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Letters from Tudor England November 1535 – monasteries, marauding and a touch of treason

640px-Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01Its that time of week again when I delve through Henry VIII’s letter and papers looking for the thoughts of Thomas Cromwell.

Dr Legh continued his periguination of Norfolk writing to Cromwell on November 19 1535, “there are many pretty houses here in Norfolk, both of monks and canons, which have only a prior and one with him.” He goes on to ask Cromwell what he should do about them.

Elsewhere in the southeast the next stage of the suppression was well under way. The Close Roll of that time reveals the “Surrender to the King of the Premonstratensian Abbey of St. Mary and St. Thomas the Martyr, Langdon, Kent, by Will. Dayer, abbot and the convent” on the 13th November. It notes that the surrender took place in the abbey’s chapter house. That same week the priory of St Mary and St Eanswith in Folkestone closed its doors. The following day the prior of St Mary’s in Dover surrendered along with eight other of his brethren. By the 16th of November Cromwell’s men were in Canterbury writing up their accounts. They informed Cromwell that the majority of the brothers of the suppressed houses were still in situ whilst they awaited new situations, that they’d confiscated the abbey seals so that no further business could be done and that they had checked the inventories of the suppressed houses. They commented rather touchingly of Folkestone. “It is a little house, well repaired, and the prior a good husband and beloved by his neighbours.”

 

It is easy to imagine that Cromwell was completely consumed by his job as Vicar General but a letter on the 15th of November from Sir William Parr reminds readers of Henry VIII’s letters and papers that Cromwell had oversight of everything. From Sir William we discover that Sir Thomas Clifford the captain of Berwick was “sore sick.” We also discover that Sir William had his eye on Clifford’s job because he asks Cromwell that if Clifford dies could he have the post because his “whole comfort rests upon it.” I can only hope that Sir William enclosed a large gratuity to help Cromwell remember Parr’s name. He might have done well to take note of another correspondent who sent a letter to Cromwell accompanied by a brace of fowl to ensure that Cromwell gave his attention to the annuity which his wife hadn’t received.

 

Sir William Parr’s letter does demonstrate that it was quite hard for Cromwell to escape the topic of monasteries because he continues his letter with a plea for  Pipwell Abbey in Northamptonshire. Parr offers a heartfelt testimonial to the godliness and hospitality of its inhabitants and asks that Cromwell should show them understanding.  Pipwell was near to Kettering and it had an income of less than £200 a year. The abbey was earmarked for suppression. Interestingly Sir William Parr, who would end up as the King’s brother-in-law, wrote once more to Cromwell offering to give the Vicar General £200 when it became clear that the lesser monasteries, Pipwell included, were to be suppressed. Ultimately, of course, it made no difference and Parr wrote a third time in 1538 asking about pensions for the abbot and the brothers and also that he should have the building and estate – this was duly granted. There are more letters in the archives from Parr because it rather looks as though folk helped themselves to fixtures and fittings that they shouldn’t have touched.

 

In addition to a spot of bother with Scottish reivers raiding the west march of England there were business matters in Calais to deal with, the ramblings of Lord Lisle and just to finish the week off Cromwell was also required to deal with an outbreak of treason. The vicar of Rye apparently didn’t take well to all those changes that were afoot in the 1530s, in particular the king becoming the Head of the Church of England. He had in his possession a booked called “Eckyus Enchiridyon…against the King’s being head of the Church.” If that wasn’t enough “when he stopped at the Black Friars here of London, friar Dr. Maydland said he would like to see the head of every maintainer of the New Learning upon a stake,—that of his principal among them,—and to see the King die a “vyolent and a shamefull” death; also “to see that myschevous hore the quene to be brent.” He knew by his science of necromancy that the New Learning should be suppressed, and the Old restored by the King’s enemies from beyond sea…” It’s always good to get a charge of witchcraft in with the treason – it makes for a nicely rounded case!

 

William Inold, the vicar of Rye, had already got away with offending the king once. In 1533 he had likened Henry VIII’s actions to those of King John when the medieval monarch had managed to incur papal wrath and get himself and the whole country excommunicated. Cromwell had Inold arrested on account of his seditious sermonizing but he was eventually released. The new treason laws of 1534 ensured the vicar didn’t escape a second time and the letter in the archives suggests that the evidence collected by Cromwell for the vicar’s second trial was guaranteed to ensure an unhappy end for Inold.

 

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 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol9/pp271-288 [accessed 5 November 2016].

House of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Pipewell’, in A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2, ed. R M Serjeantson and W R D Adkins (London, 1906), pp. 116-121. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/northants/vol2/pp116-121 [accessed 11 November 2016].

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