reveals three canons and the prior suggesting that the priory wasn’t in such a grim state as Legh’s letter of November 1st 1535 suggests not least because someone else had written to Cromwell that very same week asking about the disposal of the ‘goodly’ farmhouse at Fordham.

 

The monks of Chertsey were clearly not at death’s door at the beginning of November 1535. They were busy complaining about their abbot who seemed to be selling off the plate and the abbey’s woods. They had much in common with the monks of Worcester who had already been visited. They sent several letters to Cromwell making accusations, justifying themselves and making counter accusations in a ‘it was his fault’ sort of way.

 

It must have come as a pleasant surprise, depending upon your point of view, at the end of the week when Cromwell received a letter from the Benedictine Abbot of Athelney, Robert Hamblyn, asking to be allowed to leave the precincts of the abbey in order to do the abbey’s business. He notes that the visitor there, one Tregonell, found the abbey in good order. Athelney’s clean bill of health would not save it from dissolution. It finally surrendered on Feb 8 1539 despite the pleas of the abbot.

 

Grist to Cromwell’s mill of anticlerical justification for the closure of monastic houses was provided when John Ap Rice wrote of another Benedictine establishment. The Abbot of Bury St Edmunds met with very little approval on account of his dodgy financial practices and gambling habits. Apparently “he lay much forth in his granges” and spent money at dice and cards and in building; also that he did not preach and had converted farms into copyholds. “He seems addict also to superstitious ceremonies.”

 

The superstitions were related to the abbey’s relics which included “the coals that Saint Lawrence was toasted withal, the paring of St. Edmund’s nails, S. Thomas of Canterbury penknife and his boots and divers skulls for the headache, pieces of the Holy Cross able to make a whole cross of, other relics for rain.” I must admit a degree of curiosity regarding the inventory.  Ultimately all the relics would be sent to Cromwell – let’s hope that the “divers skulls for the headache” helped him as he worked late into the night accounting for all that monastic wealth.  And further more – were the relics to cause rain or to prevent it? Occasionally it could be wished that Mr Ap Rice was slightly more detailed in his written accounts to Cromwell.

 

As with the monks of Athelney Ap Rice left an injunction that they were not to leave their precinct and as with Athelney the abbot immediately wrote to Cromwell asking permission to go out and about on abbey business. He also saw fit to give Cromwell an annual pension of ten pounds that was later increased – whilst it didn’t save the abbey it certainly made the abbot’s life much easier in the long term with regards to his pension and associated perks.

 

Ap Rice also noted in his letter that he’d dismissed a number of monks at Bury who hadn’t reached their twenty-fourth birthday.  This confirms the rumours contained in Chapuys’ (the Imperial Ambassador) letters of that week which talk of rumours of youthful monks being dismissed from their monastic houses.

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‘Houses of Gilbertine canons: Priory of Fordham’, in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2, ed. L F Salzman (London, 1948), pp. 256-258. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/cambs/vol2/pp256-258 [accessed 30 October 2016].

‘Henry VIII: November 1535, 1-5’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1886), pp. 248-262. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol9/pp248-262 [accessed 12 September 2016].

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Great Malvern Priory

IMG_7747.JPGWhat a gem!  Great Malvern Priory was founded in 1085 by a hermit, Aldwin, from Worcester Abbey on land belonging to Westminster Abbey.  This means that during the life of Great Malvern’s monastic establishment it looked to  Benedictine Westminster for direction which is why it’s a priory rather than an abbey in its own right.

Aldwin was supported and guided by Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester who went on to become one of King John’s favourite saints. The priory also received its charter and funding from  William the Conqueror who gave charters to many monasteries – a reminder that the conquest of England had the Pope’s blessing and that William was conscious of the need to give thanks for his victory. Henry I and Edward III confirmed and renewed the charter. The priory wasn’t without its problems though.  The fact that it was on Westminster Abbey land but founded by a monk from Worcester and looked to the Worcester for guidance led to friction at various times in the priory’s history.

DSC_0102The pillars in the nave of today’s building are Norman and there are odd clues to the Norman past scattered about the building but the priory as it stands today dates largely from the fifteenth century.  The Bishop of Worcester was called upon to consecrate the new build in 1460 – just as the Wars of the Roses really got started (Battle of Wakefield December 30 1460).  However, the new build ensured that assorted Lancaster and York monarchs added their ‘bit’ to the decor from Henry VI’s tiles via Richard III’s stained glass windows to Henry VII. At least those monarchs wanted to enhance the building, finished in 1502.

In 1535 Dr Legh, one of Cromwell’s commissioners and a bit of a thug by all accounts,  visited the priory.  Things can’t have been that bad as there is no report of his findings amongst Cromwell’s documents.  According to the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535, the income of the prior and convent amounted to £375 0s. 6½ d. It escaped the act suppressing the small monasteries, although a cell belonging to the priory wasn’t so fortunate.

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In 1539 the monastery was dissolved despite the please of Hugh Latimer the Bishop of Worcester (he would ultimately go to the flames in the reign of Mary Tudor for his Protestantism). He wrote to Cromwell on behalf of the prior; ‘at the request of an honest man, the prior of GreatMalvern, of my diocese,’ pleads for the ‘upstandynge’ of his house, and continuance of the same to many good purposes, ‘not in monkery . . . but to maintain teaching, preaching, study with praying, and (to the which he is much given) good “howsekepynge,” for to the “vertu” of hospitality he hath been greatly inclined from his beginning, and is very much commended in these parts for the same . . . The man is old, a good “howsekepere,” feeds many, and that daily, for the country is poor and full of penury. Alas, my good lord, shall not we see two or three in each shire changed to such remedy? . . Sir William Kingston can report of the man further.’ The letter dated 13 December 1538 finishes with flattery: “Blessed be God of England that worketh all, whose instrument you be! I heard you say once after you had seen that furious invective of cardinal Pole that you would make him to eat his own heart, which you have now, [I trow], brought to pass, for he must [needs] now eat his own heart, and be[as] heartless as he is graceless.”  Latimer went on to offer Cromwell 200 marks and the king 500 if they would spare the priory.

Not that it did any good. By January 1539 the priory had been suppressed and the lead stripped from its roof.  The prior, one Richard Whitborn, received h £66 13s. 4d. each year.  Ultimately, in 1541, the parishioners of Great Malvern purchased the priory for £20.00 as the original parish church was in a poor state.  They acquired the “stateliest parish church in England.” The parish church of St Mary and St Michael is without a shadow of a doubt a show stopper.

 

A second post will consider Great Malvern’s medieval tiles whilst a third post will explore the wonderful medieval windows and also a fourth post on the glass given by Richard III and by Henry VII.  As you might guess, I spent a very happy morning in Great Malvern Priory although I wasn’t able to study the misericords (the ledges on which the monks could rest during services) because of work being done in the choir of the church.  Great Malvern is unusual in that as well as depicting a mermaid on its misericords it also has a merman.

For fans of C.S. Lewis it is also worth noting that he went to school in Malvern College just before World War One and whilst he was there he may have been inspired by the enclosed east doors of the priory church which ultimately turned into the wardrobe by which the Pevensies entered Narnia.  A glimpse through the lock reveals a fir tree and a lamp post.

‘Houses of Benedictine monks: Priory of Great Malvern’, in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2, ed. J W Willis-Bund and William Page (London, 1971), pp. 136-143. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol2/pp136-143 [accessed 16 August 2016].

Cleop. E. iv.264. B. M.Wright’s Suppression of the Monasteries,148. ‘Henry VIII: December 1538 11-15’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 13 Part 2, August-December 1538, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1893), pp. 438-455. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol13/no2/pp438-455 [accessed 23 August 2016].

‘Parishes: Great Malvern with Newland’, in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4, ed. William Page and J W Willis-Bund (London, 1924), pp. 123-134. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol4/pp123-134 [accessed 16 August 2016].

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Netley Abbey

IMG_5242A Bishop of Winchester called Peter des Roches wanted to found an abbey for Cistercian monks. The bishop died in 1238 having purchased land for this purpose, not only for its building but to support it financially. King Henry III completed the project in 1239 and went on to make them other gifts including a tun of wine each year. A group of monks came from the Cistercian abbey of Beaulieu.  Three of the four remaining crossing pillars contain inscriptions dedicated to Henry III relating to his foundation of the abbey.  Building continued during the thirteenth century.  The days of Cistercian austerity had passed and this is, in part, reflected in the size of the church.

Disaster struck in the fourteenth century. The abbey was too close to The Solent. Passing mariners demanded hospitality and in 1338 stole large numbers of the abbey’s flock of sheep. The days of the abbey’s financial prosperity were over. It struggled with debt thereafter.

The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 estimated Netley’s annual income at £160 2s. 9½d but the income it received was only £100 12s. 8d.; it was a lesser monastery. On 30 May, 1536, Sir James Worsley and the other commissioners presented their report. Netley was ‘A hedde house of Monkes of thordre of Cisteaux, beinge of large buyldinge and situate upon the Ryvage of the Sees. To the Kinge’s Subjects and Strangers travelinge the same Sees great Relief and Comforte.’ In addition the commissioners listed seven monks with whom no fault could be found as well as thirty-two servants who worked the abbey estate.

The king gave to Sir William Paulet, the comptroller of his household the site and buildings of the abbey. Paulet turned the abbey into a Tudor mansion. The nave of the church became his hall while the eastern range became his living-rooms. The cloister was turned into a courtyard.

It was only in the eighteenth century the abbey/mansion was to be demolished by a builder from Southampton. The enterprising chap was crushed to death beneath some falling masonry at which point everyone else decided it was a sign not to knock the building down. In 1922 it passed into the hands of the delightfully named Ministry of Works.

Of the ruins that remain today the abbot’s house retains evidence of the abbot’s own personal convenience whilst the drainage system for the reredorter (the monks toilet) is a work of engineering excellence. It should also be added that Netley Abbey is today the largest Cistercian ruin in the south of England – it’s not as grand as Rievaulx or Fountains but it’s story is still very interesting as are the narrow Tudor bricks that show where Paulet made some of his alterations.

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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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The last abbot

Glastonbury AbbeyGlastonbury Abbey was the richest abbey in Somerset. Pilgrims came to see the graves of King Arthur and Guinevere and to hear the story of the Holy Grail, Joseph of Arimathea and the Glastonbury thorn. So, the Abbot of Glastonbury, Richard Whiting, didn’t initially have anything to fear when Cromwell started the process of dissolving the minor monasteries. Gradually the reformation gathered pace and the elderly abbot must have prayed for guidance.  In 1537 monks, implicated in the Pilgrimage of Grace, were executed – amongst their number the Abbots of Sawley, Jervaulx and of Fountains.

Two years later on 15 November 1539 the last abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, an old man in his seventies, followed his brothers when he lost his life on Tor Hill following two trials and having spent some time in the Tower of London.

 

Richard Whiting had been a young man when the Tudors came to power.  He’d been a student in Cambridge at the time of the Battle of Bosworth and was ordained at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Wolsey nominated him when the position of abbot fell vacant noting his upright character. John Leland, Whiting’s friend, described him as “truly upright”.

His life might have passed peacefully had it not been for Henry VIII’s desire for a son and his determination to divorce Catherine of Aragon. Unlike Sir Thomas More, Whiting signed the 1534 Act of Supremacy along with the monks of Glastonbury. The following year Cromwell sent his commissioners around every monastic house in the country. The Valor Ecclesiasticus was an inventory of monastic wealth as well as a monastic fault-finding tour. At Glastonbury the monks were kept upon the straight and narrow by their abbot – the commissioner Richard Layton found nothing to fault (he apologised to Cromwell for his error in a later letter.)

 

In 1539 the act was passed suppressing all the remaining monasteries in the country by then Glastonbury was the last remaining abbey in Somerset.  The National Archives houses a positive flurry of letters sent from the abbot and his supporters to Cromwell.  Ink, paper, fair words – none of them mattered a jot.  Cromwell had plans for Glastonbury.   The commissioners returned. They found a copy of the life of Thomas Becket and a book in support of Catherine of Aragon in the abbot’s quarters. It was enough to send him to the Tower.

 

While the elderly abbot languished in a dungeon, Cromwell’s men got to work. They uncovered financial irregularities and further evidence of Whiting’s treasonable opinions – which have conveniently been lost in the following centuries. Letters to Cromwell quoted in the Victoria County History of Somerset reported that three hundred pounds of cash was uncovered along with a gold chalice and parcels of plate which the “we think he ought to make his hand by this untruth to his King’s Majesty.” Their discovery would see the abbey’s treasurer share his abbot’s fate.

Whiting was tried in London, on evidence that was never made public, and found guilty. Then he was shipped back to Wells where he was tried for a second time in the Palace of the Bishop of Bath and Wells. His judges included men who had, in former times, written on his behalf to Cromwell. It was a show trial with a catalogue of people coming forward to testify against him. The abbot was not permitted to defend himself or question his accusers.

 

It was a show execution as well. The elderly man, nearly eighty by some reckoning, was forced to walk barefoot from Wells to Glastonbury – a distance of some seven miles. He was then tied to a hurdle and dragged through the town, by the gateway of his abbey and up onto the tor where a gibbet awaited him and two other of his brothers. They each faced a traitor’s death. Whiting’s head ended on a spike looking out over his own gateway.

 

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