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A Study of his Ecclesiastical Policy and of the 
Relations between England and Rome. 

" It is written with no desire to defend the Papacy from the 
charges which were made even by the faithful at the time, and it 
may fairly claim to represent an unbiassed survey of the evidence. 
He has gone carefully through a large body of evidence which Knglish 
historians have too much neglected. His book will be indispensable 
to the student of the reign of Henry III." Times. 

" This substantial book is beyond doubt a valuable study of the 
ecclesiastical policy of Henry III and his admirers, and of the 
relations between England and Rome. The whole of the chapters 
on this exceptionally interesting half-century of English history, 
when the relationships of Church and State were sorely tried, are 
written in a spirit of admirable calmness and fairness of citation, 
nothing apparently of importance being kept back on one side or 
the other of the questions that come under discussion. ... A trust- 
worthy contribution to the story of this long reign on the very points 
upon which most historians are either silent or provokingly brief." 
A t/ieiueum. 

Fourth Edition, Crown 8vo, 6s. net. 

Studies in the Religious Life and Thought of the 

English People in the period preceding the 

Rejection of the Roman Jurisdiction 

by Henry VIII 

"We can only rejoice that this cheap reissue of one of the most 
valuable contributions (as common consent has proclaimed it) to the 
history of the great religious change in the sixteenth century will 
spread the light among numerous readers to whom it has hitherto 
been unknown. Of such historians as Abbot Gasquet the cause of 
historic truth can never have too many." Pall Mall Gazette. 














Cop- 2. 

First volume, three editions . . . 1888 

Second volume, three editions . . . 1889 

Illustrated (fourth) edition .... 1892 

Revised popular edition 1899 

Cheaper ditto 1906 

German translation . .1891 
French translation . . 1894 

IT is satisfactory to find that another edition of Henry 
VIII and the English Monasteries is required. So far as 
the book itself is concerned the present issue is a reprint 
of the Volume published in 1899, in which the old references 
of previous editions to documents etc. not calendered at 
the time the work was written, were altered to accord with 
the numbers assigned them in Dr. Gairdner's monumental 
Calendar of Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign 
of Henry VIII. Beyond this I have availed myself of the 
opinions expressed by this exceptional authority on the 
documents of this period in the prefaces to the volumes of 
his Calendar which have appeared since the first publication 
of this work. Dr. Gairdner's conclusions, which naturally 
carry great weight, will be found to be in substantial agree- 
ment with the views I had previously expressed as to the 
main incidents in the drama of the suppression of the 
English monastic houses. 

One or two assertions lately made in the pages of Maga- 
zines and Journals seem to point to the fact that some 
at least have misunderstood the argument I have tried to 
expose in the pages of this book, and it may not be without 
its use if I devote a small amount of space to set in the 
forefront of this enquiry the main features of what, in my 
opinion, has been established by it, as to the moral state of 
the religious houses at the time of their dissolution. 

I do not, and indeed have never contended that in 

vi Preface 

regard to discipline the monasteries of the sixteenth cen- 
tury were all that could be desired. Very possibly abuses, 
and even grave abuses did exist here and there; but this 
is not the question to be considered. The point is, were 
the English monks and nuns generally in the reign of 
Henry VIII the profligate hypocrites which they were 
subsequently represented to be by those whose interest it 
was to defame the religious state or to defend the whole- 
sale destruction of the religious houses. I readily admit 
that the reports of Henry's visitors were bad enough, 
although even they do not bear out the charges of whole- 
sale corruption; but there are elements of the greatest 
suspicion on the face of these documents, which would 
certainly cause them to be rejected as proof in any other 
case, whilst if the characters of the accusers are con- 
sidered, no man of honour would dream of "hanging a 
dog " upon their word alone. 

It has of late been pointed out that other " Visitation 
Records " contain instances of abuses and scandals, and 
that this is a strong corroboration of the correctness of the 
scandalous reports of Henry's visitors. It is hard to see 
how this can be so; the only evidence afforded by such 
documents is, what no one would deny, that men did not 
leave their human faults and failings behind them when 
they entered the cloister; and that the Church, so far from 
tolerating any abuses of this kind, sternly repressed them 
by legislation and punishment. To make this clear I may 
perhaps be permitted to repeat what I have elsewhere 1 
written on the subject of Visitations: That Visitations 
were not mere formalities, is obvious on the face of the 
records: they were made at regular intervals; and, con- 
sidering the distances which had to be covered between the 
1 Collectanea Anglo-Premonstratensia, ii. Introd. xviii. 

Preface vii 

houses, they were carried out at great inconvenience to the 
bishop and with no little physical labour. After the formal 
opening of the inquiry in the chapter-house of the abbey 
the visitor made an address, explaining the meaning of a 
visitation, the intention of the Church in instituting them, 
and declaring the strict obligation which was incumbent on 
all, of making known to him anything, which might appear 
to them in any way to call for his correction. The visitor 
then assumed during the time of his visit all the authority 
of the local superior, and one by one the members of the 
community were called to him and separately questioned 
as to the state of the house, as to their own lives, and as to 
what they knew about the religious observance of the 
community at large. Notes of what had subsequently to 
be considered and if necessary corrected, were kept for the 
personal guidance of the visitor, and these were generally 
known as the Comperta or Comperts of the inquiry. In the 
case of any serious charge a formal and legal inquiry was 
held; the verdict of what was practically a jury, composed 
of the brethren of the religious incriminated, was taken and 
judgment was given by the visitor in accordance with the 
finding. Then followed the publication of the decrees of the 
visitation and their record in the register of the visitor. 
The inquiry was concluded, if necessary, by the punishment 
of those who might have been found guilty of any offence 
against good discipline or the statutes of the Order. 

So much with regard to the formal part of the regular 
visitations. On the face of the documents recorded in the 
Episcopal Registers and elsewhere, it is impossible even for 
the most prejudiced mind not to admit that wrong-doing 
was never tolerated by the authorities, and that the punish- 
ments meted out were sufficiently drastic to prove their 
honesty of purpose. If wrong-doing existed, as unfortun- 

viii Preface 

ately was the case in some instances, it took place in con- 
sequence of the degradation of human nature, which was as 
possible in monk and canon as in secular priest and layman, 
and in spite of the strengthening assistance given in the 
religious life, and of all the checks furnished by rules and 
visitations. If religious fell, as sometimes they did, it was 
because they were human and were carried away by their 
passions, notwithstanding the helps and safeguards of the 
cloister, just as a priest might make shipwreck, notwith- 
standing the grace of his ordination, or a layman in spite 
of the Christian Sacraments. 

At the same time, it must always be remembered that 
the whole purpose of such visits was to detect and correct 
what was amiss, and not to record or praise the daily round 
of service according to rule. Hence ordinarily only that 
which was irregular and blameworthy found place in visita- 
tion documents, and the rest, if it were normal and godlike, 
was passed over in silence. To estimate the general state of 
any religious house by the " Injunctions " of a visitation, 
without taking anything else into consideration, is hardly 
less absurd than estimating the morality of the world 
by the existence of the Ten Commandments. 

By those who know anything whatever about the matter 
it will be readily admitted, that it does not require much 
art or knowledge on the part of any would-be literary 
chiffonier, routing among the records of the past, to fill up 
his basket with the soiled rags of frail humanity. But no 
one, who did not find a pecular delight in bending over 
such garbage and so obscuring his mental vision, could 
suppose that such a collection was history. As well might 
we measure the morality of the present day by the police 
cases and the annals of the divorce court, without other con- 
siderations which would certainly mitigate the severity of 

Preface ix 

the judgment we might perhaps be inclined to pass, if we 
were to look only at the sordid details of modern life as 
revealed to us in the columns of the daily press. 

It is now time to turn to the Visitation of Monasteries 
commanded by Henry VIII prior to the attack upon the 
smaller religious houses in the Parliament of 1536, and 
when some measure of dissolution had been already de- 
termined upon between Thomas Crumwell and his master, 
the King. Here I give the barest outline; the details will 
all be found in the pages of this volume. The Visitation 
opened in the summer of 1535, although the visitatorial 
powers of the bishops were not suspended till the 1 8th of 
September following, and preachers were commissioned to 
go over the country to educate public opinion against the 
monks. These were of three sorts apparently : (i)"railers" 
who orated against them as " hypocrites, sorcerers, and idle 
drones, etc."; (2) preachers who said the monks " made the 
land unprofitable"; and (3) those who told the people that, 
" if the abbeys went down, the King would never want any 
taxes again." This last was a favourite argument of 
Cranmer at Paul's Cross. 

The men employed by Crumwell the instruments for 
getting up the required evidence were chiefly four: Lay- 
ton, Legh, Ap Rice and London. They were well fitted for 
their work, and the charges brought against the good name 
of some at least of the monasteries by these chosen 
emissaries of Crumwell are, it must be confessed, sufficiently 
dreadful, although, be it always remembered, even they 
do not bear out the modern popular notion of wholesale 

The Visitation seems to have passed through three 
pretty clearly defined stages. During the summer the 
houses in the West of England were subjected to examina- 

x Preface 

tion; and this portion of the work came to an end in 
September when Layton and Legh arrived at Oxford and 
Cambridge respectively. In October and November the 
visitors changed the field of their labours to the Eastern 
and South-Eastern districts, and in December we find 
Layton advancing through the midland counties to Lich- 
field, where he met Legh, who had finished Huntingdon 
and Lincolnshire. Thence they proceeded together to the 
North, and York was reached on nth, January, 1536. But 
with all their haste, to which they were urged by Crumwell, 
they had not got very far forward in their northern work 
before the meeting of Parliament. 

From time to time whilst on their work of inspection, 
the visitors, and principally London and Legh, sent brief 
written reports to their employer. Practically all the 
accusations made against the good name of the monks and 
nuns are contained in the letters sent in this way, and in 
the document or documents known as the Comperta 
Monastica, drawn up at the time by the same visitors and 
forwarded with their letters to their chief, Crumwell. No 
other evidence as to the state of the monasteries is forth- 
coming, and the inquirer is driven back ultimately upon the 
worth of these visitors' words. It is easy, I know, to 
dismiss inconvenient witnesses as being unworthy of credit, 
but in this case a study of these letters and documents will 
be quite sufficient, I believe, to cast considerable doubt upon 
their testimony ; and an examination into their subsequent 
careers will more than justify the rejection of their testimony 
as wholly unworthy of belief. 

The general method of procedure was probably much 
the same in each case. The visitors were furnished with 
eighty-six articles of inquiry and with five-and-twenty 
injunctions, to which they had power to add much at their 

Preface xi 

discretion. The inquiries were searching and suggestive; 
the injunctions minute, irritating and exacting. Framed 
in the spirit of three centuries before, unworkable in practice 
and enforced by agents such as London and his fellows, it 
is easy to understand, even were there no written evidence 
of the fact, that they must have been galling in the extreme, 
and even unbearable to the helpless inmates of the monas- 
teries ; whilst it is hardly rash to conjecture that those who 
had framed them had intended that they should be so, in 
order that the religious might be driven into rebellion and 
subsequent surrender. 

The method followed by the visitors may perhaps best 
be understood by the account given by Dr. James Gairdner 
in the Preface to one of the volumes of his monumental 
Calendar of the State papers of this period. " The mode 
of procedure of Layton and his fellows," he writes, " is well 
illustrated in the case of Leicester. There neither the abbot 
(whom Layton himself believed to be an honest man), nor 
his canons would confess anything. Layton, consequently, 
as he tells Crumwell, intends to accuse some of the latter, 
first, of the grossest vices, and then of less heinous crimes, 
by degrees, until he has extorted something of a confes- 
sion. If this may be taken as a sample of the proceedings," 
pertinently asks Dr. Gairdner, " how much might be con- 
sidered as a confession by Layton, sufficient against a 
name? The old scandals," he adds, " universally discredited 
at the time, and believed in by a later generation only 
through prejudice and ignorance, are now dispelled for 
ever, and no candid writer will ever dream of resuscitating 

To this estimate of the worth of the visitors' word, I may 
be allowed to add the judgment of Dr. Jessopp: "When 
the Inquisitors of Henry VIII and his Vicar-General, 

xii Preface 

Crumvvell," he writes, " went on their tours of visitation, 
they were men who had no experience of the ordinary 
forms of inquiry which had hitherto been in use. They 
called themselves visitors; they were, in effect, mere hired 
detectives of the very vilest stamp, who came to levy 
blackmail, and, if possible, to find some excuse for their 
robberies by vilifying their victims. In all the Comperta 
which have come down to us there is not, if I remember 
rightly, a single instance of any report or complaint having 
been made to the visitors from any one outside. The 
enormities set down against the poor people accused of 
them, are said to have been confessed by themselves 
against themselves. In other words, the Comperta of 1535- 
1536 can only be received as the horrible inventions of the 
miserable men who wrote them down upon their papers, 
well knowing that, as in no case could the charges be sup- 
ported, so, on the other hand, in no case could they be met, 
nor were the accused even intended to be put upon their 

The details of the Visitation may be read in this volume, 
and I pass to the second step in the dissolution of the 
monasteries. Parliament met on 4th February, 1536, and 
the chief business it was called upon to transact was the 
scheme of suppressing the smaller religious houses. What 
happened to induce it to consent to the measure is well 
known: or rather the account to be found in most of our 
history books is well known. The fact is that this tale has 
so often been told and retold that there is probably no in- 
cident in our history so universally accepted: even, I may 
perhaps be allowed to add, as there is none that rests 
upon so slender a basis of fact. The story, for example, 
as told in Green's History of the English People, may 
be taken as a fairly accurate statement of what is com- 

Preface xiii 

monly believed to be true. " Two Royal Commissioners," 
he writes, " were dispatched on a general visitation of the 
religious houses, and their reports formed a ' black-book,' 
which was laid before Parliament in 1536. It was acknow- 
ledged that about a third of the houses, including the bulk 
of the larger abbeys, were fairly and decently conducted. 
The rest were charged with drunkenness, with simony, 
and with the foulest and most revolting crimes." 

I believe I am right in taking this account as presenting 
a version and a fairly moderate version of the reasons 
which induced the nation to consent to perhaps the greatest 
piece of confiscation the world has ever seen. Yet how far 
does this version represent the truth the whole truth, or 
any part of the truth? We have now the means of judging 
with certainty as to the facts, and we can say that in these 
sample statements, brief though they be, there are some 
assertions that are absolutely false, some incapable of 
proof and unlikely, and some distinctly misleading. It is 
quite certain, for instance, that before the meeting of Par- 
liament more than two Commissioners were employed in 
the work of visiting the monasteries. It is quite certain, 
moreover, that the Commissioners never reported to Parlia- 
ment at all, and even in the reports (or Comperta] forwarded 
to Crumwell, his agents do not assert that " two-thirds of 
the monks were leading vicious lives under cover of their 
cowls and hoods," nor again that Parliament declared that 
" about a third " of the monasteries " were fairly and decently 
conducted." Lastly, there is no evidence of any kind that 
the celebrated " black-book " ever had any existence outside 
the minds of writers of a later date ; and distinct testimony 
makes it highly improbable that any such book was " laid 
before Parliament in 1536." 

Further than this: bad as the charges made by Henry's 

xiv Preface 

visitors were, " drunkenness and simony " were not among 
them, neither, do I think, that any one who has studied the 
available documents could possibly assert that two-thirds 
or anything approaching two-thirds are charged in 
them with being guilty of " the foulest and most revolting 
of crimes." Probably the only item of Mr. Green's account 
which has any sure foundation in fact, is the remark ap- 
pended to the account just given: "that the character of 
the visitors, the sweeping nature of their report, and the 
long debate that followed on its reception, leave little 
doubt that the charges were grossly exaggerated." 

Let me state what we know for certain about this mat- 
ter. We know that the proposal to suppress the smaller 
religious houses gave rise to a long debate, and that Parlia- 
ment passed the measure with great reluctance. Indeed, 
so unwilling was the assembly to vote for the measure, that 
according to Sir Henry Spelman, who gave the traditional 
account of the event an account which bears the stamp 
of substantial truth when " the Bill had stuck so long 
in the Lower House," Henry sent for the Commons and 
declared that if they did not pass it he would " have some 
of their heads." Acting under such threats as these, which 
they had ample reason to know were no idle form of words, 
and seeing that public opinion was turned against the 
monks by public orations, and in favour of a measure which 
was destined to relieve taxation by devoting the confis- 
cated monastic revenues to public purposes, the faithful 
Commons consented to the King's bill. It is remarkable, 
however, that in the Act itself Parliament is careful to 
throw the entire responsibility for the measure upon the 
King himself, and to declare, if words mean anything at 
all, that they took the truth of the charges against the 
good name of the religious, solely upon the King's " declar- 

Preface xv 

ation " that he knew the facts to be so. It must be remem- 
bered, too, that one fact proves that the actual accusations 
or Comperts whether in the form of the visitors' notes or 
of the mythical " Black-book " could never have been 
placed before Parliament for its consideration in detail. 
We have the Comperta documents the findings of the 
visitors, whatever they may be worth, whilst on their 
rounds and we can see for ourselves that no distinction is 
made between the greater and lesser houses. All are 
"tarred with the same brush": all, that is, are equally 
besmirched by Layton and Legh, by London and Ap 
Rice. " The idea that the smaller monasteries rather than 
the larger were particular abodes of vice," writes Dr. 
Gairdner, "is not borne out by the Comperta." Yet the 
preamble of the very Act suppressing the smaller monas- 
teries because of their vicious living declares positively 
that " in the great and solemn monasteries of the realm " 
religion was well observed, and God well served. Can 
anybody imagine for a moment that this assertion could 
have found its way into the Act, had the reports of the 
visitors been laid, for the inspection of the members, upon 
the table of the House of Commons? We are consequently- 
compelled to accept the account of the matter given in 
the preamble of the Act: namely, that the measure was 
passed on the strength of the King's " declaration " that 
the charges against the smaller houses were true. 

In its final shape the measure enacted that all religious 
houses not possessed of an income of more than 200 a 
year should be given to the crown, the heads of such houses 
receiving pensions, and the religious, despite their alleged 
depravity, were to be admitted to the larger and more 
observant monasteries, or licensed to act as secular priests. 
The measure of turpitude fixed by the Act was thus a 


xvi Preface 

pecuniary one, and all monastic establishments which fell 
below the 200 a year standard of " good living " were to 
be given to the King to be dealt with at his " pleasure, to 
the honour of God and the wealth of the realm." This 
money limit at once rendered it necessary, as a first step 
in the direction of dissolution, to ascertain which houses 
came within the operation of the Act, and as early as April, 
1536 (less than a month from the passing of the measure), 
we find mixed commissions of officials and country gentle- 
men appointed to make surveys of the religious, and 
instructions issued for their guidance. 

The returns made by these commissioners are of the 
highest importance in determining what the moral state of 
the religious houses was, at the time of their dissolution. 
It is now beyond dispute that the accusations of CrumweH's 
visitors were made prior to the passing of the Act of Sup- 
pression of 1536, and consequently before, not after (as 
most writers have erroneously supposed) the mixed com- 
missions of gentry and officials. The commissioners were 
to be six in number for each district: three were to be 
officials, namely, an auditor, the receiver for each county, 
and a clerk, whilst the remaining three were to be nom- 
inated by the Crown from "discreet persons" of the 
neigbourhood. The main purpose for which these Com- 
missioners were nominated was of course to find out 
what houses possessed an income of less than 200 a year, 
and to take these over, in the King's name, as now 
belonging to His Majesty. They were, however, instructed 
to find out and report upon "the conversation of the lives" 
of the religious, or in other words, to examine into the 
moral state of th houses visited. Unfortunately, compar- 
atively few of the returns of these mixed commissions are 
now known to exist, although some have turned up, which 

Preface xvii 

were unknown to Dr. Gairdner when he made his Calendar 
of the documents of 1536. Luckily, however, the extant 
reports deal expressly with some of the very houses against 
which Layton and Legh had breathed forth their pesti- 
lential suggestions. Now that the suppression was resolved 
upon it mattered not to Henry or Crumwell that the 
inmates should be described as "evil livers," and so the 
new commissioners returned the inmates of these same 
houses as being " of good and virtuous conversation," and 
this not in the case of one house or district, but, as Dr. 
Gairdner remarks, in these reports " the characters given 
of the inmates are almost uniformly good." 

Such is the briefest of outlines of the circumstances 
which led up to the first dissolutions of the English 
monasteries. I have set it out here in the Introduction in 
the hope that by so doing I may induce at least some of 
my readers to study the details which are given in the 
pages that follow. The words Comperta Monastica, and the 
story about the doings of Parliament in 1536 in regard to 
the monks, and, in fact, the very destruction decreed against 
them appears to present a black enough case against their 
reputation. My belief is that most men of unbiassed opin- 
ions who will read what I may call the evidence I have 
collected, rather than what I have written, will come in the 
end to my conclusions. That I may claim the greatest 
living authority on this period, Dr. James Gairdner, as one 
with me in this matter, is, I think, certain from the words 
he used on first reviewing this book. " The old scandals," 
he writes, " universally discredited at the time, and believed 
in by a later generation only through prejudice and ignor- 
ance, are now dispelled for ever, and no candid Protestant 
will ever think of reviving them." 


February $th, 1906. 



THE ruined abbeys of England are evidences of a past 
which, however diversely it may be judged in other respects, 
all will agree was great. To some the crumbling wall or 
broken arch speaks eloquently of the rapacity of an English 
king and indicates the completeness of his spoliation. Alas ! 
it is to be feared that to the minds of most Englishmen the 
desecrated sanctuary calls up one thought above all else 
the thought of wasted, wanton or vicious lives, and of the 
sad necessity which compelled King Henry to proceed to 
drastic measures of reform. The oft-repeated story pro- 
verbially gains in strength ; and for many generations anec- 
dotes about the wickedness of monk and nun have been 
listened to and accepted as simple truth ; whilst even well- 
wishers to the monastic institute have thought it best friend- 
liness to observe or counsel silence. 

Undoubtedly it is no inviting task to attack a tradition 
so long implanted. A horror of monk and monastery has 
been imparted with early knowledge at many an English 
mother's knee, the teaching first imbibed and latest lost. 
It would almost seem that in this regard the national 
character of honesty and fairness had been permanently 
warped. Englishmen have been wont to extend considera- 
tion even to a fallen enemy. In this case, they appear to 
have had neither mercy nor pity for those who were among 
the most honoured and cherished of their own household for 
many centuries. The truth is, that Henry's scheme for 

xx Introduction 

lowering monks in the popular estimation, though it did not 
impose on a people who knew them by experience, has 
served its purpose with subsequent generations. " All that 
men of the stamp of John Bale," says a modern writer, 
" could do in the way of defiling the memory of casnobites 
in general has been done, and though Bale is a discredited 
man, he and others like him have completed a work which 
can now scarcely be undone, and the memory of those who 
indubitably preserved religion and increased learning in the 
land is almost hopelessly besmirched." x 

That the state of religious life in England, as described 
in the letters and reports of Henry's chosen visitors, was 
bad, is true. But even these reports do not by any means 
bear out the popular impression. The real question, more- 
over, that needs consideration is : what is the worth of the 
visitors' word ? Edmund Burke speaks in accord with the 
dictates of mere common sense when he writes : " I rather 
suspect that vices are feigned or exaggerated when profit is 
looked for in the punishment. An enemy is a bad witness, 
a robber is a worse." 2 

For three centuries the only voices raised in defence of 
the English monasteries have been those of antiquaries, who 
might be supposed to have a natural sympathy for a great, 
a romantic past. And even these, from Camden downwards, 
have found it well to make excuse for their weakness, and 
have not failed to add the general sentence of condem- 
nation, however incongruously it might run with the context. 
Burnet fixed, so far as history is concerned, what it had to 
say on the subject, and the " History of the Reformation " 
was deemed sufficient to dispense with all need for further 
inquiry. In the last resort the utterance of the words 
Comperta and Black Book was enough to warn the curious 
or the adventurous off dangerous Around. It is only of late 

1 Man. Frandscana, ii. Pref., p. xxx. 
J Reflections on the French Revolution. 

Monastic England xxi 

years that the subject has come within the scope of ordi- 
nary historical investigation, and some earnest and truthful 
writers have paved the way for a juster estimate of the case. 
Among these, stands pre-eminent Canon Dixon, who justly 
claims strange as the claim may seem in regard to a 
subject about which so much has been written "to have 
laid before the student of history for the first time a con- 
nected and particular account of the suppression of the 
English monasteries." The present work is an attempt to 
carry the investigation yet a step farther forward ; and, 
utilising the mass of scattered material "still unpublished 
and unconsulted," to treat the suppression not as an 
episode of a greater subject, but as an object of special 

That the monasteries in the fifteenth and sixteenth 
centuries were all that could be desired in discipline and 
vigour would be maintained by no one who has studied the 
subject. The circumstances of the troubled times in many 
instances no doubt exerted a baneful influence on the 
interior spirit of the cloister, as it did on the Church at 

It must be remembered, however, that denunciations as 
to laxity of life, even when made about the monasteries of 
the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, rest, as a rule, on a 
comparison with primitive fervour. Whatever may be said 
as to the lives of the monks at this period, it must be con- 
fessed that the common and ordinary routine of their houses 
raised them immeasurably above the level of life around them. 
The Episcopal visitations of religious houses prove con- 
clusively that, whatever failings, or even graver delinquencies 
required censure and correction in the case of individuals, 
the method of life for the community remained the same, and 
that in no sense could it with truth be called a life of ease 
and sloth. 

In the chronicles and memorials of the various abbeys 

xxii Introduction 

we still possess, very little information can be gleaned about 
the interior and domestic life of the inmates. The reason for 
this is obvious. To the chronicler, as he wrote his volume 
in the cloister of his monastery, the daily course of the mon- 
astic life was so even, uneventful and well known, that it 
must have appeared useless and unnecessary to enter any 
description of it in his pages. The saying, " Happy is the 
nation that has no history," applies to monasteries. Troubles, 
difficulties, quarrels and even scandals find a place on the 
parchment record of an abbey or convent, while the days 
and years of peaceful unobtrusive labour would pass un- 
noticed by the monastic scribe. 

In one of his suggestive lectures Mr. Ruskin bids his 
hearers note well the dates A.D. 421 and A.D. 481, for they 
are the years of the beginning of Venetian power and of the 
crowning of Clovis : " Not for dark Rialto's dukedom nor for 
fair France's kingdom only," he adds, " are these two years 
to be remembered of all others in the wild fifth century, but 
because they are also the birth years of a great lady, and 
a greater lord of all future Christendom, St. Genevieve and 
St. Benedict." 1 If St. Benedict could claim any country as 
his own it is England. There is no need to dwell here on 
the evangelisation of our land, on the messengers he sent 
hence to Germany and to the North to preach the gospel, 
on the schools in which he gathered his disciples, and whence 
issued the revival of letters in the darkest days of the Middle 
Ages, on the slow patient labour by which his sons reclaimed 
the soil, nor on the men through whom our very polity and 
law seem to have gained their temper and moderation from 
his spirit of discretion. All this is acknowledged though so 
easily forgotten. All was done so quietly, so orderly, so 
naturally, that a world which has entered on the fruits of 

1 Our fathers have told us, ii. p. 42. 

Monastic England xxiii 

the labour may almost be excused if it does not recognise 
the hand that dug the soil and planted the tree. 1 

The benefits conferred by the monastic order were great. 
Those who experienced them had no doubt on that score, 
and were not behindhand in full and ample expression of 
their gratitude. And though the religious bodies were not 
as rich as they were represented to be, their wealth was 
undoubtedly immense. Various orders shared it, but the 
Benedictines, including in their ranks, besides the Black 
monks, the Cistercian, the Cluniac, the Grandmontain and 
others, had incomparably the greater part. Independently of 
their wealth, what gave the Benedictines further dignity was 
the possession of eight or nine cathedrals, including those of 
the specially dignified sees of Winchester, Durham and 
Canterbury. This placed the election of the bishops of 
these dioceses in the hands of the convent. At Canterbury, 
in particular, the jurisdiction of the great metropolitical 
church fell, during a vacancy, into the hands of the prior 
and convent. In their name ran all licenses for the conse- 
cration of bishops ; they held all the archiepiscopal powers 
of visitation ; they could nominate the consecrating prelate 
and the prelate to preside at Convocation. It may be readily 
understood that these powers were not always viewed with 
favour by the college of bishops; but after the thirteenth 
century, with a prudent use of acknowledged rights on the 
one side and benevolence on the other, they managed 
to avoid disagreement. Although holding the cathedral 
churches, the monks did not interfere with diocesan ad- 
ministration. The bishop's officials were commonly chosen 
from the secular clergy, even when he himself happened to 
be a monk. It is almost a commonplace, however, to dwell 
on the rivalry between the clergy and the monasteries as if it 

1 See Cardinal Newman, Historical Sketches, ed. 1873, iii. p. 365, et 
seq.; J. S. Brewer, Giraldus Camb., iv., Pref. xv-xvii xxx.-xxxvi., and J. 
M. Kemble, Codex, i., Pref. v.-vii. 

xxiv Introduction 

were intensified in the later ages. Unquestionably there 
were lawsuits about property and other rights between 
them, and misunderstandings such as will happen between 
men of all classes ; but their relations seem to have been 
generally good and even, and exempt from any systematic 

The privileged ecclesiastical position of the monastic 
orders found its counterpart in parliament. Abbots formed 
the bulk of the spiritual peerage, which in those times was 
both individually more influential and corporately much 
larger than at present. The position held by them through- 
out every part of the country gave yet a further weight to 
their great position as noblemen and local magnates. As 
such they went part passu with baron or earl of the noblest 
lineage. On the blazoned Roll of the Lords, the Lord 
Richard Whiting and the Lord Hugh Faringdon went hand in 
hand with a Howard and a Talbot. This individual ennoble- 
ment indicated by the form of title is striking. Whiting and 
Farringdon do not walk merely as the abbot of Glaston and 
the abbot of Reading, but in the rdle of English peers they 
still hold the name by which they were known when playing 
as children in the country manor-house or poor man's cottage. 
In the letter books of Durham priory the chiefs of the Cliffords 
and the Nevilles address the prior as their equal in no mere 
words of empty form. If on occasion the layman strikes a 
higher tone, to which the monk responds in gentleness, it 
does not affect the ring of trusty and sincere friendship which 
is caught throughout the whole correspondence. Nor is 
there anything surprising in this when the character of the 
monastic life is realised. The monk of Durham from his 
earliest years combined simplicity of life with surroundings 
of palatial grandeur and a state and ceremony equal to that 
of courts, and yet more measured. As time passed on, he 
grew from obedience to command, and naturally, without 
perceiving it, the peasant's son became the equal of the peer. 

Monastic England xxv 

And all this was done without appeal to" principles of demo- 
cratic levelling. The heralds' " visitations " commence at the 
moment when the doom of the monasteries was already fixed. 
Up to that time the art of sifting out the " gentleman " from 
the " no-gentleman," which under the Tudors and first Stuarts 
grew to a pitch of perfection, was not yet evolved ; and it 
may be safe to say that the monasteries, in ages which, if any, 
might seem fatal to it, kept up the idea of personal nobility. 
The organisation of the various orders helped to qualify 
the most prominent of their members for taking part in the 
chief council of the realm. Besides their presence in con- 
vocation, the Benedictines and Augustinians had each a 
quadriennial chapter, composed of the abbots and conventual 
priors of the whole country, and numbering for the Benedic- 
tines as many as two or three hundred persons. On these 
occasions even individual monks, who might be deputed by 
their superior, could learn the practice of great delibera- 
tive assemblies, and how to deal with affairs of far-reaching 
consequence. It was thus not merely by honorific dis- 
tinction that we find the commissions of the peace generally 
headed by some principal abbot or prior of each county. 
They had the practice of business, and they were in touch 
with men of all ranks the country gentleman, the yeoman, 
the artisan, the peasant and the poor. It is no mere figure 
of speech when monasteries are called the common hostelries 
for people of all sorts and conditions, the general refuge 
of the poor. The daily life of the heads and officers of 
every monastic house must have brought them in constant 
and natural contact with all classes of society. The monks 
were not merely anchorites enclosed in narrow walls, but 
were affected by all the movements of public life. They 
were not men of war, but, like the knight and the baron, 
they had to provide men for the musters. As great land- 
owners they, more than the yeoman, were concerned in the 
crops and the weather. They resided on the land in the 

xxvi Introduction 

midst of their people, and the barns, farmhouses and cottages 
were no less objects of their care than the roof which covered 
their own heads. Beyond this, they were more than land- 
owners to those round about them. The advisers and 
teachers of all, they fulfilled the duties now undertaken by 
the guardian, the relieving officer, the parish doctor and 
the schoolmaster. Their charity did not flow from public 
sources, yet all men expected them, as an incident of their 
profession, to provide for those in want, and they were well 
acquainted with the circumstances of those they helped. 
These conditions combined to ease many of the difficulties 
which attend the relief of the poor. " The myth of the ' fine 
old English gentleman,' who had a large estate, and provided 
every day for the poor at his gate, was realised in the case 
of the monks, and in their case only." 1 

Art is a finer and truer expression of the inmost mind 
than even words can be. Of arts, architecture is not the 
least in power to reveal the soul of man. " Can the same 
stream send forth waters both sweet and bitter ? " says the 
writer just quoted. " Are the higher realisations of artistic 
beauty . . . compatible with the disordering, vulgar, and 
noisy pursuits of an unscrupulous avarice or ambition ? 
Will men that gather meanly scatter nobly? Will any 
magic convert the sum total of sordid actions into greatness 
of any kind ? 2 

Though the architecture of the fifteenth century has not 
the type of Cistercian beauty, the builders of the tower of 
Canterbury, of the Lady chapel of Gloucester and the church 
of Bath, the re-fashioners of Winchester, Chester and Sher- 
borne, with a host of other monastic churches, could not 
have been men devoid either of the sense of beauty or gran- 
deur. It seems in this matter as though, with the close of 
the civil wars, men had taken fresh heart, and the half 
century preceding the destruction of the monasteries, so far 

1 J. S. Brewer, Giraldus Camb., iv., Pref. xxxvi. J Ibid., p. xxx. 

Monastic England xxvii 

from being a time of apathy and listlessness, witnessed a 
great revival of architectural activity. This would have 
been impossible had the monastic system been commonly in 
a state of undue relaxation or degradation. The individual 
sense of ownership in the common goods is singularly slight 
in monastic communities. It is altogether inadequate as a 
spur to keep things in a proper condition. Where the 
general level of discipline is low, the tendency is to shift off the 
trouble of the day to the morrow. Each man is glad to bear 
his own burden at the lightest, and that which is the common 
concern is left to take its course to the verge of ruin. A 
mere feeling of personal pride or spurt of personal effort is 
not sufficient, so strong is the tendency to avoid trouble. 
The only corrective is that which is of the essence of the 
monastic state, a strong and vigorous community life. This 
can only exist where at least a reasonable amount of order 
and discipline prevails. Hence the activity in building pre- 
vailing in the early sixteenth century has a lesson of its 
own to tell to those who have the power to read it. How- 
ever wealthy these great foundations may have been, they 
could not have undertaken works of such magnitude had not 
the monastic tone been healthy and vigorous. 

Nor was their work achieved, as is so often implied, 
at the expense of the parish churches. Though instances 
might be multiplied, one will suffice. Within a stone's 
throw of the cathedral of Coventry stands the church of the 
Holy Trinity ; within a stone's throw of that, again, stands 
the church of St. Michael two of the noblest ecclesiastical 
buildings in the kingdom. Both were in the patronage of 
the cathedral priory. Had the monks chosen to indulge in 
unworthy jealousy, the erection of these noble edifices might 
easily have been prevented. In these cases, it will be 
understood, the buildings were not for themselves. The 
Augustinian canons not infrequently served the churches in 
their own patronage; the monks as a matter 6f the rarest 

xxviii Introduction 

exception only. If it be asserted that, by acting in so many 
instances merely as vicars for the monastic houses, a portion 
of the secular clergy seemed thereby placed in a position of 
inferiority and dependence, it must be remembered that to 
the monastery they often owed their enrolment in the ranks 
of the clergy at all. Putting aside the education they com- 
monly received in the monastic free schools, it is striking to 
find in the episcopal registers how large a proportion of the 
secular clergy were ordained to the " title " given them by 
some monastery or convent. This fact is emphasised by the 
extraordinary diminution of candidates for the priesthood 
immediately subsequent to the destruction of the monasteries, 
which accounts for the dearth of parochial clergy so often 
complained of a few years later. 1 

The only specimen of a monastic chronicle of the times 
of the civil wars 2 that of Croyland, a place remote from 

1 From the archiepiscopal registers of the diocese of York it appears that 
between 1501 and 1539 there were 6190 priests ordained. Of these 1415 
were religious, 4698 were seculars presented for ordination to a title, furnished 
by some monastery or convent, and 77 to a title given by a college, or rationc 
beneficii. The yearly average of ordinations to the priesthood in the diocese 
of York during the 39 years was over 158. The register of Archbishop 
Edward Lee shows that in 1536, 92 were ordained priests ; in 1537 no ordina- 
tions were recorded; in 1538 only 20; and in 1539 the ordinations had 
dwindled down to 8. Of these, one, in the first part of 1539, received his title 
from a religious house, and another in the second half of the year was made 
priest "to the title of 4 granted him by the king from the monastery of 
Worksop." After 1539 among the few ordinations are some who present 
" titles " founded on the promises of some nobleman or gentleman. 

2 The dearth of late monastic chronicles is very remarkable. It is, how- 
ever, capable of a simple explanation. In the first place, the generation which 
produced a Commines, a Machiavelli and a Marin Sanudo were hardly fitted for 
the composition of chronicles such as those of Matthew Paris and William of 
Malmesbury. Secondly, there is every probability that many such monastic 
records were destroyed at the dissolution. The little fragment of the monk of 
St. Augustine's, Canterbury, shows that the cloister annalists were still at work. 
This is not likely to have been a solitary case. Chronicles of this kind, how- 
ever, would not be like the great folios of the St. Alban's Scriptorium ; written 
on paper, looking mean and poor, and above all having nothing to do with 
property and estates, they would have been little regarded by the spoilers of 
the religious houses, and thus lost or destroyed. Thirdly, the rule of the first 

Monastic England xxix 

the scenes of trouble gives us a glimpse of continued 
activity. Besides the free school, the choral necessities re- 
quired a school of music and singing. Architecture, paint- 
ing, sculpture, organ-building, bell-founding, and that which 
English skill had raised to the dignity of an art embroidery 
all were as actively promoted at Croyland as ever. The 
monks too were not so wedded to old-fashioned ways, but 
what they were ready to greet the latest discoveries. It 
must not be forgotten that in England (though not in 
England only) the first printing presses were set up in the 

The great religious houses, moreover, afforded to the 
country population a sight of those splendours now confined 
to the great centres of population. The rich vestments and 
costly plate in the monastic treasure-house were no mere 
personal possession. The enjoyment of them belonged to 
the people as a whole. As feast day succeeded feast day 
the treasures were brought forth to delight the hearts of all 
who took part in the rejoicings. Thus the monasteries sent 
a ray of light and gladness through the lives of the great 
mass of the people, whose lot at best is full of hardness, 
dulness and sorrow. 

All that is here insisted on is, that in the sixteenth 
century the monasteries formed an element in English social 
life both popular and beneficent. For the purpose of this 
argument it matters little whether the Comperta or Black 
Book be true or false. If they were true, the case would be 
stronger still, for it is only an overpowering sense of the 
benefits which the monasteries generally diffused over the 

Tudors was of such a cast, that a Matthew Paris, or even a William of 
Newbury, that is, men disposed to tell the truth, could hardly hope to end their 
days in their convent. No man can be expected to make a hero of himself merely 
to gratify the curiosity of posterity. It is little wonder, therefore, if the later 
monks neglected their annals and turned in preference to other occupations. 

xxx Introduction 

country that, in the presence of such a catalogue of iniquity, 
could have prevented their fall amid general execration. 
But what is the case ? On the part of the secular clergy, 
who might be supposed to be their natural rivals, the voice 
of Bishop Fisher, pre-eminent amongst them all for a love 
of sound learning and for piety, was raised as spokesman in 
their defence. Of the nobility, who afterwards shared in 
the plunder, many a one before the event put in a plea for 
the preservation of the house in which he himself was 
interested. The popular voice was expressed in the risings 
in the east and north, and at a later date in the west. It is 
only now, when the documentary history of the time is being 
revealed, that we begin to understand how narrowly these 
movements escaped a success, which would have changed 
the course of English history. The voices raised against 
the monks were those of Crumwell's agents, of the cliques 
of the new men and of his hireling scribes, who formed a 
crew of as truculent and filthy libellers as ever disgraced a 
revolutionary cause. The later centuries have taken their 
tale in good faith, but time is showing that the monasteries, 
up to the day of their fall, had forfeited neither the goodwill, 
the veneration, nor the affection of the English people. 







Disastrous effects of the "Black Death" on the Church in 
England The country not recovered by sixteenth century 
Influence of the "Wars of the Roses" Destruction of the 
power of nobility Increased power of the crown Rise of 
the new men The royal " official " Condition of the people 
in sixteenth century The state of the Church The bishops 
The monastic orders Influence of the times upon the 
cloister Royal and other demands upon the monasteries 
Attacks upon the monks by Simon Fish and others 
Moral state of the monastic orders Authentic testimony of 
Episcopal registers i-u 



Rise of Wolsey His immense power Exceptional powers in 
ecclesiastical affairs as legate He obtains faculties * for 
visiting monasteries Statuta for the Augustinian canons 
Wolsey disliked by the clergy generally His scheme for 
founding a college at Oxford Permission obtained from 
Clement VII. by pressure Wolsey asks to be made abbot 
in commendam of St. Albans Permission asked from Rome 
for further suppression for the Oxford college The people 


xxxii Contents 


object to the dissolutions Bad repute of Wolsey's agents, 
Dr. Allen and Thomas Crumwell The King finds fault with 
Wolsey's action towards the monasteries Further suppres- 
sions asked from the Holy See The Cardinal's design to 
found a college at Ipswich Further complaints Henry 
acts on the precedent established by Wolsey, and asks the 
Pope's permission to suppress monasteries for the foundation 
of new cathedrals The difficulties of Clement VII. in the 
matter The articles of impeachment against Wolsey which 
relate to the monasteries . .... 12-34 



Early history of Elizabeth Barton Her great reputation for 
sanctity Bishop Fisher forms a good opinion of her The 
special value of his judgment The account of his dealings 
with the nun Archbishop Warham's belief in her holiness 
Her opposition to the divorce makes her arrest neces- 
sary Her confessor, Dr. Bocking, monk of Christchurch, 
Canterbury, and others also arrested Endeavour on the 
part of Crumwell to prove a conspiracy against the state 
The examinations of the accused Refusal of the judges to 
convict Public penance of the nun and her companions at 
St. Paul's Cross The nun's confession and its real signifi- 
cance Its evidence in favour of the other accused No 
conspiracy against the state intended Endeavour of Crum- 
well to include Sir Thomas More in the charges against 
the nun The crown proceeds by bill of attainder The 
execution of Elizabeth Barton and her companions . 35-44 

Parliament renounces the papal supremacy The check on 
pulpit utterances at this time The friars difficult to deal 
with Particular boldness of the Observants High char- 
acter of the Greenwich convent These friars staunch sup- 

Contents xxxiii 


porters of Queen Catherine Friar Peto's sermon and its 
sequel The Observants suspected of intercourse with the 
fallen Queen Friar Forest Friar Pocock's sermon at 
Winchester Henry appoints a superior over the friars 
Their convents are visited and the oath of supremacy pro- 
posed Commencement of a "reign of terror" in the mon- 
astic houses Franciscan Observants staunch to their old 
opinions Efforts to change them Henry foiled in his 
design Dispersion of the Observants Imprisonment and 
death of a great number Friar Forest's martyrdom Retired 
life of Charterhouse monks Maurice Chauncy's account of 
Prior Houghton Henry's agents endeavour to obtain the 
signatures of the religious to the oath of succession The 
prior and procurator committed to the Tower and are per- 
suaded to take the oath Further attempts to obtain an 
unqualified submission The three Carthusian priors sent 
to the Tower Their trial and execution for rejecting the 
royal supremacy Further difficulties and the execution of 
three more fathers of the London Charterhouse The com- 
munity placed under lay governors Their treatment Some 
sent to the North of England Ten fathers imprisoned in 
Newgate Their heroism and slow death Two more exe- 
cuted at York The rest resign their house to the king . 45-74 



Henry's difficulties in 1535 Royal treasury empty The oath of 
supremacy proposed to the monastic houses Intolerable 
nature of the oath Necessity of subduing the monasteries, 
which were special supports of the papal supremacy 
"Greed of great men" a second motive for the suppression 
of the monasteries Their servile dependence on Crumwell 
Injunctions impossible to keep and intended to drive the 
religious to rebellion or surrender The visitors complain of 
each other Their treatment of the religious, and especially 
of the nuns Effects of the visitation on the interior life and 
numbers Difficulties of religious superiors in governing 
their houses at all Crumwell appoints lecturers in some 
monasteries 75-94 

xxxiv Contents 



PAG 3 

Henry's agents preparing for the attack on the monasteries 
Rapidity of the visitation of Lay ton and Legh Usual 
account of the passing of the Act Character of the Parlia- 
ments of Henry VIII. House of Commons not a repre- 
sentative body at all Systematic packing of the Houses 
The instance of Bishop Tunstall of Durham Methods for 
passing Acts through the House The existence of the 
" Black Book " extremely doubtful The preamble of the 
Act of Suppression The action of the abbots in the House 
of Lords Education of public opinion by Henry and Crum- 
well Pulpit attacks on the monasteries How far the sup- 
pression was justified by the law of property . . . 95-112 



The Comperta documents The portion preserved in the writings 
of Bale In reality the notes of the visitors Value to be 
attached to the charges contained in them Meaning of 
Comperta in episcopal visitations Date of the document 
Comparatively few religious charged with crime Accusations 
vague, and the result probably of malice and idle rumour 
Examples of the manufacture of these reports Comperta 
certainly not the confessions of conscience-stricken monks 
and nuns Accusations often deceptive Visitors' reports 
compared with those of episcopal visitations Their charges 
contradicted by other royal visitors Story of the Prior of 
Crutched Friars, and that of the Abbot of Langdon examined 
Evil reports as to Dover and Folkestone contradicted by 
subsequent evidence Charges against the Abbot of Wigmore 
Origin of many of the tales against monks and nuns 
Negative testimony in favour of the monasteries Draft peti- 
tion from the Lords and Commons to the King, begging him 
to stay any further suppressions 113-135 

Contents xxxv 




Crumwell's early history Employed by Wolsey in the work of 
suppression Crumwell on Wolsey's disgrace Rapid rise 
His autocratic power in England Places spies everywhere 
Instances of the reign of terror No pretence of justice or 
fair dealing Arbitrary action of Crumwell even in private 
life Large sums of money coming to him as bribes and 
presents Lavish in his expenditure The patron of the 
ribald writers Crumwell's fall and execution Letters 
and the spoils of the monastic houses found at his 
house 136-157 



The visitors well understood the royal purpose Layton's origin 
His complete understanding with Crumwell Visits with in- 
tention of making out a case against the monasteries His 
manufacture of Comfierta Understood Crumwell's weak- 
ness for money transactions Offers bribes to his master 
His filthy mind revealed in his letters He becomes Dean of 
York and pawns the Cathedral plate Legh, as a visitor, 
described by his fellow, Ap Rice His large fees shared by 
Crumwell His violence dreaded Grave charges made 
against his morality The punishment of Layton and Legh 
demanded by the " Pilgrims of Grace" Legh made Master 
of Sherburn Hospital, and makes away with the property of 
the poor Ap Rice had previously been in serious trouble 
His money transactions with Crumwell London chiefly 
occupied as a spoiler Was possibly in Crumwell's power 
His work of destruction Treatment of the Abbess of 
Godstow His public penance for incontinence His re- 
putation at Oxford Imprisoned for perjury, and there 
dies 158-175 

xxxvi Contents 




State of affairs in the spring of 1536 Obstacles to Henry's 
return to obedience of Rome Establishment of Court of 
Augmentation Instructions for commencement of dissolu- 
tion General method of procedure Monasteries refounded 
by Henry Fines paid for license to continue Number of 
religious expelled on dissolution of lesser monasteries 
Petitions for preservation of monasteries Re-establishment 
of Bisham by the King Progress of the work of destruction 
Resistance of the Hexham canons . . . 176-197 



Outbreak of the rising Causes of popular discontent The 
resistance at Louth People rose in defence of the faith 
Feeling against Crumwell and some of the bishops Statute 
of Uses Story of the rising Destruction of the registrar's 
books in Louth Murder of the bishop of Lincoln's chancel- 
lor The "articles" of popular discontent Henry's answer 
to the demands Royal anxiety as to the result and the 
effect of the news in foreign countries Collapse of the 
movement Part taken by the monks . . . 198-219 



Popular sympathy with the insurgents Severe measures taken 
by Henry Causes of the Yorkshire discontent Aske's de- 
claration and examinations Story of the rising Religious 
replaced in their houses Henry's instructions to Norfolk 
His "politic device" Insurgent envoys to the King 
Assembly at Pomfret The settlement at Doncaster 220-240 

Contents xxxvii 




Dispersion of the insurgents Henry's attitude with regard to 
the promises made to them Proclamation of the royal 
pardon Instructions to the officials as to the reinstated 
religious Aske's endeavour to restrain the people His 
belief in the King's honour The new rising and its failure 
Part taken by the religious in the popular movement, and 
especially those of Watton, Jervaulx, Whalley, and Bridling- 
ton The quondam Abbot of Fountains Trials and execu- 
tions 241-264 



The royal vengeance Attainder of a religious superior advan- 
tageous to the king Fate of Whalley, Barlings, &c. 
Abbot and monks of Furness forced to surrender Holm 
Cultram Lenton Priory Story of the fall of Woburn 
Abbot Hobbes His examinations in the Tower His 
views as to papal supremacy His anguish of mind His 
death 265-290 



Hard case of disbanded nuns Number of convents Good re- 
pute of the English nuns Some convents purchased a 
temporary respite from destruction Many reduced to a 
state of destitution Injunctions for Synningthwaite convent 
in 1534 Conventual life The good done by religious 
ladies Testimony of royal commissioners Importance to 
the King of surrenders and royal instructions on the point 
Failure as regards convents Final suppressions Number 
of nuns . ....... 291-309 

xxxviii Contents 




Fundamental principle of the mendicant orders Numbers in 
England on suppression Their troubles Bishop Ingworth's 
work in dissolving the friaries The Dominican prior of 
Newcastle-on-Tyne Opposition to the royal policy Friar 
Anthony Brown Progress of the dissolution Friar Stone 
Doctor London and the friars The surrenders Small 
value of the spoils Sites of the friaries much sought after 
Special hardships to which the disbanded friars were 
exposed 310-330 



Value of surrenders Policy of Henry in hiding the scheme of 
total suppression Religious anticipate the work of spolia- 
tion in some instances Second suppression of Bisham 
Destruction of Lewes Suppression of Abingdon Example 
of Vale Royal Royal pressure to secure surrender at 
Hinton Charterhouse and Athelney Abbots appointed for 
the purpose of surrendering their houses Deprivation of 
the Abbot of St. Albans, and forced resignation of Abbot of 
Evesham Romsey Abbey Dr. Hillyard and the monks 
Account of the dissolution of Roche Total number of 
ejected religious 331-361 



Pre-eminence of Glastonbury High position of Abbot Whiting 
The oath of supremacy Royal visitation of Glastonbury 
Last glimpse of Abbot Whiting at Glastonbury Greater 
monasteries not legally dissolved Whiting removed to 
London The abbey dismantled in his absence Examina- 
tions in the Tower Crumwell's notes Whiting removed 

Contents xxxix 


into Somerset "to be executed" The final scene Abbot 
Cook of Reading His friendship with the King His atti- 
tude to the men of "the new learning" His adherence 
to papal supremacy First troubles Examinations in the 
Tower Abbot Cook's execution at Reading Abbot Mar- 
shall of Colchester Early troubles Views of the abbot as 
to the deaths of More and Fisher Examination of witnesses 
against Abbot Marshall His execution . . . 362-396 



Estimate of total value Amount received by the crown smaller 
than usually stated The general scramble for monastic 
lands Work of gathering in the spoils Private purses 
made by his agents Monastic plate Irreverence shown to 
relics Demolition of shrines Winchester, Canterbury, 
Durham Feeling of the people at the work Total value 
of the plate Ecclesiastical vestments taken for the king or 
sold Destruction of books and manuscripts "Defacing" 
of churches Lead and bells Destruction of the buildings, 
& c 397-427 



Royal promises not fulfilled Act of Parliament in 1539 dealing 
with the great monasteries How Henry spent the property 
Proportion spent on national purposes . . . 428-434 



Pensions of the ejected monks Only a portion of the monks 
pensioned Voluntary surrender a condition for receiving 
anything Amount of pensions Reasons for granting large 
sums in a few cases Deductions from the sum allowed 


xl Contents 

Many patents for pensions sold What became of the 
disbanded religious Wills of some Winchester nuns 
Restoration of some monasteries in Mary's reign Last 
records of disbanded religious 435~459 



Popular prejudice against monastic bodies A subsequent growth 
The effect of the dissolution on the poor Associated 
labour and prayer the fundamental idea of conventual exist- 
ence Caricature drawn by novelists Various kinds of 
regulars What the great monastic houses did for the poor 
How the poor were robbed in their dissolution Consump- 
tion of the sources of charity Thrift of the old monastic 
owners Rack-renting by new lay owners Contemporary 
account of the state of the country Vagrant laws Effect of 
the dissolution on education Possibility of monasteries 
taking part in revival of letters Conclusion . , 460-477 







The Dawn of Difficulties 

No just appreciation of the great social and religious revo- 
lution of the sixteenth century is possible without some 
knowledge of the causes which produced it. " The history 
of the Reformation in England," writes Lord Macaulay, " is 
full of strange problems." ] That the nation, at the bidding 
of the sovereign and in furtherance of his whims, should 
acquiesce in the rejection of papal supremacy over the 
Church, should substitute the doctrine of the spiritual 
headship of the king, and should tolerate the national 
upheaval and disregard of the rights of property implied 
in the dissolution of monasteries and confiscation of their 
lands and goods, are " problems " to be solved only by an 
acquaintance with the events preceding and accompanying 

Circumstances combined to collect in the political and 
social atmosphere of England in the time of Henry VIII. 
elements fraught with dangerous and destructive power 
against the Church. In the first place, it would seem to be 
certain that the country had not fully recovered from that- 
terrible visitation, known as the "Black Death," which 
devastated Europe in the middle of the fourteenth century. 
Although a hundred and fifty years had elapsed before 

1 Essay on Lord Burleigh. 

2 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

Henry VIII. mounted the throne, so great had been the 
ravages of the scourge, and so unsettled had been the in- 
terval, that the nation was still suffering from the effects 
of the great sickness. 

To the Church the scourge of 1349 must have been 
especially disastrous. Apart from the poverty and distress 
occasioned by the unoccupied lands and the consequent 
diminution of tithes, the sudden removal of the great majo- 
rity of the clergy must have broken the continuity of the 
best traditions of ecclesiastical usage and teaching. The 
monastic houses also suffered, not only in the destruction 
of their chief source of income by the depreciated value of 
their lands and the want of cultivation consequent upon the 
impossibility of finding labourers in place of the tenants 
swept off by the pestilence, but more than all by reason of 
the great diminution of their numbers, which rendered the 
proper performance of their religious duties, and the diligent 
discharge of their obligations as regards monastic discipline, 
difficult, and often almost impossible. 

The long and bitter feud between the Houses of York 
and Lancaster must likewise be regarded as an important 
element in the chain of events which rendered possible the 
political and social changes of Henry's reign. The inse- 
curity and instability of well-nigh half a century, as well 
as the ferocity of that contest, must have stamped a peculiar 
character upon the men of the early Tudor period. 1 When 
Henry VIII. succeeded his father, every man of thirty must 
have had within his own personal recollection some know- 
ledge of the terrible war, whilst his parents must have lived 
through the whole of it. 

The obvious result of a knowledge of the danger and 
troubles of this long civil war, whether derived from personal 
experience or the relation of parents, was a willingness to 
hazard everything rather than recur to such a period of 
distress and bloodshed. Periods of revolution inspire pecu- 
liar prudence, and protracted war a determination at all costs 
to cling "to peace and pursue it." Hence the population 
generally throughout England in the days of Henry had 

1 Those who may wish to understand this more fully would do well to 
read an Essay by H. W. Wilberforce on " Events Preparatory to the English 
Reformation," in Essays on Religion and Literature. Second series. Long- 
mans, 1867. 

The Dawn of Difficulties 3 

been rendered by circumstances long-suffering, and ready to 
endure the dictates of his whims and desires rather than to 
imperil their peace by resistance. 

Another indirect and still more important effect of the 
conflict of the " Roses " upon the times of the Tudors was 
the destruction of the power of the nobility. The civil war 
completed the work begun by the pestilences of the four- 
teenth century, and finally broke the power of the great 
nobles. The " Black Death," by altering the conditions of 
land tenure, and thus depriving the territorial lords of their 
hold upon the service and lives of their retainers, gradu- 
ally sapped the strength of the ancient nobility, whilst the 
war swept away all the pride and flower of the great noble 
families. It was the deliberate policy of Warwick, the 
" King-maker," to cut off the chiefs of the opposite party, 
and thus to the aristocracy especially the war was fatal. 
"The indirect and silent operation of these conflicts," 
writes Mr. Brewer, "was much more remarkable. It reft 
into fragments the confederated ranks of a powerful terri- 
torial aristocracy, which had hitherto bid defiance to the 
king, however popular, however energetic." 1 

When Henry VIII. succeeded, although every sign of 
growing power was eagerly watched and speedily and 
effectually checked, there was little that the crown had to 
fear from the hitherto powerful nobility. Thus the position 
and authority of the Tudor monarchs was altogether diffe- 
rent from that of their predecessors, and the Royal Supre- 
macy passed from a theory into a fact. 2 

As a consequence, the stability which the traditions and 
prudent counsels of the ancient nobility gave to the ship of 
state was gone, when it was most needed to weather the 
rising storm of revolutionary ideas. The new peers, who 
were created in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to take 
the place of the old aristocracy, had no sympathy either by 
birth or inclination with the best traditions of the past. 
Nor was the age favourable to the production of high- 
minded and fearless counsellors so much as to the growth 
of men of quick and active talents. 

1 Calendar, i. preface Ixxv. References will be made to the Letters and 
Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII. , by Brewer and 
Gairdner, by this word only. 

2 Calendar, i. preface Ixxv. 

4 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

The Tudor policy of government created also the 
"official," who was by nature restless and discontented. 
Working for the most inadequate of salaries, such a man 
was ever on the look-out for some lucky chance of supple- 
menting his pay. Success and worldly prosperity depended 
on his being able to attract to himself the notice of his royal 
master. " It was his interest to compete for extraordinary 
grants in return for his work." l One with the other they 
strove who should best work their way into his favour by 
anticipating his wishes, satisfying his whims, and pandering 
to his desires, " their promotion being wholly dependent 
on his good- will." 

As a result of the inadequate salaries, the administration 
of the law appears, with honourable exceptions, to have 
been partial and corrupt. Complaints were frequent against 
the lawyers of the period. Suits were kept on from year to 
year unless money was forthcoming to induce the authorities 
to make an end of the litigation. It even passed into a 
proverb that "the law was ended as a man was friended," 
and contemporary writers declaim against the mischief which 
men suffered "from the facility with which an accusation 
could be lodged against an innocent person." 2 

The same contemporary authority speaks of the miserable 
state of those who were unfortunate enough to be thrown 
into prison. There, he says, they "are lodged like hogs 
and fed like dogs." Moreover they were allowed to lie in 
these wretched prison-houses for years without any trial, 
and if they had no money were left to starve. If they, or 
their friends, could afford to pay for their food, they were 
allowed in some prisons to "pay for themselves four times 
as much as at any best inn." By all means, says Brinklow, 
" if a man offend the law let him have the law," but " to 
imprison a man and starve him is murder." 3 

In the midst of the throes of a great social crisis much 
depended upon the Church. There can be little doubt that 
the clergy of the time were ill-fitted to cope with the forces 

1 P. Friedmann, Anne Boleyn, i. p. 27. 

2 Complaint of Roderyck Mors, E. Eng. Text Soc. ed., Introduction, p. 25. 
In Starkey's Dialogue between Card. Pole and Lupset the same charges are 
made, and the same proverb is made use of by Starkey in the " Dialogue," 
which was afterwards quoted by Henry Brinklow in the " Complaint." Both 
these authors were contemporaries of the events about which they write. 

8 Ibid., p. 27. 

The Dawn of Difficulties 5 

of revolution, to calm the restless spirit of the age, or resist 
the rising tide of novelties. Their very character was in 
itself out of joint with the times. In the days when might 
was right, and force of arms the ruling power of the world, 
the occupation of peace, to which the clergy were bound by 
their sacred calling, naturally roused hostile and violent 
opposition from the party rising into power. The bishops 
were, with some honourable exceptions, mere court officials 
pensioned out of ecclesiastical revenues. Holding their 
high offices by royal favour rather than on account of 
special aptitude to look after the spiritual welfare of their 
dioceses, they appear, perhaps not unnaturally, to have had 
little heart in their work. 

Too often, also, the bishop of an important see would 
be occupied in the management of the secular affairs of 
state. Perhaps, even, he was paid for these services by 
the emoluments of his ecclesiastical office. To the king all 
looked for hope of reward, and to royalty all clung as long 
as there remained any prospect of success. The Church 
had few favours to give except at the wish and by the 
hands of the king. "Even cardinal's hats were bestowed 
only on royal recommendation." 1 The episcopal see was, 
moreover, not infrequently looked upon as a property con- 
ferred for political services and out of which the most, in 
a temporal point of view, was to be made. 

The practice followed in more than one instance of 
rewarding foreigners by nominating them to vacant sees and 
benefices in return for services rendered, or as an induce- 
ment to help on some royal scheme, was also most obviously 
detrimental to the well-being of the Church. At one time 
the three bishoprics of Salisbury, Worcester, and Llandaff 
were all held in this way, by those whose only interest in 
the dioceses appears to have been the fees they obtained 
out of them. The bishop of Worcester lived and died in 
Rome, and his predecessor and successor in the see were 
also foreigners. 

No less detrimental to the well-being of the Church in 
England at this time was the crying abuse and scandal of 
pluralities. Some priests were proved to have as many as 
ten or twelve benefices, and very possibly resident on none, 

1 Friedmann, i. p. 137. 

6 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

while there were " plenty of learned men in the univer- 
sities " l for whom no preferment could be found. Cardinal 
Wolsey himself set the example. He held not only a 
plurality of livings, but was bishop of more than one see, 
whilst he farmed others. He also obtained the abbey of 
St. Albans in commendflm. Although the Parliament of 
1529 especially legislated against this abuse, the exceptions 
were so numerous as to make the Act ridiculous and nuga- 
tory. At this time also benefices were bestowed upon youths 
of good family, who had sufficient influence to secure these 
preferments. Thus, for example, Reginald Pole, the future 
cardinal, when only seventeen was nominated to the pre- 
bendal stall of Roscombe, and two years later to Gatcombe 
Secunda, both in the Salisbury diocese. At eighteen he 
received the deanery of Wimborne Minster. 2 

The non-residence of bishops in their dioceses was a 
fruitful source of evil. The episcopal functions were very 
generally relegated to suffragans, who, instead of being 
assistants, became practically substitutes for their principals 
in all the spiritual work of a diocese. Not unfrequently 
these suffragans were bishops of Irish sees, who resided in 
England to the neglect of their own cure, and undertook 
the supervision of more than one diocese. Upon such 
auxiliaries rectories or other ecclesiastical preferments were 
bestowed in lieu of payment for their services, and these 
in turn were left to the care of ill-paid curates. 

The occupation of the bishops in affairs of state, besides 
its disastrous effect on the clergy, had another result. By 
it a jealous opposition to ecclesiastics was created in the 
minds of the new nobility. The lay lords and hungry 
officials not unnaturally looked with dislike upon this em- 
ployment of ecclesiastics in secular concerns. The occupa- 
tion of clerics in all the intrigues of party politics, and in 
the wiles of foreign and domestic diplomacy, conduced to 
keep them out of coveted preferment. Hence when occa- 
sion offered they did not need much inducement to turn 
against the clergy and enable Henry to carry out his coer- 
cive legislation against the Church. 

This state of affairs was doubtlessly reflected in the mon- 

1 Complaints against Clergv in Par!., 1529, No. 6. 

2 Calendar, ii. No. 3943. Starkey ? s Dialogue behveen Pole and Lufset, 
E. Eng. Text Soc., Preface cxiii. 21 Hen. VIIL, c. 13. 

The Dawn of Difficulties 7 

astic orders of England. The events of the previous century 
and a half must necessarily have done much to lower the 
tone of the religious houses and rob them of their primitive 
fervour. Before they could recover from the effects of the 
great plagues of the fourteenth century the civil disturbances 
of the fifteenth century intensified the evils from which they 
were suffering, and became to them " specially disastrous." * 

The financial state of the monasteries at the commence- 
ment of the sixteenth century was undoubtedly deplorable. 
Although many of them were possessed of considerable 
estates, which in itself was regarded as a matter of reproach, 
they were yet suffering from acute poverty. Denuded of 
their tenants, the monastic lands became neglected and 
unproductive. " Debt with no chance of redemption weighed 
heavily upon all." 2 Claims, however, upon their charity, 
and the exactions of royal and other founders, increased 
rather than diminished, till the burden was more than the 
crippled resources of the religious could bear. The State 
papers of Henry VII I. 's reign contain abundant proof of 
the increasing demands made by king and courtier upon 
monastery and convent. Farm after farm, manor after 
manor, benefice after benefice, office after office were yielded 
up, in compliance with requests that were in reality com- 
mands. Pensions in ever-increasing numbers were charged 
on monastic lands at the asking of those it was impossible 
to refuse. " In some cases," writes Mr. Brewer, " the abbots 
were bound to give endowments to scholars of the king's 
nomination 8 or provide them with competent benefices; 
pensions and corrodies were granted under the privy seal 
to yeomen ushers of the wardrobe and the chamber, to 
clerks of the kitchen sewers, secretaries and gentlemen of 
the chapel royal;* and these were strictly enforced, what- 
ever might be the other encumbrances of the house." 6 

The royal munificence was liberally exercised in grants 
of pensions and perquisites when others had to satisfy the 

1 Brewer, Henry VIII., i. p. 50. 

4 Ibid., p. 50. 

3 Calendar, i. 1235, 1360. Mr. Brewer adds : "One of the most interest- 
ing of these cases is that of a pension paid by the Prior of St. Frideswide's, 
Oxford, to Reginald Pole, then a student at the University of Oxford, after- 
wards cardinal." Note, p. 50. 

* Calendar, i. 49, 60, 106, 615, 920, &c. 

6 Brewer, Henry VIII., i. p. 50. 

8 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

recipients of the royal generosity. By established custom 
every bishop, every superior of a religious house, on entering 
upon the emoluments of his see was bound, " ratione nova 
creationis" to allow a fitting pension to any clerk recom- 
mended by the crown until such time as he had provided 
a suitable benefice for him. So, in the same way, founders 
and their descendants claimed and exercised the right of 
billeting poor relations or needy dependents for maintenance, 
and often for lodging, on the religious houses of which they 
were patrons. 

In their endeavour to meet the demands upon their 
revenue, the abbots and superiors of the religious houses 
endeavoured to accommodate their farming arrangements to 
the requirements of the time. Like the nobles and other 
landowners, they tried to turn their estates to the most pro- 
fitable account by forming large enclosures, and devoting 
land hitherto cultivated to the pasture of sheep. This was 
regarded with great disfavour by the people, who were no 
longer required in the same numbers as before to make 
the monastic estates profitable to their owners. In the 
parliament of 1529 this, and the fact that the religious kept 
"tan houses and sold wool and cloth," &c., were causes 
of complaint against them by the Commons. 

It is difficult for the popular mind to resist the influence 
of attractive pictures presented to it. The advantages to 
be derived from a redistribution of the worldly wealth of 
the Church, and in particular of the religious bodies in 
England, were constantly insisted upon. And the poison 
instilled into the people by scurrilous tales and descriptions 
of clerical and monastic life, circulated by their authors for 
the purpose of bringing discredit upon the Church, was 
no doubt insidious. These generally were not indigenous, 
but imported, venerable stories, Eastern in their origin and 
adapted from Mahometan life to suit the Christian charac- 
ter ; but even they could not deprive the religious bodies of 
popular respect. 

The most celebrated and perhaps most dangerous attack 
against the religious orders made in the early sixteenth 
century was in the " Supplication of Beggars," written by 
one Simon Fish. It was answered by Sir Thomas More, 
step by step, in his " Supplication of Poor Souls ; " but, 
like all such stories, the answer probably reached only a 

The Dawn of Difficulties 9 

few of those who had accepted the wild statements of Fish's 
fables. Although aimed chiefly against the mendicant friars, 
the " Supplication of Beggars " involved in one sweeping 
condemnation the whole of the spirituality, described as 
"bishops, abbots, priors, deacons, archdeacons, suffragans, 
priests, monks, canons, friars, pardoners, and summoners." 

Still, even these and similar falsehoods, although appeal- 
ing to the cupidity of the people, do not seem to have alien- 
ated from the monks the affections of the general population. 
The insurrections in their favour furnish some indication 
of the opinion of the people, in spite of all that had been 
said and written. Henry Brinklow, a mendicant friar who 
had thrown off his frock, and was therefore on two accounts 
little likely to favour the monasteries, bears testimony to 
the way in which they discharged their duties to the people. 
" And when they," he writes, " had gifts of any (churches) 
not impropriated, they gave them unto their friends, of 
which always some were learned ; for the monks found of 
their friends children at school. And though they were not 
learned, yet they kept hospitality, and helped their poor 
friends. And if the parsonages were impropriated, the 
monks were bound to deal alms to the poor, and to keep 
hospitality, as the writings of the gifts of such parsonages 
and lands do plainly declare, in these words : ' in puram 
eleemosinam' And as touching the alms that they dealt, 
and the hospitality that they kept, every man knoweth that 
many thousands were well relieved of them, and might have 
been better if they had not had so many great men's horses 
to feed, and had not been overcharged with such idle gentle- 
men x as were never out of the abbeys. And if they had 
any vicarage in their hands, they set in sometimes some 
sufficient vicar (though it were but seldom) to preach and to 
teach." 2 He goes on to say that the land was given to the 
monastic houses for education, hospitality, and to give alms 
to the poor, and that they were pulled down on the "pre- 
tence " of amending what was amiss. " But see," he con- 

1 A curious illustration of this may be seen in a letter from the son of the 
Duke of Buckingham to Henry VIII. It is evidence of the services rendered 
by the monasteries to honourable families in reduced circumstances. "And 
because," the writer says, " he hath no dwelling-place meet for him to inhabit, 
(he was) fain to live poorly at board in an Abbey this four years day, with his 
wife and seven children." 

2 Complaint of Roderyck Mors, E. Eng. Text. Soc. ed., p. 33. 

io Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

tinues, " how much that was amiss is amended, for all the 
godly pretence. It is amended, even as the devil amended 
his dame's leg (as it is in the proverb) : when he should 
have set it right he broke it quite in pieces. The monks 
gave too little alms, but now, where 20 was given yearly 
to the poor in more than a hundred places in England, is 
not one meal's meat given. This is fair amendment." 

It will be necessary to examine more particularly the 
general state of moral discipline to be found within the 
monasteries of England at the beginning of the sixteenth 
century in considering the charges brought against them by 
those who thus sought to justify their dissolution. It may 
be here stated, however, that the most authentic evidence 
upon the subject is to be found in the episcopal registers of 
the various dioceses. These contain records, more or less 
minute, of the visitations made by the bishops to the 
monasteries within the limits of their special jurisdiction. 
Their injunctions and other acts prove the care with which 
the duty of supervision was exercised. Many monasteries, 
and even orders, were, of course, altogether exempted from 
episcopal control ; but such exemptions were by no means 
as common as is generally stated. There is no reason 
whatever to suppose that the condition of the exempt reli- 
gious was in any way worse than the rest. On the contrary, 
they were, as a rule, the larger monastic houses x which 
enjoyed the privilege, and in these, as the preamble of the 
Act of Parliament which suppressed the lesser houses ex- 
pressly declares, "thanks be to God religion is right well 
kept." It is not too much, therefore, to regard the evidence 
furnished in the pages of these episcopal registers as giving 
a faithful picture of the state of the religious houses. 

It would be affectation to suggest that the vast regular 
body in England was altogether free from grosser faults and 
immoralities. But it is unjust to regard them as existing to 
any but a very limited extent. Human nature in all ages of 
the world is the same. The religious habit, though a safe- 

1 This will hold good of Cistercians and Cluniacs, with some others. But 
in regard to the Benedictines, who held nearly all the monasteries of the first 
rank, absolute exemption in practice must not be too easily assumed. To 
say nothing of the wealthy cathedral priories, such monasteries as Glastonbury, 
in the south, and St. Mary's, York, in the north, seem from the bishops' 
registers to have been subject to little less than ordinary episcopal visitation. 
These are cited as instances only. 

The Dawn of Difficulties 1 1 

guard, gives no absolute immunity from the taint of fallen 
nature. The religious of the sixteenth century had passed 
through many difficulties dangerous to their spiritual no less 
than to their temporal welfare. Yet, while their moral tone 
had probably been lowered by the influence of the spirit 
of the times, the graver falls were certainly confined to 
individual cases. Anything like general immorality was 
altogether unknown among the religious of England. This 
much is clearly proved by the testimony of the acts of 
episcopal visitations, as well as by the absence of any such 
sweeping charge till it became necessary for Henry and his 
agents to blast the fair name of the monastic houses in order 
the more easily to gain possession of their property. 

The reports of Crumwell's visitors no doubt represented 
the religious houses as being in the worst possible state 
of moral degradation. Subsequent authors have improved 
upon the picture, and have drawn to a great extent upon 
their imagination. It is to be hoped that a better knowledge 
of the methods employed by Henry's agents to blacken the 
character of those they were about to despoil may lead to 
a truer appreciation of the value to be attached to their 


Cardinal Wolsey and the Monasteries 

ENGLAND, during some fourteen years of the reign of 
Henry VIII., was ruled by the counsels of Wolsey. On 
the king's accession, in 1509, the future lord cardinal of 
York had already made his way to the dignity of dean of 
Lincoln. Six years later pope Leo X. yielded to the earnest 
demands of the English king and the polite but persistent 
pressure of Wolsey's agents in Rome, and created him 
cardinal. He had already become archbishop of York, 
and had gained an ever-increasing influence over the mind 
of his royal master. On December 24, 1515, one year later, 
he took the oaths of office as chancellor of England, in 
succession to the saintly and venerable Warham. He then 
appeared to have reached the summit of a subject's lawful 

As the highest judicial officer of the realm the " keeper 
of the king's conscience " Wolsey's power in matters tem- 
poral was then practically unlimited. 

" He is in very great repute," writes a foreign ambas- 
sador in England, " seven times more so than if he were 
pope. He is the person who rules both the king and the 
entire kingdom. On my (the ambassador's) first arrival 
in England he used to say, ' His Majesty will do so and so.' 
Subsequently, by degrees, he went on forgetting himself, and 
commenced saying, ' We shall do so and so.' At present he 
has reached such a pitch that he says, * /shall do so and so.' " 

In addition to this almost regal authority in temporal 
matters, the cardinal desired great and exceptional powers 
in ecclesiastical concerns. For a while his appointment to 
a place in the august College of Cardinals seemed doubtful. 
He consequently directed the English agent in Rome to 
hint that the pope's hesitation was damaging to papal 
influence over Henry, and that refusal would be really dan- 

Cardinal Wolsey and the Monasteries 1 3 

gerous. " If the king forsakes the pope," he added, " he 
will be in greater danger on this day two years than 
ever was Pope Julius." l A few days later he again wrote 
to Silvester de Gigliis, the bishop of Worcester and the 
king's ambassador to the pope. In this despatch he enclosed 
a communication, which was not to be handed to the pope 
till his nomination as cardinal was secure. The note thus 
sent made a further demand on the Holy See; it was that 
the Holy Father should appoint him legate as well as 
create him cardinal. Should this demand be refused, the 
agent's instructions were to press for special faculties em- 
powering Wolsey to visit all monasteries in England ; powers 
which were to apply even to such as were by law exempt 
from all except papal authority. If this last request were 
skilfully put, Wolsey considered that the pope could not 
refuse it No pope, he added, ever had a better friend than 
Henry "if he comply with his desires." The letter con- 
cluded by saying that the cardinal was sending his agent 
IO,OOO ducats propter liberalia, and with promises of great 
generosity to whomsoever brought him the cardinal's hat. 2 
Leo X., however, was not to be coerced. He refused either 
to appoint the newly-created cardinal his legate in England, 
or to bestow upon him the extensive spiritual jurisdiction 
he desired. 8 

Two years later, in March 1518, the subject of the 
coveted legateship was revived. The king's secretary, 
Pace, informed Wolsey that his master had received a 
communication from the pope. To ask aid against the 
Turk four legates had been appointed to the European 
powers, and Cardinal Campeggio was accredited for that 
purpose to England. To this communication no reply was 
given for a long time. The English agent wrote to say that 
the pope was annoyed and astonished, and asked him " ten 
times a day " when he might expect an answer to his letters. 
At length Wolsey, after consultation with Henry, wrote to 
de Gigliis in an imperious tone. It was not customary in 
England, he said, to admit any foreign cardinal to exercise 
legatine powers in the country ; still the king was willing, 
under two conditions, to receive Campeggio as papal envoy. 
Of these two conditions the first was that all the ordinary 

1 Calendar, ii. No. 763. 2 Ibid., No. 780, Aug. i. 

3 Ibid., Nos. 967-8. 

14 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

faculties exercised by papal legates de jure should, in this 
case, be suspended, and that Campeggio should be confined 
to the special purpose for which he had been appointed. 
The second condition, coming from Wolsey himself, is 
even more astonishing. It was simply that the pope should 
associate him with Campeggio in the business and should 
bestow upon him equal legatine faculties. The despatch 
then proceeded to state that unless these conditions were 
complied with " the king will in no wise allow Campeggio 
to enter England." l 

Leo X. surrendered to the undisguised threats of Henry 
and Wolsey. On May 17, 1518, the latter was nominated 
legate with Campeggio, who had been previously appointed. 
In a very short time Wolsey contrived to assume the first 
place, leaving the subordinate one to the Italian cardinal. 2 
The latter arrived in England only after many delays pur- 
posely interposed by the king and his minister. He was 
at once made to feel his dependent position, for Henry and 
the English cardinal kept the real business in their own 
hands, and did not conceal their desire to get rid of the 
unwelcome foreign visitor. 

Wolsey's diplomacy or threats, probably both, scored 
another triumph. He obtained not only the office of legate, 
but also the exceptional powers of visitation which had 
been previously asked for and refused. On August 27, 
1518, Silvester de Gigliis wrote from Rome that he had 
been industrious in obtaining from the pope the deprivation 
of Cardinal Hadrian de Castello from the see of Bath and 
Wells, and had secured the custody of the diocese for his 
master. In fact, at the agent's suggestion, until this was 
secured, Campeggio had not been allowed to cross into 
England. The deprivation appears to have been obtained 
on account of the pope's desire for the success of his legate's 
mission. De Gigliis also informed Wolsey that he had 
secured for him a bull for the visitation of monasteries in 
the same tenor " as that obtained by the bishop of Luxem- 
burg for France." He added that he had often been struck 
with the necessity of reforming the monasteries, and espe- 
cially the convents of women ; but he thought that the cardinal 
" would find those of his own diocese (Worcester) complain." s 

1 Calendar^ ii. No. 4073. * Ibid., No. 4179. 8 Ibid., No. 4399. 

Cardinal Wolsey and the Monasteries 1 5 

Never before in England, or probably in Christendom, 
had similar powers been vested in any single individual. 
The high office of chancellor and the dominant influence 
Wolsey possessed over his royal master gave him the control 
of all secular authority. His legatine faculties, increased by 
the additional powers of visitation he had extorted from the 
pope, made him no less supreme in matters ecclesiastical. 
In the hand of one man were grasped the two swords of 
Church and State. One mind directed the policy of secular 
and ecclesiastical administration in England. Had that man 
been a saint, the danger of such a combination would have 
been considerable, but when he was a worldly and ambi- 
tious man like Wolsey, it was fatal. 

No sooner had Wolsey obtained the powers of visitation 
so long sought than he proceeded to put them in force. On 
March 19, 1519, he issued statuta to be observed by the 
order of Canons Regular of St. Augustin, which were to 
remain in force till the feast of Holy Trinity, I52I. 1 The 
ordinances thus enacted are valuable evidence as to the 
state of the great Augustinian order at that time in Eng- 
land. They point to a severity of discipline and a morti- 
fied mode of life altogether incompatible with that general 
laxity since attributed to them in common with the other 
great bodies of regular clergy. The mere enactments of 
the primary principles of the monastic life or declarations of 
the unlawfulness of certain evil customs must never be con- 
sidered in such injunctions as proof of the existence of evil. 
As well might the vigorous denunciations of sin from the 
pulpit, or the constant reassertion of the Ten Commandments, 
be held as evidence that God's law was uniformly violated 
by those to whom such words are addressed. The tendency 
of human nature is ever to fall away from any standard of 
excellence. Hence the necessity of unwearied iteration in 
setting out the ideal to be aimed at, and this is sufficient to 
explain why constitutions and statutes of religious orders 
inveigh against abuses. 

It is impossible not to approve the spirit which dictated 
constitutions such as these. And it would have been well 
had Wolsey continued in the same way the work he thus 
begun, and by watchful care endeavoured to recall the reli- 

1 Wilkins, Concilia, iii. p. 613. 

1 6 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

gious orders to greater fervour. Unfortunately his ambitious 
schemes soon involved him in a conflict with them. Those 
who might tolerate criticism, and even welcome wholesome 
correction, could hardly be expected to look with approval, 
or even indifference, on total extinction. 

At the close of 1523 the cardinal had determined to 
rival other great churchmen as a founder of an Oxford 
college. The example of Waynfleet and Wykeham, and 
the more recent establishment at Cambridge, through the 
exertions of the venerable Bishop Fisher, impelled him to 
add the glory of " founder " to the titles he already possessed. 
At this time he was engaged on the erection of magnificent 
palaces, and he had as much difficulty in supplying funds for 
these ambitious undertakings as in keeping his master, the 
king, from constant beggary. 

To the other emoluments, ecclesiastical and lay, which 
Wolsey possessed, and in addition to the pensions he re- 
ceived from foreign countries in 1521, he added the revenues 
of the abbatial office of St. Albans. He was away from 
England when Abbot Ramridge died in November. On 
the 1 2th of that month the monks appeared before the king 
at Windsor to request permission to proceed to the election 
of a successor. Henry made them a speech, about which, 
on account of " its princely and godly motion," Secretary 
Pace wrote to Wolsey the following day. Whilst actually 
engaged on this letter a communication was brought to him 
from the cardinal "touching the monastery of St. Albans." 
"And after I had perused," writes Pace, "and diligently 
debated with myself the contents of the same, I went straight 
to the king's grace, with your grace's letters, to him directed, 
in the same matter. And I found him ready to go out a 
shooting ; and yet, that notwithstanding, his grace happily 
commanded me to go down with him by his secret way into 
the park ; whereby I had as good commodity as I could 
desire to advance your grace's petition as much as the case 
required. And the king read your grace's letters himself, 
and made me privy to the contents of the same. And the 
few words his Highness spoke to me in this cause were 
these : ' By God ! my lord cardinal hath sustained many 
charges in this his voyage and expended ^IO,OOO,' which I 
did affirm and show his grace of good congruence, he oweth 
you some recompence. Whereunto his grace answered 

Cardinal Wolsey and the Monasteries 17 

' that he would rather give unto your grace the abbey of 
St. Albans than to any monk.' " l Thus at the cardinal's 
petition the revenues of the premier abbey were given in 
reward for secular services. 

At the commencement of the year 1524, Clerk, the cardi- 
nal's agent in Rome, wrote that he was "almost at a point 
with the pope about Wolsey's matters." Clement VII. was 
"contented to confirm the legateship," he said, "with all 
faculties for life, which was never heard before." Further, 
that "the ordering of Frideswide's in Oxford was also at 
Wolsey's pleasure." 2 

Later on the agents report further attempts to obtain 
extended powers from Clement VII. The pope appeared 
willing, but said, " what a business other men made " about 
it. They conclude their communication by a significant 
hint to their master. It would be well, they think, for him 
to secure a pension out of the revenues of the bishopric of 
Worcester for one of the pope's officers who has been " good 
to him." 8 By this time, however, Wolsey had obtained the 
bull which enabled him to dissolve the monastery of St. 
Frideswide's at Oxford and apply its property to the founda- 
tion of his college.* The document had been sent off from 
Rome by the end of April. It had been procured at the 
earnest request of the cardinal's agents, yet they made it 
appear to be the result of Clement's own desire. It was not 
exactly such a faculty as they had wished to obtain. Still, 
it contained, as they said, "the clause motus proprii" and 
they trusted that it might be made more advantageous. In 
fact, Clerk altered the document in this sense without asking 
the pope ; but at the last moment he found that the enlarged 
faculties would not be granted. The agent again concluded 
his communication by saying that Ghiberto, one of the pope's 
officials, "openly will not be known," but he has done his 
best, and he thinks that he is waiting to see whether he 
gets the pension from the See of Worcester. This Clerk 
advises Wolsey not to refuse, " as he may be useful." 

For the next few months great pressure was put upon 
the Holy Father to grant permission for further suppressions 
in order to help out the cardinal's design at Oxford. The 

1 Calendar, iii. No. 1759. 

2 Ibid., iv. No. 15, Jan. 9, 1524. * Ibid. t No. 252. 

4 The king's " inspeximus" is dated May IO, and the bull April 3, 1524. 


1 8 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

pope appeared favourable, but Cardinal Sanctorum Quatuor 
was " untreatable." He apparently influenced Clement VII. 
against the scheme. In August 1524, Clerk wrote that the 
Holy Father made hardly any objection to his demands for 
Wolsey, " except the extinction of the monasteries and the 
collectorship." l They had been told in Rome (as the bull 
subsequently obtained asserts) that the need for increased 
facilities of study in England was at this time most pressing, 
and that the Oxford university "seemed likely to come to 
an end by reason of its slender revenues." 2 Further, that 
the position of St. Frideswide's in the city of Oxford was 
admirably adapted for the purpose of a college, and that, 
owing to the objection of the English people to allowing 
land to be held for such purposes, it was impossible to 
buy or procure it. Lastly, they were told that there were 
many religious houses in England where the numbers had 
diminished to five or six, and where, on this account, the 
divine service could not be fittingly carried out. 

Urged by these motives, the pope at first granted the 
cardinal of York the amplified faculties for visitation so 
long and diligently sought. Subsequently he consented to 
another bull for increasing the revenues of the Oxford 
college by further suppressions. He warned Wolsey's 
agent, however, "for God's sake to use mercy with those 
friars," as to the matter of visitation, adding, according to 
Clerk (what sounds much more like the agent's sentiment 
than the pope's) "that they were desperate beasts, past 
shame, that can lose nothing by clamour." 3 The bull 
allowing Wolsey to suppress monasteries to the value of 
3000 ducats a year for the purpose of adding to the funds 
of his college, left Rome on September 12, 1524.* It pro- 
vided that the king and the various founders should give 
their sanction, and that the religious persons should go to 
other monasteries. 6 

Power having been thus obtained from Rome, the 
cardinal commenced early in the following year, 1525, to 
possess himself of the revenues of various monasteries 

1 Calendar, Nos. 511, 568. 

2 Rymer, Fadera, xiv. p. 23 : " Et quod Universitas studii generalis 
Oxoniensis ob pemtriam rtddituum propemodum extinctum iri videbatur. " 

8 Calendar, iv. No. 610. The bull granting the additional faculties of 
visitation is in Rymer, xiv. p. 18. 

* Calendar, iv. No. 652. 5 Rymer, xiv. p. 23. 

Cardinal Wolsey and the Monasteries 19 

besides those of St. Frideswide's in Oxford. The papal 
bull was ratified by the king on March I5th, and several 
parish churches, formerly belonging to the suppressed reli- 
gious houses, were appropriated by letters patent to the new 
foundation. 1 But both the time and the agents Wolsey 
employed to effect the dissolutions conduced to render the 
matter most unpopular. Just at this period Henry was en- 
deavouring to raise a large loan from his people "against 
the time the king should pass the sea." The amount asked 
was no less than " the sixth part of every man's substance," 
and that it "should without delay be paid in money or 
plate to the king for the furniture of his war." 2 Wareham 
warned Wolsey in the spring of the year how unpopular 
this " amicable grant " was in Kent. 8 The work of suppres- 
sion was undoubtedly disliked by both clergy and laity. 

In the July of 1525 the archbishop again wrote to the 
cardinal about the difficulties his policy was creating in the 
southern parts of England. The inhabitants of Tunbridge 
strongly objected to the dissolution of a monastery of Austin 
canons from which they had derived many advantages. 
Warham was commissioned to go there and endeavour to 
persuade them that it was much better to have "forty 
children of that country educated and after sent to Oxford " 
than to have six or seven canons living amongst them ; but 
the people did not think so. After discussing the matter for 
five or six days they again met Warham, and gave him a list 
of those who desired the continuance of their ancient priory. 
The inhabitants of the neighbourhood no less than of the 
town " would rather have the said place not suppressed," 
wrote the archbishop, "if it might stand with the king's 
pleasure." The murmurs about the matter were very diffi- 
cult to repress, and this he told Wolsey, who had a " suspi- 
cion that the bruit " was against himself. 4 

1 Rot. Pat. 18 Hen. VIII. p. i, mm. 21, 22. 

2 Hall, Union of the Families of Lancastre and Yorke, ed. 1548, fol, I38d. 
8 Ellis, Original Letters, 1st Series, iii. p. 367. 

4 Calendar, iii. 1470-1. Warham to Wolsey, July 2nd and 3rd, 1525. 
Hall, ut sup., fol. 137, gives the following account of these suppressions: 
The cardinal " suddenly entered by his commissioners into the said houses, 
and put out the religious and took all their goods, moveables, and scarcely 
gave to the poor wretches anything except it were to the heads of the house. 
And then he caused the escheator to sit and find the houses void, as relin- 
quished, and found the king founder where other men were founders, and with 
these lands withall he endowed his colleges." 

20 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

In the neighbouring county of Sussex the agitation 
against Wolsey's dissolution of monasteries was more serious 
and led to a riot. Beigham Abbey, "the which was very 
commodious to the country," l was a monastery of Pre- 
monstratensians, and Wolsey had commissioned the bishop 
of Chichester to visit and inquire into certain alleged 
scandals there. 2 The religious, however, evidently main- 
tained a hold on the affections of their neighbours, and on 
the cardinal's proceeding to dissolve the house, under the 
powers of Pope Clement's bull, the people assembled in 
"a riotous company, disguised and unknown, with painted 
faces " and masked. They turned out the agents engaged 
on the suppression and reinstated the canons. Before 
separating they begged the religious, if they were again 
molested, to ring their bell, and they pledged themselves to 
come in force to their assistance. 8 

Rumour, apparently, attributed to the cardinal even 
larger schemes of confiscation than were at the time con- 
templated. No sooner was the bull of Clement VII. put 
into force than petitions against the exercise of Wolsey's 
legatine powers were presented to the pope, especially by 
the Grey Friars and the Franciscan Observants. The latter 
were very powerful in Rome, and, as the cardinal's agent 
wrote, the pope may perhaps " give them some brief," but 
not one derogatory to Wolsey's honour. 4 The cardinal of 
York himself had also representations made to him against the 
work in which he was engaged. The Duke of Suffolk, for 
example, wrote to him in favour of the priory of Conished, 
in Lancashire, which by common report had been doomed 
to extinction. The monastery, he said, was " a great help 
to the people," and " the prior of good and virtuous dis- 
position." 6 

Complaints were also carried to the king of the harsh 
and unjust way in which Wolsey's agents, Dr. Allen and 
Thomas Crumwell, were conducting the suppressions and 
the visitations of the religious houses upon which they 
were then engaged. Early in 1525 the cardinal had been 
informed by Sir Thomas More that complaints had been 
made to Henry, " touching certain misorders supposed to 

1 Hall, ut sup., fol. 143. 2 Calendar, iii. 1252. 

3 Hall, ut sup. ; Ellis, Orig. Lett., 2nd Ser., iii. p. 57. 

4 Calendar, iii. No. 1521. 5 Ibid., No. 1253. 

Cardinal Wolsey and the Monasteries 2 1 

be used by Dr. Allen and other my officers in the suppres- 
sion of certain exile and small monasteries wherein neither 
God is served nor religion kept. These, with your gracious 
aid and assistance, converting the same to a far better use, 
I purpose," writes Wolsey to the king, " to annex unto your 
intended college of Oxford." He further assures Henry 
that he can disprove any such reports, saying, " I have not 
meant, intended, or gone about, nor also have willed mine 
officers to do anything concerning the said suppressions, 
but under such form and manner as is, and hath largely 
been, to the full satisfaction, recompense, and joyous con- 
tentation of any person, which hath had, or could pretend to 
have, right or interest in the same." 1 

Whatever may have been Wolsey 's belief, at the time, 
m the integrity of his agents, there is little doubt that the 
reports about them were well founded. Subsequently, 
indeed, the cardinal practically admitted the truth of the 
charges suggested against those he employed in dealing 
with the religious. Fiddes in the " Life of Wolsey " says : 
"The revenues of the cardinal, from the privileges of his 
visitatorial power, of making abbots, of proving wills, grant- 
ing faculties, licenses, and dispensations from his pensions 
and preferments, and other visible advantages, were thought 
by this time to be equal to the revenues of the crown. But 
in the methods of enriching him under the first article no 
one contributed so much as his chaplain, John Allen, LL.D., 
who, accompanied with a great train, and riding in a kind 
of perpetual progress from one religious house to another, 
is said to have drawn very large sums for his master's 
service from them." 2 

This Dr. Allen was, apparently, the object of great dread 
and intense dislike. He was an astute, hard man, and, like 
his fellow, Crumwell, had evidently been trained up in 
business habits to the detriment of his humanity or even 
honesty. He was afterwards made archbishop of Dublin, 
"where his imperiousness and rapacity brought him to a 
violent end." 3 

The courtesy and consideration which the monks were 
likely to receive at the hands of Crumwell may be best 

* State Papers, i. p. 154. 

2 Fiddes, Life of Wolsey, p. 351 ; Hall, ut sup., fol. 143. 

3 Brewer, Henry VI II., vol. ii. p. 270, 

22 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

understood by his subsequent dealings with them. "Of 
Crumwell," writes Mr. Brewer, "it is enough to say that 
even at this early period of his career his accessibility to 
bribes and presents in the disposal of monastic leases was 
notorious." 1 For some years before the cardinal's fall, 
report had spoken badly of Thomas Crumwell. "Loud 
outcries reached the king's ears of the exactions and pecula- 
tions of Wolsey's officers, in which the name of Crumwell 
was most frequently repeated, and more than once the king 
had to express his grave displeasure at the conduct of a 
man who soon after was destined to occupy the highest 
place in his favour." 2 

"In 1527, when Wolsey was at Amiens and proposed 
to send Dr. Allen to England with a message to the king, 
Knight, who was afterwards bishop of Bath and Wells, 
wrote to warn the cardinal against his selection. "And, 
sir," he said, "in case Mr. Allen be not departed hither- 
wards on your message, or may be in time revoked, your 
grace might use better any about you for your message 
unto the king than him. I have heard the king and noble- 
men speak things incredible of the acts of Mr. Allen and 
Crumwell." 8 

In subsequent times the superiors of religious houses 
endeavoured to buy off the threatened dissolution by 
presents and bribes or by readily acceding to requests 
which were tantamount to demands. Under Wolsey they 
tried to purchase favour by offers of gifts to the cardinal's 
college. The bishop of Lincoln, who greatly aided this 
foundation in more ways than one, put great pressure on 
the abbot of Peterborough to resign, or to bestow the large 
sum of 2000 marks on the undertaking. He tried much 
the same system of blackmail on the prior of Spalding. 
The prior, however, would not resign, "though all legal 
means were tried." 4 There are also many indications of 
distinct bribes offered for various offices. One man promises 
500 marks and other considerable presents to the college, if 
the cardinal will make him under-treasurer. 6 When the 
prior of St. Bartholomew's, Smithfield, was sick of the 
plague and likely to die, the friends of "William Finch, 
cellarer of the same," offer Wolsey " ^300 to your college 

1 Brewer, ut supra. 2 Ibid., p. 394. * State Papers, i. p. 261. 

4 Calendar, iv. Nos. 2378, 4708. 5 Ibid., No. 4452, also 4483. 

Cardinal Wolsey and the Monasteries 23 

at Oxford for your favour towards his preferment." 1 
Lastly, to allow him to illegally imprison some one who has 
offended him, Henry, earl of Northumberland, offers to give 
the cardinal " the chapel books of his late father," which he 
has been asked to bestow on the college. To induce him 
to make the bargain, the earl says he will let him have four 
antiphonals and graduals, " such as were not seen a great 
while," 200 in money, and a benefice of 100 for his 
college. 2 

At length, on the eve of the lord cardinal's fall, the king 
writes strongly as to the methods employed by Wolsey's 
agents and his own condemnation of them. The letters 
were called forth by a difference between Henry and his 
minister as to the appointment of an abbess to Wilton. 
The king had determined to favour the election, or what 
might be more truly called the appointment, of Dame Elinor 
Carey. She was supported by powerful friends, amongst 
whom was reckoned Anne Boleyn herself. The cardinal, 
probably with quite sufficient reason, and in distinct opposi- 
tion to the royal wishes, approved of the choice of the for- 
mer prioress, Dame Isabell Jordayn. Wolsey wrote to offer 
humble apologies on being informed of Henry's displeasure, 
and, in accepting the explanation, the king wrote : " As 
touching the help of religious houses to the building of your 
colleges, I would it were more, so it were lawfully ; for my 
intent is none but that it should appear so to all the world, 
and the occasion of all their mumbling might be secluded 
and put away. For surely there is great murmuring of it 
throughout all the realm, both good and bad. They say 
not that all that is ill-gotten is bestowed on the college, but 
that the college is the cloak for covering all mischiefs. 
This grieveth me, I assure you, to hear it spoken of him 
whom I so entirely love. Wherefore methought I could do 
no less than thus friendly to admonish you. One thing 
more I perceive by your letter, which a little, methinks, 
toucheth conscience, and that is that you have received 
money of the exempts for having their old visitors. Surely 
this can hardly be with good conscience. For if they were 
good, why should you take money ? and if they were ill, it 
were a sinful act. Howbeit, your legateship herein might 

1 Calendar, No. 3334. z Ibid., No. 4603. 

24 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

peradventure apud homines be a cloak, but not apud 
Deum? * 

In his reply the cardinal thanks his master "for the 
great zeal that (he) had for the purity and cleanness of my 
poor conscience, coveting and desiring that nothing should 
be by me committed or done, by the colour of my intended 
college or otherwise, that should not stand with God's 
pleasure and good conscience, or that thereby any just 
occasion might be given to any person to speak or judge 
ill of my doings. And albeit, as is contained in my other 
letters, I have acknowledged to have received of divers, my 
old lovers and friends, and other exempt religious persons, 
right loving and favourable aids towards the edifying of my 
said college, yet your majesty may be well assured that the 
same extendeth not to such a sum as some men doth untruly 
bruit and report, or that any part thereof, to my knowledge, 
thought, or judgment hath been corruptly or contrary to 
law taken or given." He then declares that henceforth he 
will take nothing " from any religious person being exempt 
or not exempt, so that thereby I trust, nor by any other 
thing hereafter unlawfully taken, your poor cardinal's con- 
science shall not be spotted, encumbered, or entangled." 2 

Notwithstanding Wolsey's excuses, Henry seems to 
have had just grounds for his suspicion that the cardinal 
had made use of his legatine authority to serve his own 
purposes. Popular report had spoken of immunities pur- 
chased by presents to the cardinal's colleges which were 
adverse to the king's interests, and which ought not to have 
been granted. The archbishop of Canterbury complained 
that, in raising the loan known as the "amicable grant," he 
had no power at all over the religious houses in his district. 

1 Lord Herbert, Henry VIIL, p. 164; Fiddes, Wolsey, p. 379. Fuller, 
Church Hist., iii. p. 357, ed. 1845, says: "God's exemplary hand ought to 
be heeded in the signal fatality of such as by the cardinal were employed in 
this service. Five they were in number, two whereof challenging the field of 
each other, one was slain and the other hanged for it. A third throwing him- 
self headlong into a well, perished wilfully. A fourth, formerly wealthy, grew 
so poor that he begged his bread. The fifth, Dr. Allen, one of especial note, 
afterwards archbishop of Dublin, was slain in Ireland. What became of the 
cardinal himself is notoriously known, and as for his two colleges, that in 
Ipswich (the emblem of its builder, soon up, soon down) presently vanished 
into private houses ; whilst the other, Christchurch in Oxford, was fain to 
disclaim its founder." 

8 State Papers, i. p. 317. 

Cardinal Wolsey and the Monasteries 25 

" They must be left," he writes, " to your grace (Wolsey), 
and unless they contribute to the loan according to the 
value of their benefices the clergy will complain. Had the 
religious houses not been exempted, but appeared before 
me, the loan derived from my diocese would be much 
greater." 1 The king likewise complains with much bitter- 
ness that among the religious are found the most strenuous 
and successful opponents of this enforced benevolence. 
" These same religious houses," he writes to the cardinal, 
" would not grant to their sovereign in his necessity, not by 
a great deal so much as they have to you for the building of 
your college. These things bear shrewd appearance, for, 
except they were accustomed to have some benefit, they, 
and no other I ever heard of, have used to show that kind- 
ness, tarn enim est aliena ab eis ipsa humanitas" He 
concludes by urgently requiring Wolsey to look well into 
the conduct of those to whom he has entrusted this " med- 
dling with religious houses." 2 

By 1527 Wolsey had conceived a desire to further emu- 
late the example of Bishop Wykeham and establish a school, 
which should feed his foundation at Oxford, as that at 
Winchester had fed New College. For this purpose further 
funds were imperatively necessary. The success of his 
previous scheme having been secured by the dissolution 
of various monasteries, his agents, who had gone to Rome 
on the divorce question, were instructed to seek additional 
powers in the same direction. The cardinal at this time 
appears to have hesitated at nothing to carry out his designs. 
In the summer of this year, 1527, he had been in France, 
where he made three treaties with the king. It was agreed 
that, during the captivity of the pope, no bull or brief should 
be received in either country; that, with the consent of 
Henry, the cardinal of York should have control of all 
ecclesiastical affairs in England, and that Francis I. should 
take the like power in his dominions. Wolsey also proposed 
to ask Clement VII. to make him his vicar-general, as long 
as he was a prisoner, and to entrust him with supreme 
authority. In fact, according to the tenor of the bull, 
written ready for the pope's seal and signature, the cardinal 

1 Calendar, iv. p. 2010. 
2 Brewer, Henry VIIL, ii. p. 283 ; Fiddes, Collect., p. 139. 

26 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

proposed to obtain power of dispensing even from the 
divine law. 1 

What is more extraordinary still is, that Wolsey, before 
leaving France, acted as if he had obtained these full and 
unheard-of powers. He even ordered the chancellor of 
France to assume the dignity and dress of cardinal, which 
Clement had promised but had not bestowed. 2 

In December 1527, the pope escaped from Rome to 
Orvieto, and thither Gardiner and Foxe, Wolsey's agents, 
followed him. The Holy Father was powerless, and at 
the mercy of any who chose to exert pressure upon him. 
On March 23, 1528, Foxe wrote describing the miserable 
state in which they had found the pope on their arrival at 
Orvieto. He had taken up his quarters in the bishop's 
ruined palace. Three small chambers, " all naked and un- 
hanged," with the ceiling fallen, and about thirty persons 
of the "riff-raff" standing about "for a garnishment," led to 
the pope's private apartment. The furniture of this, " bed 
and all," was not worth "twenty nobles." 8 

In the midst of this perplexity and difficulty a further 
demand was made on Wolsey's behalf. Powers were asked 
to suppress the priory of St. Peter's, Ipswich, and other 
monasteries to obtain funds for the foundation of a college 
at Ipswich. The pope gave way; nor could he well have 
refused any demand which conscience would have enabled 
him to grant. In the middle of May 1528 the necessary 
bulls were dispatched to Wolsey. Gardiner appears to 
have acted as unscrupulously in this matter as in the 
divorce question. The pope, on the first suggestion of fur- 
ther suppressions, had asked from the agents particulars 
about the cardinal's colleges. He was pleased with the 
account given him, and told the cardinals de Monte and 
Sanctorum Quatuor " what a good " work it was. " In 
particular it rejoiced the pope," writes Strype, "when they 
told him that Wolsey had taken order that, in letting the 
farms belonging to his college, no man should have them 
but such as would dwell upon them and maintain hospi- 
tality . . . and he (the pope) justified and maintained the 

1 Pocock, Records of the Reformation, i. p. 19 : " Etiamsi ad divina legit 
relaxationem." See Lewis, Sanders' Schism, Introd., p. liii. &c. 

2 Lewis, Introd. Iv. ; Pocock, ut supra, ii. p. 88. 
8 Calendar, iv. No. 4090. 

Cardinal Wolsey and the Monasteries 27 

commutation and alteration of those religious places, whereof 
only did arise the scandal of religion as he spoke. For the 
cardinal, for the endowing of his college, had lately obtained 
of the pope a bull for the dissolving of divers monasteries 
wherein much vice and wickedness was harboured, as he 
informed the pope, to incline him thereby the easier to 
grant his request." 1 

In this way the convent of Pre, near St. Albans, was 
dissolved and united to that great abbey. The pope was 
told that the nuns did not keep a good rule of life, and that 
religious discipline was much relaxed. The revenues, there- 
fore, were transferred to St. Alban's Abbey in order that an 
increased number of monks might be supported for the better 
celebration of the divine office. 2 It may be that the nuns 
of Pre merited the bad character for laxity of life given 
to them in the papal bull. In view, however, of Wolsey's 
motive in giving a bad character to monasteries whose 
possessions he desired, the mere fact of the statement by 
the pope is not proof positive. Neither does the fact that 
the convent was united to the abbey of St. Albans show 
that Wolsey had no motive in the suppression. To this 
arrangement the cardinal really objected, and authorised 
his agent to obtain another bull from Clement uniting Pre 
to Cardinal College, Oxford. At the same time he wished 
that the impropriation of a living, also obtained for St. 
Albans, should be changed in favour of the college at 
Ipswich. 8 

In the various suppressions which followed complaints 
were again made of the high-handed action of Wolsey's 
servants. The abbot of Beaulieu, who was also bishop 
of Bangor, wrote to the cardinal of the unjust seizure 
of certain lands in the parish of St. Keverans, Cornwall, 
belonging to his abbey. He represented that Beaulieu 
had possessed the property for 400 years, and that now 
two servants had taken it. And one "gentleman hath 
written to me," he said, "that the benefice there, which 
is impropriated to Beaulieu, he mindeth to give to the 
finding of scholars, and feigneth that some time there was 
a cell of monks there." * 

1 Strype, Ecd, Mems., i. p. 168 ; Calendar, iv. No. 4120. 

* Rymer, xiv. p. 240. 3 Calendar, iv. No. 5714. 

4 Ellis, Orig. Lett., Ser. 2, iii. p. 60. 

28 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

The abbot of York also complains of Wolsey's seizure 
of Romburgh Priory, in Suffolk, which was a cell of St. 
Mary's Abbey. He says, that on the nth of September 
1528, certain officers of the cardinal came to the priory, 
read the authority of the pope and king, " entered into the 
same priory, and that done, took away as well the goods 
moveable of the said priory . . . and also certain muniments, 
evidences, and specialities touching and appertaining unto 
our monastery, which we had lately sent unto our said 
prior and brethren there." The cell, he says, had been 
given to them by Alan Niger, earl of Richmond, 400 years 
before, and the abbey was burdened, by reason of the 
gift, with masses, suffrages, and alms. Further, as the 
revenues of the priory do not amount to more than ^30, 
the abbot offers " towards your special, honourable, and 
laudable purpose concerning the erection and foundation of 
the said college and school . . . 300 marks sterling, which 
shall be delivered" at once, if the monastery is spared. 1 
The representation was of no avail, and Romburgh was 
annexed to the Ipswich college. 

The papal permissions to alienate monastic property 
thus obtained only served to increase Wolsey's desire for 
further dissolutions. In October 1528, Clement VII. was 
being worried and bullied by the cardinal's agents in the 
matter of the divorce. In turn they were threatening, ex- 
horting, and beseeching the pope to comply with Henry's 
royal will, and even if necessary permit him to have two 
wives 2 at once. Wolsey also instructed his agents to make 
further overtures to allow him to take monastic property. 
On behalf of the king they presented a petition that certain 
religious houses might be given over to support the king's 
colleges at Windsor and at Cambridge. These two establish- 
ments the agents represented as having been founded by 
the grandparents of the English king, for education and for 
the support in old age of court officials. The pope was 
informed that the foundations were now reduced to poverty, 
and that Henry could not finish the work through want of 
means. Clement VII. was, no doubt, only too willing at 
this critical time to give way in any possible matter to 
the English king. Hence, " because of all that Henry had 

1 Wright, Suppression of Monasteries (Camden Soc.), p. I. 

9 Calendar, iv. 4897. See Lewis, Schism, Introd., p. cxxvi. &c. 

Cardinal Wolsey and the Monasteries 29 

done against heresy and for the Holy See," he granted 
him permission to suppress monasteries to the value of 
8000 ducats, provided that there were not six religious in 
them and that the inmates found homes in other religious 
houses. 1 

At the same time also the king and cardinal told their 
agent, Casali, to suggest a measure of wholesale suppres- 
sion, so that more cathedrals might be established with the 
monastic property. The question was mooted in the con- 
sistory, and, according to the agent, all present seemed 
ready to assent to the king's desire. " As it is a matter, 
however," he writes, " of the greatest importance, it should 
be granted with greater authority than could be done then. 
Power might be asked for the legates to decide which 
monasteries were best fitted to be erected into cathedrals, 
to arrange the revenues, &c., and then the whole referred 
to the pope for confirmation. Cardinal S. Quatuor and 
De Monte advise this, thinking it too important to be finally 
settled except in consistory, the pope being present, lest it 
should be thought that the legates were influenced by 
private interest." He concludes by asking to be informed 
of the exact nature of the king's requests. 2 

At the same time the writer of the above letter to the 
king sends another to the cardinal. He tells his master 
that he has " showed his Holiness the integrity of his in- 
tentions towards the Church." He has also pointed out 
the need of reformation in the English monasteries, "and 
the suitableness of the present time, when a legate had 
gone to England," so that Wolsey might not be suspected 
of acting for his own advantage. Casali thought that the 
pope was persuaded of the necessity of the erection of new 
cathedrals and the reform of monasteries; but "he con- 
sidered for some time the alleged necessity of suppressing 
monasteries of any order." The writer added : " I am sure 
the matter will be managed with dexterity." 3 What this 
kind of "dexterity" was likely to be can be understood 
from a letter of Gregorio Casali, the brother of the former 
writer. In this he says that he " has told his brother the 
protonotary and Vincent (his nephew) that importunity is 
the only way to get anything from the pope." 4 

1 Rymer, xiv. p. 249. 2 Calendar, iv. No. 4886. 

3 Ibid., No. 4900. 4 Ibid., No. 4956. 

30 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

The result of the " importunity " soon appeared. Two 
bulls were issued by Clement VII. on November 14, 1528. 
In the first it is stated that the king had presented a petition 
showing that in England there were many monasteries " in 
which the proper number (i.e. twelve monks or nuns) were 
not to be found and which had no proper income for their 
support. Hence regular discipline was not kept up and 
the divine office not properly performed. By laxity of 
restraint the rule of good life was not kept by the monks 
and nuns therein." The petition further suggested, th&t 
if these were united to other religious houses, where the 
day and night office was properly performed and in which 
good discipline was maintained, it would be better for 
religion. Acting on this information and in accordance 
with this petition, the pope by bull granted Wolsey faculties 
for the suggested union. 1 

The second bull had reference to the question of the 
proposed cathedrals. Henry represented to Clement that 
monasteries had previously been suppressed in England for 
the purpose of establishing cathedrals. He suggested that 
the revenues of several more should now be granted for this 
purpose, and that each cathedral, so erected, should have 
an income of 10,000 ducats from the monastic lands. The 
pope, having consulted with his cardinals, desired further 
information, which he directed Wolsey to furnish. First, 
he wished to know whether any and what monasteries had 
previously been suppressed for such a purpose ; secondly, 
whether there was any need of increasing the number of 
cathedrals; thirdly, how many monasteries would be re- 
quired for the purpose, and whether the monks were to 
remain in the cathedrals as canons, bound by their monas- 
tic vows, but taking the dress of seculars. Lastly, he asked 
what would be the position of the bishop, whether he would 
be a suffragan of the archbishop, or immediately dependent 
on the Holy See. Wolsey was directed by the brief to 
examine witnesses as to these matters, and to send their 
evidence attested by oath to the pope. 2 

Even yet, the cardinal of York was not satisfied. He 
again asked to be allowed to suppress a few more monasteries 
to obtain money for his colleges. These had apparently 

1 Rymer, xiv. p. 272. * Ibid., xiv. 273. 

Cardinal Wolsey and the Monasteries 3 1 

already been dissolved on his own authority. " The cardinal 
further demands," writes Jacobo Salviati to Campeggio, " the 
union to his college of three monasteries, which are not 
mentioned in the other bulls. This, too, shall be granted, 
although his Holiness could have wished that it had not 
been requested of him. But as it is his most reverend 
lordship who makes the demand, and for such a purpose, 
he cannot refuse him, as the elect (bishop) of Bellun is to 
write to him at greater length, the elect being here and 
soliciting this ' expedition ' with much importunity." l 

In the beginning of the following year, 1529, Pope 
Clement VII. fell ill. It was reported, and for the time be- 
lieved, that he was dead. Upon this the king determined 
once more to further, as far as he possibly could, the elec- 
tion of Wolsey to the popedom. 2 In this design he directed 
his agent to bribe the cardinals, and in his efforts he was 
seconded by Wolsey himself. The latter writes to Gardiner, 
his old secretary, on February 7th : " When all things be 
well considered absit verbumjactantice there shall be none 
found that can and will set remedy in the aforesaid things, 
but only the Cardinal Ebor." He adds, that he wishes his 
agent to spare no expense in this matter, but to use all his 
power, promises, and labour to bring it to pass. 8 It is 
certain also from the king's instructions that it was seriously 
contemplated, in the event of the electors refusing the 
cardinal of York, to set up an anti-pope and create a schism. 4 
The emperor foresaw this, and when expressing his regret 
at the illness of Clement, added: "His death might create 
a schism in Christendom." 6 

The pope recovered. Henry and Wolsey were thus 
again disappointed in their plans. The bulls which had 
been obtained in the autumn of the previous year, through 
the persistent importunity of the English agents, had not 
been altogether according to Wolsey's liking. He desired 
the removal of the clause " de consensu quorum interest" 
in the permission for the union of various monasteries. 
The agent had deliberately, and on his own authority, 
changed "less than twelve monasteries" into " less or more 

1 Calendar, iv. No. 4920. 2 Ibid., No. 5270. * Ibid., No. 5272. 

* Pocock, Records, ii. p. 598. See Lewis, ut supra, Introd., p. cxxxv. 
et seq. 

6 Calendar, iv. No. 5301. 

32 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

than twelve monasteries," which had displeased the Cardinal 
S. Quatuor, and delayed the transmission of the bulls to 
England. The cardinal of York had neglected also to for- 
ward, as requested, copies of the bulls by which, as was 
asserted, monasteries had previously been turned into 
bishoprics. 1 

At the beginning of June 1529, the question was still 
being discussed. Wolsey wrote to Sir Gregory Casali that 
he wanted certain clauses amplified in bulls he had received. 
As to the union of monasteries, he desired to have the 
power of uniting small monasteries as well as annexing 
them to greater. The bull for erecting cathedrals only 
allowed him to inquire and report, but the king and he 
desired powers to act. He promised that there should be 
no loss of fees to the court of Rome. He desired the omis- 
sion of the clause " de consensu omnium quortim interest" 
not because he thought such interests ought to be neglected, 
but to prevent factious and malicious opposition. No such 
clause, he urged, was inserted in his former bulls for the 
suppression of monasteries. 2 

On the 4th June 1529, the final bull, to allow Wolsey 
to act on the king's petition for the erection of additional 
cathedrals, was signed by Clement VII. It was of exactly 
the same nature as the previous brief, but allowed the 
king's suggestion to be carried into effect and put the 
burden of the matter upon the cardinal's conscience. 8 On 
the 3 1st of the following August the second bull for the 
union of monasteries, in the required form, received the 
pope's seal and signature. The fall of Wolsey, however, 
prevented any further action under the powers thus granted 

Among the articles of impeachment which, according to 
the authority of Lord Herbert, were exhibited in the House 
of Lords against the cardinal, several relate to his action 
against the monasteries. These articles, forty-four in number, 
were signed by Sir Thomas More and many others. The 
1 3th runs thus: "And where good hospitality hath been 
used to be kept in houses and places of religion of this realm, 
and many poor people thereby relieved, the said hospitality 
and relief is now decayed and not used. And it is commonly 

1 Calendar, iv. No. 5226. a Ibid., No. 5639. 

8 Rymer, xiv. p. 291. 

Cardinal Wolsey and the Monasteries 33 

reported that the occasion thereof is, because the said Lord 
Cardinal hath taken such impositions of the rulers of the 
said houses, as well for his favour in making of abbots and 
priors as for his visitation by his authority legatine, and yet, 
nevertheless, taketh yearly of such religious houses such 
yearly and continual charges, as they be not able to keep 
hospitality as they were used to do, which is a great cause 
that there be so many vagabonds, beggars, and thieves." 

The 1 4th article charges the cardinal with having raised 
the rents of the lands he received through the suppressions, 
and made it impossible for the tenants to farm them with 

The I pth says: "Also the said Lord Cardinal hath 
not only, by his untrue suggestion to the Pope, shamefully 
slandered many good religious houses and good virtuous 
men dwelling in them, but also suppressed, by reason there- 
of, above thirty houses of religion. And where, by the 
authority of his bull, he should not suppress any house that 
had more men of religion in number above the number of 
six or seven, he hath suppressed divers houses that had 
above the number, and thereupon hath caused divers offices 
to be found by verdict, untruly, that the religious persons 
so suppressed had voluntarily forsaken their said houses, 
which was untrue, and so hath caused open perjury to be 
committed, to the high displeasure of Almighty God." 

In the 24th it is stated : "Also the same Lord Cardinal 
at many times, when any houses of religion hath been void, 
hath sent his officers thither, and with crafty persuasions 
hath induced them to ' compromit ' their election in him, and 
before he named or confirmed any of them, he and his 
servants received so much great goods of them, that in a 
manner it hath been to the undoing of the house." 

Lastly, the 25th says : "Also, by his authority legatine, 
the same Lord Cardinal hath visited the most part of the 
religious houses and colleges of this realm, and hath taken 
from them the twenty-fifth part of their livelihood, to the 
great extortion of your subjects and derogation of your 
laws and prerogative, and no law hath been to bear him 
so to do." 1 

" Here," says Lord Herbert, " certainly began the taste 

1 Fiddes, Collect., p. 172 et seq. 

34 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

that our king took of governing in chief the clergy, of 
which, therefore, as well as the dissolution of monasteries, 
it seems the first arguments and impressions were derived 
from the cardinal." 1 It is difficult to read the record of 
Wolsey's arbitrary action as regards the religious houses, 
and the account of his methods in dealing with the pope, 
without endorsing this opinion. 

1 Henry VIII. t p. 209. 

The Holy Maid of Kent 

THE story of Elizabeth Barton, known as the " holy maid 
of Kent," must form a part of any detailed account of 
Henry's dealings with the English monasteries. 

In 1525 Elizabeth Barton 1 was a domestic servant with 
one Thomas Cobb, a farmer of known respectability. She 
lived in the parish of Aldington, some twelve miles from 
Canterbury. About Easter time of that year, when she 
would have been about eighteen years of age, she was seized 
with a severe illness. During the progress of the sickness, 
which continued for seven months and more, she appeared 
to have frequent ecstasies, or trances. Whilst in one of 
these and apparently unconscious of all around her she 
spoke of things taking place at a distance and foretold 
coming events. At a subsequent date it was declared, by 
those who condemned her to death, that " she was brought 
in such debility and weakness of brain because she could 
not eat nor drink for a long space, that in the violence of 
her infirmities she seemed to be in trances and spoke and 
uttered many foolish and idle words." 2 But at this period, 
and for years after, no such suggestion was made. Cer- 
tainly those who knew her best did not look upon her 
sayings as "foolish and idle." Amongst other things, she 
is said to have foretold the death of one of her master's 
children, who was ill, and the event followed shortly after 
her prediction. In one of her trances she declared that 
the Blessed Virgin had directed her to go to the chapel at 

1 This account is from W. Lambard's Perambulation of Kent t written in 
the year 1570. The author says he took the facts from a little pamphlet 
"containing four-and-twenty leaves," which was written by Edward Thwaites 
in 1527. It was called "A miraculous work at Court of Street, in Kent, 
published to devout people of this time for their spiritual consolation." As 
all books connected with Elizabeth Barton were destroyed under a provision 
in the act of her attainder, the pamphlet is known only in Lambard's book. 

2 Rot. Parl., 25 Hen. VIII. (No. 142). 


36 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

Court of Street, where she would be cured of her sickness. 
On her first visit to the shrine, according to the account 
given of her, she did not receive her health. That, how- 
ever, did not discourage her, and she professed perfect 
confidence that what had been promised would in good 
time be granted. Meanwhile her reputation became noised 
abroad. Either through the parish priest of Aldington, 
Richard Masters, or by some other means, the rumour 
reached the ears of the venerable Warham, archbishop 
of Canterbury. He "directed thither Dr. Rocking, with 
masters Hadleigh and Barnes, three monks of Christ 
Church, Canterbury, Father Lewis and his fellow (two 
Observants), his official of Canterbury and the parson of 
Aldington, with a commission to examine the matter and 
to inform him of the truth." Their report was favourable. 
They declared to the archbishop that " they found her sound 
therein." So that when next she went to our Lady at Court 
of Street, "she entered the chapel with the ' Ave Regina 
Ccelorum' in prick-song, accompanied with these commis- 
sioners, many ladies, gentlewomen and gentlemen of the 
best degree and three thousand persons besides of the 
common sort of people." 

During the mass, which was celebrated at the shrine, 
Elizabeth Barton fell into one of her usual trances and was 
restored to health. She afterwards declared that our Lady 
desired the shrine of Court of Street to be honoured more 
faithfully and supported with greater generosity, and that 
she herself should enter some convent. Acting on this 
declaration, archbishop Warham obtained her reception into 
the Benedictine convent of St. Sepulchre's, near Canter- 
bury. There she subsequently became a nun and continued 
to preserve a universal reputation for holiness. From time 
to time, during the seven years of her religious life, she was 
to all appearance wrapt in ecstasy. 1 

Little is known of the life which Elizabeth Barton led 
in the convent. But in this period she spoke strongly and 
uncompromisingly against sin, and exhorted to penance 

1 The account given on the Parliament Roll in the act of attainder agrees 
with the main facts of the story as related above, which is taken from Lam- 
bard's account of Thwaites' pamphlet. The attainder, however, declares, as 
will be subsequently related, that the whole matter was a deception arranged 
by the two priests, Richard Masters and Dr. Edward Bocking. 

The Holy Maid of Kent 37 

when chance afforded her an opportunity. If she was 
moved by an evil spirit, as her enemies afterwards pre- 
tended, there never was a clearer case of Satan's kingdom 
divided against itself. She blamed the general laxity of 
the age and the " corruption of manners and evil life " to be 
found then in England. She exhorted people to approach 
the sacraments, and in particular to frequent confession and 
other good Catholic practices. 1 Her influence over the 
minds and hearts of those she came in contact with, as far 
as is known, was a powerful incentive to their leading a 
better life. Henry Man, for example, a Carthusian monk 
and procurator of their house at Sheen, writes early in 1533 
to Dr. Bocking, the confessor of the nun, in enthusiastic 
terms of her. "Let us praise God," he says, "who has 
raised up this holy virgin, a mother, indeed, to me and a 
daughter to thee for our salvation. She has raised a fire in 
some hearts that you would think like unto the operation of 
the Holy Spirit in the primitive Church if you saw with 
what frequent tears some bewailed their transgressions." 2 
At a subsequent date the same monk writes, that it is only 
" of late it has pleased God to give me some knowledge of 
His secret and wonderful works, which He works daily in 
His special spiritual daughter. This 'accends' my heart 
in the love of God." I beg you, he continues in his letter 
to Dr. Bocking, " to accept me as your spiritual son, and 
ask the prayers of Elizabeth Barton to obtain grace to 
mortify myself and live only for Christ." 3 Another monk 
of the same monastery writes to the nun asking her prayers 
for himself, as he finds as yet but little profit to his soul by 
his leaving the world. 4 His letter shows what an exalted 
idea he had formed of her holiness of life. 

Without doubt, however, the most important testimony 
as to the character of the " holy maid " is the opinion as to 
her virtues entertained by the venerable bishop Fisher. It 

1 Lambard, p. 148. The act of attainder seems to admit her reputation for 
sanctity and her influence for good. Richard Morison, the uncompromising 
supporter of Henry's policy, in a work printed so soon after the execution 
of the " Holy Maid " as 1537, admits the general opinion of her sanctity. 
" Tandem comparata sanctimonise fama, coepit mirum in modum non plebem, 
non vulgus imperitum, sed magnates alioqui viros, multos preterea doctores, 
abbates aliquot, Warramum ipsum archiepiscopum Cantuariensem, atque adeo 
legates apostolicos, deludere." Apomaxis Calumniarum, fol. 72 (1537). 

2 Calendar, vi. No. 835. 3 Ibid., No. 1149. 
4 Ibid., No. 1468. 

38 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

must be remembered that the bishop of Rochester was no 
ordinary man. He was an ecclesiastic of extraordinary 
ability and learning; and, unlike so many other bishops of 
his age, he had not spent his life, and thus perhaps blunted 
his judgment as to spiritual matters, in attendance at court 
or by occupation in affairs of state. He was justly esteemed 
the most learned bishop in England, and at one time Henry 
thought there was no ecclesiastic equal to him in Christen- 
dom. 1 Of advanced age and possessed of practical prudence, 
his judgment balanced by vast and varied experience, he 
was hardly likely to be at fault in reading the characters 
of Elizabeth Barton and of her adviser and confessor, Dr. 

By the middle of 1533 Henry appears to have arranged 
with Crumwell to take some steps to prevent any public 
condemnation of his marriage with Anne, resulting from 
the denunciations of the royal policy which had been made 
by the then much respected Elizabeth Barton. Even 
before the death of archbishop Warham, according to 
Harpsfield, 2 Crumwell had contemplated the advisability 
of taking vigorous measures against the nun and those 
that believed in her. She had declared, more or less 
openly, that in her trances God had commissioned her to 
bear testimony to His displeasure at the king's proceedings. 
She was known to have had interviews with Wolsey and 
Warham, to have spoken to the legates of the pope and to 
have written to his holiness himself. It is hardly likely, 
however, that her influence had much to do with the final 
attitude of the archbishop or the cardinal towards the 
divorce. Neither is it probable that it confirmed the bishop 
of Rochester and the friars Observant in their persistent 
opposition to it; nor, still less, that it deterred the pope 
from giving sentence in Henry's favour. But such things 
were said, 3 and perhaps believed, by Henry's adherents. 

The position of affairs in England at midsummer, 1533, 
was critical. It became, therefore, vital to the designs of 

1 "Quid quod tanta virtus viri, tanta integritas, tanta fama fuit per inimi- 
corum ora eruperit. Nam Henricus ipse octavus (ut reverendissimus Polus 
Cardinalis scriptum reliquit), eum in Europse totius theologos primas tenere 
multus audientibus fassus est." B. Mus. Arund. MS., 152, f. 238 b. ; MS. 
Life of bishop Fisher. 

2 The Pretended Divorce (Camd. Soc.), p. 178. 
* Calendar, vii. No. 72 (l) and (3). 

The Holy Maid of Kent 39 

minister and master, and indispensable to Anne Boleyn, 
who now reigned supreme over the heart of Henry, that 
any symptom of popular discontent should be instantly 
repressed. Anything that might tend to stir up the latent 
feeling of hostility to their triple alliance must at all costs 
be prevented. Hence, as regards the " holy maid of Kent," 
so universally revered and respected, it seemed necessary 
to fix the stigma of hypocrisy and deceit upon her. 

Cranmer consequently, acting on the orders of Crumwell, 
about the middle of July, 1533, ordered the prioress of St. 
Sepulchre's to bring Elizabeth Barton to him at Otford in 
order that he might examine her. 1 At this interview the 
archbishop was apparently unable to convict the nun of 
anything more than a firm belief in the reality of her visions 
and revelations. 

A month later Dr. Bocking, "cellarer of Christchurch, 
Canterbury, and Hadley, one of the penitentiaries there," 
were arrested by the attorney-general, Christopher Hales, 
"as secretly as possible." At the same time a promise 
was sent by Hales to Crumwell that he should have the 
parson of Aldington and the official of Canterbury within a 
few days.* The nun herself had been in the minister's 
power and subjected to his examinations since her visit to 
Cranmer. It is worthy of note that from this time all that 
is known of her recantations and confessions emanate from 
Crumwell or his agents, who had already determined to 
make her out to be a " hypocrite nun." 

As to the connection of the monks of Christchurch, 
Canterbury, with the cause of Elizabeth Barton, a good deal 
is to be learnt from a letter which at this time Thomas 
Goldwell, the prior, wrote to Crumwell on the matter. " As 
concerning the knowledge of such things as Elizabeth 
Barton, nun, has spoken," he writes, "which as she said 
she had knowledge of in trances and revelations, these be 
the things that I have heard and have knowledge of. At 
the beginning thereof, the which was about seven or eight 
years past, as I think, my lord Warham, then being arch- 
bishop of Canterbury, sent his comptroller, called Thomas 
Walle, of Canterbury, and caused me to send two of my 
brethren, which were the cellarer, Dr. Bocking, and Dom 

1 Calendar, vi. No. 869. 
2 Ibid., No. 1149. Christ. Hales to Crumwell, Sept. 25. 

4 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

William Hadley, bachelor of divinity, to a place called Court 
of Street, to see this woman and to see what trances she 
had. They went there at the beginning, as I suppose, 
somewhat against their minds and also against my mind 
except the obedience that I do owe unto my lord of Canter- 
bury ; and (if) he had not been, I would not have sent them 
thither. After this he caused and gave license to the cellarer 
to be this woman's ghostly father." 

About the month of October Elizabeth Barton and her 
companions underwent a strict examination in the Star 
Chamber, and almost simultaneously it became noised abroad 
that she had confessed herself an impostor. On the i6th of 
November John Capon, abbot of Hyde, and at that time 
bishop-elect of Bangor, wrote to a friend that "our holy 
nun of Kent" had admitted "treason against God and the 
king;" that is, he explained, she is "not only a traitress but 
a heretic." She and her accomplices are "like to suffer 
death." 1 Lady Rutland, also writing the following day to 
Sir W. Paston, says she hears that the "holy woman of 
Kent" has been examined by the Council, "which is," she 
concludes, "one of the most abominablest matters that ever 
I heard of in my life, as shall be published to all people 
within three or four days at the furthest." 2 

A singular spectacle was shortly afterwards witnessed 
in London. On Sunday, November 23, 1533, the nun and 
her companions, Dr. Edward Bocking and John Bering, both 
benedictine monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, Hugh 
Rich and Richard Risby, two friars Observant, with two 
secular priests, Richard Masters, parson of Aldington and 
Henry Gold, of Aldermary, London, together with a gentle- 
man named Edward Thwaites, were placed on a high scaffold 
at St. Paul's Cross to do public penance. The pulpit, over 
against them, was occupied by Dr. Capon, the bishop-elect 
of Bangor, who, as Chapuys relates, " for their vituperation 
repeated all the chancellor had said ag...;ist them, further 
affirming that the nun, by her feigned superstition, had pre- 
vented the cardinal of York from proceeding to give sentence 
for the divorce." 8 To the companions of the nun in this 
public humiliation the preacher attributed "levity and super- 
stition " in believing these revelations, and " disloyalty " for 

1 Calendar, vi. No. 1433. a Ibid,, No. 1438. 

* Ibid., No. 1460. Chapuys to Chas. V., Nov. 24. 

The Holy Maid of Kent 41 

not revealing them. He specially blamed the two Observant 
friars, " that under the shadow of the said superstition they 
had suborned and seduced their companions to maintain the 
false opinion and wicked quarrel of the queen against the 
king." 1 

From this public penance, which was performed in "as 
great a presence as was seen there (at the Cross) this forty 
winters," 2 the nun and her companions were again con- 
ducted " unto the Tower of London, and much people (were 
gathered) through all the streets of London" 8 to witness 
the sight. Before leaving the platform over against the 
preacher's pulpit, the nun was required to hand a form of 
confession to Dr. Capon, who read it to the people. 

A great deal was subsequently made of this so-called 
confession of hypocrisy and deceit. It requires, however, 
very little knowledge of these times to see that, after all, it 
proves exceedingly little. On the face of the document it is 
not her own; but was written for her by those in whose 
power she had been for the four months previously, and its 
terms are exceedingly vague and general. 

The fact is that some acknowledgment that Elizabeth 
Barton had been for years wilfully deceitful was at the time 
a matter of vital necessity, and, with Crumwell to manage 
the affair, that confession would not be difficult to procure. 
In fact, the draft of a letter exists, with corrections in 
Crumwell's own hand, by which the Marchioness of Exeter 
is made to ask pardon of Henry VIII. for putting such belief 
"in the most unworthy and deceivable woman called the 
holy maid of Kent." 4 What he did in this case he may, 
with better reason, have used every effort to do in regard to 
the nun herself. According to the act of attainder, indeed, 
the poor woman is said to have confessed her duplicity 
and falsehood before " divers of the king's counsel." Such 
evidence, however, may reasonably be suspected, more espe- 
cially when it was noised abroad that the confession attri- 
buted to her was a calumny, 6 and extreme measures were 
taken to prevent the spread of such an unwelcome report. 

* Calendar, vii. No. 72. 2 Ibid., No. 72. 

3 Grey Friars Chronicle, Camd. Soc., p. 37. 

4 Calendar, vi. No. 1464. 

6 Burnet, ed. Pocock, i. p. 251, says: "It is very probable that the 
reports that went abroad of her being forced or cheated into a confession 
made the king think it necessary to proceed more severely against her." 

42 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

The day following the public penance of the nun and 
her companions Chapuys again refers to the difficulty ex- 
perienced by the king and Crumwell to obtain a conviction 
for treason. "The king," he tells his master, "has not yet 
prevailed on the judges to make the oration against those 
who have practised against him with the said nun in the form 
that I last wrote. He is going to have the affair discussed 
with them on Friday (November 28, 1533), and although 
some of the principal judges would sooner die than make 
the said declaration, yet when the king comes to dispute, 
there is no one who will dare to contradict him unless he 
wishes to be reputed stupid or disloyal. So that it seems 
as if he had made a total divorce, not only from his wife, 
but from good conscience, humanity and gentleness, which 
he used to have." 1 

The trial, however, ended without a sentence. In the 
face of the opposition manifested by the judges to the 
course proposed by Crumwell, it may have been deemed 
more prudent to proceed by the surer method of attainder 
by act of parliament. It seems at one time, early in January, 
1534, to have been contemplated to try the issue of a new 
trial. Crumwell notes, " to cause indictments to be drawn 
for the offenders in treason and misprision concerning the 
nun of Canterbury." z Shortly afterwards he abandoned this 
plan, however, and notes that he has to "know what the 
king will have done " in the matter. Finally, it was deter- 
mined to present a bill of attainder to parliament, and for 
Crumwell this was already tantamount to a condemnation to 
death. Hence he notes that " Elizabeth Barton, nun, Edward 
Bocking, John Bering, Richard Masters, Henry Gold, Hugh 
Rich, and Richard Risby, these by act shall be attainted of 
high treason and suffer death." 3 

There are many indications that, although the existence 
of the bill and the general tenour of its provisions were 
known, the names of those implicated and against whom 
proceedings were to be taken were purposely concealed. 
"The consequence was," says an historian of this period, 
"that everybody who ever encouraged the nun was in no 
little anxiety, and, fearing that his name might be on the 
terrible list, was anxious to please the king. In this way 

1 Calendar, No. 1460, Nov. 24. 
a Ibid., vii. No. 48. 3 Ibid., No. 70. 

The Holy Maid of Kent 43 

the government bridled the opposition, and, as nearly as they 
could, ensured the passing of the bills of succession." l By 
this concealment also, money was wrung from those who 
had been associated with the nun in any way. For this 
both master and minister were always ready. Richard 
Masters, the parish priest of Aldington, who was subse- 
quently executed, sends Crumwell two gold crowns for 
having expedited his pardon. 2 

The Canterbury monks also professed themselves very 
ready to serve the king in any way, if he would only pass 
over their connection with the " Maid of Kent." They even 
were willing, as Cranmer, then on his visitation there, 
writes, to offer some substantial sum of money. " Only a 
few," he says, "consented to these revelations, almost all 
being Dr. Docking's novices." The prior, a man of no 
malice, "has been touched by this matter. They desire my 
mediation, and I think they will offer 200 or ^300 for their 
pardon. The monastery," he adds, " is not ' aforehand,' but 
in debt, except the church ornaments and plate." 3 Edward 
Thwaites, whose guilt consisted in his belief in the nun and 
in having printed a small volume with an account of her 
early life, purchased "his pardon for 1000 marks," 4 and 
subsequently Bishop Fisher had to pay ^300 for his share 
in the matter. 

On Saturday, February 21, 1534, the bill of attainder 
"concerning the condign punishment of Elizabeth Barton, 
the hypocrite nun, commonly called the holy maid of Kent," 
was brought into the Lords and read the first time. 6 At 
this sitting, and throughout the proceedings during the 
passage of the bill, the lay lords far outnumbered the lords 
spiritual. The various steps were taken between the date 
of its introduction and the I2th of March, when it was read 
for the fourth time and accepted by the house. The accused 
had apparently been condemned unheard, since on March 
6th, at the third reading of the attainder, the lords " thought 
proper to inquire whether it would accord with the king's 
wishes (cum Regio animo quadrare potesf) that Sir Thomas 

1 P. Friedmann, Anne Boleyn, vol. i. p. 273. 

2 Calendar, vi. No. 1666. 3 Ibid., No. 1519. 

4 " Which was one whole year's revenue of his bishoprick." B. Mus. 
Arund. MS., 152, f. 49. 

8 " Lords' Journals," p. 68. 

44 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

More and the others named in the said bill (except the 
bishop of Rochester, now very ill, whose answer is known 
through his letters) should be summoned before the lords to 
the Star chamber in order to say what they can for them- 

It has been said that the parties attainted " were not able 
to disprove a single article of the act." For such a state- 
ment there is no warrant. It is by no means easy to say 
what they could have done had they been allowed. " They 
were all attainted of high treason, and condemned without 
any answer making for themselves," as an old writer asserts. 1 
And in this statement, history bears him out. 

The nun and her companions were condemned by a 
tribunal which had not heard them in their defence. In the 
very bill reference is made for the truth of the facts to 
examinations not before the parliament, but before the king's 
council. The books and writings had been " seen and 
examined by the king's most honourable council," and the 
matters " confessed plainly before the king's most honour- 
able council," as the bill of attainder declared. The tribunal 
that decided the case was not that which had examined, and 
the attainted persons, though at hand, were not heard for 

On April 20, 1534, Elizabeth Barton and her compan- 
ions were executed under this act of attainder, at Tyburn. 
Father Thomas Bourchier, an English Franciscan Obser- 
vant, declares that the lives of his two brethren, Fathers 
Risby and Rich, were twice offered to them if they would 
accept Henry as supreme head of the English Church. 2 
What was done to the Franciscans would in all probability 
have been done in the case of those who suffered with them, 
Dr. Bocking and Father Bering, the two monks of the Bene- 
dictine monastery of Christ Church, Canterbury, and the 
two secular priests, Richard Masters and Henry Gold. It 
is needless to say that the offer was rejected. The character 
of their deaths may be estimated accordingly. 

1 B. Mus. Arund. MS., 152, f. 49. 

2 "Hist. Ecc. de Martyrio FF. Ord. Min.," 1583. Bourchier is an 
authority. He took the Franciscan habit at Greenwich about 1557 upon the 
restoration of the order by queen Mary. He would thus have known some 
of the old Franciscan brethren of Fathers Rich and Risby. 


The Friars Observant and the Carthusians 

THE session of Parliament which commenced in January, 
1534, was chiefly occupied in framing measures against the 
exercise of papal authority in England. The Imperial am- 
bassador, Chapuys, always well informed as to the acts and 
intentions of Henry, writing the following month to Charles 
V. says that the commons had taken away all authority from 
the Holy See, and given to the crown power to nominate 
to vacant bishoprics. He adds that " the king is very 
covetous of the goods of the church, which he already con- 
siders as his patrimony." 1 Before Easter he again writes 
that the lords, " to the great regret of good men, who were 
in a minority," had been obliged, " owing to the threats and 
practices of the king," to ratify these enactments of the 
lower house. 2 

Amongst other provisions made in this parliament for 
cutting off England from the ancient ecclesjastical jurisdic- 
tion of Rome, was the transfer of papal authority over the 
religious houses to the crown. The power of archbishops 
and bishops to visit and control the monasteries and con- L *Q /it^^J^ 
vents situated within the limits of their individual dioceses, 
had long been a subject of debate. Its exercise had often 
given rise to difficulties and dissensions, which were settled 
only by recourse to the supreme authority of the Holy See. 
At all times, however, except in the case of the comparatively 
few exempt monasteries and of the various orders of friar 
and others associated in congregations extending beyond -. - 
the limits of the country and directed by foreign superiors, ' - 
the episcopal power of visitation was exercised at reguk 

1 Calendar, vii. No. 171, Feb. II, 1534. 

2 Ibid., No. 373. In speaking of the Parliament of 1536 it will be neces- ' 
sary to show what these "threats and practices" were. We may here note ^ 
that Bishop Tunstal of Durham was prevented attending Parliament by 
positive orders from Crumwell and the King. 


46 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

periods. The bishop or his officers also directed the canoni- 
cal elections. 

At the time of this Parliament the pulpit was strictly 
guarded, and the Easter sermons of 1534, were directed as 
far as could be against the pope and his authority. 1 The 
definite sentence of the Holy See against the divorce finally 
forced the king, although, as it appears, most reluctantly, to 
widen the breach betwe 

between England and Rome. He had 
to make his choice between dutiful submission and active 

There were some who refused to follow the king blindly 
in his revolt against the Holy See. Of the whole body of 
the clergy, none withstood the policy of Henry with greater 
fearlessness and pertinacity of purpose than the Franciscan 
Observants. 2 Two of these friars were implicated with the 
' Holy maid of Kent," and, as associated in her sentence, 
were executed at Tyburn. Death, however, had seemingly 
no terrors for men who had fled from the pleasures of life 
x as they had. "Secluded from the commerce and pleasures 
of the world," writes the historian Lingard, " they felt fewer 
temptations to sacrifice their conscience to the commands of 
their sovereign, and seemed more eager to court the crown 
than to flee from the pains of martyrdom." 8 

There were six monasteries of these Franciscan Obser- 
vants in England. Of these, none bore a higher character 
for discipline and regularity than that of Greenwich. In 
1513 Henry VIII. himself had written more than once to 
the pope, Leo. X., in their favour. He declares that towards 
them he has the most deep, devoted affection. So much 
does he admire their holiness of life that he finds it quite 
impossible to describe their merits as they deserve. They 
present an ideal of Christian poverty, sincerity and charity ; 
their lives are devoted to fasting, watching, prayer ; and they 
are occupied in " hard toil by night and day " to win sinners 

1 Calendar, vii. No. 464. 

2 Sanders, Schism (Lewis' trans.), p. 112. The Observant friars were a 
reformed branch of the great Franciscan order. They were instituted about 
1400 by St. Bernardine of Sienna, and confirmed by the Council of Constance 
in 1414, and afterwards by Eugenius IV. and other popes. King Edward IV. 
is said to have brought them to England. Tanner, however, says, " I find no 
account of their being here till king Henry VII. built two or three houses 
for them." Vide Monasticon, vi. p. 1504. 

3 Lingard, History of England, vi. p. 285. 

The Friars and the Carthusians 47 

back to God. 1 j The convent had been placed by Henry VII. 
at Greenwich^ near to the court, and Queen Catherine had 
chosen one of the brethren, the fearless and saintly friar 
Forest, as her confessor. 2 

These friars of Greenwich were not easily silenced. 
"They, indeed," writes Sanders, "both in public disputa- 
tions and in their sermons, most earnestly maintained that 
the marriage of Catherine was good and lawful." Yet even 
here, among so many good, there were not wanting some to 
go with the stream. Here, as in so many religious houses 
at this period, Crumwell found a spy to report to him the 
dispositions and intentions entertained in the cloister. In 
this case a lay brother, Richard Lyst, afterwards rewarded 
for his services by a place at Cambridge, 8 was Crumwell's 
agent, and he kept him informed as to the feelings and 
doings of his brethren. Early in February, 1533, he writes 
to his employer that he considers the discipline of his 
monastery altogether too severe. The religious are cor- 
rected and "punished for nothing," and many of their 
fathers show themselves much against the king. Of these, 
the chief and leading spirits are Fathers Peto, Elstow, and 
Forest. Above the rest he thinks friar Forest most to 
be blamed in the matter, because the king had always 
shown him special kindness. Only the day before (Monday, 
February 3) Henry had conversed with him in private for 
more than half an hour, and had " sent him some beef from 
his own table." * 

The informing lay brother quite thought that " the sus- 
pect death of brother Raynscroftys " would prevent " ours 
preaching against the king." 6 Early in May, however, 
friar Peto, a man "of good house and family," and one 
specially accused by Lyst of taking a leading part against 
the king's designs, had to preach before Henry. 8 He did 
not hesitate to speak his mind boldly. 

1 Ellis, Orig. Letters, 3rd Series, i. p. 165. Henry VIII. to Leo X., 
March 12, 1513. From B. Mus. Vatic. Transcripts, vol. xxxvii. f. 17. 

2 Queen Catherine, when the court was at Greenwich, is said to have 
risen always at midnight to be present at the friars' matins. Colkclio Anglo- 
Minoretica, p. 216. 

3 Calendar, vi. No. 1264. 4 Ibid., vi. No. 116. 

5 Ibid., No. 168. 

6 N. Harpsfield, The Pretended Divorce (Camden Soc. ), p. 203 ; Stow, 
Annals (ed. 1615), p. 561. 

48 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

The historian Stow relates the sequel of this bold de- 
nunciation. "The king," he says, "being thus reproved, 
endured it patiently and did no violence to Peto, but the 
next Sunday, being the 8th * of May, Dr. Curwin 2 preached 
in the same place, who sharply reprehended Peto and his 
preaching, and called him dog, slanderer, base, beggarly friar, 
closeman, rebel, and traitor, saying that no subject should 
speak so audaciously to princes. . . . He then, supposing to 
have utterly suppressed Peto and his partakers, lifted up his 
voice and said : ' I speak to thee, Peto, who makest thyself 
Micheas, that thou mayest speak evil of kings, but now thou 
art not to be found, being fled for fear and shame, as being 
unable to answer my arguments.' And whilst he thus spoke 
there was one Elstow, a fellow friar to Peto, standing in the 
rood loft, who, with a bold voice, said to Dr. Curwin : ' Good 
sir, you know that father Peto, as he was commanded, is 
now gone to a provincial council held at Canterbury, and not 
fled for fear of you, for to-morrow he will return again. In 
the meantime I am here as another Micheas, and will lay 
down my life to prove all those things true which he hath 
taught out of the holy scripture. And to this combat I 
challenge you before God and all equal judges. Even unto 
thee, Curwin, I speak, who art one of the four hundred pro- 
phets into whom the spirit of lying is entered, and seekest 
by adultery to establish succession, betraying the king unto 
endless perdition, more for thy own vain glory and hope of 
promotion than for discharge of your clogged conscience and 
the king's salvation.'" 

The scene can be better imagined than described. Henry 
himself had attended again at the church of the Greenwich 
Observants to witness the discomfiture of the bold preacher 
of the previous Sunday. In the absence of Friar Peto, Dr. 
Curwin calculated to carry his audience with him by means 
of his vigorous denunciations. The tables were turned 

1 Stow, p. 559, says the sermon was on May 28. Probably both dates 
are wrong, as neither the 8th nor a8th was a Sunday in any year about this 
time. May i8th, however, was a Sunday in 1533. 

2 Curwin, or as he is called in the episcopal registers of the diocese of 
Hereford, " Mgr. Hugo Coren, LL.D.," was a canon of Hereford. On the 
death of bishop Fox he was appointed by Cranmer to administer the diocese 
sede vacante (vide his register). Bonner, as elect of Hereford, appointed him 
his commissary. Under Fox, he had held the post of Vicar -general. He was 
made dean of Hereford in 1541, archbishop of Dublin in 1555, and in 1567 
translated by Elizabeth to the See of Oxford. 

The Friars and the Carthusians 49 

when another of the Greenwich brethren leaned over from 
the rood, and not alone defended his absent brother, but 
vehemently accused Curwin himself of acting as he did 
through hopes of preferment. " This Elstow," continues the 
chronicler, "waxed hot 1 and spake very earnestly, so that 
they could not make him cease his speech until the king 
himself bade him hold his peace." 2 

The following day, as the king had directed, the two 
friars Peto and Elstow were brought before the council, 
when Elstow again boldly replied to the threats of Henry 
Bourchier, earl of Essex. After the lords had "rebuked 
them, the E. of Essex told them, that they had deserved to 
be put into a sack and cast into the Thames. Whereunto 
Elstow, smiling, said, 'Threaten these things to rich and 
dainty folk who are clothed in purple, fare delicately, and 
have their chiefest hope in this world, for we esteem them 
not, but are joyful that for the discharge of our duties we 
are driven hence. With thanks to God we know the way to 
heaven, to be as ready by water as by land, and, therefore, 
we care not which way we go.' " 3 The two friars, Peto and 
Elstow, apparently escaped with a reprimand and the punish- 
ment of exile from England. 

By the spring of 1534 events had progressed rapidly. 
Parliament, under the skilful management of Crumwell, had 
proved itself so pliant to Henry's will that the king could 
contemplate a final move against the unbending Greenwich 
friars. Already, according to one authority, 4 friar Forest, 

1 After relating Elstow's answer to "this great Golias bragge," Harpsfield 
(ut sup., p. 204) says : " Many other things he would have then spoken, and 
much ado there was to stay him. At the hearing of this the king was cast 
into a great choler, and in a great heat commanded that these friars should be 
conveyed thither where he should never hear more of them." The author 
says he heard the whole account from Elstow himself. 

2 Harpsfield (ut sup.) gives much the same account. He says that Dr. 
Curwin preached on Palm Sunday, "the next Sunday," by the king's order. 
" But lord," he continues, " what a stir that Currante made against that poor 
friar, being absent, and what nicknames he gave him ! At length, as though 
he had now full conquered him, he began to triumph and insult upon him, 
crying out ' Where is miser and micher Micheas ? Where doth he now 
micher? He is run away, for that he would not hear what should be said 
unto him. Belike he is somewhat lurking and musing with himself by what 
means he may honestly recant.' " 

3 Stow, ut supra. 

4 Bourchier, Hist. Eccl. de Mart. Fratrum, 1583. Mr. Gairdner places friar 
Forest's letters in his Calendar, vol. vii. Nos. 129 to 134, but notes that there 
is no sign of Forest's imprisonment at this date, although the "complaints of 


50 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

who five years later died a martyr's death, was lodged in 
prison, although not so closely watched as to be unable to 
communicate by letter with Catherine and others. To the 
queen he wrote begging her prayers, and telling her not to 
grieve for his fate. At the age of sixty-four he hoped to be 
constant, and as he believed he had only three days to live 
he sent her his rosary. 1 Again, in answer to a note from 
one of Catherine's ladies, who expressed the distress the 
queen felt for the treatment her old confessor was experi- 
encing in prison, he begged her to tell Catherine that this 
want of fortitude was not what he had tried to teach her. 
As for himself, he said he had only to break his faith to 
save his life, and he concluded by urging her to accept 
her sufferings for Christ's sake. 2 Besides friar Forest, 
there were in prison at this time two other Observants, friar 
Rich, the warden of Richmond, and friar Risby, the warden 
of Canterbury, both charged in connection with the Maid 
of Kent. 

The Greenwich Franciscan house was not the only one, 
which at this time produced men with the courage of their 
convictions. On Passion Sunday, March 22, 1534, a certain 
Robert Cooke, of Rye, was ordered to abjure publicly, in 
the cathedral church of Winchester, certain heresies he had 
maintained about the Blessed Sacrament. On that occasion 
friar Pecock, warden of the Observant convent of Franciscan 
friars at Southampton, was the preacher. He seized the 
opportunity to speak earnestly of this and " other dampned 
heresies." He eloquently exhorted the people to stand 
steadfast even to death in their ancient faith and practice. 
He then lamented the diversity of opinions that existed in 
England, especially as regarded the pope. Some, he said, 
declared that St. Peter had no more power given him by God 
than the other apostles, and others that the pope had no 
more power than a bishop of any other diocese, whilst others 

friar Lyst (vol. vi. Nos. 168, 334, 512) may have led to his imprisonment." 
Stowe in his Chronicle (ed. 1580) says, 1532, "The 28th of May friar Forest 
was put in prison for contrarying the preacher before the king." In the list 
of Observants published in Mr. Gairdner's Calendar, vol. vii. No. 1607, is 
"John Foreste is there (London) in prison." Perhaps the most conclusive 
proof that he was probably in prison at this time is that we hear no more 
about him. Crumwell's "remembrances" are silent about this formidable 

1 Calendar, vii. No. 130. 2 Ibid., No. 132. 

The Friars and the Carthusians 51 

again taught that as a bishop was no more than a simple 
priest, " so, consequently, the pope had no more power than 
a simple curate." To prove this, he continued, people 
bought all kinds of books that were not to be believed. 
Then, taking up a volume which was beside him in the 
pulpit, he read to his audience five or six authorities on 
the Primacy of St. Peter and translated the passages into 
English. 1 

The better to carry out his wishes in regard to the 
various orders of friars, Henry conceived the ingenious plan 
of appointing over them a general superior upon whose faith- 
ful subservience to himself he could depend. And as by 
1534 his quarrel with the pope had reached its height, and 
the severance of the Church in England from its ancient de- 
pendence on Rome was complete, there remained no further 
obstacle to prevent his dealing according to his royal pleasure 
with the friars. As a first step, Crumwell and his master 
selected two worthy instruments : John Hilsey, a Dominican 
friar, afterwards successor to the saintly John Fisher in 
the see of Rochester, and Dr. George Browne, a prior of 
the Augustinian hermits, and subsequently, for his ser- 
vices to the king and his minister, created archbishop of 
Dublin. 2 

The two "grand visitors" were despatched with a full 
commission 3 to the various orders of friars in the spring 
of 1534. Their instructions were precise and intended to 
gauge the feeling of the friars very thoroughly. The 
members of every convent or friary in England were to be 
assembled in their chapter-houses and examined separately 
concerning their faith and obedience to Henry. The oath 
of allegiance to Anne Boleyn was to be administered to 
them, and they were to be bound to swear solemnly that 
they would preach and persuade the people, to accept the 
royal supremacy, to confess that the bishop of Rome had no 
more power than any other bishop and to call him Pope no 

1 Calendar, vii. No. 449. 

2 "On Sunday last," says Chapuys (1535), "an Augustinian friar (Dr. 
George Brown), who has been appointed by the king general of all the men- 
dicant orders in reward for having married the king and the Lady Anne, 
preached. . . . The language is so abominable that it is clear it must have 
been prompted by the king or Crumwell, who makes the said monk his right 
hand man in all things unlawful." 

8 Calendar, vii. No. 587 (18). 

52 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

longer. Further, the sermons of each preacher were to be 
carefully examined, and if not orthodox they were to be 
burned. Every friar was to be strictly enjoined to commend 
the king as head of the Church, the queen, the archbishop 
of Canterbury and the clergy to the prayers of the faithful. 
Lastly, each house was "to be obliged to show its gold, 
silver, and other moveable goods, and deliver an inventory 
of them," and to take a common oath, sealed with the con- 
vent seal, to observe the above orders. 1 

From the i/th to the 2Oth of April, Hilsey and Brown 
were occupied at the various friaries of London and the 
neighbourhood. They then proceeded to visit others in the 
southern parts of England. Dr. Hilsey was occupied in 
visiting the friaries of the south and west of England till 
midsummer. On June 2ist he wrote from Exeter to say 
that none of those he had so far visited had refused the 
oath to "be obedient, true, and agreeable to the king's high 
pleasure and will." He added, " I have found some, how- 
ever, that have sworn with an evil will and slenderly have 
taken the oath to be obedient." Of these he promised Crurn- 
well he would have more to say on his return. 2 His atten- 
tion was specially taken up with watching the proceedings of 
certain Franciscan Observants. At the commencement of 
July, he was in pursuit of two of these friars who were 
endeavouring to escape to the Continent from the persecu- 
tion which had already begun in England. Hilsey followed 
them through Bristol, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall, and 
at last overtook them at Cardiff, where they were already in 

One of these two friars was a certain Hugh Payn, who 
not long before had been arrested and put in prison for 
having visited the dethroned queen Catherine at her house 
at Bugden. The other was a friar named Thomas Hayfield, 
and both belonged to the house of Newark. They narrowly 
escaped capture in Somerset, to the sheriff of which county 
the king had sent a special commission for their seizure. At 
Cardiff, after almost succeeding in eluding the keen pursuit, 
they were taken whilst on the point of embarking in a 
Breton ship, disguised in secular dress. 3 

* Calmdar, vii. 590. 2 Ibid., No. 869. 

8 Ibid., No. I02O. 

The Friars and the Carthusians 53 

The State papers of this period contain various complaints 
made to Crumwell about the teaching and preaching of these 
valiant friars. They evidently remained as firmly attached to 
the ancient faith and practices as they were to the cause of 
Catherine. One or two of their number no doubt gave way 
under the pressure of the threats and the seductive nature of 
the promises addressed to them. By becoming the accusers 
of their brethren they may have hoped to purchase the royal 
favour by their treachery. Such renegades were, however, 
the exceptions ; as a body the friars remained staunch and 
fearless in their opposition to the unlawful will of the king 
and his minister. An instance, recorded in a document of 
this time, reveals to us how commonly the people applauded 
this attitude, and condemned the weakness of those that 
yielded. Friar John George of Cambridge was apparently 
one of the latter sort. His mother, however, was made of 
sterner stuff, and rated him right roundly for having given 
in to the influence of the times. She is grieved indeed, she 
writes to him, to find her son a heretic. It was not for this 
that he had received his education from the good nuns of 
Dartford. "And," she continues, "you send me word that 
you will come over to me this summer, but come not unless 
you change your condition, or you shall be as welcome ' as 
water into the sheep.' You shall have God's curse and 
mine and never a penny. I had rather give all my goods 
to the poor than keep you in heresy." l 

Above all the rest, the Observants of Greenwich and 
Richmond were the objects of the special solicitude of Henry 
and his agents. Rowland Lee, one of the king's chaplains, 
and of late made bishop of Coventry and Li ch field, was 
selected, together with Thomas Bedyll, clerk of the council, 
to make the final attempts to influence them. Friar Rich, 
the warden of the Richmond friars and his companion, friar 
Risby of Canterbury, had been executed at Tyburn with 
the holy maid of Kent on the 2Oth April 1534, and very 
shortly afterwards the two commissioners reported their first 
move in the matter to their employer, Crumwell. They had 
induced the prior and convent of the Carthusians of Sheen 
to take the required oath, and the prior and procurator, they 
wrote, had been doing their best to win the consent of their 

1 Calendar, vii. No. 939. 

54 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

neighbours, the Observants of Richmond ; earnestly exhort- 
ing them to bend their minds to the king's wishes. Both the 
bishop and his coadjutor had also been busy at the same 
work, holding various conferences with the friars; but, as 
they are obliged to confess, without any sign of success. 
In fact, they had been in despair of effecting their purpose, 
but, with the Sheen influence at work, they had some slight 
shadow of hope that they might finally win the Franciscans 
to what the king required. 1 

The next few weeks were occupied in equally fruitless 
efforts to obtain the consent of the Carthusians to the oath. 
It was not, therefore, till Saturday, June iSth, that Lee and 
Bedyll followed up their attacks upon the Richmond friars. 
On that day Dr. George Browne, or, as Lee calls him, " the 
provincial of the Austin friars," delivered to the bishop 
and his fellow-commissioner Crum well's orders to proceed 
at once to conclusions. Armed with these letters, they betook 
themselves directly to Richmond, which they reached " be- 
tween ten and eleven o'clock at night." " In the following 
morning," as they report to Crumwell, " we had first com- 
munication with the warden and one of the seniors, named 
Sebastian, and after that with the whole convent." At first, 
although they made use of "all the means and policies" 
they could devise to obtain the oath and the signatures and 
convent seal to the " articles " sent by Dr. George Browne, 
the warden and his faithful friars absolutely refused, "and 
showed themselves very untoward in that behalf." 

They then fell back on another plan. After some argu- 
ment, they finally persuaded the convent, as a body, to trust 
the settlement of the matter to the discretion of four of their 
senior members, "otherwise called discretes," who were to 
be given full power to act in their behalf. Having secured 
this much, the commissioners arranged that the four friars, 
to whom the community had intrusted their honour and 
conscience, should meet them at the house of the Greenwich 
Observants, and should bring with them the convent seal, 
on Monday, June i/th. "And so they did." 

The two commissioners, Lee and Bedyll, arrived at 
Greenwich somewhat elated at the success of their diplo- 
macy at Richmond. They fortified themselves with the 

1 Calendar, vii. No. 622, May 7. 

The Friars and the Carthusians 55 

hope that here also they might prevail upon the friars to 
walk into the same trap. If they were only pliable and 
would commit the matter to the judgment of some few of 
the brethren, it would, in their opinion, serve a double 
purpose. It would be the means of "avoiding superfluous 
words and idle reasonings," and in case the "discretes" 
chosen should refuse their consent to the proposed articles, 
" it were better after our minds," they say, " to strain a few 
than a multitude." Their plans came to nothing, for their 
advice was rejected. The Greenwich Observants absolutely 
refused to leave a matter of this kind to be settled by a few 
deputies, saying, "that as it concerned particularly every 
one of their souls, they would answer particularly every 
man for himself." 

The commissioners were thus driven unwillingly to 
discuss the whole matter in public. After a long debate, 
and after each friar had been privately examined as to his 
readiness to accept the royal desires, they found that one 
and all steadily refused to subscribe any rejection of Papal 
authority and jurisdiction. The friars declared that the 
proposed article "was clearly against their profession and 
the rule of St. Francis." 1 And from this position all the 
arguments of Bedyll and the bishop were unable to move 
them. They represented that the two archbishops and 
most of the bishops of the country, with prelates and 
learned priests, had subscribed to the declaration that the 
pope had no authority according to the scriptures (ex sacris 
literis) in England. They urged that it was obvious pre- 
sumption for them to persist in a refusal which virtually 
condemned what so many good and well-instructed ecclesi- 
astics had done. This argument, no doubt, had been used 
with fatal effect to secure the adhesion of many who in 
their own hearts condemned the doctrine of royal supremacy 
as contrary to Catholic faith ; but with the friars Observant 
it failed, as it subsequently failed with More and Fisher. 
The baffled visitors write to their master, " All this notwith- 

1 The words of the rule which the friars pointed out to Lee are: "Ad 
hsec per obedientiam injungo ministris ut petant a domino Papa unum de 
Sanctse Romanse Ecclesise Cardinalibus, qui sit gubernator, protector et 
corrector istius fraternitatis, ut semper subditi et subject! pedibus Sanctse 
Ecclesise ejusdem stabiles in fide Catholica paupertatem et humilitatem et 
secundum Evangelium Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, quod firmiter promisimus 

56 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

standing, their conclusion was they had professed St. Francis' 
religion, and in the observance thereof they would live and 
die." " Sorry we be," they conclude, " we cannot bring them 
to no better frame and order in this behalf, as our faith- 
ful minds was to do for the accomplishment of the king's 
pleasure." l 

Henry, thus foiled in his designs, determined to strike 
quickly and effectually. As yet, however, there was no law 
by which these bold and unbending friars, who set his 
wishes at defiance, could be made to feel the weight of his 
royal displeasure. Neither was it illegal for them to refuse, 
however obstinately, their adherence to articles proposed to 
them even with the royal authority. Still the question of 
legality was never allowed to bar the way against the royal 
will, and the suppression of the entire order of Observants 
followed quickly upon their positive refusal to be bound by 
the articles proposed to them by Lee and Bedyll. " Within 
a few days," writes the great authority on the history of 
this period, " two carts of friars were seen passing through 
the city to the Tower." 2 These were the staunch Fran- 
ciscans of Observance. By the beginning of August, Chapuys 
wrote to tell his master that "of the seven 3 houses of Ob- 
servants, four have been already emptied of friars because 
they have refused to swear to the statutes made against the 
Pope. Those in the other two expect to be expelled." 4 
Three weeks later their expectation had been fulfilled, as the 
Imperial ambassador again wrote "that all the Observants 
of the kingdom have been driven from their monasteries 
for refusing the oath against the Holy See, and have been 
distributed in several monasteries, where they were locked 
up in chains, and worse treated than they could be in 

About two hundred of the Observant friars were thus 
cast without trial into prison. The convents from which 
they were expelled were temporarily occupied by friars of 

1 Wright, Supp. of Monast., pp. 41-44. 

2 Mr. Gairdner, vii. Preface, xxviii. 

3 These convents were said to be "houses of the foundation of Henry 
VII." ("Prevarication of the Church's Liberties," ch. iv., Eyston MS., 
quoted in Lewis' Sanders' Schism, p. in). Most of them, however, existed 
as monasteries before, and Henry VII. only made them Observants. See 
Dugdale, vi. p. 1504. 

4 Calendar, vii. No. 1057, August yth. 

The Friars and the Carthusians 57 

the Augustinian order. 1 Fifty of the Observants died from 
the hardships of their prison life ; several, through the in- 
fluence of Wriothesley, their secret friend and admirer, 
obtained leave to retire into France and Scotland, 2 and 
others possibly passed into Ireland with the permission of 
Crumwell, who was glad to get rid of them on any terms. 
To this may refer the note entered in the minister's " Re- 
membrances : " " Item to remember the friars of Greenwich 
to have licence to go into Ireland." 8 

No account of the suppression of the Observant friars 
would be complete without some reference to the story of 
their most renowned member, the saintly John Forest. He 
was some sixty-four years of age when he was imprisoned 
in 1534, and of these forty-three he had spent in religion. 
He had been warden of Greenwich and provincial of all 
the Observant friars in England, as well as the constant 
friend and confessor of Queen Catherine. 

Bishop Latimer seems to have thought the treatment 
friar Forest received in prison too gentle. "Forest, as I 
hear," he writes to Crumwell, " is not duly accompanied in 
Newgate for his amendment with the white friars of Don- 
caster and the monks of the Charterhouse, in a fit chamber 
more like to indurate than to mollify, whether through the 
fault of the sheriff or of the gaoler or both, no man could 
sooner discern than your lordship. Some think he is rather 
comforted in his way than discouraged ; some think he is 
allowed both to hear mass and also to receive the Sacra- 
ment ; which, if it be so, it is enough to confirm him in his 
obstinacy." 4 

The depositions against Forest are clear and decisive of 
his real sentiments as to the matters at issue between the 
king and Rome, and it may be taken as certain that he died 
for his belief in the necessity of the Papal supremacy, and 
that even in the agony of his fearful death he remained 
constant and true to this his faith. 

Like More, Fisher, and the rest who were martyred in 
defence of the Papal primacy, Forest fell under the law of 

1 Editor of Sanders' Schism (1587), probably on Bourchier's authority, who 
gives the same. Hist, de Mart. FF. Ord. Min., 1583. 

2 Lingard, Hist., vi. p. 268. 
8 Calendar, vii. No. 49. 

4 Latimer 's Remains (Parker Soc.), p. 392. 

5 8 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

treason, but for him alone was reserved the additional dis- 
tinction of suffering for heresy also. Collier says he " was 
condemned for heresy and high treason, though by what law 
they could stretch his crime to heresy is hard to discover, 
for he was tried only for dissuading his penitents in confes- 
sion from owning the king's supremacy." 1 The commission 
which tried the friar was presided over, most probably, by 
Cranmer in person. He at least writes to make arrange- 
ments with Crumwell for the examination. " The bishop of 
Worcester" (Hugh Latimer), he says, "and I will be to- 
morrow with your lordship to know your pleasure concerning 
friar Forest. For if we should proceed against him accord- 
ing to the order of the law, there must be articles devised 
beforehand which must be ministered unto him ; and there- 
fore it will be very well done that one draw them up against 
our meeting." 2 The result of the meeting was that Forest 
was condemned to die by fire in Smithfield on the 22nd 
May, 1538. 

On the day appointed for the execution preparations 
were made in Smithfield for it. A pair of new gallows were 
placed over the faggots for a fire, from which friar Forest 
could be suspended in a "cradle of chains." The billets of 
wood were to a large extent composed of the chips of a 
desecrated image, called Darvel Gadarn, which had been 
held in high honour by the people of North Wales 3 and 
which had been removed from its ancient shrine shortly 

1 Eccl. Hist., ed. 1714, ii. p. 149. Mr. Gairdner (Calendar, xiii. (i), pre- 
face, xviii.) says that the execution of friar Forest for "heresy" was a clear 
indication to the country generally " that there was to be no abatement in the 
exercise of that spiritual supremacy claimed by the crown. The idea was still 
a novelty, and notwithstanding the severities with which it was at first enforced 
might not have sunk deep into the popular mind if it had been further exem- 
plified only by such things as a royal proclamation at the beginning of March 
(1538), permitting faithful subjects to eat white meat, that is to say, eggs and 
milk food, in Lent." . . . There were many, we may be sure, even among the 
laity, who declined to take advantage of it ; while abroad the exercise of such 
a dispensing power appeared simply a thing to laugh at. " The King of Eng- 
land," said Francis I., " gives dispensations like his Holiness, and I believe 
will soon want to sing Mass." Still the king's subjects were not allowed to 
go beyond the limits of the royal dispensations. ' ' To transgress the old rules 
of the Church, except by royal license, was as dangerous as ever." 

2 Cranmer, Works (Parker Soc.), vol. i. p. 239. 

3 Ellis Price to Crumwell, B. Mus. Cott. MS., Cleop. E. iv. f. 556. It 
was held as a tradition, says Hall, that the image should set a Forest on fire. 
Perhaps this suggested the manner of death awarded to Forest. 

The Friars and the Carthusians 59 

We can easily imagine the kind of sermon that fell from 
the lips of Bishop Latimer, the preacher. " It was of the 
usual kind," writes Froude, "the passionate language of 
passionate conviction," as he "confuted the friar's errors 
and moved him to repentance." 1 But Latimer's eloquence 
and vigorous denunciation of the Pope and his followers 
proved of no avail, for " in the end, when the bishop asked 
him what state he would die in, the friar with a loud voice 
answered and said that if an angel should come down from 
Heaven and teach him any other doctrine than he had re- 
ceived and believed from his youth, he would not now believe 
him. And that if his body should be cut joint after joint, 
or member after member burnt, hanged, or what pain soever 
might be done to his body, he would never turn from his 
old profession. Moreover, he told the bishop that seven 
years before he dared not have made such a sermon for 
his life." 2 

Delay was useless ; no argument was likely to shake the 
constancy of the friar, and, with Crumwell and the rest 
looking on, Forest was slung from the gallows with chains 
"by the middle and armholes all quick over the flames." 8 
In his mortal agony he clutched at the steps of the ladder to 
sway himself out of the blaze; and the pitiless chronicler 
who records the scene could only see in this last weakness 
an evidence of guilt. " So impatiently," says Hall, " he took 
his death as never any man that put his trust in God." 4 

Before the final dispersion of the Franciscan Observants, 
Crumwell had, as we have seen, commenced his conflict with 
the fathers of the Charterhouse. Unlike the friars, the 
secluded religious of St. Bruno's order had taken no active 
part in opposing the union of Henry and Anne Boleyn. 
Neither had they appeared conspicuously as the champions 
of queen Catherine; and although it was known that the 
" Holy maid of Kent " had visited them at their London 
house, there was nothing in the evidence collected against 
her to mark them out as her advisers or abettors. Still, 
their general influence, at this time very considerable owing 
to the exceptional sanctity of their lives, was exercised in 
opposition to the king's revolt from the holy see. Rumour 
even spoke of the prior of the London Charterhouse, John 

1 Stow, Annales, p. 569. 2 Ibid., p. 569. 

* Hall, ed. 1548, f. 233. 4 Froude, Hist., vol. iii. p. 296. 

60 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

Houghton, as privately exhorting his penitents to remain 
firm in refusing to abjure the Papal supremacy. 1 

The Charterhouse of the " Salutation of the most blessed 
Mother of God" in London was a model of religious ob- 
servance. According to Maurice Chauncy, one of the few 
religious of the convent who purchased their lives by com- 
pliance with the king's wishes, all were leading the most 
holy lives. In the language of his penitence he alone, " the 
spotted and diseased sheep" of the flock, deserved "to be 
cast out of the fold," and to lose the crown of martyrdom. 2 
Twenty of the community were not yet thirty-eight years 
of age, and they vied one with the other in the fervour of 
their observance. Even the lay brethren were remarkable 
for their perfect lives, and were true " conversi" from the 
world and its ways. Two of their number, brothers Roger 
and John, had often been seen by Chauncy raised in ecstasy 
from the ground whilst praying. 3 

A worthy superior presided over this saintly community. 
Blessed John Houghton had sprung from a good Essex 
family, and had gone early in life to the University of 
Cambridge in preparation for the honourable career in the 
world to which the intentions of his parents had destined 
him. Maurice Chauncy draws a charming picture of him 
as prior. In person " he was short, with a graceful figure 
and dignified appearance; his actions modest, his voice 
gentle, chaste in body, in heart humble, he was admired 
and sought after by all, and by his community was most 
beloved and esteemed. One and all revered him, and none 
were ever known to speak a word against him." 4 

In 1533 certain portents and wonders occurred which 
were thought to warn the community of impending danger. 
Without doubt, notwithstanding the seclusion of their lives, 
rumours of the gathering storm must have reached them 
in their cells. The thorny questions which surrounded the 
great matter of Henry's divorce must have been suggested 
to their minds, and were doubtless thought over and prayed 
over in their solitude. The royal agents would thus have 
found the simple monks of the Charterhouse not unprepared 
for them, and resolutely resolved to meet their demands for 

1 Strype, Ecd. Mems., i. p. 305. 

2 Historia aliquot nostri saculi martyrum, 1583, p. 41. 

3 Ibid., p. 47. 4 Ibid., p. 40. 

The Friars and the Carthusians 61 

a surrender of their consciences by that refusal which has 
made their names respected even by those who cannot 
appreciate their motives. 

Early in April, 1 5 34, the convent was visited by Lee and 
Bedyll, under a commission from the king, to obtain the 
signatures of the religious to the oath of succession. The 
royal agents first saw the prior, but could make nothing of 
him. To all their arguments he replied, that " it pertained 
not to his vocation and calling nor to that of his subjects to 
meddle in or discuss the king's business, neither could they 
or ought they to do so, and that it did not concern him 
whom the king wished to divorce or marry, so long as 
he was not asked for any opinion." 1 The visitors were 
not satisfied with this reply and insisted on meeting the 
brethren in chapter. To this demand the prior was forced 
to agree, but the situation only obliged him to speak more ,- * -. ' 
plainly in the presence of his brethren. For his part, he 
said, "he could not understand how it was possible that a ft 
marriage ratified by the Church and so long unquestioned 
should now be undone," and to this view the whole com- 
munity adhered. 

Such plain speaking on the part of Prior Houghton 
was sufficient for the commissioners. His committal to 
the Tower, together with the procurator of the convent, 
Humphrey Middlemore, quickly followed. They remained 
there a month, suffering, as the historian of these troubles 
relates, from the dirt and pestilential atmosphere of the 
dungeon in which they were confined, as well as from 
absolute want of food. 

Stokesley, the bishop of London, and Lee, archbishop of 
York, were sent to visit Houghton and Middlemore in the 
Tower. They persuaded them that the question of the 
succession was not a cause in which to sacrifice their lives 
for conscience sake. After a month's space, therefore, the 
prior and his companion promised to comply with the king's 
desires and returned home to their brethren. Meeting his 
subjects in the chapter-house, Houghton informed them 
of his submission, but added that he was convinced this 
yielding would not avail to save them for long from the 
destruction he foresaw. "Our hour, dear brethren," he 

1 Chauncy, Commentariolus de vita ratione et martyrio Cartusianorum, 
ed. Gandavi, 1608, p. 46. 

62 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

continued, "is not yet come. In the same night in which 
we were set free I had a dream that I should not escape 
thus. Within a year I shall be brought again to that place, 
and then I shall finish my course." 1 Influenced by this 
prediction, the monks at first resolved not to abide by the 
prior's promised submission, but again to refuse compli- 
ance with the royal demands. For a time they were reso- 
lute. When, however, the commissioners returned, in com- 
pany with the lord mayor and his officers and threatened 
them with immediate imprisonment, they yielded, taking the 
oath under the condition "so far as it was lawful." The 
swearing occupied two days. On the first occasion, May 
29, 1534, the commissioners were Lee and Bedyll, and 
fourteen subscribed, amongst whom were Houghton and 
Middlemore; and on the second day, June 6th, the re- 
mainder of the community conformed, in the presence of 
Lee and another visitor, Thomas Kytson. 2 

From the hour of their compliance the community knew 
but little peace. Even among the brethren of the Charter- 
house some were restless under the restraints of monastic 
discipline, and saw in the difficulties which beset their 
house a possible means of escape from the bonds which 
kept them to the cloister. But about the real spirit of the 
community as a body, during the months that passed before 
the martyrdom of the prior and his companions, there can 
be no doubt. Archdeacon Bedyll, at the end of August, 
1534, wrote to Crumwell about them and the religious 
of Sion. " I am right sorry to see the foolishness and 
obstinacy of diverse religious men so addicted to the bishop 
of Rome and his usurped power, that they contemn all 
counsel and likewise jeopardy their bodies and souls and 
the suppression of their houses as careless men and willing 
to die." 3 Every effort was made throughout the year to bring 
the Charterhouse monks into real compliance with the royal 
will. The prior of the Brigittines of Sion, who was some- 
times known under the title of "father confessor," was 
apparently looked upon by Crumwell as zealous in Henry's 
service. To him, therefore, by direction of the minister, 
several of the Carthusian religious were sent for advice, in 

1 Chauncy, in Froude, Hist., ii. 347. 

2 Calendar, vii. No. 728 ; Rymer, xiv. 491. 
8 State Papers, i. 423. 

The Friars and the Carthusians 63 

the hopes that his influence would tend to remove their 
scruples and take away the sting of their remorse. Two of 
these, both priests and professed monks, named William 
Broke and Bartholomew Burgoyn, surrendered their con- 
sciences after a long argument with the prior at Sion. 
Writing to him later they speak of the "great pains" he has 
taken to win over two other religious of their convent, and 
express their hopes that he will succeed in inducing them 
to trust their souls to his guidance. 1 Maurice Chauncy 
probably owes the loss of his martyr's crown, which he so 
much bewails, to the perverting influence of this Brigittine 
friar. In company with another religious of the Charter- 
house, John Foxe, he was sent to Sion at the end of August, 
1534. The letter which they took with them begged the 
prior to argue with them, and "show charity to them as you 
have done to others." They are scrupulous, the writer 
says, " about the bishop of Rome," but are not " obstinate," 
and each of them has a " book of authorities " which must 
be answered. 2 

By the beginning of 1535 any doubts which might be 
entertained as to the full intentions of Henry were at an 
end. On January I5th the new title of "Supreme Head" 
was incorporated in the king's style by decree of council. 
The rupture with Rome and the causes which led to it were 
unquestionably deeply distasteful to the nation at large. 
"On no other subject," writes Mr. Gairdner, "during the 
whole reign have we such overt and repeated expressions of 
dissatisfaction with the king and his proceedings." 8 Many 
of the influential persons of the realm were even anxiously 
looking for some external intervention to stop the course 
upon which Henry had embarked. Chapuys asserts, that 
Lord Darcy's physician had assured him "that the whole 
realm was so indignant at the oppressions and enormities 
now practised, that if the emperor would make the smallest 
effort the king would be ruined."* The act of supremacy 
had, indeed, added greatly to the royal power, as well as to 
the kingly style, and there was no pretence that it was 
framed with any scrupulous concern for civil liberty. With 
an authority " to visit, repress, redress, reform, order, correct, 

1 Calendar, vii. No. 1093. 2 Ibid., No. 1150. 

8 Ibid., viii. Preface on Nos. 589, 736-738, &c. 
4 Ibid., No. i. 

64 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

restrain, and amend heresies, errors, abuses, offences, con- 
tempts, and enormities, whatsoever they be," to the same 
extent as his compliant judges might hold lawful to any 
spiritual authority, what might not an unscrupulous king 
like Henry attempt when urged on by such a minister 
as Crumwell ! No wonder the people of England looked for- 
ward with dread to the possible development of a power 
which had added the spiritual to the temporal authority. 
No wonder if they distrusted a monarch who, according to 
the quaint but significant expression of "an old writer," 
was constituted " a king with a pope in his belly." 1 

To the fathers of the Charterhouse the act of supremacy 
meant destruction. By the end of 1534 it would have been 
abundantly clear to Crumwell, that whatever the few weaker 
spirits among the community, who had been seduced by 
promise or specious argument, might do, the Carthusians 
as a body would resist even to death any further demand 
of Henry for their rejection of papal authority. Their doom 
was known to be certain when it became publicly under- 
stood that those suspected of hostility or even of half-hearted- 
ness in the king's cause, and of lukewarmness or secret 
dislike of Henry's divorce, might be submitted to questioning 
on this new kingly prerogative of spiritual supremacy. The 
prior, no longer doubting that the end of their suspense was 
at hand, told his subjects to prepare for the worst. 

"With unobtrusive nobleness," writes Froude, "did 
these poor men prepare themselves for their end ; not less 
beautiful in their resolution, not less deserving the everlast- 
ing remembrance of mankind than those three hundred who, 
in the summer morning, sat combing their golden hair in the 
passes of Thermopylae. We will not regret their cause; 
there is no cause for which any man can more nobly suffer 
than to witness that it is better for him to die than to speak 
words which he does not mean. Nor, in this their hour of 
trial, were they left without higher comfort." a 

When the danger seemed imminent, Robert Laurence, 
the prior of the Charterhouse of Beauvale in Nottingham- 
shire, and Augustine Webster, prior of Axholme in Lincoln- 
shire, came to visit and consult with their brethren of the 
London house. The first of these had been a member of 

1 Amos, Statutes of Henry VIIL, p. 283. 
1 History, ii. p. 350. 

The Friars and the Carthusians 65 

this monastery; but five years before, he had been called 
to succeed John Houghton in the priorship of Beauvale, 
when the latter was summoned to London. The second, 
Augustine Webster, had gone to Axholme from Shene 
Charterhouse in Surrey. The three priors, after consulta- 
tion, determined to anticipate the coming of the king's 
commissioners. By a personal interview with Crumwell 
himself, they hoped to obtain some mitigation of the 
expected royal demands. Perhaps, in accordance with 
Houghton's determination, they desired to offer themselves 
in behalf of their brethren. Crumwell, on learning the 
purpose of their visit, refused to listen to them, and sent 
them forthwith from his house to the Tower as rebels and 
would-be traitors. 1 A week later, on April 20, 1535, the 
minister held an examination of Webster and Laurence at 
his house in the "Rolls." There were present a number 
of the council as witnesses. The notary, John Ap-Rice, 
records, that when asked whether they would take the oath 
of supremacy and reject the authority of any other but the 
king, over the Ecclesia Anglicana, they both stoutly re- 
fused. 2 

In prison the three fathers had been joined by Father 
Richard Reynolds, a Brigittine monk of Sion, who had been 
committed to ward for the same cause. 3 The depositions 
record the opinions of each of the accused in much the same 
language. Houghton's view about the supremacy was clear 
and decided. Laurence and Webster both declared that 
they could " not take our sovereign lord to be supreme head 
of the Church, but him that is by God the head of the 
Church, that is the bishop of Rome, as Ambrose, Jerome, 
and Augustine teach." Richard Reynolds declared, that 
though " he would spend his blood for the king, still that 
the pope is head of the Church, that hath been these three 
hundred years, and not the king;" and he also said "that 
he doth, as a thousand thousand that are dead " had done 
before in this matter. 4 As nothing was likely to change 

1 Chauncy, Commentariolus, p. 76. 

8 Calendar, viii. No. 565 (i). 

8 Reynolds was a member of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He 
took his B.D. degree in 1512, and immediately after became, with a college 
companion, a brother of the Sion Monastery. He was the same year elected 
one of the University preachers. (Camb. Reg. Grace Book, B. p. 305.) 

4 Ibid., No. 566, also No. 565 (2). 


66 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

the constancy of these fathers, a special commission was 
appointed to try them for treason under the Act of Succession. 
On April 24th the grand jury panel was returned, and the 
trial appointed for Wednesday, the 28th of the same month. 
Two days before, they underwent an examination in the 
Tower by Crumwell and a committee of the privy council. 
Their refusal to accept the oath of supremacy on this 
occasion formed the substance of the charge against them. 
Before the jury, on the 28th, they were indicted, in common 
with Father Reynolds, on the charge that they "did, on 
26 April, 27 Henry VIII., at the Tower of London, in the 
county of Middlesex, openly declare and say, ' the king, our 
sovereign lord, is not supreme head in earth of the Church 
of England.'" They all four pleaded not guilty to this 
novel charge of verbal treason. The verdict of the jury was 
deferred till the following day. 1 

" The jury," as an old account of the trial says, " could 
not agree to condemn these four religious persons, because 
their consciences proved them they did not it maliciously. 
The judges hereupon resolved them, that whosoever denied 
the supremacy denied it maliciously, and the expressing of 
the word maliciously in the act was a void limit and restraint 
of the construction of the words and intention of the offence. 
The jury, for all this, could not agree to condemn them, 
whereupon Crumwell, in a rage, went unto the jury and 
threatened them if they condemned them not. And so being 
overcome by his threats, they found them guilty, and had 
great thanks, but they were afterwards ashamed to show 
their faces, and some of them took great (harm) for it." 2 

The verdict of "guilty" was followed by a sentence of 
death on all the four, to be carried out according to the form 
usual in cases of high treason, and they were then conducted 
back to the Tower to prepare for their end. Meanwhile, 
when Houghton lay in prison, Crumwell's agents were busy 
amongst his community endeavouring to win them over to 
compliance with the king's orders. One of these commis- 

1 Deputy Keepet. Kept. iii. App. ii. 238. 

a B. Mus. Arund. MS., 152, f. 308. A similar account is given by Chauncy. 
See also Strype, Eccl. Mems., i. 305. Mr. Froude (ii. 357 note) says that 
it is impossible Crumwell could have threatened the jury, because the verdict 
was given the same day as the petty jury were empanelled. The jury were 
returned on the 28th, whilst their verdict was given the following day. It does 
not seem clear whether the pleadings and verdict were on the same day. 

The Friars and the Carthusians 67 

sioners, John Whalley, who appears to have been specially 
appointed to guard the Charterhouse at this time, writes to 
Crumwell his views as to the methods most likely to succeed. 
"It is of no use," he says, "for one Mr. Rastall to come 
there. He pleads, indeed, that you (Crumwell) wished him 
daily to resort hither," but the monks " laugh and jest at all 
things he speaketh. No question of it," he continues, " they 
be exceedingly superstitious, ceremonious, and pharisaical, 
and wonderfully addict to their old mumpsimus ; neverthe- 
less, better and more charitable it were to convert them 
than to put them to the extremity of the law." l 

The three Carthusian priors, Houghton, Webster, and 
Lawrence, together with the Brigittine, Father Reynolds, and 
his neighbour, John Hale, vicar of Isleworth, were executed 
at Tyburn on May 4th. The details of the execution were 
of a nature more horrible than usual, even in the terrible and 
barbarous punishment of death for treason. The fact that 
the religious were drawn to the place of execution in their 
habits made a great impression upon the people, and the 
whole was no doubt arranged in order to afford to religious 
and ecclesiastics a terrible example of Henry's power. To 
each, as he mounted the scaffold, a pardon was offered if he 
would obey the king and parliament. Each in turn rejected 
the offer of life at the price of a guilty conscience. 

" It is altogether a new thing," writes Chapuys to the 
Emperor the following day (May 5th), " that the dukes of 
Richmond and Norfolk, the earl of Wiltshire, his son, and 
other lords and courtiers were present at the said execution, 
quite near the sufferers. People say that the king himself 
would have liked to see the butchery, which is very pro- 
bable, seeing that nearly all the court, even those of the privy 
chamber, were there his principal chamberlain, Norres, 
bringing with him 40 horses ; and it is thought that he (the 
king) was of the number of five who came thither accoutred 
and mounted like borderers, who were armed secretly, with 
vizors before their faces, of which that of the duke of 
Norfolk's brother got detached, which has caused a great 
stir, together with the fact that while the five thus habited 
were speaking all those of the court dislodged." 2 

1 Calendar, viii. No. 600. 

' J Ibid., No. 666. On 23rd May Chapuys wrote to Granvelle to say : "The 
king was not present at the execution of the Carthusians. He (the king) 

68 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

Houghton was the first to die. As he mounted beneath 
the gibbet, in compliance with the usual custom, he spoke 
briefly to the people. " I call Almighty God to witness," 
he said, " and all good people, and I beseech you all here 
present to bear witness for me in the day of judgment, that 
being here to die, I declare that it is from no obstinate re- 
bellious spirit that I do not obey the king, but because I 
fear to offend the majesty of God. Our holy mother the 
Church has decreed otherwise than the king and the parlia- 
ment have decreed, and therefore, rather than disobey the 
Church I am ready to suffer. Pray for me and have mercy 
on my brethren, of whom I have been the unworthy prior." 
Then, kneeling down, he recited a few verses of the 3ist 
Psalm and calmly resigned himself to the hands of the 
executioner. The rope used was stout and heavy, in order 
that the martyrs might not be strangled before the rest of 
the barbarous butchery could be performed. It is almost 
impossible to credit the frenzy of diabolical cruelty which 
is said to have been perpetrated on this occasion in the 
presence of the court and, as the people believed, of the 
king himself. Whilst still living they were ripped up in 
each other's presence, their bodies dishonoured, their limbs 
torn off, and their hearts 'cut out and rubbed into their 
mouths and faces.'" 1 

"The faces of these men," writes Mr. Froude, " did not 
grow pale ; their voices did not shake ; they declared them- 
selves liege subjects of the king, and obedient children of 
the Church ; ' giving God thanks that they were held worthy 
to suffer for the truth.' All died without a murmur. The 
stern work was ended with quartering the bodies ; and the 
arm of Houghton was hung up as a bloody sign over the 
archway of the Charterhouse to awe the remaining brothers 
into submission." 2 

In this there was found more difficulty than had been 
anticipated. Two days after the execution, the faithful 
Bedyll wrote to Crumwell about three of the fathers, of 
whom he could make nothing. On the very day of the 

was very angry with Norfolk and Wiltshire for not answering one of them 
(Prior Houghton) when he preached a remarkably fine sermon." Spanish 
State Papers, v. 166. 

1 Calendar, No. 726, Bishop of Faenza to M. Ambrogio. 

2 History, ii. p. 359. 

The Friars and the Carthusians 69 

martyrdom of their prior he had apparently gone to the 
Charterhouse, "and," he says, "had with me divers books 
and annotations both of mine own and others against the 
primacy of the bishop of Rome and also of St. Peter, 
declaring evidently the equality of the apostles by the law 
of God. And after long communication of more than an 
hour and a half with the vicar and procurator of the house, 
1 left those books and annotations with them, that they 
should see the Holy Scriptures and doctors thereupon con- 
cerning the said matters, and thereupon conform themselves 
accordingly. And yesterday they sent me the said books 
and annotations again home to my house by a servant of 
theirs without any word or writing. Wherefore, I sent to 
the procurator to come and speak with me, seeing I kept 
my bed by reason of sickness and could not come to him ; 
and at his coming I demanded of him whether he and the 
vicar and other of the seniors had seen or heard the said 
annotations, or perused the titles of the books making most 
for the said matters. And he answered that the vicar and 
he and Newdigate had spent the time upon them till nine or 
ten of the clock at night, and that they saw nothing in them 
whereby they were moved to alter their opinion. I then 
declared to him the danger of his opinion, which was like 
to be the destruction of them and their house for ever ; . . . 
I also demanded of the procurator whether the rest of his 
brethren were of like opinion, and he answered he was not 
sure, but he thought they were all of one mind." 1 In three 
weeks the fathers here complained of, Humphrey Middlemore, 
William Exmew, and Sebastian Newdigate, were lodged 
in prison. On June 8, 1535, the bishop of Faenza writes 
" that the Carthusians, whom the king himself tried to per- 
suade to recognise him as the head of the Church, are in 
prison with chains round their necks, and will certainly be 
put to death, but perhaps not so publicly for fear of the 
displeasure of the people, which was shown at the death of 
the others." 2 And Chapuys shortly before mentions that 
there were " three more Carthusians " in prison, whilst the 
rest were strictly guarded in their convents by the king's 
servants, " in whose custody are all the goods of the monas- 
teries of the order." " It is thought," he adds, " that the 

1 Wright, ut supra, p. 40. 2 Calendar, vol. viii. No. 846. 

70 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

king will suppress them, as they are rich, and there is no 
hope of making the religious change their opinion." 1 

The fact of their being chained in prison cannot now be 
questioned. A memorandum in the writing of John Stow, 
the historian, leaves no doubt as to this particular form of 
cruelty having been practised upon these religious whilst in 
the Tower and Newgate. "Three of them (the Carthusian 
fathers), that is to say, Humphrey (Middlemore), William 
(Exmew), and Sebastian (Newdigate), first stood in prison 
upright, chained from the neck to the arms, and their legs 
fettered with locks and chains, by the space of thirteen 
days." 2 Two years later a similar cruelty was practised 
upon a number of their brethren, and under this prolonged 
punishment many died. 

At the trial of these three fathers of the Charterhouse, 
before the same special commission of Oyer and Terminer 
appointed to try Bishop Fisher, they were charged with the 
same offence as that for which their prior had already suffered 
death. It was declared that on May 25th, at Stepney, 
each of them did say in conversation together, " I cannot 
nor will consent to be obedient to the king's highness as a 
true, lawful, and obedient subject to take and repute him to 
be supreme head in earth of the Church of England under 
Christ." 8 They pleaded " not guilty," but were condemned 
on June nth, and executed at Tyburn on the ipth of the 
same month. 

For two years no more of the Carthusians were put in 
prison. They were left, in the hope that arguments and 
restrictions as to liberty and diet would break the spirit of 
constancy which they displayed. A body of laymen were 
appointed as the governors of their house, which to all 
intents was thus turned into a prison. From the letters of 
Jasper Fyllol, one of these gaolers, to Crumwell we are 
afforded one or two glimpses of the state of subjection under 
which the monks lived during this period. 

Meantime a new prior had been placed over the convent 

1 Calendar, viii. No. 751. 

2 Ibid., No. 895. Sanders gives the same account of the inhuman treat- 
ment of these three fathers. "They had been," he writes, "for fourteen days 
before they were put to death, forced to stand upright without the possibility 
of stirring for any purpose whatever, held fast by iron collars on their necks, 
arms, and thighs." Lewis, Trans., p. 119. 

Deputy Keeper, Rept. iii. App. ii. 239. 

The Friars and the Carthusians 71 

in the room of the martyred Houghton. His name was 
William Trafford, and he had been a monk of Beauvale. In 
the beginning of the troubles he had been bold enough in 
his declarations of constancy, and had even been placed under 
the custody of the sheriff. " In a friendly conversation (he, 
the sheriff, had) showed them that the king was of right 
spiritual head." Upon this the procurator, William Trafford, 
said, " I believe firmly that the pope of Rome is supreme 
head of the Church Catholic." When the commissioners 
asked whether he would abide by his words, he replied, 
" usque ad mortem" Moreover, he wrote his words down 
and Sir John Markham carried the paper away and placed the 
monk in safe custody. 1 What happened to change the heart 
of this religious does not appear, but the fact of his appoint- 
ment, and that Bedyll praises him, would be sufficient to 
prove the surrender of his conscience to the king, to whom 
he subsequently resigned his monastery. The religious 
never knew him as a father and adviser. Of the period of 
his administration Chaunc}' says : " Being deprived of a 
prior exterior to ourselves, every man's conscience was his 

During this period of general probation for the martyr'a 
crown, Chauncy relates that every pressure that could be 
imagined was brought to bear upon them in the hopes their 
resolution might be shaken. Privy councillors would come 
and harangue them in their chapter-house on their blindness 
and perversity. Sometimes these visits would be extended 
so long that they were prevented chaunting their vespers or 
their matins. One Sunday four of them, who were thought 
to be the most obstinate, and the leaders of the rest, were 
taken by force to St. Paul's to listen to a sermon against the 
pope. Indeed, had Hilsey (the unworthy successor of the 
martyred Fisher in the see of Rochester) obtained his desires, 
all the religious of the Charterhouse would have been mar- 
shalled at the cross weekly to listen to the sermons. 2 

At length, on May 4, 1536, the anniversary of Houghton's 
death, four, who had been regarded as the leaders in the 
opposition to the king's designs, were sent tc the North of 
England and placed in houses, the temper of which was 
thought to be true to Henry. Of the rest, eight were trans- 

1 Calendar, viii. No. 566. a Ibid,, ix. No. 989. 

72 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

ferred to the Brigittine convent of Sion, to which a new prior 
of zealous loyalty had been appointed upon whose efforts 
to shake their constancy Crumwell counted. A year passed 
by before it was deemed prudent to again demand the oath. 
Hardship, argument, and pressure of every kind kept up for 
two years had sifted the chaff from the grain. The trial 
had proved the true metal, had prepared the strong for 
victory and left the weak at last in the power of an enemy 
who had pursued them so relentlessly. On May 18, 1537, 
the royal commissioners attended in the chapter-house and 
received the required oath from the prior and twenty of 
the brethren. Ten still resolutely refused, and William 
Say, the public notary, having summoned them, testified to 
their continued obstinacy. 1 

Their fate was quickly decided. On the 29th of May, 
eleven days after their refusal, they were removed to New- 
gate. Their number consisted of three priests, D. Richard 
Bere, 2 D. Thomas Johnson, and D. John Green, one deacon, 
John Davy, and six lay brothers, William Greenwood, 
Thomas Scryven, Robert Salt, Walter Peerson, Thomas 
Reding, and William Home. Their treatment in prison was 
similar to that of the three fathers of their house two years 
previously. A pious lady named Clement, afterwards mother 
Margaret Clement, has left it on record that she bribed the 
gaolers to allow her to visit these heroic monks in their 
prison. Disguised as a milkmaid, she went to them and 
"fed them, putting meat in their mouths, they being tied 
and not able to stir nor help themselves." She was thus 
for some days able to preserve their lives, and perform other 
Christian acts of charity for them. After this time the king, 
finding they were not yet starved to death, commanded a 
stricter watch to be kept over them. 

After they had been in prison only sixteen days, Bedyll 
wrote to his master concerning them : " the monks of the 
Charterhouse here at London, be almost dispatched by the 
hand of God, as it may appear to you by tnis bill enclosed, 
whereof, considering their behaviour and the whole matter, 

1 Rymer, xiv. p. 588. 

2 Richard Bere was born about the year 1508. He was a nephew of 
Abbot Bere of Glastonbury, and was educated first in the school in that abbey 
and afterwards sent by his uncle to Oxford. (See Downside Review, vol. ix. 
pp. 158-163.) 

The F r iars and the Carthusians 73 

I am not sorry, but would that all such as love not the 
king's highness and his worldly honour were in like case." 1 
The list of Carthusians which archdeacon Bedyll says 
he forwards to Crumwell is not printed by Wright, although 
it is in the same collection in the British Museum from 
which he published the letter itself. It is of great interest, 
as showing that five of the ten had already died from their 
prison hardships. It runs thus : 

1537. June 14. 
There are departed, 

Brother William Greenwood. 
Dan. John Davy. 
Brother Robert Salt. 
Brother Walter Peerson. 
Dan. Thomas Green. 

There are even at the point of death, 

Brother Thomas Scryven. 
Brother Thomas Reding. 

There are sick, 

Dan. Thomas Johnson. 
Brother William Home. 

One is healed, 
Dan. (Richard) Bird (Bere). 2 

In a very short time the list of the " departed " included 
all but one. " Furthermore, the other nine," writes the 
historian Stow, "died in prison with stink and miserably 
smothered." 3 The one who survived the horrors of that 
Newgate dungeon with its slow tortures of starvation 
and suffocation was not the monk reported by Bedyll as 
" healed," but Brother William Home. He lingered in 
prison till 1540, when, on Wednesday, August 4, he was 
hung at Tyburn. 

1 Wright, p. 162 ; from London, June 14, 1537. 

2 B. Mus. Colt. MS., Cleop. E. iv. f. 256 b. 
* B. Mus. Harl. MS., 530, f. 54. 

74 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

Of the four monks who had been sent to the North of 
England in 1536, after all the efforts of Crumwell and his 
agents had failed to shake their constancy, two received the 
martyr's palm. They had been placed in the Charterhouse 
at Hull, and complaints having reached Crumwell that they 
showed no inclination to conform, in 1537 power was 
granted to the royal officers of the district to enforce the 
decrees of parliament. The two fathers were consequently 
seized and brought to York, where they were condemned to 
death by the Duke of Norfolk. The sentence was carried 
out in the same city, and their bodies left to hang in chains. 
"Item. Two of these eighteen," writes Stow, "did remain 
hanging, the which were John Rochester and James Wal- 
wercke." l 

When archdeacon Bedyll wrote his letter on June 14, 
1537, the monastery of the London Charterhouse had ceased 
to exist. By means of the threats, or, as he calls them, the 
"sore" words of Crumwell, and his own persuasions and 
promises, the remnant of the community had been induced 
to surrender their house and property to the king. This 
was done on June 10, and according to the terms, doubtless, 
dictated by Crumwell's agent. 2 

For this compliance with what was thus represented to 
them as the king's desires, the religious were rewarded, but 
hardly as liberally as Bedyll appears to have led them to 
expect. A paper among the Augmentation Office records, 
headed " Monks to have pensions," and signed T. Crumwell, 
shows that .20 a year was promised to Trafford, and to 
fourteen of his religious .5 each. The last name on the 
list is that of Maurice Chauncy, to whom we are indebted 
for so much of our knowledge about the troubles of the 
Carthusian fathers at this period, and who himself so 
narrowly missed the crown of martyrdom gained by his 
braver brethren. 3 

1 Stow, ut supra. 

2 Rot. Glaus. 29 Hen. VIII., pars. i. 16. 

1 R. O. Augmentation Office, Miscell. Books, No. 245, f. 83. 

The Visitation of Monasteries in 1535-36 

ON the 22nd of June, 1535, the feast of England's promartyr, 
St. Alban, the saintly and venerable bishop Fisher died for 
his faith. Four days before, the Carthusian fathers had 
preceded him to their common reward. A fortnight later, 
on Tuesday the octave day of St Peter, and (as he himself 
remarked) the eve of the translation of St. Thomas of 
Canterbury, the learned Sir Thomas More laid down his 
life for the same cause. Thus by the close of the first week 
in July the axe at Tower Hill and the gallows at Tyburn 
had rid Henry VIII. of the foremost opponents of his 
concubinage with Anne Boleyn, and of his assumed ecclesi- 
astical supremacy. There was, however, hardly any period 
of his reign when the king and his counsellors were more 
harassed than during the latter half of this year. The 
foreign relations of the country were becoming strained. 
The people at home were restless and disheartened. The 
longest memory could not recall a summer more unfavour- 
able to agriculture. The corn harvest was well nigh a 
complete failure, the yield being scarcely more than the third 
part of an average crop. 1 It had rained, so said the people, 
ever since the execution of the Carthusians, 2 and they looked 
upon this as a mark of divine anger at the misdeeds of 
Henry. 3 

In determining to strike a blow at the monastic bodies, 
Crumwell had a double object to overthrow the papal 
system in its strongholds, 4 and to finger some of the riches 
with which the piety of ten centuries had endowed them. 

1 Bib. Nat. MSS. Dupuy, vol. 547 ; quoted by P. Friedmann, Ann Soleyn, 
vol. ii. p. 1 20. 

2 Ibid., June 1 8, 1535. 3 Calendar, ix. No. 594. 

4 Lord Herbert, Life of Henry VIII., p. 395, says: " They (the monas- 
teries) were looked upon as a body of reserve for the pope, and always ready 
to appear in his quarrels." 


7 6 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

By the middle of the year 1534 commissioners were busily 
journeying through England to tender the oath of supremacy 
to the religious. As no special form had been prescribed 
by parliament, Crumwell took advantage of the omission. 
He made his agents tender to the monks a much more 
stringent and explicit renunciation of the papal supremacy 
and jurisdiction than that rejected by More and Fisher, and 
already subscribed to by many of the secular clergy. The 
commissioners appear to have met with only partial suc- 
cess. The intolerable nature of the oath demanded seems 
to suggest that the intention of its framer was to drive the 
religious to refuse, and thus to create a pretext for falling 
upon and destroying their houses. 1 If the new system of 
religion was to prevail, it was impossible to allow large 
bodies of men and women to remain opposed at heart, if not 
openly, to the policy of Henry's undisguised defiance of 
papal authority. The royal supremacy was the touchstone 
of loyalty and religion in the minds of king and minister. A 
"strong coercion" had already done much to beat down 
opposition, and remorseless executions had made further 
individual resistance to the despotic will of the king and 
machiavellian policy of Thomas Crumwell all but impossible. 
Union, moreover, might be expected to give strength and 
tenacity of purpose to the monks and friars. Their direct 
dependence, besides, on the Holy See caused them to be 
regarded in a special way as the " spies of the pope." 2 The 
popular veneration in which they were held 3 must in these 
circumstances have made them particularly obnoxious, and, 
as far as Crumwell and his policy was concerned, dangerous. 

1 Canon Dixon, Hist, of Church of England, vol. i. p. 213, says that "the 
oath was taken in almost every chapter-house where it was tendered." This 
is generally stated as a fact, but as far as is known there is no proof of it. The 
list of "acknowledgments of royal supremacy," printed in the 7th report of 
the Deputy Keeper, App. II., contains all the known documents as to the 
religious bodies. They number only 105, a very small fraction of the whole. 
Of these Mr. F. Devon, the assistant keeper of public records, in making the 
list remarks: "I believe it contains all the original acknowledgments of 
supremacy deposited in the branch public record office at the chapter-house. 
The signatures are in my opinion not all autographs, but frequently in the 
same handwriting, and my impression is that the writer of the deed often 
added many of the names." 

2 R. O. Crum. Cor., vol. xv No. 7. 

3 See Harpsfield, Treatise on the Divorce (Camd. Soc.), pp. 296-301. The 
records of the Pilgrimage of Grace afford ample evidence of this popular 

The Visitation of Monasteries in 1535-36 77 

It was the opinion of more than one foreigner in England 
at the time that any movement of the emperor or pope against 
Henry would have made the nation rise against their rulers. 1 
John Ap-Rice and Thomas Legh, afterwards two of the 
royal visitors of the monasteries, who had been throughout 
England on the king's business, and so had means of forming 
a judgment, declared that even the bishops " would refer 
their jurisdiction to some one else than the king if they 
dared"* Hence the immediate necessity of subduing the 
monastic bodies, which Crumwell regarded as so many 
strongholds of papal power scattered throughout the country. 
" As many of the great men of the state and church thought," 
writes Von Ranke, " so thought also the pious members of 
the monasteries and cloistered convents. They opposed the 
supremacy, not, as they said, from inclination to disobedience, 
but because Holy Mother Church ordered otherwise than 
king and parliament ordained. The apology merely served 
to condemn them. ... In the new order of things there 
was absolutely no place for the monastic system. It was 
necessarily sacrificed to the unity of the country, and at the 
same time to the greed of great men." 3 

This " greed of great men," and in the first place of the 
king and Crumwell, was the second motive which prompted 
the suppression of the religious houses. It is difficult for 
us to estimate at its true value the prize which Henry hoped 
to obtain in the estates of the religious bodies. Nearly all 
the wealth of the country at this time consisted of real 
property : the amount of personal property being compara- 
tively insignificant. Of the whole area of England, the part 
owned by the monasteries was indeed large, although their 
wealth has been greatly exaggerated. 4 Still the prize was 
more than regal, and by this time Henry's appetite had been 
sharpened by his appropriation, as supreme ecclesiastical 
authority, of first fruits and other church revenues. 

1 Calendar, vol. ix. Nos. 435, &c. 2 Ibid., No. 424. 

8 Hist, of England, vol. i. p. 158 (ed. 1875). 

4 The revenue of the king at this time has been estimated at about ^140,000 
a year. Hume calculates the whole rental of the nation at J 3,ooo,ooo, of 
which from ^"140,000 to ^170,000 belonged to the religious bodies. (Cf. 
Lingard, Note E. vol. vi.) Besides this, Henry obtained vast sums of 
money from the Church plate and jewels of the monasteries, so that, taking all 
into account, and putting the value of the money at twelve times the present 
value, the property confiscated must have been worth some ^50,000,000 of 
our money. (Cf. Blunt, Reformation, p. 371.) 

78 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

Even now the breach with Rome was by no means re- 
garded as definitive. There was still some slight hope that 
peace might be made. Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, 
told Crumwell that at all events the statutes already passed, 
" by which the king received inestimable profit from church- 
men, 1 might be confirmed to some extent." The suggestion, 
however, was calculated to arouse Crum well's fears for 
himself, as it opened up a possibility of the ruin of Anne 
Boleyn and her party, which would involve his own fall. 
To get rid of the religious houses would make it almost 
impossible to turn back along the path that had been 
entered on. It would, moreover, strike at the very heart 
of the pope's power in England, and most effectually dash 
the hopes entertained of its renewal. 

Two years before, a parliament had transferred the right 
of visitation from the pope to the king. 2 Henry was em- 
powered to issue commissions for visiting "monasteries, 
priories, houses, and places religious exempt." In the 
methods of visitation Crumwell, as commissioner for 
Wolsey, had been well instructed. He had gone round the 
country for that purpose, and gained himself a reputation 
" for accessibility to bribes and presents in the disposal of 
monastic leases." 8 Lord Herbert states that the scheme 
for the dissolution of monasteries was discussed at a 
meeting of the council, where it met with considerable 
opposition. From this disapproval of the measure the 
king saw it would be necessary to carry out his designs 
by degrees.* 

The royal commissioners first visited the Charterhouse 
monks and the Observants of Richmond and Greenwich. 
Shortly after they got to work, they found their paths 
crossed by the bishops. The king's letter of September 
1 8th to Cranmer suspended all episcopal authority during 
the progress of the commission. The bishops did not relish 

1 The Act of Parliament giving to the king " first fruits " and " tenths." 

2 2oth clause of an act, 1533, "Concerning Peter's pence and dispen- 

3 Brewer's Hen. VHL, vol. ii. p. 268. 

4 Life of Hen. VIII., p. 424. As the council books of this period are not 
forthcoming, it is impossible to verify this statement. It is, however, very 
probable. We may note here the extraordinary gaps which exist in the 
journal books of the houses of lords and commons as well as in the council 
books at the most critical period of this reign. 

The Visitation of Monasteries in 1535-36 79 

this interference, and it was not till a fortnight later 
(October 2) that the archbishop of Canterbury issued the 
king's inhibition to his suffragans. 1 Almost at the same 
time, two of the commissioners, Legh and Ap-Rice, 
"supposing the bishops would be in hand with you again 
touching the inhibitions," 2 furnished Crumwell with their 
reasons for thus getting the bishops suspended from using 
their jurisdiction. 

The commissioners, the chief of whom, with Legh and 
Layton, were Ap-Rice, Dr. London, and Bedyll, entered on 
their task armed with the most complete authority. They 
really, however, continued to be in the most servile de- 
pendence on the chief inquisitor, Crumwell. " Having 
experience not long ago in myself," as Ap-Rice puts it in 
a letter to his master, " how grievous, yea and deadly, it is 
for any man to have the displeasure of such a man as you 
are, ... I would not wish my most enemy so great a dis- 
pleasure." * 

Layton also, in an abject letter to Crumwell, begged that 
he might be sent to visit the north part of England. He 
promised that no one else, "of what degree soever he be, 
shall do the king's highness so good service in this matter 
for those parts, doing all things so diligently for your 
purpose and discharge. Our desire is, therefore," he said, 
"now to declare unto you our true hearts and faithful 
minds, our fast and unfeigned service that we bear towards 
you and owe unto you, as ye have of right bound us." 4 
It was not till later in the year, however, that Layton had 
his wish granted. Meantime he and the others were busy 
enough. They were furnished with a set of eighty-six 
articles of inquiry 5 and with twenty-five injunctions, to 
which they had power to add much at their discretion. 
The articles of inquiry were searching, the injunctions 
minute, irritating, and exacting. Framed in the spirit of 
three centuries earlier, unworkable in practice and enforced 
by such agents, it is easy to understand, even were there 
no written evidence of the fact, that they were galling and 
unbearable to the helpless inmates of the monasteries. We 

1 Calendar, ix. No. 517. 2 Ibid., No. 424. 3 Ibid., No. 630. 

4 Wright, p. 156. The editor puts this letter in 1537, but both internal 
evidence and the date, " Friday, June 4th," show that it was written in 1536. 

5 Printed together with the injunctions in Wilkins, Concilia, iii. 786. 

8o Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

may give a passing notice to one or two of these regula- 
tions, as they show the spirit which actuated those who 
framed them. All religious under twenty-four years of 
age, or who had been professed under twenty, were to be 
dismissed from the religious life. Those who were left 
became practically prisoners in their monasteries. No one 
was allowed to leave the precincts (which, even in the 
larger monasteries, were very confined as to limit) or to 
visit there. In many instances porters, who were in reality 
gaolers, were appointed to see that this impossible regulation 
was kept. What was simply destructive of ah 1 discipline 
and order in the monasteries was an injunction that every 
religious who wished to complain of anything done by his 
superior or any of his brethren was to have a right at any 
time to appeal to Crumwell. To facilitate this, the superior 
was ordered to find any subject the money and means for 
prosecuting such an appeal in person, if he so desired. 

Injunctions such as these could only have been intended 
to invite disobedience, and thus to give the king number- 
less opportunities of interference with the internal economy 
of the monasteries. His object, apparently, was to harass 
the monks into giving up a bootless struggle and into aban- 
doning their houses. The visitor Ap-Rice, not so deeply 
in Crumwell's counsels as some of his colleagues, wrote 
that his companion Legh was pushing matters too fast. 
He remarked that it was impossible for the religious to 
be kept as prisoners, and that even the Carthusians had 
found it absolutely necessary to allow their priors to go 
abroad on business of their monastery. 1 Legh, however, 
discloses the truth as to the secret policy pursued by 
Crumwell. In a letter from the abbey of Denny a month 
or so later he writes: "By this ye may see that they 
shall not need to be put forth, but that they will make 
instance themselves, so that their doing shall be imputed 
to themselves and to no other." To this letter Ap-Rice 
adds a postscript, showing that he too now understood the 
object of the royal injunctions. " Although I reckon it well 
done that all were out," he says, "yet I think it were best 
that at their own instant suit they might be dismissed, to 
avoid calumniation and envy. And so compelling them to 

1 Calendar, ix. No. 139. 


ol J 



The Visitation of Monasteries in 1535-36 8 1 

observe these injunctions ye shall have them all to do 
shortly. And the people shall know it the better that it 
cometh upon their suit, if they be not discharged straight 
while we be here, for then the people would say that we 
went for nothing else, even though the truth were con- 
trary." 1 

Mere petty vexations, however, were not the chief means 
for carrying out the great work of destruction. Layton, 
CrumweU's right-hand man in this matter, saw in the supre- 
macy question a screw to torture consciences. By inducing 
a cowardice resulting from actions against conviction, he 
prepared his victims for the final surrender of their personal 
rights. " I should advise you," he says, in a letter containing 
his first suggestion as to the visitation of the province of 
York, "to set forth the king's authority as supreme head 
by all possible means. There can be no better way to 
beat the king's authority into the heads of the rude people 
of the north than to show them that the king intends re- 
formation and correction of religious. They are more super- 
stitious than virtuous, long accustomed to frantic fantasies 
and ceremonies, which they regard more than either God or 
their prince. 

" The Book of Articles is clear written, in the custody 
of Bartlett your clerk, and a commission is ready for the 
.me. You will never know," he adds significantly, " what 
can do till you try me." 2 

No sooner were the commissioners at their work than 
jjfficulties rose up amongst them. The letters in which 
ey refer their quarrels to Crumwell are instructive, in 
gard as well to the character as to the methods of these 
chosen instruments of reform. Legh complains to Crumwell 
I" Layton, and he in his turn is complained of by his com- 
pion Ap-Rice. Layton is inclined to be too easy in keeping 
e unfortunate religious strict prisoners. " He has left it 
>re at the discretion of the head," writes Legh ; " I have 
>t, in order that they might the more know the king's 
preme ecclesiastical power." 8 Moreover, he has not 
always dismissed those under twenty-four years of age. 
Ici reply Layton writes: "And as touching the injunctions 
your mastership do take to be very slender, it may 

1 Calendar, xi. No. 708. 2 Ibid., viii. No. 955. 

3 Ibid., ix. No. 621 


82 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

please you to understand that they be not given for in- 
junctions, but only for summary monitions and rules to be 
observed until the injunctions shall hereafter come to every 
place under the king's seal. . . . And by your better advice 
I think it in no wise expedient to give injunctions forthwith, 
but viva voce, or else by some note in writing, somewhat 
to do for a rule and order until the injunctions shall come. 
Over this, when your mastership writeth that the king's 
grace's pleasure is that the injunctions should be absolute, 
it shall be I dare say well," adds the wily agent, "that when 
ye have known my conceit in the rules and injunctions, and 
what I have there done in every condition, the king shall 
have no less expectation of your affairs than his grace had 
heretofore. Praying God that rather I may be buried quick 
than to be the occasion why the king's highness should 
diminish any part of the ' affiance,' confidence, or the expec- 
tation of your assured and proved mind towards his grace." 1 
This would seem to mean that Layton had schemes of his 
own for harrying the religious, which he did not think fit 
to communicate, by letter at least, even to Crumwell. The 
nature of his " conceit " may be gathered sufficiently from 
his later letters. 

John Ap-Rice was not better pleased with his companion, 
Dr. Legh, than the latter had been with Layton. He writes 
to Crumwell : " I see you are not pleased because I have 
not told you of Dr. Legh's demeanour. I often thought 
I ought to have revealed certain abuses and excesses, but 
first, I saw how little the complaint of others, like the abbot 
of Bruton, 2 where he used himself, methought, very inso- 
lently, did succeed. And thinking that his demeanour at 
Bradstock, Stanley, and Edington, where he made no less 
ruffling with the heads than he did at Bruton, should of all 
likelihood come likewise to your knowledge, and saw nothing 
said unto him therefore : and also supposing that you, con- 

1 Calendar, viii. No. 1127 

3 This abbot had been visited by Layton about the middle of August, who 
complained that there " and Glastonbury . . . the brethren be so straight kept 
that they cannot offend " (Wright, p. 59), when on the 23rd of the same month 
Legh arrived, and claimed the power to visit again. No wonder " the abbot, 
little regarding the authority committed to him, with sharp and quick answers," 
said : if he " would visit them anew it should be the very undoing of all abbots 
and monasteries, and otherwise showed himself very haughty and obstinate " 
(Calendar, ix. No. 159). What Legh said and how he treated the abbot may 
be gathered from Ap-Rice's letter. 

The Visitation of Monasteries in 1535-36 83 

sidering how he was one of them that depraved me here- 
tofore with your mastership, for no just cause, but for 
displeasure which he have towards me for certain causes 
which I will declare unto you more at leisure ... I called 
some of my servants at London to come with me and see 
all his proceedings, gestures, and manner of going thence 
at Westminster and St. Paul's. I did not want to go with 
him lest he, with his bold excuse, wherein he is, I advise you, 
ever ready, would have overcome me, being but of small 
audacity, especially in accusations. ... I am not eloquent 
in accusations, as some men be. 

"First, in his going he is too insolent and 'pompatique,' 
which, because he went so in London in the face of all the 
world, I thought you would have known. . . . Then he 
handleth the fathers where he cometh very roughly, and 
many times for small causes, as the abbots of Bruton and 
Stanley, and the master of Edington for not meeting of him 
at the door, when they had no warning of his coming. 
Also, I require more modesty and affability, which would 
purchase him more reverence than his own setting forth and 
' satrapike ' countenance. 

"The man is young and of intolerable elation of mind. 
As concerning his taking, I think it excessive in many 
things. First, for the election of the prior of Coventry he 
took ^IS; 1 for the election lately at Bevall, the Charter- 
house, 20, besides his costs, 6, and his reward unknown 
to me. . . . And surely he asketh no less for every election 
than 20 as of duty, which in my opinion is too much, and 
above any duty that was ever taken heretofore. 

" Also in his visitations he refuseth many times his 
reward, though it be competent, for that they offer him so 
little and maketh them to send after him such rewards as 
may please him, for surely religious men were never afraid 
so much of Dr. Allen as they be of him, he useth such rough 
fashion with them." 

After saying that Legh always went about attended by 
twelve men in livery besides his brother, Ap-Rice adds a 
word about himself, which shows us that he had evidently 
been complained of. "And as for mine own dealing and 

1 This would be equal to some iSo of our money. Other sums men- 
tioned in the letter are : "Vale Royal 1$, and costs 6; Tarrent 20, and 
costs ^4." 

84 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

behaviour, I trust ye shall have no wise cause of complaint 
against me; one thing humbly desiring your mastership, 
that ye give no light credence till the matter be proved and 
my defence. As to the defence in the other matter, I was 
so abashed that I had not those things in my remembrance 
that was for a defence." 1 

The following day Ap-Rice seems to have become 
alarmed at the possible consequences of his confidences to 
Crumwell, and wrote again : " I have certified to you certain 
things touching Mr. Doctor Legh. Although they be all true, 
I in haste did not make use of moderation. First, having 
experience in myself not long ago how grievous, yea and 
deadly, it is for any man to have the displeasure of such a 
man as you are, specially having your favour before and 
having only of you, and what desperation or other incon- 
venience may ensue thereupon to the same, so that I would 
not wish my most enemy so great a displeasure; and also 
considering for your part how ye cannot suddenly and 
violently use any extremity towards the said Mr. Doctor, 
but ye shall thereby give occasion to some to reckon that ye 
were so quick in choosing such a one to that room as ye 
would so soon after disallow and reprove. Also it would be 
thought by some other that all his doings and proceedings 
in such places as he was at were reproved by you, and he 
for the same so handled. ... It would be well, first, gently 
to admonish him to amendment, and not utterly discourage 
him and strike him under foot." 

He concludes in words the significance of which it is 
impossible to mistake. "And forasmuch as the said Mr. 
Doctor is of such acquaintance and familiarity with many 
rufflers and serving-men, if he knew this matter to have 
proceeded of me, though it be but at your commandment, 
I having commonly no great assistance with me when I go 
abroad, might take perchance irrecoverable harm of him or 
his ere I were aware. Please keep secret what I have 
said." 2 Personal violence, and even murder, was, in the 
opinion of his colleague, tne treatment Legh would mete out 
to one of the king's agents. How can it be expected that 
the scurrilous tongue, "eloquent in accusations," should 
spare and slay not the reputations of the monks and nuns 

1 Calendar, ix. No. 622. a Ibid., No. 630. 

The Visitation of Monasteries in 1535-36 85 

whose destruction was his special errand. " Quia exacuit ut 
gladium linguam suam, intendit rem amaram ut sagittet in 
occulto immaculatum." 

These extracts give some idea of the instruments by 
which Crumwell hoped to effect the ruin of the monasteries. 
To those who have studied the history of these times, it is 
a matter of no surprise to find that these men were allowed 
free and unrestrained license in dealing with their un- 
fortunate victims. Legh was written to, apparently, as to 
his harshness, and his reply is instructive, and no doubt 
was conclusive from Crumwell's point of view. " Where I 
have in all places that I have been at, according to mine 
instructions and to the king's grace's pleasure and yours, 
restrained as well the heads and masters of the same places 
as the brethren from going forth of the precincts of the said 
places, which I assure you grieveth the said heads not a 
little, as ye shall perceive by the instant suites that they 
shall make to the king's grace and to you." 1 

He had acknowledged in a letter previously quoted that 
the injunctions in this matter were impossible to keep, but 
would teach the monks the power of the king. The per- 
missions for mitigation, for which there will be "instant 
suites," may, he hints, be a source of profit also for Crumwell 
himself. 2 The latter no doubt considered this point, and 
left the victims under the torture. 

Over the sad lot of the poor nuns left to the tender 
mercies of such ruffians, history has, perhaps wisely, drawn 
a veil. Here and there we may, however, still catch a 
glimpse of the dreadful reality. Dr. Ortiz, writing to the 
empress what is reported in Rome as to the visitation of 
English monasteries, which in common with so many he 
attributes to the influence of Anne Boleyn, who hated the 
religious as most opposed to her union with Henry, says : 
" In England, Anne removed from some monasteries the 
most able persons and left the infirm with so little to main- 
tain themselves that they are constrained to relinquish the 
state of religion. They took out of the monastery all the 
nuns of less than twenty-five years of age, and one of the 
commissioners who went for this purpose spoke immodestly 
to the nuns, who rebuked him, saying that their apostolic 

1 Wright, p. 56. 2 Calendar, ix. Preface xx. 

86 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

privileges were being violated. The commissary replied that 
he held more power from the king than there was in the 
whole apostolic see, and referring the nuns' complaint to 
Master Crumwell, who is the secretary of the king, by whom 
comes the ordering of all these evils, told her this was only 
the beginning of the end." 1 Sanders, almost a contempo- 
rary, states that " Lee (Legh) indeed, in order to discharge 
correctly the duties laid upon him, tempted the religious to 
sin, and he was more ready to inquire into and speak about 
uncleanness of living than anything else." 2 

"The papists," writes the historian Fuller, "do heavily 
complain (how justly God alone knoweth) that a third sort 
of agents were employed to practice on the chastity of the 
nuns, so to surprise them into wantonness. Some young 
gallants were on design sent to some convents, with fair 
faces, flattering tongues, store of gold and good clothes, 
youth, wit, wantonness, and what else might work on the 
weaker sex." 8 He then goes on to relate a story which 
bears out what he has said, of two young men who went to a 
convent near Cambridge, and who gave out that they were 
able to seduce the nuns at their will, although the very con- 
trary was the case. One of these confessed the same to Sir 
William Stanley, who told it to a noble catholic who was 
alive when Fuller wrote. Of this story a modern protestant 
authority writes : " The story has too much vraisemblance 
to be set aside . . . and in addition to this, the tone of Lay ton's 
letters to Crumwell are of such a kind as to make one fear 
that some nuns were indeed thus wickedly seduced, and 
others not less wickedly accused falsely. Those, however, 
who duly appreciate the character of their countrywomen, 
will believe that among these evil-intreated ' innocents ' there 
were not a few who passed through the scorching fire of 
temptation scatheless under the protection of their heavenly 
bridegroom, for the English daughters of the nineteenth 
century whom we see around us are sisters to the English 
nuns of the sixteenth, of whom we know only by vague 
tradition." 4 

No words of description can give so lively a picture of 

1 Calendar, ix. No. 873. 

2 Anglican Schism, Lewis' trans., p. 129. 

3 Church, Hist., ii. p. 216 (ed. 1837). 

4 The Reformation of Church of England, Rev. J. H. Blunt, 6th ed., 1885, 
vol. i. p. 316. 

The Visitation of Monasteries in 1535-36 8 7 

the abject poverty to which many of the religious houses 
were reduced under the constant exactions of the king and 
Crumwell during the past years, as the letters of Layton 
himself. These will also serve to show the rapidity with 
which the commissioners got over their work. They will 
likewise help us to appreciate at their true worth charges 
made in a reckless and wholesale manner, and without the 
possibility of even a shadow of investigation. 

The following is a letter regarding Layton's Sussex visi- 
tation in October 1535: "On Friday at night I came into 
Sussex to an abbey called Durford. It might better be 
called Dirtyford ; the poorest abbey that I have seen, as this 
bearer, the abbot thereof, can tell : far in debt and great 
decay. This young man for his time hath done right well, 
whom I have licensed to repair unto you and to declare unto 
you his mind concerning license and liberty of himself and 
other his brethren. 

" An abbey or a priory of minors and a priory of canons 
nigh together lay towards Chichester, and because of their 
poverty not able to lodge us, we were compelled to ride out 
of our way to an abbey of Cistercians called Waverly, there 
to lodge on Saturday at night. . . . These two poor priories 
we will dispatch on Monday by the way, and so on Monday 
at night we shall be at Chichester cathedral church." 1 

Apparently the doctor did not enjoy his stay at Waverly 
abbey, as the following tells us. It also shows how, through 
the tyranny of the crown in forcing lay servants upon the 
abbeys, the monks were by this time powerless in their own 

" I have licensed this bringer, the abbot of Waverly, to 
repair unto you for liberty to survey his husbandry, where- 
upon consisteth the wealth of his monastery. The man is 
honest, but none of the children of Solomon. Every monk 
within his house is his fellow, and every servant his master 
Mr. Treasurer and other more gentlemen hath put servants 
unto him, whom the poor man dare neither command nor 
displease. Yesterday, early in the morning, sitting in my 
chamber in examination, I could neither get bread, drink, 
nor fire of these knaves, till I was fretished, 2 and the abbot 
durst not speak to them. I called them all before me, and 

1 Calendar, ix. No. 444. 2 i.e. numbed with cold. 

8 8 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

forgot (sic) their names, and took from every man his keys 
of his office, and made new offices for my time here, per- 
chance as stark knaves as the other. It shall be expedient 
for you to give him a lesson and tell the poor fool what he 
should do amongst the monks." 1 

The kind of treatment which the religious were likely to 
meet with at the hands of this visitor sent to lead them to 
a better life may be also gathered from his letters. In a 
letter from Bath, Layton speaks of his visit to a cell of 
Lewes Priory, near that city, called Farley, where he had 
got information as to the sub-prior from " a fair young man, 
a priest late sent from Lewes," and adds, " I have matter 
sufficient here found (as I suppose) to bring the prior of 
Lewes into great danger." 2 The information, whatever it 
might be, thus obtained, was kept ready for the visitation 
of Lewes some months later. Layton thus describes it: 
"At Lewes," he says, " I found the monks morally bad and 
traitors. The sub-prior confessed unto me treason in his 
preaching, I have caused him to subscribe his name to the 
same, submitting himself to the king's mercy. I have also 
made him confess that the prior knew the same and coun- 
selled it, and the sub-prior subscribed his name to this said 
confession against the prior." Upon this, the doctor sum- 
moned a chapter, and put the unfortunate prior on his knees 
in the middle, and " I laid unto him the concealment of the 
treason, and called him heinous traitor, with the worst 
words I could devise, he all the time kneeling upon his 
knees, and making intercession unto me not to utter to you 
the premises. I listened to him, but ordered him to appear 
before you to answer on All Hallows eve in court, and 
perhaps before the king himself, and to bring his sub-prior. 
You will be able to do what you like with him." 3 fit does 
not require much imagination to see what the visitor means 
by Crumwell having the poor man in his power, to do what 
he "likes with him."? 

From Lewes, Layton goes to Battle Abbey, to which he 
gives as bad a character as he had given to Lewes. He 
ordered the abbot, with whom he appears to have had 
some disagreement, into court. He also bespeaks Crum- 
well's attention to his case by the following description of the 

1 Calendar, ix. No. 452. 2 Ibid., No. 42. 3 Ibid., No. 632. 

The Visitation of Monasteries in 1535-36 89 

culprit : " The abbot of Battle is the varaste hayne bette 
and buserde, and the arants chorle that ever I see. In all 
other places whereat I come, specially the black sort of 
devilish monks, I am sorry to know as I do. Surely I 
thynke they be paste amendement, and that God hath 
utterly wtdrawn his grace from them." 

The anxiety displayed by Layton for the safety of the 
magnificent shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury, endangered 
by a fire which occurred during his visitation, or rather for 
the precious stones with which it was adorned, is a mani- 
festation of another phase of the visitation of 1535. The 
commissioners first endeavoured to find out at each monas- 
tery all there was of value. They next tried to get posses- 
sion of it, just as the king had appropriated the jewelled 
cross of the church of Winchester. "I have crosses of 
silver and gold," writes the indefatigable Layton, "some 
of which I send you not now, because I have more that 
shall be delivered me this night by the prior of Maiden 
Bradley himself. To-morrow early in the morning I shall 
bring you the rest, when I have received all, and perchance 
I shall find something here" (St. Augustine's, Bristol). 1 
There are reasons for suspecting a deeper meaning in this 
illegal spoliation of churches and monasteries. Their move- 
able property gone ; their right to lease and sell their own 
put under restraint; impoverished by demands from king 
and courtier that it was impossible or impolitic to refuse; 
their resources drained by blackmail levied upon them by 
Crumwell and his creatures, many houses were brought 
face to face with the alternative of starvation or surrender. 
For years many of the religious houses had been on the 
verge of ruin. To the requests of king and minister they 
had replied, by humbly begging to be allowed to keep 
some farm or some manor demanded of them, as 
necessary to support themselves and the poor who 
depended on them. The seizure of their treasures by 
Crumwell's agents and the heavy fees which these visitors 
charged for insulting and robbing them must, in the case 

1 Wright, p. 59, Aug. 24, 1535. It is worthy of note that the preamble 
of the act passed for the dissolution of the smaller monasteries in Feb. 1536 
charges them with wasting the "ornaments of their churches." We may see 
by the above how the ornaments were wasted ; the charge was made, doubt- 
lessly, to account for their disappearance. 

90 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

of many, have completed their ruin and forced them to 
surrender. 1 

The visitation also had a most disastrous effect upon the 
internal life of the monasteries. No greater blow could have 
been struck at the whole theory of the religious life than 
the interference with the vows contained in the order to 
dismiss those who were under twenty-four years of age, or 
who had been professed under the age of twenty. The 
visitors, it is clear, had no scruple about their power to dis- 
pense with the solemn obligations of the monastic profession. 
They freely extended it to any who would go, in the idea 
that the more they could induce to leave their convents the 
better pleased both the king and Crumwell would be. The 
order was ambiguous and led to disputes and difficulties. 
Legh complained of Layton "that he had not dismissed all 
those under the age of twenty- four," as he believed Crumwell 
intended. But Ap-Rice, on account of his quarrel with 
Legh, had a scruple as to whether the practice of the latter 
in the matter was right. " I thought," he writes, " that you 
ordered that all who were between twenty-two and twenty- 
four should have leave to go from the religious life if they 
wished, but he only applies this to men," and also he setteth 
a clause in his injunctions that they that will, of what age 
soever they be, may go abroad, which I heard not of your 
instructions." 2 The religious could not understand that 
the object aimed at was the destruction of their houses. 
Their simplicity excites a smile sometimes, as when "Jane 
Gowring, Frances Somer, Mary Pilbeam, Barbara Larke 
and Bridget Stravye, aged 23!, 22, 21 and 15, the first 
three professed, but all put out of religion," beg that they 
may be allowed to stay in their beloved convent, and if this 
would not be allowed, at least to wait in the " cloose howse " 
till they were above the age of 24, when they would be pro- 
fessed again. 3 

1 These facts are amply borne out by many letters of melancholy interest 
in the fifty-two volumes of Crumwell Correspondence in the Record Office 
and other MSS. of the period. It has been stated, with what amount of 
truth we are not prepared to say, that only 123 of the monasteries doomed 
for destruction were able to hold out until the act of suppression. Cf. Blunt, 
Reformation of Church of England, i. p. 301. 

2 Calendar, ix. No. 622. 

3 Ibid., No. 1075. ft i s verv remarkable how few are represented in the 
visitors' reports as desirous of leaving the religious life. Of their personal 
petitions, quite as many are to stay, as to leave. 

The Visitation of Monasteries in 1535-36 9 1 

One immediate effect, therefore, of this visitation was to 
thin the monasteries of their inmates. In some instances 
only the old and infirm were left to keep up the practices of 
the religious life. Poor Margaret Vernon, prioress of Little 
Marlow, had her house almost emptied. "Your visitors," 
she writes to Crumwell, " have been here of late, who hath 
discharged three of my sisters. The one is Dame Catherine, 
the other two are the young women that were last pro- 
fessed, which is not a little to my discomfort. ... I most 
humbly beseech you to be so special good master unto me, 
your poor bedewoman, as to give me your best advertise- 
ment and counsel, what way shall be best for me to take, 
seeing there shall be none left here but myself and this 
poor maiden." 1 Crumwell's advice appears to have been 
what might be expected from him. At any rate, she soon 
gave up her house. She is next found in London, trying to 
get an interview with Crumwell at the " Rolls, " in order to 
make him keep his promise to provide for her. His servants 
will not allow her to see their master, and " the multitude of 
suitors" is so great that she cannot get a hearing. The 
king, she complains, has granted away the lease of her farm 
at Marlow, and she is in great " trouble and unquietness." 2 
Crumwell generously offers to lend her 4.0 to defray her 
expenses at Stepney, provided she gives him good security. 
In the end she becomes governess to his son Gregory, of 
whom she writes : " Your son is in good health, and is a 
very good scholar, and can construe his Pater noster, Ave, 
and Credo" The lot of the prioress of Little Marlow, hard 
though it was, must have been far easier than that of the 
multitude of poor nuns who were turned out into the world 
without support or friends. 3 

There are many examples in the papers and letters of 
this period, of the difficulties religious superiors experienced 
in governing their houses at all, during these troubled days. 
They not only found the restrictions hard, and even im- 
possible to bear, but there was every inducement to their 
subordinates to rebel against an authority they had sworn 

1 Wright, p. 55. 

2 R. O. Crumwell, Corr., vol. xlv. Nos. 43, 44, 45, 49. 

3 It is quite untrue that all religious were pensioned, small though that 
pension might have been. It can be shown from the " pension books " that 
only a small number ever had pensions at all. The young received none : the 
condition of the grant being " tempore dissolutionis et diu antea" 

92 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

to respect. Monks were encouraged and urged to turn 
informers against their brethren and superiors ; malicious 
information, sedulously fostered, became the seed of discord 
and unhappiness, which disturbed the peace of the cloister. 

Dan Peter, a monk of Winchcombe, wrote a letter of 
complaint about his abbot, the gist of which is that his 
superior wanted to maintain discipline and he did not. He 
also hinted that the abbot was a staunch supporter of the 
ancient faith. 1 Once before, one Andrew Saunders, curate 
at Winchcombe, had complained that this abbot was no 
friend to the new order of things. He had stopped payment 
to the schoolmaster of the grammar-school, and would not 
allow him to help him in the church. 2 The same abbot 
was troubled by another of his subjects, John Horwoode, 
otherwise Dan Placidus. This young man was very anxious 
"for the conversion of the people from papistical ways." 
He would like to see the chapter of Saint Paul ad Romanes, 
in which he says " non est potestas nisi a Deo" written on 
every monk's head. And he suggests that Crumwell should 
compel his brethren more to uphold the king's supremacy. 
We are not surprised to find that he asks something for 
himself in return: "Thanks," he says, "for excusing my 
getting up for matins at midnight. The abbot says this has 
given cause to some murmurs and grudging among the con- 
vent. The truth is, I do not like the burdens and straight- 
ness of religion, such as their accustomed abstinence, the 
'frayter,' 8 and other observances of the rule." 4 

" From specimens like these," writes the best authority 
on the public records of the time now living, " few as the 
cases may be that have come to light, we may form some 
estimate of the discord and demoralisation created within 
the walls of monasteries by the proceedings of Crumwell's 
visitors. The wonder indeed is that the recorded cases are 
so few, and that, in spite of all the inducements offered under 
the new regime to appeal to the king's vicegerent or the 
visitors, there are not more frequent instances of such 
appeal being actually made a fact which, duly considered, 
seems to imply that the rule in most houses was far more 
wholesome and more willingly submitted to than many have 
been hitherto disposed to believe. Only here and there 

1 Calendar, ix. No. 314. ' Ibid., viii. No. 171. 

8 f.e. the community recreations. 4 Calendar, ix. Nos. 321-2. 

The Visitation of Monasteries in 1535-36 93 

within the walls of some great abbey did some one or two 
of the more audacious monks brave the displeasure of their 
heads and the ill-will of their brethren by malicious tale- 
bearing, though undoubtedly there were many refractory 
members, such as there must be in all large communities, 
who did not love the discipline imposed upon them." l 

Another method adopted at this time by Crumwell to 
worry the monks, was the appointment of teachers or 
divinity lecturers in the monasteries. One of these un- 
welcome intruders, Anthony Saunder, writes to his master 
in November : " Whereas you have appointed me to read 
the pure and sincere Word of God to the monks of Winch- 
combe. ... I have small favour and assistance amongst these 
Pharisaical papists. The abbot of Hailes, a valiant soldier 
under Antichrist's banner, resists much, fighting with all 
his might to keep Christ in the sepulchre. He has hired 
a great Goliath, a subtle Duns man, yea a great clerk, as 
he saith a Bachelor of Divinity of Oxford, to catch me 
in my sermons." The writer further desires Crumwell to 
appoint a convenient hour in the forenoon of each day for 
him to deliver his lectures to the monks, who manifest a 
greater love for their choir duties than he, Anthony Saunder, 
admires. " They will not come in due time ; they set so 
much store by their popish services." 2 

We have scanty information as to the misery and depth 
of anxiety, which must have prevailed in the cloisters of 
England during this period. Their forebodings and com- 
munings with themselves on the events that were taking 
place around them, must have been sad enough. It requires 
little stretch of the imagination to picture the dismay and 
consternation with which the religious must have listened to 
the reports of violence and injustice, which were carried to 
them as the visitors proceeded with their work. For years 
they had endeavoured to buy off the fatal day of doom by 
plentiful bribes to Crumwell and his master. On what was 
left to them, they with difficulty supported their own exist- 
ence and maintained the hospitality and relief of the poor 
which their traditional obligations required. 

The visitation of Henry's royal commissioners lasted till 
the meeting of Parliament in February 1536. The state- 

1 Mr. J. Gairdner, ibid., Preface, p. xxiii. 
* Calendar, ix. No. 747. 

94 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

ments they furnished to Crumwell whilst on their journey 
seem to show that by no means all the religious houses were 
inspected and reported upon. Sufficient, however, had been 
done to serve the king's purpose. True or false, the tales 
the agents had to tell were used to induce the Parliament to 
confiscate the property of the lesser monasteries. How this 
was accomplished, what the charges were which the visitors 
made against the monks, how far they can be relied upon, 
and what the characters of the accusers were, will be dis- 
cussed in subsequent chapters. 


The Parliament of 1536 and the Suppression of the 
Lesser Monasteries 

THE year 1536 opened with the death of the unfortunate 
Queen Catherine. She had been poisoned, at least so thought 
Chapuys and others, if not at the instigation, at least with 
the connivance of Anne Boleyn. 1 The latter was not left 
long to enjoy the position which had cost her and the nation 
so much. Already she had in great measure lost her hold 
over the affections of Henry, and for purposes of public or 
private policy Crumwell was secretly plotting her overthrow. 2 
And thus, only four months after the grave had closed on 
the remains of her rival, Anne Boleyn was led out to the 
block on Tower Hill. Meantime Henry and his agents had 
been making preparations since the middle of the previous 
year for their first attack on the monasteries. This was 
delivered in the session of parliament which commenced on 
the 4th day of February 1536. 

Layton and Legh had hurried from house to house in the 
North of England, and had supplied their master, Crumwell, 
with their reports as to the religious and their property. 
Meeting at Lichfield on the 22nd of December, the colleagues 
took their way " to certain abbeys upon Trent side. And so," 
as they write, " to Southwell, and to be at York within a 
day after the I2th day we intend, and thus to make speed 
with diligence and true knowledge of everything, is our 
intent." 8 On the nth of January, Thomas Legh informed 
Crumwell that they had reached York and visited the arch- 
bishop. 4 They had ordered that prelate, he wrote, to appear 
before the vicar-general with all the documents of his office, 

1 Friedmann's Anne Boleyn, vol. ii. cap. 14. 

2 Ibid., p. 242. On a letter from Chapuys, June 6, 1536: "II se meist a 
fantaise et conspira le diet affaire." 

3 Layton to Crumwell, Wright, p. 94. 4 Dr. Edward Lee. 


96 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

adding, " I do not doubt when you have read them, but that 
you shall see and read many things worthy reformation, by 
the knowledge whereof I suppose the king's highness and 
you will be glad." 1 

To have reached York from Lichfield in little more than 
a fortnight, and to have visited and examined the conventual 
establishments, which lay on their route, as to possessions 
and morals, must, indeed, have required all their "speed 
with diligence." Their visitation, however, had to be finished 
and their report sent in to Crumwell in preparation for par- 
liament within a period of six weeks from their starting on 
the tour. In this brief time they had to journey over the 
diocese of Coventry and Lichfield, as well as through the 
entire province of York. 2 Hence dispatch was absolutely 
necessary. As their chief object, however, was to find, as in 
the case of the archbishop of York, "many things worthy 
reformation," so, to please Crumwell and his royal master, 
they had no need of very lengthy examinations. 

The rapidity of their tour, however, as rendering inves- 
tigation impossible, makes their comperts or reports utterly 
valueless as pieces of evidence. They prove, however, were 
proof needed, that these commissioners were ready to bring 
any accusation against the monks, and that the fair name of 
many, who possibly never heard anything of the matter, was 
blackened by mere reckless assertions. Just as Layton in 
the southern monasteries "expected to find " all that his evil 
imagination pictured, so from Yorkshire he wrote to Crum- 
well : "We find corruption amongst persons religious even 
like as we did in the south . . and worse, if worse may be, 
in kinds of knavery." He then proceeds to accuse them 
generally of the most revolting kind of immorality. 3 The 
sting of this condemnation is certainly somewhat destroyed 
by the knowledge that the accuser could not possibly have 
made any inquiry worthy of the name. By his own admis- 
sion he finds only what he came to seek. " This day," he 
says, " we begin with St. Mary's Abbey, 4 whereat we suppose 
to find much evil disposition, both in the abbot and the con- 

1 Legh to Crumwell, Wright, 96. 

2 Comprising altogether eight counties. That this visitation was really 
made may be seen by the epitome of reports called " Comperta." Some 
eighty-eujht monasteries are reported on within the fortnight. 

3 Layion to Crumwell, Wright, 97, January 13, 1536. * York. 

Parliament and the Lesser Monasteries 97 

vent, whereof, God willing, I shall certify you in my next 

The parliament, which had been adjourned from the 
previous November, met at Westminster on the 4th of 
February, 1536. The chief matter of business it had to 
transact, in this its last session, was the passing of an act to 
legalise the spoliation of monastic property, which had been 
already commenced in the previous autumn. The operation 
of this act of suppression was to be left to the interpreta- 
tion of the conscience of Henry, and its provisions were 
to be carried out by Crumwell and his agents. By it, the re- 
venues of abbeys and convents and the untold riches of their 
churches and shrines together with the patrimony of the poor 
passed, within the space of four years, into the posses- 
sion of king and noble and were used as their own private 

What is even more important is, that the act robbed the 
monasteries of England of their good name and affixed to 
them the stigma of evil repute. The transactions of this 
memorable session of parliament have been often appealed 
to, during the subsequent three and a half centuries, as proof 
positive that the religious houses of England had forfeited all 
right to protection against tyranny and spoliation, by the 
infamous character of the lives of their inmates. English 
writers have accepted, unquestioned, the story of what was 
done in the old Chapter house of the abbey of Westminster 
in the spring of 1536, at the passing of the act by which the 
lesser monasteries were suppressed. Like most unsavoury 
stories, moreover, this one has not lost in the telling. Eng- 
lishmen, notwithstanding their native love of honesty and 
fair dealing, believe implicitly and without examination the 
common narrative of the events that led to the dissolution 
of the religious houses, and even point to the fact of the de- 
struction of the monasteries as sufficient indication of the 

The story, as for instance told in the pages of Green's 
"History of the English People," may be taken as a fair 
sample of what is generally accepted as true. " Two royal 
commissioners," he writes, " were despatched on a general 
visitation of the religious houses, and their reports formed a 
'black book,' which was laid before Parliament in 1536. It 
was acknowledged that about a third of the houses, including 


98 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

the bulk of the larger abbeys, were fairly and decently con- 
ducted. The rest were charged with drunkenness, with 
simony, and with the foulest and most revolting crimes. 
The character of the visitors, the sweeping nature of 
their report, and the long debate that followed on its recep- 
tion, leaves little doubt that these charges were grossly 

A book of another kind, intended for the use of the 
young, gives much the same version. " The popular com- 
plaints," says professor Seebohm, "against them [the 
monasteries] were not found to be baseless. Scandal had 
long been busy about the morals of the monks. The 
commissioners found them on inquiry worse even than 
scandal had whispered, and reported to parliament that 
two-thirds of the monks were leading vicious lives under 
cover of their cowls and hoods." J 

The account, quoted above from the pages of Mr. Green's 
admirable history, may be taken as a very fair sample of 
what is believed on all hands to be a moderate version of 
the reasons, which led to the greatest confiscation of property 
the world has ever seen. Yet in these lines, few as they 
are, there are some statements which are incapable of proof 
and others which are distinctly false and misleading. It is 
quite certain, for example, that more than two commissioners 
were employed in the work of visitation previous to the 
meeting of parliament. The records that exist make it at 
least improbable, that " on the table of the Chapter house was 
placed the famous ' black book,' which sealed the fate of all the 
monasteries of England and sent a thrill of horror through 
the house of commons when they heard it." 2 Moreover, it is 
quite certain that the commissioners never " reported to par- 
liament that two-thirds of the monks were leading vicious 
lives under cover of their cowls and hoods," and that parlia- 
ment never declared, that " about a third " of the monasteries 
" were fairly and decently conducted." 

No better picture can be given of the obsequiousness and 
venality of the lords and commons in Henry's reign than 
the words of Hallam convey. " Both houses of parliament," 
he writes, "yielded to every mandate of Henry's imperial 

1 Epochs of History ; Era of Prot. Revolution, 1877, p. 186. 

2 Stanley, Gleanings from Westminster Abbey ', p. 425. Froude, Hist., 
iv. 520. 

Parliament and the Lesser Monasteries 99 

will ; they bent with every breath of his capricious humour ; 
they were responsible for the illegal trials, for the iniquitous 
attainders, for the sanguinary statutes, for the tyranny which 
they sanctioned by law, and for that which they permitted 
without law. Nor was this selfish and pusillanimous subser- 
viency more characteristic of the minions of Henry's favour 
the Crumwells, the Ryders, the Pagets, the Russells, and 
the Pauletts. The representatives of ancient and honourable 
names, such as the Norfolks, the Arundels, the Shrewsburys, 
were the supporters of the king's policy. We trace these 
noble statesmen concurring in all the inconsistencies of the 
reign and supporting all the changes of religion, constant 
only in the rapacious acquisition of estates and honours 
from whatever source and in adherence to the present 
power. 1 Henry VIII. hated all Parliaments just as much 
as Charles I. and his minister, Lord Strafford. The Tudor 
tyrant carried out his plans by a code of pains and penalties 
so horrible as to affright every class of society, and when 
the nation became reduced to this abject and cowardly con- 
dition the king imbrued his hands in the best blood of the 
land, and he plundered his subjects on a scale never before 
known in any civilized country." 2 

The parliament, carefully selected for the king's purposes 
in 1529, met to dedl with the monasteries in their last 
session on February 4th, 1536. The early days of the 
session having been occupied with other business, the bill 
for the suppression of the smaller monasteries was brought 
up to the house about the beginning of March. Unfortun- 
ately the journals of both houses of parliament for this and 
the next year are missing, and we have little to rely upon, 
for the history of this session, but the preamble of the act 
itself. This is to be the more deplored, as preambles are 

1 Henry VIII. employed towards the nobility a different policy to his 
father, who had depressed them. The streams of royal favour under Henry 
VIII. swept countless favours to those who gained his attention, such as 
wealthy marriages, gifts out of royal domains or confiscated properties, and, 
after the monasteries were suppressed, a share in the spoils. Not the least 
curious of these grants to courtiers were annuities out of episcopal sees or 
monastic revenues. Instances of the latter are numerous ; of the former an 
act, which confirmed to the duke of Norfolk and six others, annuities out of 
the see of Winchester is a well-known example. By another act, the duke of 
Suffolk, the earl of Sussex, and lord Fitzwalter had grants confirmed out of 
the see of Norwich. See Amos, " Statutes of H. VIII.," p. 4. 

2 Constitutional Hist, of Eng., vol. i. p. 51. 

ioo Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

not entirely to be trusted. 1 That the bill was a government 
measure is not to be doubted. In all probability it was 
brought up to the house by the king in person, for such 
bills were frequently forwarded a stage by the personal 
interference of the king. It is not unlikely that the fol- 
lowing extract from a letter written at this period refers 
to the royal visit. " On Saturday in Ember week the king's 
grace came in among the burgesses of the parliament, and 
delivered them a bill and bade them look upon it and weigh 
it in conscience. He would not, he said, have them pass 
it, nor any other thing, because his grace giveth in the 
bill, but they to see it if it be for the commonweal to his 
subjects and have an eye thitherward. And on Wednesday 2 
next he will be there again to hear their minds." 8 

The preamble of the act proves beyond doubt that the 
king did pay a visit to the House on the introduction of 
this "bill." It says, that the discussion was preceded by 
what is called a "declaration" by the king, as to the 
meaning and necessity of the proposed measure. It asserts 
that, " In consideration of (the evil lives of those in the 
smaller monasteries) the king's most royal majesty . . . 
having knowledge that the premises be true as well by the 
compertes^ of his late visitation as by sundry credible 
informations, considering also that divers and great solemn 
monasteries of this realm, wherein, thanks be to God, 
religion is right well kept and observed, be destitute of 
such full numbers of religious persons as they ought and 
may keep, hath thought good that a plain declaration 

1 "If preambles to acts of parliament were to be accepted as trustworthy 
evidence as to facts they recite, English history would be a very strange tale 
even stranger than it appears in Mr. Froude's pages." Friedmann's Anne 
Boleyn, ii. p. 352. 

3 In 1536 Easter fell on April i6th, and Ember Saturday on March nth. 

3 Wright, p. 36. Thomas Dorset, curate of St. Margaret's, Lothbury, 
to the mayor and others of Plymouth, March 13. The Greek traveller, 
Nicander Nucius, who was in England about the year 1545, gives what 
purports to be Henry's speech to this session of parliament, made for the 
purpose of securing the destruction of the religious houses. The speech is, 
of course, the Greek's own composition ; but it is evidence of the story by 
which the king and his courtiers desired to account for the suppression of the 
monasteries and the seizure of their property. The bad lives of all, and in 
particular of the nuns, is much insisted on in this composition, as well as the 
great public advantages to be gained by the appropriation of the monastic 
revenues to almshouses, hospitals, schools, and the like. {The Travels of 
Nicander Nucius, Camden Soc., p. 57 sqq.} 

* Printed in Wright, p. 107. 

Parliament and the Lesser Monasteries 101 

should be made of the premises as well to the lords spiritual 
and temporal as to other his loving subjects the commons 
in this present parliament assembled. Whereupon the 
said lords and commons by a great deliberation finally be 
resolved, that it is and shall be much more to the pleasure 
of Almighty God" that the property of these religious 
" should be converted to better uses, and the unthrifty 
persons so spending the same be compelled to reform their 
lives." 1 And therefore they pray the king to take all the 
property of monasteries having an income under .200 a 

From this preamble (which, it must be remembered, is 
practically all that is known about the measure) it would 
seem that parliament had no written documents placed 
before it, upon which to form any independent judgment 
as to the justice of the act they were asked to pass. The 
king, we are told, made a " full declaration " of what he 
knew to be true from the reports of the visitors and other 
sources. Upon this, after "a great deliberation," the 
members acted. Whether the report of the visitors in any 
shape was also submitted to their examination will probably 
never be ascertained with certainty. Sanders, it is true, 
speaks of the "publication of the enormities," 2 but this 
might only refer to the king's "declaration." Bishop 
Latimer, who was possibly present in the house of lords, 
also says: "When their enormities were first read in the 
parliament house, they were so great and abominable that 
there was nothing but down with them, but within a while 
after the same abbots were made bishops, for the saving of 
their pensions." 8 This is about the only authority for the 
statement that any such document as the famous "Black 
Book" was ever presented to parliament. The first men- 
tion of the name " Black book " occurs in a document called 
a declaration of the "mode of dissolving the abbeys." 
It is supposed to have been made for the information of 
Queen Elizabeth. "This appeared in writing," the author 
asserts, "with the names of the parties and their facts. 
This was showed in parliament and the villanies made 

1 H. VIII., cap. 28. The word used on the parliamentary roll, is 
" compertes" which were the visitors' reports. 

2 Schism, Lewis' translation, p. 129. 

1 Two Sermons before Edward VI. (Parker Society), vol. i. p. 123. 

102 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

known and abhorred" 1 The villanies "made known and 
abhorred " (at least as to murders and forging of deeds and 
the number of those implicated) are certainly not borne out 
by any known letters or reports of the visitors, of which 
a great many are still in existence. It may be justly asked 
what reliance can be placed upon this account as a history 
of the event. It moreover professes to be no more than 
a recollection of what took place, and does not distinguish 
between the two acts of suppression by which the lesser and 
greater monasteries were destroyed. 

If this " Black book " was presented to parliament, as is 
so constantly asserted, nothing has since been seen of it. 
To explain the disappearance of this most important docu- 
ment, a theory started, as far as can be ascertained, by the 
ingenious Burnet explains that the catholics destroyed this 
dreadful indictment against the monks during the reign of 
queen Mary. Their object was to get rid of this damning 
evidence of the corruption of the monastic system. Burnet 
bases his assertion 2 on a commission issued in the fourth 
year of Mary's reign to Bonner bishop of London, Henry 
Cole dean of St. Paul's and others, to examine into the 
documents " compertes, bokes, scroles, &c., n and also into 
"sundry and divers infamous scrutinies taken in abbej's 
and other religious houses tending rather to subvert and 
overthrow all good religion and religious houses than for 
any truth contained therein." The commissioners are 
ordered to get these documents together, " that the said 
writings and other the said premises be brought to knowledge, 

1 B. Mus. Cot. MSS. Titus, F. iii. fol. 266, printed by Wright, p. 114. 
The "vile lives and abominable facts in murders of their brethren," in 
unnatural sins, "in destroying of children, in forging of deeds and other 
infinite horrors of life, in so much that dividing all the religious persons in 
England into three parts two of these parts at least " were guilty of sins 
against nature. As this is the most important document on which is based 
the venerable tradition that the Black Book was laid before parliament it may 
be well to observe, in addition to what is said in the text : (l) that from an 
expression at the beginning it is clear the writer does not make his state- 
ment on inspection of records (he imagines that Wolsey's suppressions may 
have had the pope's approval, but is quite ignorant of the fact) : (2) he 
clearly does not speak from personal knowledge of what passed in parliament : 
(3) as to the date of the document, all that Mr. Wright can say is that "it 
appears to have been written in the time of queen Elizabeth." This nameless, 
dateless production has not therefore even the value of sub-contemporary 
evidence ; and in itself, apart from the use made of it, is not worth even 
the trouble of this note. 

2 History of the Reformation (ed. Pocock), ii. p. 547. 

Parliament and the Lesser Monasteries 103 

whereby they may be considered, read and ordered accord- 
ing to our will and pleasure." l They are further com- 
manded to make their report to cardinal Pole. It is obvious 
that this commission is one of inquiry. There is not one 
word in the document to justify the assertion that it was 
one of destruction. Nevertheless, Burnet says he " soon 
knew which way so many writings had gone," when he saw 
the commission. The authority of the late Mr. Brewer may 
be given for the assertion that there is no trace among the 
records of this period of any such systematic destruction. 2 

If the book ever existed, its loss, whether destroyed 
on purpose or by accident, is greatly to be deplored. It is, 
however, obvious that the cause of the monasteries would be 
ill-served by the destruction. On the other hand, when un- 
corroborated charges had been made to serve their purpose 
against the monastic houses, when the spoils of sacred 
shrines and consecrated cloisters had been allowed to 
minister to the vices of the monarch or to replenish the 
empty purses of his corrupt courtiers, the sooner the 
evidence, upon which such destruction and spoliation had 
been wrought was destroyed, the better for the reputation 
of those who had profited by it. A modern Church of 
England authority writes : " If I could visit the island of 
Glubbdubdrib, and wanted to know what became of this 
' declaration ' or ' black book,' I should call up the ghost 
of Crumwell to tell me : that is supposing such a document 
ever existed." 8 

For three centuries and a half the imaginations of 
writers hostile to the monastic institutions have supplied 
the details of the missing document. Even the most honest 
historians have neglected to distinguish between what is 
mere conjecture and what is certain. Dr. Lingard, for 
example, states "that from their (the visitors') reports a 
statement was compiled and laid before parliament, which, 
while it allotted the praise of regularity to the greater 
monasteries, described the less opulent as abandoned to 

1 Dec. 29, 1556, Rot. Pat., 3 and 4 Phil, and Mary. Pars. 12 m. (21), 30 d., 
printed in Burnet, Records, ii. No. 28. 

2 Dixon's History of Church of England, vol. i. p. 342. " Mr. Froude, 
with his usual disregard of facts, says ' The report itself is no longer extant. 
Bonner was directed by Queen Mary to destroy all discoverable copies of it, and 
his work was fatally well executed " ! ! ! 

3 Ibid., note. 

104 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

sloth and immorality." * It is, however, by no means 
certain that any " statement was compiled" from the reports 
of the visitors, still less that it was laid before parliament. 
On the other hand, it is expressly stated that the king's 
information was based on other " credible informations " 
besides the " accounts of his late visitation." And certainly 
from what we know of the royal agents and their methods, 
it is most unlikely that they would give the " praise of 
regularity " even to the greater monasteries. 

From the records of this event it would seem therefore 
to be tolerably certain, that the visitors made their reports 
to Crumwell and in no sense to the houses of parliament. 
That Crumwell had an abstract of these reports prepared 
from time to time is more than probable, 2 and that they 
were gathered together into one book not unlikely. That 
they formed, however, a volume called the " Black book " 
and were in this way laid before the parliament cannot be 
proved, and on the evidence of the " preamble " of the act 
itself would appear unlikely. One thing seems to be certain : 
there was no attempt made to inquire into the truth of the 
charges suggested in the king's declaration. They were 
accepted on his authority, who had "knowledge that the 
premises were true." 

The preamble 8 of the act of suppression commences by 
stating, that " manifest sin, vicious, carnal and abominable 
living is daily used and committed commonly " in religious 
houses of less than twelve in number, "whereby the governors 
of such religious houses and their convent spoil, destroy, 
consume, and utterly waste " their property " as well as the 
ornaments of their churches" and other goods. On the 
face of it, it is absurd to suppose that the serious charges 
here brought against the monasteries could be confined to 

1 History, vol. vi. (3rd ed.), p. 298. 

2 Ap Rice, one of the visitors, says he made this " Breve docket." 

3 Amos, Statutes of H. VIII., p. 9 notes. "With regard to the facts 
detailed in preambles, their veracity will derive no support from a coincidence 
with State papers, such as confessions, depositions, verdicts, judgments, 
reports, provided both the preambles and such documents should appear to 
be the productions of the same laboratory, the handiwork of the same crafts- 
men. Such a coincidence might be anticipated if the king, by his subservient 
agents, stretched racks, examined prisoners, transcribed and read evidence, 
empannelled and reformed the pannels of juries, directed and terrified the 
twelve, pronounced criminal and ecclesiastical judgments, wove the tissue 
of vilifying reports, and afterwards, summed up the results in preambles." 

Parliament and the Lesser Monasteries 105 

those houses, which had less than twelve inmates. The 
limit was very probably suggested to the framers of the 
measure by the terms of the papal bull of 1528, authorizing 
cardinal Wolsey to suppress certain houses for the establish- 
ment of his colleges. This bull provided, that the religious 
in these monasteries be less in number than twelve and be 
transferred to the larger monasteries. Such a limit, how- 
ever, is made ridiculous, when it is set as the line of demar- 
cation between virtue and vice. 1 

The records of the visitation, which was the forerunner 
of this act, show who were the real "spoilers and destroyers" 
of the monastic treasuries. Those who, like Layton, " had 
packed up the stuff as the monks had," and the " crosses 
of silver and gold," intending to "bring you (Crumwell) 
the rest when I have received all," or the king who had 
taken a fancy to possess himself of the jewelled cross from 
the cathedral priory of Winchester, were best able to know 
that the religious houses were being spoiled of their "orna- 
ments." The clause, as it stands in the preamble, seems 
to have no other object than to cover the fact of the disap- 
pearance from the monastic treasuries of valuables, which 
had already found their way into the king's possession 
through the hand of his visitors, or had been appropriated 
to their own private purposes. 2 

The professed desire of the king to reform the inmates 
of the smaller monasteries by sending 8 them to the greater 

1 Vide Amos, ibid., p. 301. The number 12 was probably introduced ad 
captandum. It is never again referred to in the enacting clauses. It may have 
been thought that numbers could not be diminished so plausibly as values. 

2 Ibid., p. 309, Amos says : " It would appear that, with regard to their 
(the monastic) personal property, and such of their possessions as were capable 
of rapine or destruction, a great part of the damage they received was done 
them, under colour of the visitations, before any dissolution act had passed." 

3 This provision is also taken from the bull of 1 528. How anxious Henry 
really was for the religious reformation of the monasteries may be judged from 
a letter written by Chapuys to the Emperor, on July 31, 1531. "At the 
request of the abbots of this country," he writes, "and by the advice and 
order of the General Chapter of the Order of Cisteau, there has come to this 
city an abbot of Chalon, (sic) a very learned and virtuous monk, for the pur- 
pose of visiting the monasteries of his order in this country, which are in great 
need of inspection. But notwithstanding the manifold juridical reasons and 
the right he had to undertake the said visit, as he himself told the nuncio and 
me when dining at my hotel, the king has never allowed him to make the said 
visitation, alleging that no one had a right to interfere in the affairs of his 
kingdom, saying that he was at once King, Emperor (and if I recollect right) 
Pope also in his dominions." Spanish State Papers, iv. No. 775. 

106 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

houses, "where they may be compelled to live religiously 
for the reformation of their lives," was not carried out in 
practice. Wholesale dispensations from the solemn obliga- 
tions of the religious vows had already been granted. A 
priest's or layman's gown, with forty shillings out of the 
plunder of their own property, on being turned out into the 
world to live as best they might, was the usual form of 
"reformation" adopted to get rid of the monks from their 
homes and to get possession of their coveted property. 
Nevertheless, the same professed desire for perfect religious 
life and the spiritual welfare of the monastic establishments 
is repeated in another part of the preamble, where it is 
suggested that the ejected religious would go to raise the 
numbers in the "great, solemn monasteries wherein (thanks 
be to God) religion is right well kept and observed." 

It is, moreover, well to note the only kind of reformation 
attempted by the king or his agents during the six months 
which preceded the passing of this act. It was the forcible 
suppression of several small monasteries, the seizure of 
their possessions, and the violent laying of hands on the 
treasures of others. In the enacting clauses of the bill, also, 
the number of the religious to be found in the monasteries 
is not laid down as the limit to mark them for dissolution 
or preservation, but a money value of under 200 a year. 
The monasteries were, moreover, given to the king and his 
heirs only in " as ample a manner " as they were possessed 
by the religious superiors. These were trustees for common 
purposes and never regarded their property in any other 
light than as held for the support of religion and the poor. 
Further, the purpose, for which the monastic property was 
diverted by this act from its possessors and given to the 
king, is stated to be " that his highness may lawfully give, 
grant, and dispose them, or any of them, at his will and 
pleasure to the honour of God and the wealth of this realm" 

However uncertain and vague the terms of this grant 
may appear, they can hardly be supposed to comprehend 
those purposes, private, secular and even vicious upon which 
Henry squandered the property thus obtained. It was 
ordered, also, that the king should provide occupation and 
pensions for the monks not transferred to other monasteries. 
It was further enacted, that on the site of every dissolved 
religious house the new possessor should be bound under 

Parliament and the Lesser Monasteries 107 

heavy penalties to provide hospitality and service for the 
poor, such as had been given them previously by the re- 
ligious foundations. By this provision not only is the patri- 
mony of the poor recognised as being merged in the property 
of the monasteries, but a testimony is afforded as to the 
way the religious had hitherto discharged their obligations 
in this respect. The repudiation of these rights of the 
needy, by those who became possessed of the confiscated 
property, is one of the greatest blots on our national history. 
It has rightly caused the spoliation of monastery and convent 
to be regarded as the rising of the rich against the poor. 

In the commons, there are some signs of opposition to 
the act of suppression, which made legal, but by no means 
just, this plunder of monastic property. The "preamble" 
of the act speaks of a " great deliberation " which preceded 
the final vote, and Sir Henry Spelman, who no doubt gave 
the traditional account of the matter, says : " It is true the 
parliament gave them to him, but so unwillingly (as I have 
heard) that when the bill had stuck long in the lower house 
and could get no passage, he commanded the commons to 
attend him in the forenoon in his gallery, where he let them 
wait till late in the afternoon, and then coming out of his 
chamber, walking a turn or two among them, and looking 
angrily on them, first on the one side and then on the other 
at last, ' I hear ' (saith he) ' that my bill will not pass, but I 
will have it pass, or I will have some of your heads,' and 
without other rhetoric or persuasion returned to his chamber. 
Enough was said, the bill passed, and all was given him as 
he desired." 1 

It has always been stated that the abbots of the greater 
monasteries, who sat in parliament, to save their own abbeys 
did not hesitate to vote for the suppression of the less 
powerful houses. Hall in his Chronicle says, that "in this 
time was given unto the king, by the consent of the great, 
fat abbots, all religious houses that were of the value of 300 
marks and under, in hope that their great monasteries should 
have continued still. But even at the time one said in the 
parliament house that these were the thorns, but the great 
abbots were the putrified old oaks, and they must follow. 
And so will others do in Christendom, quoth Dr. Stokesley, 

1 Hist, of Sacrilege (ed. 1853), p. 206. Spelman was born in 1562, less 
than thirty years after the event. 

io8 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

bishop of London, or many years be passed." l There does 
not, however, appear to have ever been any actual voting in 
the upper house. Consequently all that the mitred abbots 
would have done, was to have been present during the 
passing of the bill. Probably those that were there had no 
choice in the matter. It is, moreover, certain that the king 
had grave fears that the opposition of these parliamentary 
abbots would defeat his intended spoliation, and that to 
prevent them "parrying the blow in store for them" and 
"complaining of the innovations introduced in their con- 
vents," he had prepared to exclude them from parliament 
altogether. 2 

Henry and his minister Crumwell appear to have been 
the first English rulers who realised the immense power 
of public opinion, and who endeavoured by definite and 
elaborate measures to educate it. Every effort was made 
to influence the people, by means of preachers selected for 
their known adherence to the policy of the king, and by 
stage plays and interludes, often acted in the very churches. 
These represented the "immoralities and disorders of the 
clergy" and "the pageantry of their worship," by which 
they " encouraged them all they could " to adopt their free- 
dom of thought and contempt of religion. 8 

In the June of the previous year (1535) Chapuys had 
described the personal interest the king took in these plays. 
Henry, he says, had gone thirty miles, walking ten of the 
distance at two o'clock in the morning, in order to be present 
at a representation of a chapter of the Apocalypse. He had 
taken up his position in a house from which he could 
observe everything, "but was so pleased to see himself 
represented as cutting off the heads of the clergy, that in 
order to laugh at his ease, and encourage the people he dis- 
covered himself." 4 

The pulpit had been already used for the purpose of 
attacking the papal supremacy and instructing the people in 
the principles of revolt against authority. 5 Cranmer, whom 

1 Union (ed. 1548), fol. 22^d. * Spanish State Papers, vol. v. No. 221. 

8 See Blunt, Reformation, p. 273, note. " The horrible coarseness of such 
representations ; the immorality and blasphemy of parodizing the H. Eucharist 
in the very house of God itself seem not to have struck these writers " (i.e., 
Foxe and Burnet). 

4 Calendar, viii. No. 949. 

6 Privy Council Memoranda, anno I533 State Papers, vol. i. 411. 

Parliament and the Lesser Monasteries 109 

Chapuys considered a kind of antipope l set up by Henry, 
used his short-lived supreme spiritual authority to revoke 
the licences of the preaching clergy. He granted his per- 
mission only to those whom he could trust to speak against 
the authority of the see of Rome. 2 For the purpose of more 
easily controlling the teaching of the people, all sermons 
and instructions in the ordinary parish churches were for- 
bidden to be given after nine o'clock in the morning. At 
that time the services were to be finished, so " that then the 
curates, with the parishes, might come to Paul's cross and 
hear the preachers." These sermons were specially named 
as occasions when there was to be set forth the doctrine 
directed by the Privy Council. Moreover, a minute of the 
council strictly commands the mayor, aldermen and common 
council of London "liberally to speak at their boards" on 
this matter, and instruct their servants in the same, while 
provincial officers and the gentry are to see that their families 
" bruit the same in all places where they shall come." 3 

At a time when no individual was allowed to have an 
opinion of his own on the policy of the government, or, 
indeed, even on the faith of his forefathers, the influence of 
public preaching was necessarily most powerful in directing 
popular feeling and sympathy. No sooner, therefore, was 
the suppression of the monasteries determined upon, and the 
arrangements for effecting it complete, than the machinery 
of the public pulpits was set in motion to endeavour to fore- 
stall popular discontent. Coarse invective and unscrupulous 
insinuation, it was hoped, might alienate the affection of 
the people from the monks. In pursuance of this object 
Crumwell sent forth three kinds of preachers to attack the 
monastic institutions. " One sort must be railers against 
religious men, calling them hypocrites, sorcerers, crooked 
necks, slowbellies, idle drones, abbey lubbers, plants which 
the Heavenly Father never planted, mumblers of praises in 
the night, which God heard not, creatures of the pope's 

"Another sort," like Cranmer, must needs tune their 
instruments on another string, " saying that they made the 

1 Calendar, vol. vii. No. 14. 

2 Ibid., No. 463. 

3 Reminiscences of John Louthe, printed in Narratives of the Days of the 
Reformation (Camden Soc.), p. 23. 

no Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

land unprofitable," whilst a third told the people that the 
king would never want their money again. " This part was 
well discharged by Cranmer at Paul's cross." So much so 
"that, although wise men saw there was no truth in it," 
still they allowed themselves to be influenced by the specious 
promises. 1 

The fact is, that the people were groaning under the 
weight of an almost insupportable taxation. They were 
only too ready therefore to listen to any voice promising 
them immunity in the future more especially when this was 
to be purchased by sacrificing the property of others. 
"After his denial of papal obedience," writes Marillac, the 
French ambassador, in 1540, "Henry employed preachers 
and ministers who went about to preach and persuade the 
people that he could employ the ecclesiastical revenues in 
hospitals, colleges, and other foundations for the public 
good, which would be a much better use than that they 
should support lazy and useless monks." 2 

Cranmer, at Paul's cross, tried to stifle the natural feelings 
of dismay and opposition to the proposed suppression, by 
vague but captivating promises of future exemption from 
taxation. Nicholas Harpsfield, who was present, says 8 : 
"This prelate (Cranmer) when the king went about to 
suppress the monasteries, was his chief instrument and 
worker, and, to bring the people asleep and cause them to 
have better contentation that (as it was doubted) would not 
patiently and quietly bear the suppression (as it proved 
afterwards by the rebellion of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire) 
came and preached at Paul's cross, and to sweet the people's 
ears with pleasant words told them, amongst other things, 
that they had no cause to be grieved with the evertion 
of the abbeys, but should rather be glad thereof, for the 
singular benefit ' that should redound to the whole realm 
thereby . . .' and that the king should, by the suppression of 
the abbeys, gather such an infinite treasure that from that 
time he should have no need, nor would not, put the people 
to any manner of payment or charge for his, or the realm's 

1 B. Mus. Sloane MS., 2495. 

8 Inventaire Analytique, No. 242. Marillac au Conn6table, Aug. 6, 1540. 

8 Nicholas Harpsfield, The Pretended Divorce, ed. N. Pocock (Camd. 
Society), 1878, p. 292. The learned editor, in his preface, declares that he 
considers Harpsfield to be absolutely trustworthy. 

Parliament and the Lesser Monasteries 1 1 1 

affairs. This sermon, as no wise man did believe, so myself, 
that chanced to be there present," have known how false 
was the promise. " His said sermon was in effect nothing 
else but a plain invective against all monasteries as places 
and dens of all error and superstition." "The bishop of 
Canterbury," writes another of the audience, " saith that the 
king's grace is at a full point for friars and chauntry priests, 
that they shall away all that, saving those that can preach. 
Then one said to the bishop, that they had good trust that 
they should serve forth their life time, and he said they 
should serve it out at the cart then, for any other service 
they should have by that." l 

Aided by much rough rhetoric, by the undisguised 
threats of the king's vengeance if " his bill " did not pass, 
and doubtless by the arrogance of Crumwell, who six months 
before had threatened an English jury unless they convic- 
ted the Carthusian fathers, the act was passed through the 
house of commons. Parliament acts for the commonweal. 
Just as it cannot without injustice take the property of the 
individual and bestow it without compensation at its caprice, 
so without sacrilege and robbery it cannot appropriate the 
wealth, which pious benefactors have bestowed on religion 
and the poor. More especially is this so, whenjthe property 
thus taken is not made to serve any public purpose or to 
mitigate some of the miseries of poverty, but as a sop to the 
greedy appetite of a vicious and avaricious monarch and 
his needy favourites. Vice is a ground for reformation, not 
destruction. 1" Henry," it has been well said, " was ever 
prone to reformation when there was anything to gain 
by it." Here there was more to be gained by destruction. 
-Hn charging the religious houses with being steeped in vice 
and immorality, the king did them, moreover, a greater wrong 
than in the mere robbery of their valuables. In asserting 
that the reports of his visitors bore him out in this accusa- 
tion, Henry was but repeating a tale which they were sent 
by him to tell. 

Sir James Mackintosh, in treating of this act of dis- 
solution, thus summarises the uses for which the rights of 
property have been instituted. "Property," he remarks, 
" which is generally deemed to be the incentive to industry, 

1 Wright, p. 38. 

1 1 2 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

the guardian of order, the preserver of internal quiet, the 
channel of friendly intercourse between men and nations, 
and, in a higher point of view, as affording leisure for the 
pursuit of knowledge, means for the exercise of generosity, 
occasions for the returns of gratitude, as being one of the 
ties that bind succeeding generations, strengthening domestic 
discipline, and keeping up the affections of kindred ; above 
all, because it is the principle to which all men adapt their 
plans of life, and on the faith of whose permanency every 
human action is performed, is an institution of so high and 
transcendent a nature that every government which does not 
protect it, nay, that does not rigorously punish its infraction, 
must be guilty of a violation of the first duties of rulers. 
The common feelings of human nature have applied to it the 
epithets of sacred and inviolable." From this consideration 
the attention of the reader is invited to an examination of 
the charges which the king "knew to be true from the 
report of his visitors," and upon which royal knowledge 
parliament justified the suppression of the Lesser Monastic 


The "Comperta Monastica" and other Charges against 
the Monks 

PARLIAMENT suppressed the lesser monasteries on the 
faith of the king's " declaration " that vice was prevalent in 
them. This is certain from the terms of the preamble to 
the act. It is therein also declared that Henry himself 
knew "the premisses" to be true, by the "comperts of his 
late visitation as by sundry credible informations." It 
becomes therefore necessary to examine into the charges 
made against the monks by the royal inquisitors, so far as 
they can be learnt from their letters and reports. 

It is hardly necessary to remark, how easy it is to make 
accusations of this nature and how difficult to disprove 
them. More especially must this be so, when these charges 
were made more than three centuries ago, and when many 
documents, which might have thrown much light on the 
matter, must have perished, and when the assertions, vitu- 
perations and insinuations of subsequent ages have been 
accepted as the testimony of contemporaries. These more- 
over have often been collected and embellished by the fertile 
imaginations of authors hostile to the monastic institute. 

Putting aside whatever has been written against the 
English monks, by those who have endorsed the charges 
against them without weighing the grounds of the accusa- 
tion, the reader's attention is invited to the original docu- 
mentary evidence still remaining. In the first place, there 
are many letters from the visitors themselves, written whilst 
engaged on their task of inspection. A selection of these 
was published by the Camden Society from a volume in the 
Cotton manuscripts in the British museum. 1 Many others 

1 The Suppression of the Monasteries, edited by Mr. Wright. The volume 
is almost entirely taken from the Cotton MS. Cleop. E. iv., which evidently 
originally formed a part of the "Crumwell correspondence" in the Record 

"3 H 

1 14 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

hitherto little known are to be found in the public Record 
Office. Besides these letters there is a document known as 
the " Comperta." l This is merely an abstract of the letters 
or reports made to Crumwell by his agents. The greater 
part of the document is taken up with a report on the 
monasteries in the northern province of York and in the 
diocese of Coventry and Lichfield. The rest consists of 
two portions of a similar account of the diocese of Norwich, 
written by John Ap Rice. This visitor had joined with Dr. 
Legh in a request to Crumwell for the suspension of all 
episcopal powers during the progress of their visitation. 2 
Ap Rice was occupied with Legh in this part of England, 
after the latter had finished his examination of the University 
of Cambridge, and before his meeting with Layton at Lich- 
field in December 1535, for their northern tour of inspection. 
Besides the manuscript "comperta" another document 
of the same nature has been preserved in the pages of 
" foul-mouthed Bale " 3 which refers to some fourteen of the 
southern monasteries. These " comperta" " comperts" or 
accounts were furnished to Crumwell by his visitors whilst 
on their rounds. For instance, in October 1535, Ap Rice 

Office. The letters in both collections are endorsed in the same handwriting, 
which is probably that of Mr. R. Starkey, who lived in the beginning of the 
seventeenth century, when the Cotton collection was formed. 

1 The original in the Record Office is in the handwriting of one of the 
visitors, John Ap Rice. The two copies in the Museum are evidently taken 
from this document. There is, however, in the R. O. a fragment of a similar 
report not transcribed in the Cotton or Lansdowne MSS. It is in all proba- 
bility a leaf from the abstract of the reports sent by the writer, John Ap Rice, 
as to the monasteries of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, &c. Calendar, vol. x. 
No. 364. 

2 A letter from Ap Rice (Wright, 85), written from Bury St. Edmund's, 
shows he was engaged in the diocese of Norwich. Also two joint letters, 
Calendar, ix. No. 808, from him and Legh as to West Derham show that they 
were engaged in this part of England in November 1535. The date of the 
" comperta " is important and is dealt with below. Canon Dixon (p. 352) 
thinks they are a report of a subsequent visitation. Mr. Gairdner (vol. x. 
No. 364) refers them to the visit of 1535-36. 

3 Pageant of Popes. A portion of this is to be found in the third ed. of 
Speed's " History," and probably not inserted by him, which was copied from 
Henri Estienne (called Henry Steven). This author in his Apologie pour 
Herodote (ed. 1565) says his extract is "tire d'un livre Anglois. As Bale's 
book was published in 1555 it is probably the work from which it was copied. 
The literary history of the extract in Speed (3rd ed.) is interesting, and 
accounts for some strange mistakes. For instance, Bale, probably not knowing 
the name of the prior of Bermondsey, calls him " Blank (his real name being 
Richard Gill). Estienne gives the name as " Blanc," and the editor of Speed 
retranslates him into " White" 

The Charges against the Monks 115 

writes from Cambridge to say that " herewith you have the 
abridgement of the compertes in such places as we have 
been at since we came from London." In the same communi- 
cation he goes on to say of Walden abbey : " Ye may see 
by the comperta of this house how they live, all the sort of 
them that professeth chastity." This house had a good 
name, and yet is " as some of the other where we have no 
comperte." " Here they declared the truth, because their 
superior always exhorted them so to do; 1 and in other 
houses they do not so because of considerations made 
between them to the contrary, as at St. Albans, where we 
found little, although there were much to be found." 2 

A month later the same visitor and Dr. Legh write from 
Westacre a joint letter, saying they had dispatched Crum- 
well another " abridgement of the ' comperts ' from the last 
ye had unto Crabhouse." 3 At the same time they regret 
they cannot send more to him, for " at the greatest houses 
that we come to commonly they be so confederate, by reason 
of their heads being mere pharisees, that we can get little 
or no comperte there. And albeit that of the others, ye 
may soon guess what the rest be, yet if it shall please you 
hereafter to send a commission to certain houses, ad melius 
inquirendum, and give them that shall go somewhat more 
leisure, we doubt not but ye shall find them all naught." 4 

Again, on September 2/th, 1535, Dr. Legh writes to 
Crumwell and encloses the " compertes " of Chertsey abbey, 
which is headed " compendium compertorum apud Chertsey"* 
This document is in precisely the same form and under the 
same heading as the other comperta, and leaves no doubt 
whatever that the documents are the actual reports for- 
warded to the visitor general by his instruments, during 
the progress of their work. 

That the chief motive of the visitation and the special 
desire of the visitors was to discover evil, the letters them- 

1 Ap Rice had already said that this superior was "teaching in his 
daily lectures, that there was no virtue in monachatu," and was himself a 
fallen man. 

2 Calendar, ix. No. 661. 

3 "Evidently," writes Mr. Gairdner (Calendar, x. Pref. xlii.), "the third 
paper in No. 364 of the present volume." 

4 Calendar, ix. No. 808. Note the confession of the rapidity of their 
examination, and the expectation of finding all they wished against the 

8 Ibid., No. 472. 

1 1 6 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

selves do not allow us to doubt. "We have no reason, 
indeed," writes Mr. Gairdner, " to think highly of the 
character of Crumwell's visitors ; and the letters of Layton 
show that he really gloated over the obscenities that he 
unearthed." l 

Individual members of the religious houses, who were 
tired of the restraints of monastic discipline or who were 
bad at heart, may perhaps have welcomed the chance of 
release afforded them in this visitation. From such, Layton, 
Ap Rice and Legh may have learned some of the stories, 
which they entered as charges against members of the 
various religious communities they visited. That there was 
even a shadow or semblance of investigation into a single 
one of the accusations, does not appear by any letter or 
paper in existence. The very rapidity with which the 
visitors executed their commission, and the eagerness with 
which, as their letters prove, they welcomed every indication 
of evil, would seem to render such an examination impossible 
and undesirable. From the monks, as a body, it is most 
unlikely that the inquisitors derived much knowledge or 
assistance. It is probable that most of their charges were 
the result of ill-natured gossip, magnified by their own ready 
imaginations. They found only what they hoped and ex- 
pected, and in all probability those, whose reputations were 
at stake, were left in entire ignorance of the whole matter. 

"It is not to be supposed," says Mr. Gairdner, "that 
abbots and convents generally submitted quietly to a new 
authority, intent on promoting offensive investigations as a 
pretext for their own destruction. Many of the principal 
houses, it is clear, would have nothing to say to the visitors ; 
and it is quite possible that the monks in many cases re- 
fused even to exculpate themselves before men for whose 
character and commission they had very little respect. Con- 
sidering the rapidity with which the work was done the investi- 
gations could hardly have been very judicially conducted." 8 

The date of the document, known as the comperta, is of 
considerable importance. Parliament passed the act of sup- 
pression on the faith of the king's " declaration " that the 
monks were immoral. This he knew to be the case by the 
compertes of his late visitations. Are the extant compertes 

1 Caktidar, x. Pref. xliii, a Ibid., x. Pref. xlii. 

The Charges against the Monks 117 

those upon which Henry based his declaration ? There is 
no reasonable doubt that these are the documents forwarded 
at this time to Crumwell, for Henry to use in pushing his 
measure of suppression through the parliament. They are, 
moreover, in the same form as they were originally de- 
spatched by the inquisitors as they progressed with their 
mission. This may be judged from the comperte of the 
great abbey of Chertsey, which document was written in 
1535 during the royal visitation. 1 The larger comperta of 
Layton and Legh are the result of the northern tour of these 
two worthies, and agree with their letters written during 
this same visitation. The document commences with Lich- 
field, where it is certain they met on December 22nd, I535- 2 
It includes reports of the cathedral church of York, St. 
Mary's abbey and Fountains, where they were in 1536, on 
January nth, the I3th, and before the 2Oth respectively. 8 
The last letter, moreover, which describes their visitation of 
Fountains, corresponds with the compertes of this abbey. 

The other manuscript comperta also, certainly relate to 
the same period, previous to the meeting of parliament in 
the spring of 1536,* and the portion of a similar document 
preserved by Bale undoubtedly refers to the inquisitions of 
Layton at the monasteries of Kent and Sussex made during 
the summer of I535- 6 We may consequently conclude that 
all the documents of this nature were intended to serve, and 
did actually serve as the basis of the king's " declaration " 
to parliament in 1536. They are the compertes of his "late 

The singular want of honesty in this assurance to parlia- 
ment is apparent. Henry professed to go by the evidence 
of his visitors. Their comperta included the greater monas- 

1 Calendar, ix. No. 472. This document was sent with a letter to " The 
Right Hon. Mr. Thos. Crumwell, Chief Sect, to the King's Highness." It is, 
like the letter, in the handwriting of John Ap Rice, and is in form similar to 
the other comperta which Ap Rice copied from the originals. 

2 Wright, 91. Letter of Layton to Crumwell. 

3 Wright, pp. 95, 97, 100. 

4 The compertes for the abbey of Bury St. Edmund are founded entirely on 
Ap Rice's letter of November II, 1535 (Wright, 85), and are almost certainly 
in his handwriting. Legh and Ap Rice can be also traced at work in the 
diocese of Norwich by other letters, e.g., Wright, 82, 83 ; R. O. Crum. Corr., 
xxii., Nos. 14, 1 6, 17, 18, 22, &c. 

e See letters, Wright, 58, 75. R. O. Crum. Corr., xx. Nos. IO, 13, 1 8, 19, 
20, &c. 

1 1 8 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

teries with the lesser in wholesale condemnation. The 
preamble of the act, passed on the strength of the royal 
assurance, however, declares that in the larger monasteries 
" thanks be to God religion is right well kept and observed." 
The fact that the greater monasteries are not spared in these 
reports, makes it impossible to believe that they were really 
submitted to the inspection of parliament. The expressio 
falsi in the preamble of the act, which (in the face of the 
comperta of Crumwell's agents) expressly declared that "in the 
great and solemn monasteries of the realm " religion was well 
conducted, demonstrates the dishonest purpose which actuated 
the framers of the measure. It is proof positive of the fraud 
by which parliament was induced to sanction the appropria- 
tion of the corporate property of the lesser monasteries. 

It is well here to note in passing that, with very trifling 
exceptions, no accusations of the same nature are suggested 
after the bill had been forced through parliament. This fact, 
when duly considered, seems to show, that such charges of 
immorality and incontinence were brought against the re- 
ligious for the distinct object of disarming opposition and 
securing the passing of the measure. In subsequent letters 
and reports there is hardly anything that can be construed 
into a charge of the gross nature, with which Layton, Legh, 
and Ap Rice delight to blacken the reputation of monastery 
and convent during their first tour of inspection. 

There is no need to admit that both the letters and 
reports of the visitors at this period, if they are to be believed, 
are very damaging to the characters of the monastic houses. 
Still, even accepting their estimate, the proportion of the 
well conducted, or, at least, of those against whom no charge 
is suggested, is very much in excess of what is generally 
believed. "There were many monasteries named in these 
reports," writes Mr. Gairdner, "against which nothing is 
said ; and there were more in the dioceses reported on 
which are not named at all. So that it may be presumed, 
in the opinion of the visitors themselves, not a few of the 
monastic houses were pure and well governed." 1 So far, 

1 Calendar, x. Pref. xlv. Of the 155 monasteries given in the comperta 
(No. 364), there are 43 against which nothing worse is alleged than the pos- 
session of certain relics, which is supposed to argue "superstition." "To 
judge," says Mr. Gairdner (note), " by the proportion in Yorkshire, the visitors 
examined only about four out often houses. ' 

The Charges against the Monks 119 

therefore, from two-thirds of the religious being represented 
as hopelessly sunk in vice and immorality, even the visitors' 
ex parte reports really charge only a very small minority 
with vice of any kind. 

In several instances, moreover, it is quite clear from the 
comperta itself, that mere idle rumour must have been the 
foundation of the charge. Malicious reports, also, fostered 
if not suggested by the visitors, ever anxious to further 
CrumweH's intentions, were evidently the sole basis of 
grave accusations. This is seen more clearly in the comperta 
of Legh and Ap Rice than in those of Layton and Legh. 
Ap Rice, for example, writes to Crumwell with regard to 
the visitation of Bury St. Edmund, which in conjunction 
with Legh he made in November i$3$: "Please it your 
mastership, forasmuch as I suppose you will have suit made 
unto you touching Bury, ere we return, I thought convenient 
to advertise you of our proceedings there and also of the 
compertes of the same." 1 He then proceeds to say, that 
they could find nothing against the abbot's character, except 
that he was much at his country house, was fond of dice 
and cards and did not preach. "Also he seemeth to be 
addict to the maintaining of such superstitious ceremonies, 
as hath been used heretofore." As " touching the convent, 
we could get little or no reports among them, although we 
did use much diligence in our examinations, with some other 
arguments gathered of their examinations." And they, 
therefore, conclude "that they had confederated and com- 
pacted before our coming that they should disclose nothing." 
" And yet it is confessed and proved that there was here, 
such frequence of women coming and resorting to this 
monastery as to no place more. . . . Here depart of them that 
be under age upon eight, and of them that be above age 
upon five would depart if they might, and they be of the 
best sort in the house and of best learning and judgment. 
The whole number of the convent before we came was 60 
saving one and besides, three that were at Oxford." 

The compertes, which these visitors sent their master 
after acknowledging that they could " get little or no reports, 
although using much diligence in their examinations," fortu- 
nately exist. They are in the handwriting of Ap Rice him- 

1 Wright, 85. 

1 20 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

self. The abbot is charged with being fond of cards and 
dice and not doing his duty in preaching. It is added, that 
he delights in frequenting the houses of women, &C. 1 Ap 
Rice confessed in the very letter, with which these compertes, 
written in his own hand, were sent, that there was nothing 
but vague report against Abbot Melford's character. After 
this, it is not surprising that nine of his religious are 
bracketed together, as " defamed of incontinence from too 
great intercourse with women," and three others "are re- 
ported " (fatentur) guilty of other faults. Finally, the com- 
perta adds : " There is a grave suspicion that the abbot and 
convent had agreed together not to tell anything against 
themselves, for though report says the monks here live 
licentiously, still there never was less confessed to." 2 

From this instance, and others that could be given, it 
must be allowed that the compertes are merely a collection 
of reports, tales or malicious informations. They cannot 
seriousry be considered as any evidence of the moral state 
of the monastic houses. It is a curious revelation of the 
bias of Crumwell's agents that they suspect all monks against 
whom they could learn no ill of having agreed together to 
conceal everything. 8 This determination to see nothing but 
evil should surely throw discredit on the ex parte reports 
contained in the comperta documents. The same spirit is 
evinced in the letters the visitors addressed to Crumwell at 
various stages in their progress and which were doubtless 
sent with their reports or comperta, which we no longer 
possess. Layton, for instance, on his way to meet Legh 
at Lichfield, visits a Gilbertine convent at Chiksand, in 
Bedfordshire. 4 Here "they would not in any wise have 
admitted me as visitor," he writes, " but I would not be so 
answered, and visited them." From none of the sisters was 
he able to find out anything amiss, but on the report of 
" one old beldame " he accused two of the eighteen nuns of 
incontinence. In the same letter, Leicester abbey is de- 
clared to be " confederate and nothing will confess." " The 
abbot," Layton says, "is an honest man, and doeth very 

1 " Gaudet mulierum contubernio." 2 Calendar, x. No. 364. 

8 Ibid.,e.g., Thetford: " Etiam hie colligitur suspicio confederationis quum 
essent 17 numero." Iklesiv orth : "Et illic subolet etiam suspicio vehemens 
confederationis nam quum essset 1 8 numero, nihil tamen confessum." 

4 Wright, 91. 

The Charges against the Monks 121 

well, but he hath here the most obstinate and factious 
canons that ever I knew." " This morning," he continues, 
"I will object against divers of them the 'grossest of crime,' 
et sic specialiter descendere, which I have learned of others 
(but none of them). What I shall find I cannot tell." " If 
this method were put in practice generally," says Mr. 
Gairdner, " how much would have been taken for confession ? 
Perhaps silence in some cases." * Certainly it would only 
have been reasonable to expect, that Doctor Layton would 
have taken some time to inquire into the particular charges 
of so grave a nature against the character of the Austin 
canons, who strenuously denied them. He expressly states, 
however, in the letter, that he was starting the same morn- 
ing for Lichfield. 2 

A wide opinion has prevailed in the past, that confes- 
sions of conscience-stricken monks and nuns exist in 
abundance. Upon these, it has been thought, the chief 
part of the commissioners' reports are based. This notion 
is altogether false. As far as can be ascertained, no such 
confessions or self-accusations are in existence. 8 It is true 
that the king declared to the Lincolnshire rebels that " there 
be no houses suppressed where God was well served, but 
where vice, mischief, and abomination of living was used, 
and that doth well appear by their own confession, subscribed 
with their own hands, in the time of their visitations." 4 
There is absolutely no record of any such self-accusations 
subscribed by the offenders. Moreover, the letters' of the 
visitors and their compertes prove incontestably that they did 
not base their charges upon any such confessions. 

There are, it is true, one or two so-called " confessions " 
existing. But these belong to a subsequent period, and 
were made when the religious were being compelled to 

1 Calendar, x. Pref. xliv. 

2 Wright, 93 : " This morning we depart towards Lichfield church," &c., 
"and from thence," &c. For other examples of the rapidity of the visitors' 
progress, see Wright, 72, and Layton's letters as to Sussex, Somerset, &c., in 
R. O. Crum. Corr., vol. xx. 

3 Wright, in his preface to the Camden Society Volume, p. vi., says, " I 
think that even the various lists of the confessions of the monks and nuns of 
the several religious houses, entitled comperta, and preserved in manuscript, 
ought to be made public." To call the comperta by the name of confessions is 
to convey an entirely false and misleading idea to the readers of Mr. Wright's 

* Hall, " Union," &c. (written 1542), f. 229. 

122 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

surrender their houses into the king's hands. Even these 
contain only general and vague self-accusations of " volup- 
tuous living." They were evidently drawn up, not by the 
religious, but by the royal commissioners, who also appear 
not to have hesitated to sign the document with the names 
of the monks. Of these so-called confessions, the best 
known is that of the monks of St. Andrew's, Northampton. 1 
On the face of it, this lengthy document was composed, not 
by the conscience-stricken monks, but by those who came 
to turn them out of their home and take possession of their 
property. When compared with another similar document 
from Westacre, it is seen to be merely one of a general 
type made use of by the commissioners. 

It is well here to note, that in 1535 Lay ton had written 
from Northampton, where he was on his visitation : " the 
prior now is a bachelor of divinity, a great husbond and a 
good clerk, and pity it is that ever he came there. If he 
were promoted to a better thing, and the king's grace would 
take it into his hands, so might he recover all the lands 
again which the prior shall never. In my return out of 
the North, I will attempt him so to do if it be your 
pleasure." Apparently the attempt was not made till later, 
when the so-called confession 2 was extracted from him 
and his community. What was thought of its real purport 
may be judged from the fact that pensions were arranged 
for all the religious. The prior, after having been pen- 
sioned, 8 was made first dean of the newly-created see of 
Peterborough. The history of this so-called " confession," 
in reality the concoction of Crumwell's agents, will speak 
for itself. It has often been quoted as one of the most 
damning pieces of evidence against the monastic institutions, 
and its reproduction has generally been accompanied with 
the insinuation that there are more of the same kind. As 

1 First printed by Weaver, pp. 106-110. It is a most verbose document, 
made in the presence of Legh and Layton. Fuller, "Church Hist.," ed. 
1845, p. 398, gives the choice passages. It has been well dealt with by 
Canon Dixon. 

2 The "confession" (Calendar, xiii. (i.) No. 396) is dated March i. We 
may note, however, that this is only a copy made apparently in the early part 
of the 1 7th century. The body and signatures are in the same handwriting. 
It may be added that the real surrender, as it appears enrolled on the Close 
Roll (Rot. Claus. 29 H. VIII.. pars 2, m. 7), is a totally different document; 
being a surrender in the general form. 

3 R. O. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks., 232, f. 17. 

The Charges against the Monks 123 

far, however, as is known at present, this and its proto- 
type of Westacre, composed and adapted to altered circum- 
stances by the ingenuity of the same royal commissioners, 
are the only documents of the kind. 

The comperta documents, therefore, cannot be con- 
sidered as representing "confessions" of vicious life on 
the part of the monks. They are in reality only the 
biassed and, probably in many instances, baseless judg- 
ments of men who came to report evil. By far the larger 
number of charges contained in the "reports" are con- 
cerned with secret and personal vice, which could not have 
been easily matter of examination. The other accusations, 
in the comperta and letters of the king's visitors, refer some 
few to drunkenness, one or two to supposed theft, an in- 
significant number to unnatural crime, and the remainder 
to incontinence. Under this latter head, the total number 
of religious charged in all the known letters or reports bears 
a very small proportion to the entire body of religious at 
that time in England. In the comperta and letters, which 
report as to the monasteries of a considerable portion of 
England, scarcely 250 monks and nuns are named as 
guilty of incontinence. 1 In the same districts the religious 
must have numbered many thousands. Of these 250, more 
than a third part can be identified as having subsequently 
received pensions upon the dissolution of their houses, a 
fact which even Burnet would consider as disproving the 
charge in their regard. 2 Of the entire number of convents 
of women visited and reported upon by Layton and Legh 
in the North, they are able to relate very little amiss. 
Only some twenty-seven nuns in all are charged with vice, 
and of these, seventeen are known to have been afterwards 
pensioned. Further, in their whole visitation, extending 
over thirteen counties, they only report that some fifty 
men and two women are anxious to abandon the religious 
life, even under the restrictions imposed by Crumwell's 
injunctions. This latter fact would seem to show that in 

1 This number includes those named in the various MSS. comperta^ Bale's 
printed portion, and the letters of the visitors. 

2 The difficulty of identifying the religious at this time is very considerable. 
They are variously described by their Christian, religious, or surnames, and 
often also by the name of their birthplace. Hence there is no doubt that a 
great number more really received pensions, but not under the same name as 
that by which they are entered in the comperta. 

1 24 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

truth the monks arid nuns were well content with their 
life and were not so desirous of freeing themselves from 
their obligations as is generally believed. 

In the spring of 1536, or only a few months after the 
comperta were composed by Crumwell's agents, commissions 
were issued to re-examine the monasteries, with a view to 
the suppression of such as were under the annual value 
of 200. Besides this, the visitors were to report upon 
" the number of monks, and their lives and conversations." 
"Returns of the commissioners," writes Mr. Gairdner, "for 
a certain number of the monasteries in five several counties, 
are given in this volume, and it is remarkable that in these 
the characters given to the inmates are almost uniformly 
good. More remarkable still, in the return for Leicester- 
shire, we find the inmates of Garendon and Gracedieu two 
of the houses against which some of the worst compertes 
were found reported to be of good and virtuous conversa- 
tion. The country gentlemen who sat on the commission 
somehow came to a very different conclusion from that of 
Drs. Layton and Legh." 1 These country gentlemen, be it 
remarked, were " some of the leading men in each county." 
How the king appreciated this good report may be under- 
stood by the letter of one of the commissioners, George 
Gyffard, written on igth June 1536, from the monastery 
of Garendon, whilst on this very tour of inspection. " And, 
sir," he says to Crumwell, " forasmuch as of late my fellows 
and I did write unto Mr. Chancellor of the Augmentations 
in favour of the abbey of St. James, and the nunnery of 
Catesby, in Northamptonshire, which letter he showed unto 
the king's highness in the favour of those houses, where the 
king's highness was displeased, as he said to my servant, 
Thomas Harper, saying that it was like that we had received 
rewards which caused us to write as we did, which might 
put me in fear to write. Notwithstanding, the sure know- 
ledge that I have had always in your indifference, giveth 
me boldness to write to you in the favour of the house of 

1 Calendar, x. Pref. xlv. Since the publication of Mr. Gairdner's volume 
I was fortunate enough to discover several more reports of these commissioners 
in the Record Office. As they had been placed wrongly among the Chantry 
Certificates they had escaped the editor's notice altogether. It is sufficient here 
to say that they entirely bear out Mr. Gairdner's remarks upon the other 
documents he had before him as to the uniformly good character that is given 
to the religious in the houses visited. 

The Charges against the Monks 125 

Walstroppe. The governor thereof is a very good husbond 
for the house and well-beloved of all the inhabitants there- 
unto adjoining, a right honest man, having eight religious 
persons, being priests of right good conversation and living 
religiously, having such qualities of virtue, as we have not 
found the like in any place; for there is not one religious 
person there but that they can and do use either embroider- 
ing, writing books with very fair hand, making their own 
garments, carving, painting, or graving. The house without 
any scandal or evil fame, and stands in a waste ground, 
very solitary, keeping such hospitality that except by singular 
good provision it could not be maintained with half as much 
land more, as they may spend, such a number of the poor 
inhabitants nigh thereunto, daily relieved that we have not 
seen the like, having no more lands than they have. God 
be even my judge, that I write unto you the truth, and no 
otherwise to my knowledge, which very pity alone causes 
me to write." l 

It has been pointed out that, besides the charges 
contained in the comperta of the visitors, the letters of 
Crumwell's agents also contain a variety of accusations 
against religious persons and houses. Some of these choice 
stories, reflecting on the character of the monastic establish- 
ments, have been told and retold by hostile writers, as 
typical illustrations of the natural tendency of the religious 
mode of life. One or two of the best known may now be 
examined. At the outset we may note that, like the rest of 
such charges, no evidence is offered in substantiation of 
their truth. No inquiry was apparently made, and no 
depositions of witnesses are forthcoming. As a rule, 
therefore, the stories have to be tested on their own 
merits, and usually they will be found to depend entirely 
on the ingenuity of the narrator. 

An example very often given, which is supposed to be 
typical of the depravity prevailing among the monks, is that 
of the prior of the Crossed friars in London. This religious, 
"at the dissolution, the watchful emissaries of Crumwell 
caught in flagranti delicto, and down at once went the 
king's hammer upon the corrupt little brotherhood." 2 

1 Wright, 136. 

- Thornbury, Old and New London, vol. ii. p. 253. The story Is also 
given in Burnet, ed. Pocock, i. p. 385. 

126 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

This oft-told story is founded on a letter of one John 
Bartelot, to Thomas Crumwell. 1 The writer certainly says 
that he so caught the prior. In the first place, however, the 
circumstances are unlikely. The time, when the offence 
against good morals was said to have been committed, was 
eleven o'clock in the day on a Friday, in Lent. Then 
Bartelot himself admits that to keep him quiet the prior 
gave him 30, and promised him more " by his bill obliga- 
tory." This, as Mr. Wright concedes, " is not greatly " to 
the witness's credit. 

Luckily however, the prior did not pay, and Bartelot 
summoned him before the Lord Chancellor. This judge, 
having heard the case, not only decided against the accuser, 
"making the premisses to be heinous robbery," but told 
him he deserved to be hanged. He further ordered him to 
refund the black-mail which he had already levied upon the 
unfortunate prior. This is absolutely all the evidence in 
existence, upon which so-called history has founded its 
accusation against the character of the prior of the London 
Crossed friars. As far as the facts speak for themselves, 
they are decidedly against the accuser. This judgment of the 
matter is somewhat sustained by the fact that the prior of 
this house "was reported by the visitors of the religious 
houses to lord Crumwell as a man of inoffensive life." 2 

Another story constantly repeated, and which has certainly 
not been allowed to suffer loss by repetition, affects the good 
name of the Premonstratensian abbey of Langdon in Kent. 

This accusation is also connected in some measure 
with Crumwell's servant, John Bartelot, who was told by 
Chancellor Audley, that for his part in regard to the prior 
of the Crutched friars "he was worthy to be hanged." 
Layton, ever " so eloquent in accusations " according to his 
fellow-commissioner Legh, tells the story. 3 Froude de- 
clares, without the slightest grounds, that it was " the more 
ordinary experiences of the commissioners." 4 The letter 
describes how Layton skilfully caught that "dangerous, 

1 Wright, 59. The editor says : " His (Bartelot's) transaction with the 
prior is not greatly to his credit, and the chancellor appears to have formed 
no very unjust opinion of him." 

2 Monasticon, vi. p. 1586. Edmund Stretham was the name of the prior 
who, on April 17, I534> subscribed to the royal supremacy. 

3 Wright, 75. Mr. Wright finds the story "singularly ludicrous." 

4 History, vol. ii. p. 425. 

The Charges against the Monks 127 

desperate, and hardy knave," the abbot of Langdon. The 
man Bartelot and other servants were left to watch the outer 
gates of the abbey house while Layton went to the door of 
the abbot's lodging. Not getting any answer to his knocking 
" saving the abbot's little dog that, within his door fast 
locked, bayed and barked," he broke it open with a pole- 
axe, found quite handy. He entered alone, but with his 
pole-axe, for fear of the abbot. Bartelot, guarding the out- 
lets, caught a woman running away and took her to Layton, 
who, having examined her, sent her under her captor's charge 
to Dover. Layton does not say that the abbot was at his 
lodgings at all, but his letter adds : " I brought the holy 
father abbot to Canterbury, and here at Christchurch I will 
leave him in prison." A woman's dress was found, at least 
Layton says so, in the abbot's chest, which fact has been 
ingeniously rendered by Burnet, to serve his purpose, as : 
"in the abbot's coffer there was a habit for her, for she 
went for a young brother." 1 

Accepting the facts of the letter as they stand, what are 
they apart from insinuations, pleasantry and dressing up ? 
That a woman was caught running away. 2 Also, if Layton 
is worthy of credit, that a female's dress was found in the 
"abbot's chest." The fact that some of CrumwelPs own 
servants were actually in the house at the time, and yet 
"marvelled what fellow " it was who thus broke into it, looks 
suspicious. Moreover, both Dr. Layton and Crumwell had 
a motive in trying to defame the character of the religious, 
which appears at the close of this very letter. "Now" 
says the zealous visitor, "it shall appear to gentlemen of 
this country, and other the commons that ye shall not 
deprive or visit but upon substantial grounds. Surely I 

1 Burnet, i. p. 307. Layton in his letter only says: "At last I found 
her apparel in the abbot's coffer." This gloss as to how the woman passed 
herself off is Burnel's own. 

2 ' ' But for a conclusion his ... gentlewoman bestirred her stumps towards 
her starting holes and there Bartlett, watching the pursuit, took the tender 
damoisel, and after I had examined her, to Dover there to the mayor to set 
her in some cage or prison for viij days." This is all the information vouch- 
safed. Layton is very circumstantial on accessories, very sober or reticent 
on the main point ; he does not even say that the woman ran out of the 
"abbottes logeyng." Neither here nor hereafter does he so much as hint at 
what the examination elicited. The sequel of the story is told in the text ; 
how far it agrees with the beginning as narrated in Layton's lightest, merriest 
vein, the reader can judge for himself. 

128 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

suppose God himself put it in my mind thus suddenly to 
make a search at the beginning, because no canon appeared 
in my sight." 

In a letter written the same night (October 23, 1535) 
from Canterbury, Layton, after describing the fire which 
took place at Christchurch on the night of his arrival, pro- 
ceeds to speaks very ill of Dover, Folkestone, and Langdon. 
Although he gives the worst possible character to the abbot 
of the last-named monastery, nothing is said of the story 
of his capture, which he had reported shortly before. In 
place of this, another accusation is substituted against 
William Dare, the abbot who is called "the drunkenest 
knave living." The whole community are, in fact, included 
in one of Layton's sweeping charges of immorality. It is 
strange that there is not the least reference, even jocose, to 
the doctor's achievement the day previous, about which he 
had been so proud. Was it that, on reflection, he saw after 
all he had found out absolutely nothing upon which to found 
an accusation against the abbot ? Did he hence desire to 
substitute another and a more hearsay charge against his 
character? At any rate his motive was the same, for he 
expressly warns his master to be "quick in taking the fruits" 
of the doomed abbey. 1 

A fortnight later, November 16, 1535, three commis- 
sioners attended at the chapter-house of Langdon to receive 
the surrender. These king's officers, although reporting 
badly of the abbot's administration, bring no graver charges 
against him. On the contrary, they recommend this man, 
whom Layton had described as most immoral and "the 
drunkenest knave living," for a pension. 8 This reward was 
granted him by the court of Augmentation for life, or until 
such time as he received a "fitting ecclesiastical benefice." 8 
If Layton's accusations were true the abbot could have been 
got rid of without expense and without the scandal of pro- 
posing to place such a man in cure of souls. This fact, if 
fairly considered, should suffice to disprove Layton's insinua- 
tions and demolish the stock story founded on them. 

Another charge against the character of a monk has 
been often repeated on the authority of the same Dr. Layton. 
This visitor, who could write the vilest accusations against 

1 Calendar, ix. No. 669. * Wright, 89. 

8 R. O. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks., 232, f. 57. 

The Charges against the Monks 129 

a religious man and then add " it were too long to declare 
all things of him that I have heard, which I suppose are 
true," l declares that the prior of Maiden Bradley, in Somer- 
set, had six children. Further, that his sons were "tall 
men waiting on him," and that "the pope, considering his 
fragility, had given him license in writing sub plumbo" to 
discharge his conscience. 2 This story, so utterly improbable 
in itself, rests on no authority whatever, but the ipse dixit 
of the unblushing Layton. It is disposed of by the fact that 
the prior Richard Jennings was pensioned by the advice of 
the chancellor and court of Augmentation, 3 and subsequently 
became rector of Shipton Moyne, in Gloucestershire. 

Something must be said in reference to accusations 
against the abbot of Wigmore, an abbey eight miles from 
Ludlow in Herefordshire. Of the long document in which 
the charges are made, Mr. Fronde says : " It is so singular 
that we print it as it is found a genuine antique, fished up 
in perfect preservation out of the wreck of the old world." 4 
The same author has made choice of this story as one of 
two specimens, which he believes completely justify Henry's 
measures against the monasteries. He goes into rhapso- 
dies about this " flagrant case," which he declares to be " a 
choice specimen out of many " of an abbot " able to purchase 
with jewels stolen from his own convent a faculty to confer 
holy orders, though there is no evidence that he had been 
consecrated bishop," and to make ^1000 by selling the 
exercise of his privilege. The charges are to be found in 
a letter to Crumwell from one of the canons of Wigmore, 
named John Lee. The articles are 29 in number, and give 
the worst possible character to the abbot. He had sold the 
jewels of the monastery to pay for the fees for his consecra- 
tion. He took fees for ordination and acted as a bishop, on 
the strength of the papal bulls. He kept concubines and 
squandered money upon them. He was very malicious and 
wrathful, "not regarding what he saith or doth in his fury." 
He had murdered a man and his wife, who had purchased 
a corrody from the abbey, and had consented to another 
murder committed by his chaplain. This chaplain, it is 
added, is allowed to do what he likes, " to carry cross-bows, 

1 Wright, p. 48. * Ibid., p. 58. 

8 R. O. Aug. Office Mis. Bks., 244, No. 143. Original of grants. 
* Short Studies, i. " Dissolution of Monasteries." 

130 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

and to go fishing and hunting in the king's forests, parks 
and chases, but little or nothing serving the choir as other 
brethren do, neither corrected of the said abbot for any 
trespass he doth commit." Further, the abbot had not kept 
the injunctions given by Dr. Core from the king, and would 
have put the brother who denounced him into prison, had 
he not been prevented by the chapter. The writer of this 
strange document " will not name now " many acts of incon- 
tinence on the part of the abbot, " least it would offend your 
good lordship to read 'or hear the same." In a postscript he 
adds, " My good lord, there is in the said abbey, a cross of 
fine gold and precious stones, whereof one diamond was 
esteemed by Dr. Booth, of Hereford bishop, to be worth a 
hundred marks." In this is a piece of the true cross, which 
is used to be brought down to the church with lights and 
much reverence. " I fear least the abbot upon Sunday next, 
when he may come to the treasury will take away the said 
cross and break it and turn it to his use and many other 
precious jewels that be there." In conclusion John Lee 
declares that his articles are " true in substance," and that 
he is ready to prove them. He winds up by the suggestion, 
that Crumwell should appoint him, " or any man that will 
be indifferent and not corrupt, to sit at the said abbey " as 
his commissioner. 

Much of this long document, and notably the accusation 
of murder, is absurd on the face of it and may be dismissed. 
For the rest, as no other evidence is forthcoming, it is 
necessary to fall back upon what is otherwise known of 
Wigmore and its abbot. The monastery had been regularly 
visited by the bishops of Hereford before its dissolution, and 
in the year 1518, the community placed the nomination of 
their superior in the hands of cardinal Wolsey. After due 
consideration, the cardinal made choice of a canon regular of 
Bristol for the post. This was John Smarte, against whom 
these grave charges were afterwards brought by his subject, 
John Lee. At this date, he was declared as publicly known 
to possess the qualities necessary for a worthy superior. 1 
Smarte was a scholar of Oxford and a bachelor of divinity at 
that university. 2 After his election he was much esteemed 

Reg. Booth, Ep. Heref., f. 24. 

2 Boase, Reg. Univ. Oxon., i. p. 53. " Smarte or Smerte, John, Reg. Can.," 
B.A. 1508, B.D. 1515. 

The Charges against the Monks 131 

by the bishop of Hereford, Charles Booth, who wrote to the 
pope asking that the abbot might be made his suffragan. 1 
This request was granted. He became titular bishop of 
Pavada, and acted as coadjutor of Hereford from 1526 to 
1535. During the first six years of this period, he also 
performed the same office for the diocese of Worcester. 2 
In this capacity, as suffragan bishop, abbot John Smarte 
held the usual diocesan ordinations, some of which (notably 
that in the first year of his office, 1526) were very large. 
The fact that the bishop of the diocese had asked for this 
abbot's nomination as his suffragan, disposes of the insinua- 
tions which Mr. Froude makes, as to his having purchased 
a " faculty " to ordain, " though there is no evidence that he 
had been consecrated bishop." 

The accusations brought against his character by the 
letter of John Lee are more difficult to meet. His appoint- 
ment by Wolsey as abbot, and the good opinion certainly 
formed of him by bishop Booth, are considerable evidence 
that Lee's charge was malicious and false. Fortunately, 
however, a visitation of Wigmore was ordered by bishop 
Edward Fox in the autumn of 1536, and his injunctions 
were issued on 26th March of the following year. 3 As these 
orders follow closely the lines of the charges in Lee's letter, 
it is difficult to resist the conclusion that this exceptional 
visitation was ordered, in consequence of the canon's com- 
plaints. 4 Whether this be so or not, we have in the in- 
junctions for Wigmore, entered in the register of bishop 
Fox, issued in the spring of 1537, an independent judgment 
about the state of the abbey and the character of its superior. 
As to the charges of incontinence against him, Dr. Hugh 
Coren or Curwen, the vicar general, who held the visita- 
tion, appears to have reported mere imprudence on his part. 
The bishop only enjoins him to avoid being too much with 
women. That no case had been proved against him, how- 
ever, appears tolerably certain from the insertion of the 
clause " if there be any " (si qu<z sinf) into the body of this 
injunction. He is ordered to let the brethren know " whether 
he has redeemed the jewels which he has pledged," and to 
restore them to the monastery. The usual regulations are 

1 Reg. Booth, f. c, . 2 Stubbs, Rcgistrum, p. 147. 

3 Reg. Fox, Ep. Heref., f. 21. 

4 Ibid., f. 8, says the king had directed these visitations by his letters. 

132 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

made for the yearly accounts and for the custody of the 
monastic deeds. The abbot is warned to correct his subjects 
with mildness and not too roughly, and the subjects on their 
part are warned to be obedient in all things to their abbot, 
and to look upon the virtue of chastity as the gem of the 
religious life. Finally the abbot's chaplain, Richard Cubley, 
about whom Lee had complained in his letter, is ordered 
to attend the choir like the rest of the canons and to desist 
from hunting and other unmonastic occupations. Thus, 
after a careful examination, little appears against the char- 
acter of Wigmore and its abbot, John Smarte. The visita- 
tion really discredits the charges and base insinuations of 
John Lee. If this examination followed upon his complaints 
to Crumwell, as we have every reason to suppose, then the 
injunctions must fairly be considered as a verdict in favour 
of the abbot In any case, we have in this record a picture 
of the state of the monastery and a judgment on the char- 
acter of its superior altogether at variance with that presented 
in the letter of the discontented canon. 

In concluding this brief examination of the grave accu- 
sations made against the monasteries, it may be useful to 
point out how strong is the negative evidence, as it may be 
called, in favour of the general moral tone of these establish- 
ments, as against the biassed accounts of Henry's royal 
commissioners. The historian Strype says, that special 
injunctions were sent to the bishops by Crumwell to watch 
narrowly into the conduct ^>f "the abbeys and religious 
houses that especially stuck to the pope and kept as much 
as they could to the old superstitions." l In spite, however, 
of these special instructions, although we have numerous 
letters 2 from the bishops of the time, there is hardly an 
expression that can be construed into a condemnation of the 
moral lives of the monks. This negative testimony is all 
the more important, as many of these ecclesiastics were 
known opponents of this method of life. The old and 
contemporary chroniclers Hall, Stow, Grafton, Holinshed 
and Fabian are also singularly silent as to the pretended 
vicious lives practised in the cloisters of England. And 
Wriothesley, although clearly in favour of the cause of the 

1 Eccl. Mems., i. I, p. 333 (ed. 1822). 

2 An immense number of letters are in existence from Cranmer, Stokesley, 
Latimer, Rowland Lee, and others. 

The Charges against the Monks 133 

reformers, makes no mention whatever of these charges in 
his chronicle. He says that in 1535 the lesser monasteries 
were granted to the king, "to the augmentation of the 
crown," and adds : " It was pity the great lamentation that 
the poor people made for them, for there was great hospi- 
tality kept amongst them, and, as it was reported, ten 
thousand persons had lost their living by the putting down 
of them, which was great pity." 1 

Lord Herbert declares that bishop Latimer was anxious 
to preserve some of the monasteries at least two or three 
in each diocese. In bishop Latimer's arguments with king 
Henry VIII. against purgatory, he concludes thus: "The 
founding of monasteries argueth purgatory to be, so the 
putting them down argueth it not to be. What uncharit- 
ableness and cruelty seemeth it to be to destroy monasteries 
if purgatory be ? Now, it seemeth not convenient the act 
to preach one thing, and the pulpit another clear contrary." 2 
This reference must have been to the act for the suppression 
of lesser monasteries (1535), because, at the date of the fall 
of the greater houses, Latimer was not in such circumstances 
as would allow him to controvert with Henry. 

Cranmer also, who with others narrowly watched the 
monks of Christchurch, Canterbury, admitted that there was 
nothing whatever against their moral character. Many of 
these same monks became the first secular canons of the 
cathedral, although they were amongst those most seriously 
accused by the visitors. Moreover, Richard, the suffragan 
of Dover, who was much employed on the work of sup- 
pression and has left many letters, particularly as to the 
friars, makes no charge of so serious a nature as those 
brought by Lay ton, Legh and Ap Rice. This may be 
accounted for, possibly, because his mission was rather to 
suppress than to find motives for the work. As he was 
occupied in this, after parliament had given over the smaller 

1 Wriothesley 's Chronicle (Camd. Soc.). This is a contemporary London 
chronicle, and its negative evidence is very valuable. Had there been much 
talk about the immoral lives of the monks, it is reasonable to suppose the 
author would have made some note of it. He had every means of knowing, 
as he. had an official position among the heralds, having become Windsor 
herald on Christmas day, 1534. He was attached chiefly to the person of 
chancellor Audley. See editor's remarks, p. 274. It is also very remarkable 
that no mention of the great outcry against the monasteries is to be found in 
the letters of the well-informed Chapuys or of other writers at this time. 

8 Printed by Strype, EccL Mems., i. p. 388. 

134 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

houses to the king, there was no need for furnishing such 

In fact, there is very little evidence that the gross in- 
sinuations against the character of monks and nuns in 
general, and special charges such as were brought against 
a small proportion, by such men as Layton, Legh and Ap 
Rice, were either made or believed in by others. There is, on 
the other hand, most positive evidence, to which subsequent 
reference will be made, of the esteem and respect in which 
many religious houses were held by those who had best reason 
to know their true character. If we add to this the singu- 
lar silence as to such charges, maintained by contemporary 
chroniclers, we are led to the conclusion that these terrible 
accusations were not much insisted upon, even in the parlia- 
ment which passed the bill of suppression. More than one 
authority clearly states that the chief motive, which actuated 
the servile parliament in passing the measure, was the hope 
that the property thus appropriated from the church and 
poor, would be a means of freeing them for some time from 
the constant and importunate exactions of the king. It was 
hoped that the people would thus be indirectly benefited. 
This conclusion is much strengthened by the fact that within 
a very short time after the first dissolutions it was proposed 
to present to the king a petition from the lords and commons, 
asking him to stay any further suppressions. The ground 
for this request was, that so far from the destruction of the 
religious houses doing good to the country, as had been 
promised, the measure had proved an unmitigated evil. 
"And albeit," this remarkable document runs, "most dread 
sovereign lord, at the making of the said act it was thought 
that we might full well thereby have advanced the revenues 
of your noble crown without prejudice or hurt of any your 
poor subjects, or of the commonwealth of this your realm ; 
yet nevertheless they perceive those houses already sup- 
pressed showeth plainly unto us, that a great hurt and 
decay is thereby come and hereafter shall come to this your 
realm, and great impoverishing of many your poor obedient 
subjects for lack of hospitality and good householcfing, which 
was wont in them to be kept to the great relief of the poor 
people of all the country adjoining to the said monasteries, 
besides the maintenance of many servants, husbandmen 
and labourers that daily were kept, in the said religious 

The Charges against the Monks 135 

houses." Then, after some suggested regulations for the 
property of monasteries already suppressed, the proposed 
petition asks that all monasteries, of whatever kind they 
were beyond the Trent, and which, although falling under 
the act, had not as yet been suppressed, "shall stand still 
and abide in their own strength and foundation, and the 
act aforesaid of suppression of religious houses that were 
not above the yearly value of 200 lands, to be frustrate 
as concerning them and of no effect." l 

Such a petition would be impossible, if the chief cause 
of the suppression had been the hopeless state of immorality 
in which the monasteries were sunk. The truth is, that 
money was the object which Henry and his minister had in 
view. This is emphasized by the fact that many monasteries 
were allowed to purchase temporary continuance by heavy 
payments to the royal exchequer. As for the charges 
brought by Layton and his fellows, they are unsupported 
by any other evidence but their bare assertions. They are 
worth so much and no more. 

1 B. Mus. Cott. MS. Cleop., E. iv. f. 215 (182). 

Thomas Cromwell, the King's Vica* General 

FIRST and chief among the accusers of the monks must be 
reckoned Thomas Crumwell. His was the mind which first 
conceived the idea of attacking the papal power in its strong- 
holds and procuring thereby the wealth to gratify the covetous- 
ness of the king. Perhaps no actor on the stage of history 
has ever possessed greater powers, personal and political. 
Certainly, no single minister in England ever exercised such 
extensive authority, none ever rose so rapidly, and no one 
has left behind him a name covered with greater infamy and 

Thomas Crumwell, so far as his early history is known, 
was born of parents in poor circumstances. His father is 
said to have been a blacksmith at Putney, and Thomas in 
his youth seems to have been apprenticed to a fuller named 
Wix. 1 He was not contented, however, to remain long in 
this humble state. As the gossip in the day of his power 
went, he had in youth been thrown into prison for some 
offence, and had been subsequently obliged to leave the 
country. 2 At an early period, we find him, or some one of 
his name, in the service of the Marchioness of Dorset, and 
all accounts agree in saying, that he passed a portion of his 
youth as a common soldier in Italy. He once told Cranmer 
that he had been at one time a " ruffian," and some autho- 
rities seem to think it not improbable that he was present 

1 B. Mus., Sloane MS., 2495, f. 8. 

2 Calendar, ix. No. 862. Chapuys to Granvelle, London, Nov. 21, 1535 
(printed in Mr. Froude's ed. of "Thomas' Pilgrim," p. 106). "Sir Master 
Crumwell, of whose origin and antecedents your secretary, Antoine, tells me 
you desire to be informed, is the son of a poor blacksmith, who lived in a small 
village four miles from this place, and is buried in a common grave in the 
parish churchyard. His uncle whom he has enriched was cook to the late 
archbishop of Canterbury (Warham). The said Crumwell in his youth was 
an ill-conditioned scapegrace. For some offence he was thrown into prison, 
and was obliged afterwards to leave the country." 


Thomas Crumwcll 137 

when Rome was assaulted and taken in May 1527, by the 
imperial army, under the Duke of Bourbon. Among those 
who took part in the sack of the city there is said to have 
been 1 "an Englishman of low, vicious habits and infidel 
principles, who afterwards became of terrific importance to 
the church of England." This is thought by some to have 
been Thomas Crumwell. 2 

From his own letters he appears to have been settled 
as a merchant at Middelborough in 1512, for in that year he 
employs a correspondent, in Antwerp, to buy an iron chest 
of considerable size, in which presumably to keep his money. 
Before 1520, Crumwell had added the occupation of scrivener 
to his other avocations, and was also engaged in accommo- 
dating members of the aristocracy with loans of consider- 
able amount. This money-lending business appears to have 
always possessed special attractions for him, as he is found 
lending large sums of money, even when at the very height 
of his power. 3 In 1523, Crumwell entered parliament; and 
though, apparently, he did not take any very prominent 
part in the debates, it is possible that he was of service to 
Wolsey in obtaining the parliamentary grant of a very large 
subsidy voted in that year. In 1525 he was living near 
Austin Friars, in London, and engaged as a merchant, 
lawyer and money lender. 4 Amongst those who were obliged 
to have recourse to him in this latter capacity, was lord 
Henry Percy, then attached to the court of the cardinal of 
York a court hardly less magnificent and costly than that 
of the king himself. By this client Crumwell may well have 
been introduced to the notice of Wolsey. 

Whilst in the cardinal's service, 6 Crumwell was chiefly 
employed in the work of suppressing the monasteries, which 
had been doomed to extinction for the purpose of endowing 
the cardinal's colleges at Oxford and Ipswich. In this occu- 
pation he acquired a knowledge of the monastic houses, and 
of the methods useful to employ in seizing the property of 

1 Maitland, The Reformation, p. 228. The author thinks that if Crumwell 
was present it probably was in the service of Wolsey, and not at this time as a 

2 Lord Herbert, in Toss, Judges of England, vol. v. p. 147. 
8 R. O. Chapter House Books, B. 

4 Calendar, iv. Nos. 1385, 1586, 1620, &c. 

* Cardinal Pole says, that when Crumwell was in the service of Wolsey, 
he strongly recommended to him (Pole) the works and principles of Machiavelli, 
especially those contained in " II Principe." Ellis, Orig. Letters, 3rd Series, 
iii. 278. 

i3 8 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

the monks. 1 This work may very possibly have suggested 
to his mind the subsequent wholesale confiscations. It 
certainly gave him opportunities, of which he was not slow 
to profit, to promote his own advancement and interests. 
Cardinal Pole declares that these violent suppressions, 
carried out under cover of authority from the pope, obtained 
by the masterful influence and diplomacy of Wolsey, proved 
a fortune to Crumwell. From this time his worldly pros- 
pects, as Pole says, were secured. "He (Crumwell) was 
certainly born," he adds, "with an aptitude for ruin and 
destruction." 2 

On Wolsey's disgrace, Crumwell's first thought was 
how to save himself from being involved in his master's 
ruin. He had reason to fear the consequences of acts 
which, although perpetrated in the cardinal's service and 
under cover of his authority, had placed him within reach 
of the law. Now that the strong arm which had shielded 
him was paralyzed, the popular resentment against him 
did not fear to make itself heard. In defending his patron 
in parliament it is possible that he may have been actuated 
by sincere motives of gratitude, but in defeating the bill of 
attainder, he was in reality only making the best possible 
defence for himself. To have allowed the bill to pass, 
would practically have been to acquiesce in his own ruin. 
The charges against the cardinal were founded, at least 
partially, on the grave injustice done in the work of sup- 
pressing certain monasteries. And it was on this very 
work that Crumwell had been specially employed and had 
earned for himself unenviable notoriety. His own, as well 
as his master's, safety consequently demanded the defeat 
of the attainder. " I have read," says dean Hook, " with 
attention the letters addressed to Crumwell by Wolsey, 
and I think that any one who does so will come to the 
conclusion that Wolsey had no confidence in Crumwell's 
sincerity; and that Crumwell did not treat his fallen master 
with consideration and kindness. He was obliged to defend 
him, for he had no other course to pursue." 8 

1 R. O. Exchequer Q. R. Treasury of Receipt, f. The sales by T. 
Crumwell of Begham Priory, Kent, at this time. It might well be taken for 
an account of a suppression ten years later. 

2 "Apologia," Epist. collectio, vol. i. p. 127. 
* Lives of Archbishops, vi. p. 128. 

Thomas Crumwell 139 

Moreover, the very fact of Crumwell's attitude towards 
the measure, at a time when no opposition to the king's 
wishes and intentions would be tolerated, shows that some 
secret understanding had been arrived at between the 
monarch and his future adviser. 1 The account given by 
Cavendish of the way Crumwell left the cardinal, proves 
that the former knew he was in great danger, and that he 
had the intention of trying to escape from the difficulties 
which beset him, by treating at once with the court. In 
no other way can the scene described by Cavendish be 
explained. Thomas Crumwell evidently thought it high 
time he should look to his own affairs. More especially 
was this necessary as there seems to have been a report 
current which affected him most seriously. When Wolsey's 
case was settled, the people said, then would come Crum- 
well's turn for punishment. In fact, the popular voice had 
already consigned him to the gallows. Cardinal Pole, who 
was in London at the time, asserts that he himself heard 
the expression of popular exultation over the expected 
punishment of one considered so well deserving of death. 
He declares also, that it was asserted Crumwell had already 
been arrested and cast into prison." a 

It is not difficult to imagine what means Thomas 
Crumwell took to defeat the popular clamour for his 
punishment, and to change the king's views regarding 
him. Henry no doubt saw in him one who was likely to 
be a useful instrument in his hands. Something more, 
however, was needed to alter the king's known contempt 
and distrust into immediate reliance on his services, and 
to establish a secret understanding between them. It has 
appeared probable to some that Crumwell, at his interview 
with Henry, suggested a solution of the king's difficulties 
with the pope. It was nothing less than the entire with- 
drawal of England from spiritual allegiance to the Holy 

1 Dr. Pegge says, " The rejection of the bill may be justly ascribed to the 
relentment of the king, for Crumwell would not have dared to oppose it, nor 
the commons to reject it, had they not received an intimation that such was 
the royal will. Singer, Cavendish, i. p. 209 note. 

2 "Apologia Reg. Poli. ad Carolum V. Csesarem," Epist. Collectio, Brixiae, 
1744, vol. i. p. 126. " Ipse (Crumwell) omnium voce, qui aliquid de eo 
intellexerant ad supplicium posceretur. Hoc enim amrmare possum, qui 
Londini turn adfui et voces audivi, adeo etiam ut per civitatem universam 
rumor circumferretur, eum in carcerem fuisse detrusum, et propediem pro- 
ductum iri ad supplicium." 

H Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

See, and the declaration that the king was henceforth to 
be considered the head of the Church in England. Others 
have imagined that he captivated the king by showing 
him how easily he might lay his hand on the riches of 
the Church and the broad lands of the monastic bodies. 
Whatever the motive or the inducement, it seems certain 
that at this interview Crumwell obtained the king's approval 
to the defeat of the " bill of attainder " and to the policy 
of proceeding against the cardinal under the statute of 
" praemunire." In this way the king would still possess 
himself of the fallen minister's property. Indeed, by this 
method Henry would be the gainer. For not only could 
the cardinal be brought under the law for acting as legate 
of the pope, but the entire body of clergy also. In fact, 
all who had admitted these legatine powers were involved 
in the meshes of the legal statute and were in danger of 
forfeiting goods and chattels to the king's majesty. 

That Henry had granted his royal license for the 
cardinal to act as he had done, is unquestioned. The 
obvious way, therefore, of meeting the charge was by the 
production of the royal permission under the great seal. 
When the commissioners came to ask him what answer he 
could make to the indictment, Wolsey replied : " The King's 
highness knoweth right well whether I have offended his 
majesty and his laws or no, in using of my prerogative 
legatine for the which ye have indicted me. Notwithstand- 
ing, I have the king's license in my coffers, under his hand 
and broad seal, for exercising and using the authority there- 
of in the largest wise within his majesty's dominions, the 
which remaineth now in the hands of my enemies." 1 Not 
having the document, Wolsey threw himself on the king's 
mercy. By what means did this license under the great 
seal find its way " into the hands " of the cardinal's enemies ? 
Was it the peace-offering of Crumwell to Henry? An 
early account of the transaction, which clearly took place 
between the king and the servant of the fallen cardinal, 
declares that the price paid by Crumwell to secure his own 
safety and the king's favour, was the theft of this document 
from the private papers of his master, to which he had 
access. "And so like an unfaithful and traitorous servant 

1 Singer, Cavendish, i. p. 209. 

Thomas Crumwell 141 

the said Crumwell stole from his master and delivered to the 
king." 1 

Crumwell's rise after this was rapid and unchecked as 
long as he served Henry's purpose. " It more resembled," 
writes Lord Campbell, " that of a slave at once constituted 
grand vizier in an Eastern despotism than of a minister of 
state promoted in a constitutional government where law, 
usage, and public opinion check the capricious humours of 
the sovereign." 2 He became successively master of the 
king's jewels, chancellor of the Exchequer for life, master of 
the Rolls, and secretary of state, the king's vicar general in 
matters ecclesiastical, lord privy seal, dean of Wells, and 
great chamberlain. 8 In 1533 he was knighted, and three 
years later became a peer of the realm under the title of Earl 
of Essex. By virtue of his commission as vicar general of 
the king, who had according to act of parliament taken on 
himself " all spiritual and temporal jurisdiction in the Church 
of England," he had power to "exercise all spiritual juris- 
diction belonging to the king for the due administration of 
justice in all cases touching ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and 
godly reformation, and redress of errors, heresies, and abuses 
in the said church." 

The position occupied by Thomas Crumwell during the 
years of his power is unique in English history. As vice- 
gerent and vicar general he was placed above the arch- 
bishops and bishops, even in convocation and other strictly 
ecclesiastical assemblies. 4 Hardly was the venerable Fisher 

1 B. Mus. Arundel MS., 152, f. 426. 

2 Lives of the English Chancellors, i. p. 600; Ibid., p. 230 et seq. 

3 Master of king's jewels, 1532 ; chancellor of Exchequer and knighted, 
1533 ; master of Rolls, vicar general and secretary of state, 1534 ; lord privy 
seal and a peer of the realm, July, 1536 ; vicegerent in ecclesiastical causes, 
1536; dean of Wells, 1537 ; great chamberlain, 1539. 

4 In a curious little volume by Alexander Alane, Scot., Of the auctorite of 
the word of God agaynst the Bisshop of London (1542), the author gives an 
account of one of the meetings which Crumwell held as vicar general. The 
following quotation will be of interest. The writer says : " I did mete bi 
chance in the streate the right excellent Lord Crumwell, going unto the par- 
liament howse, in the yeare 1537. He when he sawe me, called me unto him 
and toke me with him to the parliament howse to Westmynster, where we 
fownd all the bisshops gathered together. Unto whom as he went and toke 
me with him, all the bisshops and prelates did rise up and did obeisance unto 
him as to their Vicar General, and after he had saluted them he sate him down 
in the highest place, and right against hym sate the archbishop of Cantorbery, 
after hym the archbisshop of Yorke and then London, Lincoln, &c. . . . Than the 
Lord Crumwell, being Vicar General of the realme, Lord of the Prevy Sealt 

142 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

executed, than he was elected his successor as chancellor of 
the University of Cambridge. 1 Though a layman, he did 
not scruple to hold the deanery of Wells and other ecclesi- 
astical benefices. 2 In parliament, he took precedence of the 
nobility of every rank by virtue of his ecclesiastical title of 
king's vicar general. 

Armed, as he was, with supreme and absolute power, 
both civil and spiritual, he succeeded in establishing and 
maintaining a complete reign of terror in England. How 
he used his authority for the appointment of other agents 
of destruction the foregoing pages have partly told. How 
they together accomplished their work, every ruined abbey 
and every desecrated shrine in England proclaims. (^Every 
pauper is made to feel, by the cold charity extended to him 
in the poorhouses of the country, how cruelly he was robbed 
of his inheritance, by the destruction and spoliation of the 
monastic houses of the land.l 

It is by no means easy to realise the completeness of 
the autocratic power which was placed by the king in Crum- 
well's hands at this time, and which he used unscrupulously 
to crush all opposition to his schemes, for the overthrow of 
the Church and the seizure of its revenues. His agents and 
spies were everywhere, and the most secret conversations 
were reported to him. The abbot in the midst of his com- 
munity could not reckon upon his word being safe from 
the prying ears of the minister's agents. The sayings of a 
religious in the " shaving house " or the " frater " might be, 
and often were, repeated and distorted to his injury. The 
preacher had his sermons commented upon, and the conver- 
sations of noblemen at table were often carried to Crumwell. 
The mass of his correspondence that still remains, and the 
private notes for his "remembrances," prove conclusively 
that nothing was too trivial for him to inquire into. He was 
ever anxiously watching, in order to guard against any pos- 
sible interference with his plans, and to entrap others whom 
he had reason to fear. 

Dean Hook gives a picture of the times when he writes, 

and chefe secret counceler unto the king, turned himself to the bisshops and 
sayd, ' Right Reverend fathers in Christ,' " &c. &c. (Ellis, Orig. Letters, 3rd 
Ser., iii. p. 196). 

1 Calendar, ix. No. 208 (Aug. 30, 1535). 

a Record Off., Chapter H. Books, B. J, eg., April 2nd, 30 H. VIIL " Item. 
Mr. Gostwyke for the first fruits of my lord's divers benefices." Ibid. " agth. 
The tenths for deanery of Wells." 

Thomas Crumwell 143 

that " in every county and village, almost in every homestead, 
he had a secret force of informers and spies. They depended 
on the patronage of the vicegerent, who, generous and des- 
potic, could give as well as take away. In the enthusiasm 
of their selfish loyalty they were on the watch for traitors, 
and in the well-paid piety of their hearts they had a terrible 
dread of superstition." 1 Every modern notion of justice, or 
of the certainty of fair and honest trials, must be altogether 
laid aside in regard to the charges and convictions of this 
period of our national history. Crumwell was on some 
occasions " prosecutor, judge and jury." For a word of dis- 
approval about the king or his minister, for a jest or slighting 
remark at their expense, the offender might find himself sum- 
moned before the magistrates to answer for his offence. The 
accused and his accusers probably never met face to face. 
Cases of serious import, often of life and death, were decided 
on the depositions of men whose interest it was to obtain 
convictions. Words spoken against Crumwell, or in condem- 
nation of a tyranny subversive of the first principles of free- 
dom, were construed into treason against the king and the 
state. Even suspected persons, against whom no case could 
be made out, might be summoned to have the oath of supre- 
macy tendered to them. Their houses could be ransacked 
for evidence of disaffection, and they themselves brought 
before the council in London, to be transferred untried or 
unconvicted, if thought to be obstinate or otherwise ob- 
noxious, to the Marshalsea, the Tower, or Newgate. 

Among the letters to Crumwell there is one from lord 
William Howard, who writes to his master, saying, " I hear 
it is your pleasure that I should go into the country to 
hearken if there be any ill-disposed people in those parts 
that would talk or be busy any way." 2 Another correspon- 
dent recommends for the service of Crumwell an informer 
against religious persons. 8 

The libraries of monasteries were ransacked for evidence 
of opposition to the new state of affairs, and even the 
cherished store of pious books belonging to the country 
priest his service books and his very manuals of piety 
were overhauled to search out proofs of his clinging to the 
faith and practice of his fathers. From Bath abbey, for 

1 Lives of Archbishops, vi. p. 98. 2 Calendar, xi. No. 599. 

* B. Mus. Cott. MS. Cleop., E. iv. 127 (106). 

144 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

example, the zealous doctor Layton writes : " Ye shall here- 
with receive a book of Our Lady's miracles well able to 
match the Canterbury tales. Such a book of dreams as 
ye never saw, which I found in the library." 1 Another of 
Crumwell's agents, a certain " Ralph Lane, junior," reports 
that according to his master's commands he went after "the 
books of one Sir Thomas Cantwell, parson of Hardwick . . . 
which had been brought to a poor man's house in Whit- 
church." Having examined them, he selected and forwarded 
to his employer five volumes " belonging to the said parson, 
whereof three are entitled Homeliari Johis Echii, being all 
three dated A.D. 1438 ; one book of the life of St. Thomas 
Becket, and a missal wherein is the word papa f throughoutly 
uncorrected.'" 2 

Another informer of a different class, William Walde- 
grave, writes : " There is a chaplain of my lady Waldegrave, 
my grandam, which is a papist and causes (those) here to 
hold off from the truth, hath in his mass book daily this 
Thomas Beckett's name with all his pestiferious collects."* 
So also the curate of Wrington, Somerset, " will not abro- 
gate the name of Thomas Becket." This was taken in all 
cases as a certain sign of wrong-headed obstinacy, and an 
intention to resist the king's changes. The monks of Christ- 
church, Canterbury, got into trouble for singing the old 
domnum apostolicum in their litanies, and the priest who 
sang high mass was reported for keeping the pope's name 
in the Canon. 

All classes of society throughout the country were made 
to feel, that they were subjected to the omnipotent will of 
Thomas Crumwell and to the petty tyranny of those, who 
thought to win his favour by proving that his power was 
above all law and justice.* When the chapel of Our Lady of 

1 Calendar, ix. No. 42. 

a R. O. Crum. Corr., xix. No. 2O. See also 21, where the library of Dr. 
Lussh, the vicar of Aylesbury, is searched. Also xliv. 35, where the prior of 
Twynham is ordered to search for certain books. 

* Calendar, xiii. No. 1179. 

4 Foxe, v. p. 896, ed. 1846, gives an instance of this. "Hereunto also 
pertaineth the example of friar Hartley, who wearing still his friar's cowl after 
the suppression of religious houses, Crumwell, coming into Paul's churchyard 
and espying him in Rheines shop, ' Yea,' said he, ' will not that cowl of yours 
be left off yet ? And, if I hear by one o'clock that this apparel be not changed, 
thou shalt be hanged immediately for example of all others.' " Mr. Gairdner 
(Calendar, xiii. (ii) preface, p. viii.) points out that this "friar Hartley " was in 

Thomas Crumwell 145 

Walsingham had been despoiled by the king's commissioners 
and the image taken away, a report got noised abroad of 
some grace or favour granted at the old shrine. Sir Roger 
Townsend went there to find out the author of the report, 
which might remind the people of their old attachment to 
this place of pilgrimage, and so beget trouble. In a letter 
written to Crumwell on January 2Oth he thus describes the 
result of his visit : 

" There was a poor woman of Wells beside Walsingham 
that imagined a false tale. . . And upon the trial thereof by 
my examination from one person to another to the number 
of six persons, and at last came to her that she was the re- 
porter thereof, and to be the very author of the same as far 
as my conscience and perceiving could lead me. I committed 
her, therefore, to the ward of the constables of Walsingham. 
The next day after, being market day there, I caused her to 
be set in the stocks in the morning, 1 and about nine of the 
clock, when the said market was fullest of people, with a 
paper set about her head, written with these words upon the 
same, 'a reporter of false tales] was set in a cart and so 
carried about the marketsted and other streets of the town, 
staying in divers places where most people assembled, young 
people and boys of the town casting snowballs at her. This 
done and executed, she was brought to the stocks again, and 
there set till the market was ended. This was her penance, 
for I knew no law otherwise to punish her but my discretion, 
trusting it shall be a warning to other light persons in such 
wise to order themselves. Howbeit I cannot but perceive 
that the said image is not yet out of some of their heads." 2 

A Worcester man named Thomas Emans, servant to 
Mr. Evans, got into difficulties for blaming the spoliation 
of the shrine of Our Lady of Worcester. He was tried by 
a mixed commission, headed by Latimer, the bishop of the 
city. It was proved against him that he had come to the 
church, and leaning on the shoulder of one Roger Cromps, 

reality the celebrated Alexander Barclay, the poet and translator of Sebastian 
Brandt's Ship of Fools. It is probable that the incident here referred to took 
place in August or September 1538. Barclay was hostile to the royal theology, 
and is complained of as one who "doth much hurt in Cornwall and Devon- 
shire both with open preaching and private communications." 

1 Note that it was in the depth of winter and snow on the ground, as will 
be seen. 

8 Ellis, Orig. Lett., 3rd Ser. iii. p. 162. 


146 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

had said : " ' Lady, art thou stript now ; I have seen the day 
that as clean men hath been stript at a pair of gallows, 
as were they that stript thee.' Then he entered into the 
chapel " and " knelt down, saying his Pater and Ave, and 
kissed the image and turned to the people and said ' though 
Our Lady's coat and her Jewells be taken away from her, 
the similitude is no worse to pray unto having sorrow, than 
it was before.' " The depositions carry on the story of this 
bold and turbulent fellow, who confessed to the charge made 
against him, no further than his committal to safe custody. 1 

It is impossible to peruse the records of these years of 
Crumwell's supremacy without feeling deeply, that even a 
pretence of justice and fair dealing was little thought of, 
that prisoners were left to languish untried in the gaols of 
the country, and to die in numbers from pestilence, 2 which 
was dignified on the public rolls into " a visitation of divine 
providence." The long lists of those who were each term 
called upon to find security for their good behaviour or con- 
victed of assembling for riotous purposes, are sufficient 
proofs of the efforts made to extinguish the last remnants of 
a struggle for freedom from the masterful rule of Crumwell 
and his creatures. 

We may judge, from an instance recorded by the historian 
Stow, that at the height of his fame the all-powerful minister 
was not less arbitrary as a man, than as the agent of a des- 
potic king's will. In his " Survey of London " Stow says : 
"On the south side and at thewestend of this church "(Augus- 
tine friars in London) " many fair houses are builded, namely, 
in Throgmorton Street one very large and spacious, builded 
in the place of old and small tenements by Thomas Cromwell, 
master of the rolls, &c. . . This house being finished, and 
having some reasonable plot of ground left for a garden, he 
caused the pales of the garden adjoining to the north part 
thereof on a sudden to be taken down, twenty- two foot to be 
measured forth right into the north of every man's ground, 
a line there to be drawn, a trench to be cast, a foundation 
laid and a high brick wall to be builded. My father had a 

1 Calendar, xii. No. 587. The offence was committed on the eve of the 
feast of the Assumption, 1537. The examination took place on the igth 
of August. 

2 See the lists, twelve and twenty at a time, on the " Controlment Rolls " 
for these years, 

Thomas Crumwell 147 

garden there, and a house standing close to his south pale, 
this house they loosed from the ground and bare upon rollers 
into my father's garden twenty-two foot, ere my father heard 
thereof, no warning was given him, nor other answer, when 
he spake to the surveyors of that work, but that their master 
Sir Thomas commanded them so to do ; no man durst go to 
argue the matter, but each man lost his ground. My father 
paid his whole rent, which was six shillings and eight pence, 
for that half which was left. Thus much of mine own know- 
ledge have I thought good to note, that the sudden rising of 
some men causeth them to forget themselves. The company 
of the drapers in London bought this house, and now the 
same is their common hall." 1 

It is impossible to read the numerous letters addressed 
to Thomas Crumwell and his instructions to his agents during 
the period of the suppression of the monasteries, and to credit 
him with even honesty in regard to his dealings with them. 
Although their destruction was a foregone conclusion, and 
the royal commissioners were fully instructed in their master's 
purpose, he bids them expressly repudiate any such intention 
on the part of the king. Doctor Layton writes from Norfolk 
to his master, that he has done his best to stop the rumour 
that the monasteries are all to go down ; that he has told the 
monks and their neighbours that such a report is a slander 
on the king's majesty, and adds that he " now understands 
that your commandment therefore given me in your gallery 
was much more weighty, than I at the time judged or sup- 
posed or would have believed if I had not seen the very 
experience thereof." 2 The commandment was evidently in- 
tended to prevent the loss of plate or valuables got rid of by 
the monks, in view of the threatened seizure of their property, 
by falsely declaring that the king had no such designs of 
destruction. 3 

During the eight years that Crumwell ruled England the 
plunder he amassed by public and private spoliation was 

1 Stow, Survey of London, ed. 1602, p. 180. Foxe has recorded other in- 
stances of Crumwell's arbitrary mode of acting. 

2 Calendar, xiii. (i), No. 102. 

1 The same declaration that the king had no intention of suppressing the 
monasteries that remained, and that he " would not in any wise interrupt you 
in your state and kind of living," is made in the draft of a letter from the king 
to reassure the monasteries, probably in Crumwell's handwriting. B. Mus 
Cleop. E. iv. fol. 86. 

148 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

immense. The only policy possible for the monastic bodies 
was one of attempted conciliation. By liberal donations, 
presents and bribes to their supreme governor, they hoped 
to buy off the evil day. Demands for leases, grants and 
pensions, were made on the monasteries by Crumwell, or in 
his name, without hesitation or consideration. Generally 
what was asked was at once granted. The monks had no 
option, except the prospect of involving their houses in 
greater difficulties by refusal. Sometimes they pleaded 
earnestly to be allowed to say no, when some farm or 
pension was asked, that was necessary to support their 
very existence or to maintain the poor who depended on 

The account book 1 of Crumwell's steward, Thomas 
Avery, shows that large sums of money came to him by 
way of presents from all manner of persons, ecclesiastical 
and lay. Gifts of -10 and 20, for the new year, frequently 
appear in its pages. Archbishops, bishops, abbots, and 
priors, nobles and commoners, officials and unknown lay- 
men, towns, colleges and cathedral chapters, all sent in their 
fees and new year donations, to propitiate the favour of the 
great man. Some of the amounts are startling. On the 
1st January, 1539, for instance, the account book records 
money presents for the new year of ^800 (more than 
of our present money). Fees of sums from .10 to 
flow in for visitations of monasteries and dioceses and for 
installation to ecclesiastical and civil offices. In the year 
1 538, more than ^300 was paid, by the prior of St. Swithin's, 
Winchester, into the private purse of Crumwell. At one 
time the prior of Rochester pays ^100, at another the abbot 
of Evesham .266. The agents he has employed in the 
visitation of the monasteries, Layton, Legh, Ap Rice and 
Petre, pay large sums in discharge of debts, as their master's 
share in the visitation fees and as presents. 

Cranmer, who certainly feared and distrusted his power- 
ful ecclesiastical superior, thought it necessary to secure to 
him 40 a year "as a memorial of his friendship." 2 From 
Rowland Lee, the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, Crum- 
well demands 100 in return for the grant of some priory 
secured to him, but this demand the bishop was bold enough 

1 R. O. Chapter House Books, BJ. 

2 More than 400 a year of our money. 

Thomas Crumwell 149 

to refuse, saying that he had never promised it, and could 
not spare it. 1 

Bribes of all kinds, unmistakable in their purposes, were 
offered to him by those who had best reason to know the 
secret of gaining what they desired. Layton, the most un- 
scrupulous of his tools, is frequently the channel by which 
money of this kind is offered. For the elections at Fountains, 
Gisborough, Whitby and many other places, large bribes 
are offered to Crumwell in return for a nomination. If he 
will make a certain monk abbot of Vale Royal "he will be 
contented," writes Sir Piers Button, " to give your master- 
ship a ;ioo in hand, and further to do you as large pleasure 
as any man shall." 9 From a certain John Parkyns there 
are two offers of ^100 for some coveted office "and faithful 
service during my natural life." 3 

Reports of the coming suppression produced many 
tempting bribes offered to the all-powerful minister to 
spare the doomed houses. The abbot of Pipwell will " do 
all that a poor man can to gratify your lordship . . . with 
200." * If Peterborough 6 may be allowed to stand, Crum- 
well will find it worth his while; and to avert the fate of 
dissolution from Colchester he is offered as much as 2000 
(^24,000 of our money). In fact, in the matter of bribes, 
the character of Crumwell had been rightly judged by the 
religious. For them, it was the last chance to purchase 
further existence by liberal donations. The prior of Durham, 
in a solemn letter, proposes to increase the annuity of $ 
the monastery of S. Cuthbert had hitherto given him, to 
io. 6 The prioress of Catesby will give him a hundred 
marks to buy a gelding, and the prayers of the convent for 
life, if he can persuade the king to accept the 2000 marks 
she has offered through the queen, as ransom for her house. 7 
Richard, the abbot of Leicester, sends 40, as he under- 
stands "it should be your pleasure," 8 and his successor, 
the abbot John, who had to pay a yearly tax of 240, and 
was deeply in debt, sends a present in kind, of "a brace 
of fat oxen and a score of fat wethers." 

As for presents, they come pouring in upon him on 
all sides, fish from Croyland, apples from Kingslangley, 

1 R. O. Crum. Corn, xxv. No. n. z Ibid., ix. fol. 100. 

* Ibid., xxxii. 15, 16. * Ibid., xxxi. No. 51. 5 Wright, 179. 

' Ellis, Orig. Lett., 3rd Ser. iii. p. 44. 7 Ibid., p. 50. 8 Ibid., ii. p. 313. 

150 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

partridges and pheasants from Harrow, Irish hawks from 
Bath, geldings from Tewkesbury these are but samples 
of the endless variety and number of his presents, not the 
least curious of which is 40 from one John Hunter 
" towards furnishing of your cellar with wine, in recom- 
pense " for Crumwell's part in a law case relating to the 
property of the writer's wife. His accounts reveal that con- 
siderable sums were received in a way to leave little doubt 
that they were really " secret service " money. For example, 
"in a purse," "in a white leather purse," "in a crimson 
satteen purse," "in a handkerchief," "in a glove," "at Arundel 
in a glove," "in a pair of gloves under a cushion, in the 
middle window of the gallery." Some of the other items 
of receipt are hardly less suspicious ; for example, " a chain 
which melted acquired for my lord 482 " (more than ^"5000 
of our money). " Trapes, the goldsmith, in full payment, 
1348, 155. 2d., " and "Bowes for 144 oz. of gold, 
274, us. od." 1 

Crumwell's share of the monastic spoils has yet to be 
calculated. A great deal came into his hands by way of 
grant from the crown, 2 and much more by private arrange- 
ment with those to whom, perhaps through his instrumen- 
tality, it had been given. His accounts show, that during 
the years of suppression he was expending large sums in 
the purchasing of estates. In the last two years of his life 
he must have spent some ;io,ooo in this way, a very large 
sum in those days, and equal to about 120,000 of our 
money. Large amounts of money pass between him and his 
agents, which have a suspicious look. Sir Thomas Elliot 8 
promises him the first year's fruits from any lands of sup- 
pressed monasteries granted to him by his intervention, and 
his "remembrances" are full of suggestive hints on this 
matter. 4 "Item," he notes, "to remember Warren for one 

1 R. O. Chapter H. Books, B. J, fol. 25, &c. 

2 Amongst these must be enumerated Lewes priory, in Sussex, with its cell 
at Melton-Mowbray, in Leicestershire ; the priories of Mickelham, in Sussex ; 
Modenham, in Kent; St. Osithe's, in Essex ; Alcester, in Warwick ; Yarmouth, 
in Norfolk ; and Laund, in Leicestershire. His nephew, Sir Richard, the 
great-grandfather of the Protector, had Ramsey abbey, Hinchinbrooke, Sawtry, 
St. Neot's, Neath abbey, St. Helen's, London, and other property of monas- 
teries he helped to suppress as a royal commissioner. 

8 Strype, Reel. Mems., i. I, 399, 407. 

4 B. Mus. Cott. MS. Titus, B. i, fols. 446-459, 

Thomas Crumwell 151 

monastery, Mr. Gostwyke 1 for a monastery, John Freeman 
for Spalding, Mr. Kingsmill for Wherwell, myself "for Laund. 2 
Item, to remember John Godsalve for something, for he hath 
need," and " Item, to remember to know the true value of 
the goods of Castleacre for my part thereof." Whether he 
got these goods does not appear, but those of the priory 
of Lewes came into his possession and were sold by him, 
as appears from his account book. " May iQth, Thomas 
Busshope, for the sale of divers goods and cattle at Lewes 
in part payment of a more sum, 467, 135. o|d." Other 
items of the sale produced nearly 1200, a large total from 
the spoils of one monastery for his private purse, represent- 
ing some .17,000 of our money. 8 Crumwell also received 
a grant of the priory of Lewes, and having made some 
alterations and removed superfluous buildings, the record of 
which appears in his expenses, he allowed his son Gregory, 
then lately married, to go there with his wife to occupy 
the monastery from whence the monks had been expelled. 
Gregory writes to his father to say Mrs. Crumwell found the 
buildings " very commodious." * 

In his expenditure Crumwell appears to have been 
lavish. His household cost him, for some time at least, 
more than 100 a month, and he indulged considerably his 
taste for building. In former days he had warned his 
master, Wolsey, to beware of this very attractive but dan- 
gerously fascinating and expensive taste, but when in the 
height of his power, he himself had buildings in progress 
at the " Rolls," Austin Friars, Hackney, Mortlake and at 
Ewhurst. He purchased estates b as he could get the oppor- 

i"" i '. , 

1 There were large money transactions between Gostwyke and Crumwell 
at this period. The former, in one month, pays "on his bills obligatory " more 
than 3000, and, on the other hand, Crumwell pays by "way of present" at 
one time ^"1000, and eighteen months later ,2000. 

2 Illustrating this " remembrance " of " Laund for himself" there is a letter \f 
from Thomas Frysby, a canon of the house, accompanying a present of cheese 

to Crumwell. In it he says that his good master need not thank the abbot 
for the gift, and concludes : " Pleaseth it your good mastership to call to your 
remembrance when ye lay here with us at Launde abbey some time, ye would 
take pains to talk with me or my brethren about our business." He made 
himself, so it seems, well acquainted with the property. See Blunt, i. p. 377. 

3 Chapter House Books, B. , fol. 70. 

4 R. O. Crum. Corr., vii. fol. 171. 

5 As examples, in his account book we find : "Lord Latimer, the pur- 
chase of land, 280 ; the chancellor of augmentations, ditto, ^800 ; Sir 
Gregory Somerset, purchase of his house at Kew, 200; Lord Clynton, 

152 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

tunity, some the spoils of dissolved monasteries, some the 
hereditary lands of the old nobles, sold to meet their liabili- 
ties. No doubt, with Crumwell's eye for his own interests, 
many of them were as great bargains as the annuity of 
84 a year seems to have been, which he purchased of Sir 
William Gascoyne for 333. 

Crumwell also indulged considerably in a taste for gold- 
smith's and jeweller's work. Cups, ewers, and trenchers of 
gold ; platters, dishes and saucers of silver by the dozen, 
are expenses incurred to " Mr. Trappes of London," John of 
Antwerp, and Bastian the jeweller ; while we would gladly 
know something more of some of the items of account, such 
as " the cross of gold of Saint Albans," for which he paid 
106 to "Aston the auditor," and " the diamond and ruby" 
sold by "Jenyns the jeweller" to him, for the enormous 
price of 2000. 

On his amusements Crumwell spent his money freely. 
At bowls, cards and dice he appears to have lost sums 
varying from twenty shillings to 30. He was, moreover, 
liberal in treating the king and court to masks, shows and 
other spectacles, and minstrels, hobby-horses and players all 
come in for a share of the plunder of monastery and con- 
vent. More than the yearly pension of many a monk and 
nun went "for trimming of Divine Providence when she 
played before the king," and for " the collar of velvet for the 
strange beast my lord gave to the king." 

It remains to speak of the ending to his career, which 
took place in well-merited infamy. By a nemesis of fate he 
passed to the scaffold suddenly, almost untried, and certainly 
unheard in his own defence, and this was possibly by virtue 
of an act he had devised and obtained, to get rid of incon- 
venient rivals and others bold enough to oppose his lawless 
policy or thwart his schemes. Rumours had not been 
wanting that the minister's influence over Henry had not 
been so paramount, for some time before his final disgrace. 
The king, to whom Wolsey had " kneeled the space some- 
times of three hours to persuade from his will and appetite," 
but without success, did not become more easy to lead in 

purchase of manors at Colston, Folkeston, and Walton, .2374 ; the prior 
of Folkeston, ^263, is. 36. ; Sir John Dudley, manor of Holden, &c., 
j349 ; Sir Thomas Pope, manor of Dunford by Wands worth, 266, 135. 
4d.," &c., &c. 

Thomas Crumwell 153 

Crumwell's time. Report spoke of scenes in the audience 
chamber, when the royal wilfulness developed such an ex- 
treme of passion as to result in the boxing of Lord Crum- 
well's ears right soundly. Castillon, the French ambassador, 
had heard his majesty read a lesson to the lord privy seal, 
and tell him " he might be fit to look after household duties 
but not to manage the business of kings." 1 

On nth June, 1540, Marillac, who had succeeded 
Castillon as ambassador of France, wrote that he had 
heard, an hour before sending his despatch, that Crumwell 
had been sent to the Tower. He added that it is impossible 
to foretell how this arrest might change the whole public 
policy of the king, " even as regards innovations in religious 
matters, in which Crumwell had been the prime mover." 2 
Henry was anxious that Marillac should understand fully the 
reason of the minister's downfall, and at once sent, asking 
him to suspend his judgment till their next interview, when 
he would explain everything. In the meantime he was to 
believe that it was because Crumwell had been found to be 
a heretic at heart, and had supported false German teaching 
in spite of the king's wishes, boasting that he was powerful 
enough to do what he liked. 8 

On the 23d June, the ambassador received a full account 
of what had taken place, and wrote the substance of his in- 
formation to the Constable of France. From this letter 4 it 
appears that Crumwell was altogether unprepared for his 
downfall. When the lieutenant of the Tower entered the 
council chamber at Westminster and informed him that he 
was ordered to take him prisoner, Crumwell, moved with 
indignation, threw his hat on the floor, and declared that he 
had never done anything but for the king and in his service. 
Some of the council called out that he was a traitor, and 
must be judged "by the laws he had himself made, and 
which," as Marillac explains, "were so sanguinary that a 
few words, often perhaps spoken inadvertently or in good 
faith, could be construed into the crime of high treason." 
The duke of Norfolk tore the order of St. George from his 
neck, and the Garter was also taken from him. Before the 
news spread, Crumwell had already been lodged in the 

1 Inventaire Analytiquc des Archives, &c., ed. Kaulek, No. 62, May 14, 

2 Ibid., No. 226. 3 Ibid., No. 189. 4 Ibid., No. 231. 

1 54 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

Tower, and the people obtained their first knowledge of 
the arrest by seeing the king's officers, attended by a large 
retinue of archers, enter the fallen minister's house for the 
purpose of searching it. 

Lord Crumwell had few friends and many enemies. 
The duke of Norfolk assured Marillac that he was to die 
"by the most ignoble punishment then in use," 1 and, as 
the ambassador considered, his only staunch friend was 
Cranmer, "who dared not speak a word in his favour." 8 
The day following the arrest, Henry began to distribute his 
fallen favourite's offices, and sent through the streets of 
London to proclaim " that henceforth no one should call him 
'Lord Privy Seal' or by any other title or dignity, but 
simply ' Thomas Crumwell, cloth carder,' and that the king 
had taken from him every privilege and title of nobility 
which he had ever granted him." 8 

The record of his attainder* gives more information 
about the charges brought against him than can be learnt 
about many of his victims. After stating how much the 
king had done for him, the bill continues : " Yet never- 
theless" it has been proved that he has been "a false and 
corrupt traitor," setting at liberty those he thought fit, 
and selling " for many-fold sums of money " various grants, 
even to foreigners and aliens. 

Further, he hath of his own will granted passports, and 
being a "detestable heretic," has sent over England a great 
number of false and erroneous books, leading people to a 
disbelief "in the most holy and Blessed Sacrament of the 
altar and other articles of the Christian religion." And after 
these books were translated, he declared the "material heresy 
so translated good," and also declared "that it was lawful 
for every Christian man to be a minister of the said sacra- 
ment as well as a priest." 

As vicegerent under the great seal, he " licensed divers 
persons detected and suspected of heresy, openly to 
preach and teach," saying "that he would fight even 
against the king to maintain these heresies. . . . And then 
and there most traitorously pulled out his dagger and held it 
up on high saying these words : Or else this dagger thrust 
me to the heart if I would not die in that quarrel against 

1 Inventaire Analytique, No. 197. 2 Ibid., No. 227. 3 Ibid., No. 231. 
4 Parliament Roll, 32 Henry VIII., m. 60. 

Thomas Crumwell 155 

them all, and I trust if I live a year or two, it shall not lie 
in the king's power to resist or let it if he would." 

Furthermore the said Thomas Crumwell " hath acquired 
and obtained into his possession by oppression, bribery, ex- 
torted power and false promises " immense sums of money 
and treasure. 

Posterity may be grateful that the avenging hand came 
upon him so suddenly. His arrest, unexpected by all, gave 
him no time to destroy the papers which had accumulated 
in the course of his administration, and which we may well 
believe he would have been unwilling for other eyes than 
his own to see. On the morning of the loth of June, 1540, 
he was supreme in England, 1 the evening saw him a prisoner 
in the Tower, and his fate practically sealed. After begging 
in the most servile terms that his life might be spared, he 
was brought out to the scaffold on Tower hill, on the 28th 
of June. John Stow, the chronicler, records the following 
speech. " I am come hither to die, and not to purge myself, 
as some think peradventure, that I will. For if I should do 
so I were a very wretch and miser. I am by the law con- 
demned to die, and thank my lord God that hath appointed 
me this death for mine offences. For since the time that I 
have had years of discretion I have lived a sinner, and 
offended my lord God, for which I ask him heartily forgive- 
ness. And it is not unknown to many of you that I have 
been a great traveller in this world, and, being but of base 
degree, I was called to high estate, and since the time I 
came thereunto, I have offended my prince, for which I ask 
him heartily forgiveness; and I beseech you all to pray to 
God with me, that he will forgive me. And now I pray you 

1 In a letter to Bullinger from Rich. Hilirs (Zurich, Letts., Parker Soc., 
105) the following account is given : " Not long before the death of Crom- 
well, the king advanced him, and granted him large houses and riches, and 
more public offices, together with very extensive and lucrative domains ; and 
in the same way he also endowed queen Anne a short time before he beheaded 
her. But some persons now suspect that this was all an artifice, to make 
people conclude that he must have been a most wicked traitor. . . It was 
from a like artifice, as some think, that the king conferred upon Cromwell's 
son Gregory, who was almost a fool, his father's title and many of his domains, 
while he was yet living in prison, that he might more readily confess his 
offences against the king at the time of execution. . . There are, moreover, 
other parties who assert, with what truth God knows, that Cromwell was 
threatened to be burned at the stake and not to die by the axe, unless at the 
time of the execution he would acknowledge his crimes against the king, and 
that he then said, ' I am altogether a miserable sinner ! ' " 

156 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

that be here to bear me record, I die in the catholic faith, 
not doubting in any article of my faith ; no, nor doubting in 
any sacrament of the church. Many have slandered me 
and reported that I have been a hearer of such as have 
maintained evil opinions, which is untrue. But I confess, 
that like as God, by his holy spirit, doth instruct us in truth 
so the devil is ready to seduce us and I have been 

Thus died unwept and unpitied the man for whose 
punishment the people had clamoured three years before, 
in their struggles for freedom from his tyranny. John 
Gostwyke, his trusted secretary, to whom he had lent con- 
siderable sums of money, and whom he had "remembered 
to a monastery," writes to the king : " May it please your 
most excellent majesty to be advertised that I your most 
humble servant John Gostwyke have in my hands, which I 
treasured from time to time unknown to the earl of Essex, 
which if I had declared unto him he would have caused me 
to disburse by commandment without warrant as hitherto 
I have done, i 0,000. M1 

A few days before the execution, the French ambassador 
wrote, that "Crumwell's effects appear, by inventory, to be 
less valuable than was expected, though enough and too much 
for a man of such base origin. He had in money 7000 
sterling, which is equal to 28,000 crowns of our coinage. 
The silver vessels, including many crosses, chalices, mitres, 
vases, and other spoils of the Church, might amount to 
rather more than that sum. 2 All these were carried in the 
night to the royal treasury, a sign that the king has already 
no intention of restoring them. . . . The following day many 
letters were found." 8 

"Thomas Crumwell, the cloth carder" (to give him 
the style ordered by Henry VIIL), was regretted by very 
few in England. He had plundered defenceless men and 
women; he had endeavoured to rob the religious of their 
reputations as he had of their property ; he had defrauded 

1 B. Mus. Cott. MS., Appendix xxviii. fol. 125. 

a Considering the large sums that Crumwell had spent on the purchase 
of real property, building, &c. , 7000 in money and about the same in Church 
spoils is a very great amount. To this must be added the ,10,000 in Gost- 
wyke' s hands, making in all about .24,000, or more than a quarter of a 
million of our money ! 

8 Inventaire, &c., ut sup., No. 231. 

Thomas Crumwell 


the people of their rights, and had seized upon the patri- 
mony of the poor; he had deprived the sick and aged of 
their hospitals and places of refuge ; he had driven monks 
and nuns from their cloisters, to wander homeless in poverty 
and disgrace. But his day of reckoning came at last, and 
in merited ignominy his career closed. 



The Chief Accusers of the Monks, Layton, Legh, 
Ap Rice and London 

THE instruments selected by Crumwell to carry out his 
designs in regard to the monasteries were from his point 
of view well fitted for the work. They were not troubled 
with scruples of conscience or unnerved by tenderness in 
effecting the end their master had in view. "The in- 
quisitors," remarks Fuller, the historian, "were men who 
well understood the message they were sent on, and would 
not come back without a satisfactory answer to him who 
sent them, knowing themselves to be no losers thereby." 1 
They were, and professed themselves to be, completely 
dependent on Crumwell. That they would not hesitate to 
serve him and their own interests, even at the expense of 
their honesty, is made clear from their own letters. 

" Seldom in the world's history has a tyrant found baser 
instruments for his basest designs than Henry found for 
carrying out the visitation of the English monasteries. . . . 
That any monastery in England contained half-a-dozen such 
wretches as the more prominent of the visitors who came 
to despoil them is almost inconceivable. It is a sickening 
story. The reader ... is in danger of disbelieving everything 
that these men report in his indignation at the audacious 
and manifest lying which characterises their reports." * 

"Legh and Layton," writes Mr. Froude, "were accused 
subsequently of having borne themselves with overbearing 
insolence; they were said also to have taken bribes, and 
where bribes were not offered to have extorted them from 
the houses which they spared. That they went through 
their business roughly is exceedingly probable, whether 
needlessly so must not be concluded from the report of 

1 History, ii. p. 214. Dean Hook adopts Fuller's estimate of these tools 
of Crumwell. 

z Athetuzitm, on Mr. Gairdner's Letters and Papers, ix. Nov. 27, 1886. 


The Chief Accusers of the Monks 159 

persons to whom their entire occupation was sacrilege. 
That they received money is evident from their own reports 
to the government, but it is evident also that they did not 
attempt to conceal that they received it." 1 

At various times between 1535 and 1538, a considerable 
number of commissioners appear to have been sent to visit 
the monasteries, to receive their surrender, or superintend 
their spoliation and destruction. 2 The chief of the inquisi- 
tors, however, were Doctor Richard Layton, Thomas Legh, 
Doctor John London, and John Ap Rice. Two others, 
Richard Yngworth, suffragan bishop of Dover, and William 
Petre were engaged principally in the subsequent work of 
dissolution. Upon the authority of the first four, and chiefly, 
if not entirely, on that of Layton, Legh and Ap Rice, rest 
the charges made against the monasteries. No inquiry was 
ever instituted (as far as can be ascertained) into the truth 
of their reports. They gathered them from the gossip of ill- 
disposed and malicious persons, and it becomes, therefore, 
of importance to understand who they were that made 
themselves responsible for these charges. " It is not im- 
possible," writes a modern author, " that even such bad men 
may have told the truth in this matter : but the character 
of witnesses must always form an important element in 
estimating the value of their testimony, and the character of 
such obscene, profligate, and perjured witnesses as Layton 
and London could not well be worse. These men were 
not 'just Lots vexed with the filthy conversation of the 
wicked,' but 'filthy dreamers,' who defiled the flesh, despised 
ecclesiastical dominion, and spake evil of dignities in the 
very spirit of the evil one." 8 

The more the letters and reports of these royal agents 
are examined, the less worthy of credit does their testimony 
appear. The word of men of their stamp would be accepted 
in no matter of serious import. However hopeless, there- 
fore, it may be, after this lapse of time, to disprove the 
charges made by them, the very fact that they rest only on 
such testimony should be enough to discredit them. For, 
as Mr. Gairdner says: "We have no reason, indeed, to 
think highly of the character of Crumwell's visitors." 4 It is 

1 History, iii. p. 97. 

2 The names of thirty-eight are given by Oldmixon. History, p. 107. 
1 Blunt, Reformation, i. p. 359. * Calendar, x. Pref. xJiii. 

1 60 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

absolutely upon the word of such men, unsupported by other 
evidence, that the monks have been condemned. 

Dr. Richard Layton may be considered the most important 
of the four monastic inquisitors. He was without doubt the 
most active and zealous of the servants of Thomas Crumwell. 
His letters, which are the most numerous and most full of 
detail, abound in the most filthy accusations, general and 
particular. They manifest the prurient imagination of one 
who was familiar with vice in its worst forms. On the face 
of them, they are the outpourings of a thoroughly brutal and 
depraved nature ; even still, they actually seem to soil the 
hand that touches them. He tells his stories in a way to 
allow of no doubt that evil has for him a zest, and that 
he believes his master will appreciate and approve his foul 

The origin of this unworthy priest was humble. In one 
of his letters to Crumwell he says that but for him, he would 
have been a basket-bearer; 1 yet he obtained considerable 
ecclesiastical preferments. He had the sinecure rectory of 
Stepney, the living of St. Faith's and that of Harrow on 
the Hill; was prebendary of Kentish Town, dean of the 
collegiate church of Chester le Street, archdeacon of Buck- 
ingham, and finally dean of York. 

His letters to Crumwell show that a complete under- 
standing existed between them as to the object of his mission. 
From the outset, when he petitioned for the employment, he 
professed to have a desire to serve his master's interests in 
every way. In return, he is constantly requesting some 
office or other reward, for himself or friends. In the late 
summer of 1535, he writes his excuses for having somewhat 
mistaken Crumwell's intentions, and then proceeds to make 
explanations as to the injunctions which he had given to 
houses already visited. On the representation of some of 
the other zealous visitors, Crumwell had blamed these orders 
"as very slender," and not pleasing to the king. Layton 
replied with all the confidence of conscious genius, " I dare 
say well that when you have known my conceit in the rules 
and injunctions premised, and what I have there done in 
every condition, the king shall have no less expectation of 
your affairs than his grace hath had heretofore. Praying 

1 Cooper, Athena Cantab., i. p. 530. 

The Chief Accusers of the Monks 161 

God right effectuously that rather I may be buried quick 
than be the occasion why the king's highness should diminish 
any part of the confidence or expectation of your assured 
and proved mind towards his grace." l But confident as he 
was, Lay ton was made to see that his power and accepta- 
bility to his employers lay in one direction only. 

In this same visitation Layton makes another mistake in 
praising the great abbey of Glastonbury. For this he was 
taken to task by Crumwell, who evidently told him he had 
not been sent on his round for the purpose of approving. 
He replies, " Whereas I understand by Mr. Pollard you much 
marvel why I would so greatly praise to the king's majesty 
at the time of visitation, the abbot of Glaston, who appeareth 
not, neither then nor now, to have known God, nor his prince, 
nor any part of a good Christian man's religion. So that my 
excessive and indiscrete praise that time unadvisedly made 
to my sovereign lord must needs now redound to my great 
folly and untruth, and cannot be well redubbed, but much 
diminish my credit towards his majesty, and even so to your 
lordship; whom I most humbly beseech to consider that I 
am a man and may err, and cannot be sure of my judgment 
to know the inward thoughts of a monk, being fair in words 
and outward appearance and inwardly cankered as now 
by your discreet inquisition appeareth. And although they 
be all false, feigned, flattering hypocritical knaves, as un- 
doubtedly there is none other of that sort. I must therefore 
now at this my necessity, most humbly beseech your lordship 
to pardon me for that my folly then committed, as you have 
done many times heretofore; and of your goodness to mitigate 
the king's highness majesty in the premisses. And from 
henceforth I shall be more circumspect whom I shall com- 
mend either to his grace or to your lordship." 2 

Lay ton's letters show that he was on all occasions the 
mere subservient tool of Henry VIII. and his more imme- 
diate master, Crumwell. As Anthony Wood puts it, " He did 
much to please the unlimited desires of the king." Henry 
and his minister had determined to make out a case against 
the monasteries, and Layton was just the man to assist them. 
He did not hesitate to promise to be a very " alter ego " to 
Crumwell, who could " trust him even as well as your own- 

1 Calendar, ix. No. 7. 2 R. O. Crum. Corn, xx. No. 14. 


1 62 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

self." Both he and Dr. Legh, he says, have to depend en- 
tirely on Crumwell as their "Mcecenatem et unicum patronum" 
and their only desire, therefore, is to declare their " true 
hearts and faithful mind," and the "fast and unfeigned ser- 
vice " they bear him. 1 

If Layton's ingenuity, aided by promises or threats, failed 
(even from an " old beldame," upon whose gossipings two 
Gilbertine nuns are charged with grave crime) to extract any 
accusation against a house, the place is " confederated." In 
fact, the first principle with this visitor, in regard to monks 
and nuns, is, as he expresses it, that "they be all false, feigned, 
flattering hypocritical knaves." 2 If they are not, they must 
be made to appear so, and are treated as such. If they do 
not declare themselves to be vile, they must have agreed to- 
gether to conceal their evil deeds. If, as in the case of the 
canons of the abbey of Leicester, for instance, he can bring 
no definite charges, still, " to divers of them " he intends " to 
object" the foulest accusations, which he "has learned of 
other (but not of any of them)." 3 

Dr. Layton's money transactions with Crumwell were 
considerable. There is abundant evidence to prove, that he 
knew when to tender a bribe and when to determine a special 
course of action by the suggestion of its pecuniary possibili- 
ties. He did what he promised to do, and kept his eyes 
open for his master's advantage. As Legh, his companion, 
writes: "Layton is now at Fountains to do your wishes. 1 '* 
In this instance these were, to get a large bribe for the 
appointment of a new abbot. 

That he fully understood Crum well's weakness for pro- 
fitable transactions and accessibility to bribes cannot be 
questioned. In one of his letters, he points out that the 
injunctions to the bishops " shall be much profitable ... to 
your mastership." Shortly after, he offers in behalf of 
Marmaduke Bradley, a large bribe for the office of abbot of 
Fountains. 6 

There is something about Doctor Layton's obsequi- 
ous servility to his master which is particularly repulsive. 
Nothing could be more exaggerated in sentiment than one 
expression he used, when he invited Crumwell down to his 
rectory at Harrow and said : " Surely Simeon was never 

1 Wright, 157. Layton to Crumwell. z Calendar, ix. p. 157. 

* Ibid., p. ^3. * Ibid., xxii. 19. B Ibid., p. 101. 

The Chief Accusers of the Monks 163 

so glad to see Christ his master, as I shall be to see your 
lordship." l At one period of his career, Layton was anxious 
to get the office of chancellor to the diocese of Salisbury. 
For this, he did not hesitate to offer Crumwell a large bribe. 
" For your travail therein taken," he writes, " I will give 
you -100." 2 Subsequently he was made dean of York. 
To judge from his letter written to Crumwell in the January 
of 1536, he was on the look out for the office, even on his 
first tour of monastic inspection and three years before he 
got the coveted post. When at last he did obtain it through 
"the good mind " of Crumwell, he showed his old partiality 
for ecclesiastical plate by pawning what belonged to the 
Minster. After his death it had to be redeemed by the 
chapter. 8 

Layton does not, however, appear to have been contented 
with his deanery in the north, and probably desired more 
active employment. He wanted to come up to Convocation, 
but writes to his master, " I dare not without your leave." 
He concludes by reminding him that he had often said 
he would "get him placed beyond the seas." 4 Crumwell 
aparently kept his promise and found him occupation abroad. 
This appears likely, as Layton's death occurred at Brussels 
in 1545. 

Thomas Legh, a doctor of civil law, was the companion 
of Doctor Layton on more than one of his visitation tours. 
He had been a member of King's College, Cambridge, 
and visited that university as Crum well's deputy in 1535. 
Shortly after, whilst engaged during the autumn with Ap 
Rice in visiting various monasteries, the latter gives Crum- 
well an account of the character of the man the king's vicar 
general had selected for this work. He describes him, as 
" a young man of intolerable elation," who went about with 
a retinue of twelve servants in livery. He dressed himself, 
John Ap Rice says, in a most costly fashion, and did not 
hesitate to browbeat and ill-treat the abbots and superiors 

1 Quoted in Home and Foreign Review, 1864, p. 1 8 1. 

2 K. O. Crum. Corn, vol. xx. 38. 

8 B. Mus. Harl. MS., 6971. Excerpts from York Registers. "Mem. 
March 27, 1544. Several Jewells and plate appertaining to the Church of 
York, pawned by Richard Layton late dean, for a certain term of years, are 
now, by consent of the prebends, ordered to be redeemed with money extracted 
out of the chest of divident." 

4 R. O. Crum. Corr., xx. No. 27. 

1 64 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

of the houses he came to visit, in an overbearing and insolent 
fashion. He had abused right roundly the abbots of Bruton 
and Stanley, the prior of Bradstock and others, for not being 
at the doors of their monasteries to meet him, although they 
had received no warning of his visit, and could not possibly 
have known what he expected from them. 

Ap Rice, moreover, shows disinclination to be associated 
with him, " lest he with his bold excuses, wherein he is, I 
advise you, very ready, would have overcome me, being but 
of small audacity specially in accusations, for I am not 
eloquent in accusations as some men be." Even Ap Rice is 
thus unwilling to endorse the charges Legh was ever un- 
scrupulously ready to prefer against the monasteries, the 
inmates of which he treated "in his insolent and pompa- 
tique " manner. 

As to the fees and bribes Legh demanded from the 
monks, Ap Rice's letter, quoted above, tells us enough. 
" He asketh," he writes, " no less than 20 as of due for 
every election, which, in my opinion, is too much, and above 
any duty that was ever taken before." If the unfortunate 
victims of his tyranny did not tender him what he pleased 
to consider the value of his services, he refused their gift. 
They were then forced to send after him whatever sum he 
wished to get. "Surely," adds Ap Rice, "religious men 
were never so afraid of Dr. Allen as they be of him, he 
useth such rough fashion with them." 1 

These fees were, no doubt, shared by Crumwell, for 
considerable sums of money for elections and visitations 
certainly passed into the visitor general's private accounts. 
Sometimes, it is clear, that Dr. Legh did a good stroke of 
business for his master, as when he obtained from William 
Basing, on his election as prior of St. Swithin's, Winchester, 
a promise of ^500 "under his writing obligatory." 2 The 
payments of this sum appear in Crumwell's account books. 
From the same prior of Winchester, Legh obtained for his 
master a patent for an annuity of 20, to be continued also 
to his master's son Gregory Crumwell. 

It has already been pointed out that Ap Rice told 
Crumwell that he apprehended nothing less than murder, 

1 Calendar^ ix. No. 622. 

2 Ibid., x. No. 485. A large sum in those days, and equal to nearly 
6000 of our money. 

The Chief Accusers of the Monks 165 

" irrecoverable harm," as he puts it, from Legh's familiar 
"rufflers and serving-men" did he, Legh, come to know 
that his conduct had been animadverted on to the minister 
by his fellow-visitor. Yet by the reports of such a man, 
as described by his own companion, has the character of the 
religious houses been judged. Nearly every unfavourable 
account given of the monasteries can be traced to the author- 
ship of either Layton or Legh, or is a joint production of 
these two creatures of Crumwell. 

Legh, notwithstanding the complaints made against him, 
was not recalled, but, on the contrary, was employed more 
constantly than ever in the work of visitation. A letter of 
admonition, however, was sent. Legh returned a penitent 
reply, and promised to give up his velvet gown and to 
discharge some of his servants. 1 Very possibly Crumwell 
recognised by Ap Rice's description of Legh's excesses and 
unscrupulous violence, that he was a fit instrument for the 
special work of driving the religious in very despair to 
surrender their houses and themselves to the king's tender 
mercies. The explanation Legh gave of the necessity of 
strong coercive measures at first, in order that petitions for 
mitigation which would flow in might be a source 2 of gain 
to his master, would, no doubt, have great weight with 
Crumwell, and counterbalance the opinion of Ap Rice that 
it was not politic to press matters on the religious as hardly 
as Legh was doing. 

The views Dr. Legh propounded as to the utility of united 
action on the part of the visitors, show that he clearly under- 
stood the object of the king and Crumwell in instituting the 
visitation. Dr. Layton did not, in his opinion, press matters 
forward in the way of enforcing impossible injunctions with 
proper vigour and determination. Although he admitted 
that the regulations were in reality unworkable in practice, 
still he thought that the religious should be compelled to 
observe them, in order that they might be brought all the 
sooner to abandon the useless struggle. 8 

It is with evident relish, that Legh also relates any story 
adverse to the reputation of monk or nun. It is impossible 
not to suspect that many of them spring from his own fer- 
tile imagination, without even the foundation of encouraged 

1 Calendar, ix. No. 651. 2 Ibid., No. 265. 

3 Cf. Mr. Gairdner's Preface, p. xx., to Calendar, vol. ix. 

1 66 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

malicious suggestion. Of the prioress of Sopham he reports 
that she has bestowed a benefice on a certain friar, whom 
" they say she love well," and adds, " to make you laugh " I 
send you a letter which is supposed to have come to her 
from some lady, but " as is conjectured " was sent by the 
friar. 1 He well knows what Crumwell wants. Just as 
Layton thought his master would look upon the tale of the 
abbot of Langdon as a "comedy," so Legh thinks he will 
not fail to enjoy his scandalous " conjecture." On the same 
principle, when he "does not doubt" but that his master 
will find " many things worthy of reformation," he adds, " by 
the knowledge whereof I suppose the king's highness and 
you will be glad." And, not the less, for this reason, that 
" it shall be much profitable " to you. 2 

So notorious did the two visitors, Legh and Layton, 
become throughout the country, that against them and their 
master, Crumwell, the anger of the insurgents in Lincoln- 
shire and the North was chiefly directed. " The chief 
commissioner, Dr. Legh," writes Chapuys to the queen 
regent, " who was specially obnoxious to the people, as the 
summoner of your aunt (queen Catherine) now in glory, 
before the archbishop of Canterbury, contrived to escape, 
but his cook was taken, and as a beginning the people 
hanged him. A gentleman belonging to the lord privy seal, 
who is called master Crumwell, tried to stop them, and he too 
was immediately laid hands on, wrapped in the hide of a 
newly killed calf and worried and devoured by dogs, the 
mob swearing they would do the same for his master." 3 

The Yorkshire " Pilgrims of Grace " also demanded 
" that Dr. Legh and Dr. Layton may have condign punish- 
ment for their extortions in time of visitation, in bribes of 
some religious houses 10 and 20 and other sums, besides 
horses, advowsons, leases under convent seals by them 
taken, and other abominable acts by them committed and 
done." 4 Mr. Froude even, admits "these two men bore 
themselves with overwhelming insolence, and to have taken 
bribes, and when bribes were not offered to have extorted 
them from the houses which he spared." 5 

Thomas Legh was given the mastership of Sherburn 

1 Calendar, ix. No. 708. 2 Wright, p. 96. 

8 Quoted by Froude, Thomas Pilgrim. 
* Speed, p. 1022, " Ex originate MS." 5 History, iii. p. 97. 

The Chief Accusers of the Monks 167 

hospital, in the county of Durham, in September 1535. He 
took possession of his office and wrote his thanks to his 
master early in the following year. 1 By the statutes of this 
institution, the master was charged with the maintenance 
of thirteen poor brethren and two lepers, but Legh treated 
the goods of the poor as if they had been his own. "The 
delinquencies of former masters were but a type of his." 2 
He leased the property of the hospital to his own relations, 
and granted away the patronage of many good livings. 
Moreover, he contracted with those who farmed the pro- 
perty, for the maintenance of only eight poor men and 
women. Although the leases he granted required the 
consent of the inmates, he sent the documents for their 
signatures already sealed with the common seal, and they 
set their names "for fear of master Legh's displeasure." 
During the whole of his office he never required the assent 
of the brethren to any of his improvident grants. Altogether 
in this office of trust he acted " to the utter disinheritance, 
decay and destruction of the ancient and godly foundation 
of the same house." 3 

The third of the names chiefly associated with the visita- 
tion and suppression of the monasteries is that of John Ap 
Rice. During the autumn of 1535 he was occupied as 
companion to Legh, and conjointly with him brought serious 
accusations against many of the religious houses they visited. 
He had been employed as scribe in the examination of 
prisoners and witnesses in the Tower, and had written out 
the blank forms of acknowledgment of the king's supremacy, 
which had been sent for signature to the various religious 
houses. For these services he asked Crumwell to obtain 
him some reward, and especially "as he made a breve 

1 Calendar, x. No. 288. 2 Surtees' Durham, i. 140. 

8 Depositions in 1557 before a Commission of Inquiry. Surtees' Durham, 
i. 130. That Henry himself distrusted Legh seems clear from an inquiry he 
ordered as to the sums of money he had received at the dissolution of various 
religious houses. Sir John Daunce, who made the inquisition, notes : 
" Memorandum as touching the plate that was supposed to be sold by the 
late abbot of Merivale, to George Warren, goldsmith of London, to the value 
of iS, whereof information was given to Dr. Legh and William Cavendish 
after they had dissolved the said monastery, riding by the way, the same Dr. 
Legh and W. Cavendish sent unto the said late abbot for the said iS. This 
;i8 they confess that the late abbot sent to them by one of their servants by 
the way (begging) to be good masters unto him and his brethren. And (this) 
the said Cavendish doth affirm by his answer. Also by the said Doctor Legh 
confessing the same. Daunce." Exch. Q. R. Miscell. Suppress. Papers ^. 

1 68 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

docket " for the king " out of all his highness' late visitation, 
compendiously touching the name, the order, the state, 
the number and the dates of every religious house in the 
realm." 1 

We have seen how Ap Rice reported the conduct of his 
companion Legh, of whom he had a wholesome dread, and 
how he had besought Crumwell that it might never be known 
from whom the accusation came. He not unnaturally sup- 
posed that his master would set some one to spy upon him, 
as he had been made to do on Legh ; consequently he says : 
" For my own dealing and behaviour I trust you shall 
have no cause of complaint against me. One thing humbly 
desiring your mastership that you give no light credence till 
the matter be proved and my defence heard." 2 That he had 
been previously in serious trouble is evident from the fact 
that he feared to report about Legh, because Crumwell 
might then have thought he had done so in retaliation. 
" Supposing that you, considering how he was one of them 
that depraved me heretofore with your mastership, for no 
just cause, but for displeasure which he have towards me 
for certain causes, which I will declare unto you more at 
leisure." 8 

What the accusations were, which Legh had made against 
him, do not appear. They were, however, apparently of a 
nature discreditable enough, under ordinary circumstances, 
to have rendered his employment, as a visitor of monasteries, 
especially convents of ladies, most undesirable and un- 
warrantable. This may be gathered from his explaining 
that he could not at the time make any defence, because 
" I was so abashed, that I had not those things in my 
remembrance that were for my defence." Indeed, this would 
seem in some measure to bear out a statement made of him, 
that he was a priest who had been unfrocked for misconduct 
He does not, moreover, appear to have received any spiritual 
promotions in reward for his services, like London and 
Layton. And it is obvious that he must have been in dis- 
grace since he could write, " I had experience in myself not 
long ago how grievous yea and deadly it is for any man 
to have the displeasure of such a man as you are." His 
dependence on Crumwell was like that of the others, abject. 

* R. O. Crum. Corr., xxxv. 39, 40. 2 Ibid., 38. 3 Ibid. 

The Chief Accusers of the Monks 169 

In return for Ap Rice's services, Crumwell appears to 
have desired to appoint him to some office in the cathedral 
church of Salisbury. Against this the dean and chapter 
protested in several vigorous letters, 1 and the appointment 
was not made. In his reports of the monasteries Ap Rice 
proves how little reliance can be placed in the truth of the 
charges he brings in conjunction with Legh. 

If he could discover nothing against the good name of a 
monastery, it was to him a sign that the religious had agreed 
together to conceal their iniquities, as at St. Albans, where 
he found nothing, " although there was much to be found." 2 
It is characteristic of Ap Rice, with the other chief visitors, 
to speak commendably of persons, who are at the same time 
stated to be men of dubious or evil conduct, but compliant 
to the will of the ruling powers. In the same letter Ap 
Rice told his master that he had been visiting the abbey of 
Walden. The abbot Robert, " a man of good learning and 
right sincere judgment," he said, had confessed to him "an 
awful secret." This was, that he had privately married and 
would like to abandon the religious habit and give up his 
monastery "to your hands." Crumwell advised the unfor- 
tunate man to go on as he has done, to use caution and 
avoid scandal. 8 It hardly seems possible, that such a secret 
as the abbot's marriage could have been concealed very 
long. The whole story looks like an invention. One thing, 
however, is clear, Ap Rice knew quite well what Crumwell 
desired, since he added: "You may have the house soon 
de-relinquished if you like." 

Doctor London, the last of the four principal visitors and 
destroyers of the monasteries, is no more reliable a witness 
against them than his fellows. He had considerable prefer- 
ments in the Church, being canon of Windsor, dean of 
Osney, dean of the collegiate church of Wallingford, and, 
from 1526 to 1542, warden of New College, Oxford. His 
letters do not reveal any particular animosity against the 
monks. His zeal in Crumwell's service was principally 
displayed in collecting for him the plate and jewels of the 
monastic churches, and in defacing those sacred buildings. 

1 R. O. Crum. Corn, xxxvii. 

2 R. O. Crum. Corr., xxxvii. 36. Compare the letter of Legh and Petre 
to Crumwell in Wright, p. 250. 

1 Ibid., xlv. 10. 

1 70 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

In none of his many letters does he endorse distinctly any 
charge made by the other visitors, or suggest any but vague 
accusations on his own authority. He reports generally, 
that he finds many of the monks and canons " young lusty 
men, always fat fed," by no means " learned nor apt to the 
same," and he says he has advised them " to turn some of their 
ceremonies of idleness into some bodily exercise, and not 
sit all day lurking in the cloister idly." 1 But he does not 
appear to have gone beyond these general accusations, 
although evidently not biassed in favour of the religious. 

In fact, there is some reason to believe, that Dr. London 
was induced to throw himself into the schemes of Crumwell 
and Henry, rather by motives of self-interest than conviction. 
He had most certainly been amongst those who considered 
the break with Rome a mere temporary phase of the quarrel 
about the king's divorce. He had even gone out of his way 
to prevent his nephew committing himself to any violent 
language or action against the pope. It is, moreover, quite 
possible that the doctor's interference upon this occasion, 
brought, as it certainly was, to the notice of Crumwell by 
the examination and confession of the nephew, may have 
been the means of placing him in the minister's power. It 
may have been this circumstance which afforded Crumwell 
a subservient tool to be used in the furtherance of his sup- 
pression schemes. 2 

In the work of devastation, Doctor London was certainly 
the most terrible of all the monastic spoilers. He writes, 
for instance, that he has pulled down the silver image of 
our lady of Caversham and will send it by the next barge 
from Reading. He has defaced the chapel, and thinks the 
lead had better be pulled off the roof. The lodgings of 
the priest from Noteley abbey, who served this place of 
pilgrimage, "with its large garden and orchard," he has 
kept, because, as he tells Crumwell, "it will do well for 
any friend of yours." 8 At the friar's houses in Reading * 
the people somewhat anticipated his work of destruction, 

1 Wright, p. 215. 

2 Calendar, viii. No. 146. The " confession " was made apparently about 
1534, just after the final rupture with the pope, and we know that Bishop 
Gardiner, of Winchester, was in the April of this year in great danger of being 
sent to the Tower (Calendar, vii. No. 522). A like danger would probably 
have threatened London. 

3 Wright, p. 222. * Ibid. 

The Chief Accusers of the Monks 1 7 1 

much to his disgust, helping themselves, "to the very 
clappers of the bells." However, he did not stay his hand 
on this account, but a few weeks later informs his master, 
" I did only deface the church (at Reading), all the windows 
being full of friars, and left the roof and walls whole for the 
king's use. I sold the ornaments and the cells in their 
dorter." 1 At the Grey Friars, in the same town, he did 
much the same barbarous work of destruction. "The 
inward part of the church," he writes, " thoroughly decked 
with Grey Friars, as well in the windows as otherwise, 
I have defaced." 2 In fact, the record of his work, as 
contained in his letters, tells everywhere the same tale of 
wholesale destruction. In this he had, as he informs 
Crumwell, the object of preventing the friars from again 
taking possession of their property. From Coventry he 
writes that he has partly destroyed the house of the Grey 
Friars " because the poor people lay so sore upon it." At 
Warwick he had defaced the windows of the friars' church, 
and as usual pulled down so much of the house as to pre- 
vent its being used again. 8 

Sometimes even this iconoclast appears to pause in his 
work of destruction, and to regret the havoc he is causing. 
" At Stamford," he says, " I have left as yet visibly at the 
Grey Friars a goodly image of copper gilt, and the said 
(image) laid upon marble made for dame Blanche of Lan- 
caster. It is very beautiful, and I resolved to know of the 
king's grace concerning it." 4 The monument, which the 
aged countess of Salisbury, cardinal Pole's mother, had 
prepared for herself in the priory of Christchurch, Twyn- 
ham, did not meet with the same sparing hand on his visit 
there. " In this church," he writes, " we found a chapel 
and monument curiously made of Caen stone, prepared by 
the late mother of Reginald Pole for her burial, which we 
have caused to be defaced and all the arms and badges 
clearly to be deleted." 6 

Dr. London's treatment of the abbess of Godstow is well 
known. He had been opposed to her appointment, and had 
" ever since," as she writes to Crumwell, " borne me great 
malice and grudge, like my mortal enemy." To him was 

1 Calendar, xiii. (ii) No. 719. 2 Ibid., No. 346. 

3 R. O. Crum. Corr., xxiii. No. 81. 
* R. O. Chapter House Books, A. -fa, fol. 64. 5 Wright, p. 232. 

172 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

committed the task of suppression. As Katherine Bulkeley, 
the abbess, reports, he " suddenly came unto me with a great 
rout with him, and here doth threaten me and my sisters, 
saying he hath the king's commission to suppress the 
house spite of my teeth. And when he saw that I was con- 
tent that he should do all things according to his commission, 
and showed him plain that I would never surrender to his 
hands, being my ancient enemy, now he begins to entreat me, 
and to inveigle my sisters one by one, otherwise than ever I 
heard tell of the king's subjects hath been handled, and here 
tarrieth and continueth to my great costs and charge. . . . And 
notwithstanding that Doctor London, like an untrue man, 
hath informed your lordship that I am a spoiler and a waster 
. . . the contrary is true, for I have not alienated one halporth 
of the goods of this monastery, moveable or unmoveable, but 
have rather encreased the same." l 

" I have seen complaints of Dr. London's soliciting nuns," 
writes bishop Burnet, "yet I do not find Doctor Lee com- 
plained of." London's subsequent history makes it seem not 
at all unlikely that he would have availed himself of excep- 
tional opportunities for entrapping the nuns in so diabolical a 
manner. Archdeacon South, writing about other matters 
than his connection with this visitation, gives him the follow- 
ing character : " But to what open shame Doctor London was 
afterwards put, with open penance, with two smocks on his 
shoulders, for Mrs. Thykked and Mrs. Jennynges, the mother 
and the daughter, and how he was taken with one of them 
by Henry Plankney in his gallery, being his sister's son as 
it was then known to a number in Oxford and elsewhere, so 
I think that some yet living hath it in remembrance, as well 
as the penner of this history." 2 

By this, Doctor London nearly lost the favour of Crum- 
well and his office as warden of New College, Oxford. Thomas 
Bedyll writes to Crumwell that " Master London, warden of 
the new college in Oxford is informed (I wot not by whom) 
that your lordship is sore amoved from him in the benevo- 
lence and favour which your lordship bore him, and you 
intend to put him forth of his college." I would beg you to 
remember, he adds, that he "hath done more good to the 
reformation of ignorance and superstition than all the other 

1 Wright, p. 230. 2 Narratives of Reformation (Camd. Soc.), p. 35. 

The Chief Accusers of the Monks 173 

visitors." He retained his office at this time, but only to be 
involved in deeper disgrace after Crumwell's execution. 

Whilst London was warden of New College, the antiquary, 
Leland, applied to him for some information as to William 
of Wykeham. At his dictation were written some memoranda, 
giving a discreditable and wholly false account of that prelate. 
This was not only devoid of foundation, but must have been 
known to be so ; an act of baseness and ingratitude on Lon- 
don's part, as he had not only been warden of Wykeham's 
college in Oxford, but, as bishop Lowth 1 remarks, "he owed 
his subsistence to Wykeham's bounty," having been educated 
at his school in Winchester. 2 " His history," the bishop con- 
siders, " is sufficient to show his want of credit " 8 

After Crumwell's fall, London paid his court to Gardiner, 
bishop of Winchester, and insinuated himself into his good 
graces as dexterously as he had before done, on Warham's 
death, into those of Crumwell. By this prelate he was used 
as an instrument to endeavour to ruin Cranmer, and to 
chastise the would-be reformers with the " whip of the six 
strings." Between Cranmer and Doctor London there was 
no love lost, and the archbishop calls him " a stout and filthy 
prebendary of Windsor." 4 

At this period of his life he is described as being rough 
and brutal in his determination to punish those who re- 
jected the six articles. At Oxford " he was one of the three 
that prosecuted most rigorously the good students in the 
Cardinal's college, when by imprisonment and hard usage 
several of them died." 6 One of these students describes his 
demeanour when he learnt that the chief light among the 
opponents of the articles had escaped from Oxford. It was 
at Vespers in St. Friswide's that the news was brought to 
the dean and commissary, who, as the Magnificat was being 
sung, left the choir. And " about the middle of the church 
met them, doctor London, puffing blustering and blowing 

1 Life of William of Wykeham, 3rd ed., p. 288. The paper referred to is 
now in the Bodleian, and consists of 13 notes written on the cover of an old 

2 London was admitted to New College 1505, took his LL.B. 1512, and 
LL.D. 1518. He was canon of York and Lincoln, and domestic chaplain to 
archbishop Warham. 

3 Life of Wykeham, p. 289. 

4 Extract from MS. Benet. Coll. Camb., " accusatio Cranmeri" Mem. in 
the archbishop's own hand, quoted in Strype, Memorials of Cranmer, i. p. 158. 

6 Strype, ibid., p. 156. 

1 74 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

like a hungry and greedy lion seeking his prey." At a 
subsequent examination, the narrator says, " doctor London 
and the dean threatened me, that if I would not tell the 
truth . . I should surely be sent into the Tower of London 
and there be racked and put into little-ease" * 

What Dr. London was at this time, he no doubt was a 
year or two before as visitor of monasteries and convents of 
nuns. One can well imagine the indignation of the abbess 
of Godstow at the unmannerly conduct of this strange kind 
of visitor, and one shudders to picture the lot of helpless 
ladies in the convents of England exposed to the rude 
questionings and intemperate threats of this immoral and 
unscrupulous man. 

By means of informations and evidence collected by 
London and presented to the council by bishop Gardiner, 
several people suffered death under the " six articles." " He 
and one Symons a lawyer, and Ockham, that set traps for 
others," says Strype, "were catched at length themselves. 
They were men that busied themselves in framing indict- 
ments upon the six articles against great numbers of those 
that favoured or professed the Gospel, and in sending them 
to court to Winchester, who was to prefer the complaints to 
the council. The king being more and more informed of 
their base conspiracy, and disliking their bloody dispositions, 
commanded that the council should search into the matter, 
and so London, &c., being examined before the council, were 
in the end found to be perjured in denying upon their oaths 
what they had indeed done, and was proved manifestly to 
their faces. Hereupon they were adjudged perjured persons, 
and appointed to ride through Windsor, Reading and New- 
bury," 2 their faces to the tails of their horses, and to stand 
in the pillory in each of these towns on a market day, with 
a paper on their heads proclaiming their offence. This done, 
they were committed to the Fleet prison, where London died 
miserably in 1 543. Strangely enough it was Thomas Legh, 
another visitor, who was the chief instrument in proving 
London's guilt and obtaining his punishment. 

"A dean," writes Mr. Blunt, "twice detected in im- 
morality and put to open penance for it, and afterwards 

1 Anthony Delaber's account of Thomas Garret, printed in Foxe, Acts, 
v. p. 421. 

2 Mems. of Cranmer, i. p. 175. 

The Chief Accusers of the Monks 175 

convicted of perjury, is not the stuff of which credible 
witnesses are made." 1 

Probably, however, the fact that the avowed object of the 
visitors was plunder, and that the charges made against the 
religious were only means to attain that end, will be to most 
minds the most conclusive evidence of the untrustworthiness 
of their testimony. Whatever may be thought of monasteries 
and monks, it is unjust to convict them of shameless irregu- 
larities on the word of those who had a motive in endeavour- 
ing to blacken their good name. The words of Edmund 
Burke may here once more be recorded. " It is not with 
much credulity," he writes, " that I listen to any when they 
speak ill of those whom they are going to plunder. I rather 
suspect that vices are feigned or exaggerated when profit is 
looked for in the punishment. An enemy is a bad witness 
a robber is a worse." 2 

The character of the men upon whose word the monas- 
teries have been defamed would in these days be defended 
by no honest historian. No other evidence is forthcoming, 
and it may fairly be asked, in the name of common sense no 
less than of sacred justice, that the religious houses may not 
be condemned on the unsupported word of such miserable 
wretches as Lay ton, Legh, Ap Rice and London. 

1 Reformation, i. p. 358. 

* Reflections on the French Revolution. 


The Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries 

BY the spring of the year 1536 Henry had partially suc- 
ceeded in his designs against the monasteries. The parlia- 
ment, acting according to his royal will and pleasure, had 
in March granted him power to deal with the possessions 
of every religious house, the income of which did not exceed 
200 a year. The time was marked by events of import- 
ance both to the church and the nation at large. Death 
had ended the troubles of the unfortunate queen Catherine 
in January. And the sudden fall and execution of Anne 
Boleyn four months later seemed to offer a favourable occa- 
sion for the reconciliation of Henry with the pope. The 
king of France had shown the English ambassadors, im- 
mediately upon the news of Anne's degradation, that there 
could not be " a better opportunity of wiping out the stains 
on Henry's character, and making himself the most glorious 
king in the world . . . that every one should do his duty, 
and that they would find in the pope that true piety and 
goodness which ought now to be known to all the world." 
The ambassador and the bishop of Winchester had with 
tears in their eyes assured the French monarch " that this 
was their only desire, and that they would do their part." * 
The English people, on their side, manifested a general 
joy at the disgrace and execution of the king's mistress, 
which was occasioned as well by the possibility of the 
breach with Rome being now healed, as by their belief 
that, as Cranmer had declared the marriage of Anne null 
and void, and the consequent illegitimacy of her daughter 
Elizabeth, the cruel injustice hitherto done to the princess 
Mary would be redressed. 2 

The entire freedom of the king at this moment from 

1 Calendar, vol. x. No. 956. 2 Ibid., pp. 377-429. 


The Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries 177 

matrimonial difficulties was looked upon abroad as a ground 
for hoping that he would now return to the communion 
of the church, from which he had only withdrawn by his 
determination to maintain at all costs his unlawful union 
with Anne. 1 Even the pope, if Sir Gregory Casale is to 
be believed, was only too anxious to smooth the way for 
Henry's return to obedience, and was merely waiting for 
some slight sign of the king's desire for reconciliation to 
welcome him back to the bosom of the church. He had 
spoken, so wrote Sir Gregory to the king himself, in the 
highest terms of his excellent natural qualities and ability, 
and of his former love for the faith. He was praying that 
at this favourable opportunity divine providence might effect 
this return, and reminded Casale how as cardinal he had 
used his influence with his predecessor, Clement VIL, to 
further Henry's desires as far as possible. 2 

Unfortunately, however, for the accomplishment of this 
happy return of England to the unity of the faith, other 
matters besides the divorce of Katherine were now destined 
to keep the king and pope apart. Henry's title to royal 
supremacy might have been abandoned without much loss 
of dignity, for although all the terrors of the block and 
scaffold had enforced the royal pretension to spiritual juris- 
diction over the consciences of his subjects, they were still 
at heart against it, and any alteration of the royal policy in 
this regard would have been welcomed by all but a small 
minority of very ardent innovators. A more real obstacle, 
however, was to be found in the fact, that the king had 
already seized upon a considerable amount of church pro- 
perty, and was at the moment occupied with schemes for 
further wholesale alienation of the goods of monk, priest, 
and poor. However much, therefore, the past might have 
been obliterated by a sincere though tardy return to duty, 
and former spoliation condoned by a profession of repent- 
ance, such a retrograde step in the royal policy must have 
infallibly stayed Henry's hand just in the hour when it 
was prepared to close upon the spoils of monastery and 
convent, which a subservient parliament had placed within 
his reach. Reconciliation would obliterate the visions of 
untold wealth conjured up in the royal imagination by pre- 

1 Calendar, x. Nos. 838, 956, &c. 2 Ibid., No. 977. 


178 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

vious plunderings : dreams which could only be realised 
by perseverance in the course of destruction upon which he 
had now embarked. 

It is of course impossible now to say what finally deter- 
mined Henry to maintain his attitude of hostility to the 
Holy See and to pursue his course of reckless spoliation. 
One event, however, at this time must have had its influence 
in checking the growth of the better feelings in Henry's 
heart. From the best of intentions, when not coupled with 
discretion and when zeal gives full play to angry feelings, 
the worst consequences often spring. Such must have 
been the result of the book " de Unitate Ecclesiastica," which 
Pole published at this time and addressed to the king. 1 
Henry was the last man to be driven along the right path 
by whips, or coerced into doing his duty by denunciations or 
strong language. And Pole's book, however true its facts 
and cogent its arguments, was couched in language suffi- 
ciently vehement, for the time at least, to turn the king from 
his purpose. Too often, unfortunately, in the world's history 
has solid good been sacrificed to the vainglory of style and 
to the power of penning a caustic sentence and turning with 
a bitter remark an elegant or striking period, and the work 
"de Unitate Ecclesiastica" is overflowing with a rhetoric 
which would have stung many a milder man than Henry 
Tudor into rebellion, or turned him from purposes of amend- 

To be told that he, the English king, was worse than the 
Turk, and to be reminded that, whilst Charles V. was 
engaged in his glorious expedition to Africa, he, " bearing 
most untruly the name of defender of the faith, did not 
merely kill, but tore to pieces all the true defenders of the 
old religion in a more inhuman fashion than the Turk," was 
hardly the kind of argument to convince him of the errors of 

1 Gregorio Cortesi, writing to Cardinal Contarini, from Venice, 6 July, 
1536, says that he was with Pole at Verona when the messenger, sent into 
England to convey the de Unitate Ecclesiastica to Henry VIII., returned. He 
had brought back a mild message and an invitation from the king to Pole to 
return to England. Cortesi, who suspected the truth, strongly urged Pole not 
to venture into Henry's power, and asks the cardinal to second his efforts to 
prevent his going, as he was more than half inclined to do. So far the book 
has been carefully suppressed in England, since the king " fears that were it 
published it would lead to a rising of the people, which he fears more than 
anything else." (G. Cortesii, Monachi Casinatis . . . Omnia Scripta, Patavii, 
1774, p. 1 10.) 

The Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries 179 

his ways. The unmistakable hints, moreover, which the 
author throws out as to a probable rebellion of his subjects, 
were quite sufficient to determine the imperious will of 
Henry to follow in its old course. 1 Nor was the language 
of the "instructions" forwarded by the author to England, 
explaining the purport of the work, calculated to soften the 
bitter feelings awakened in the king's heart by the attack. 
Indeed, in many ways, the letter must undoubtedly have 
added poison to the wound already inflicted. 

Whatever the cause, the hopes reasonably entertained 
of reconciliation between England and Rome, or more truly 
between Henry and Paul, were disappointed. The king's 
good dispositions vanished, and he embarked seriously upon 
the work of realising the goods of the lesser monasteries, 
which parliament by its act had dissolved. Provision had 
already been made for carrying out the business arrange- 
ments necessitated by the transfer to the crown of so vast 
an amount of real property, from the corporations to which 
it had hitherto belonged. Almost the last measure passed 
through parliament at this time, previous to its dissolution, 
was the creation of a "Court of Augmentations." This 
body was established to deal with all lands and moveables 
coming into the king's possession through the suppression 
or surrender of the religious houses. It consisted of a 
chancellor, a treasurer, two legal officers attorney and 
solicitor ten auditors, seventeen particular receivers, a 
clerk of the court, with an usher and messenger. 2 The 
careful organisation of this office has been regarded by 
historians as an indication that, at the time of the dissolu- 
tion of the lesser monasteries, the king contemplated further 
and more extensive measures in regard to ecclesiastical 
property than the first act of suppression intended. The 
officers of the "Court of Augmentations" were to receive 
and account to the king for all rents, tithes or proceeds of 
sales ; to examine all leases, to take all surrenders and issue 
all grants, gifts or releases at their discretion. One singular 
reservation is made in the act, by which it is made clear 
that already Henry had in contemplation the refoundation 
or preservation of such monasteries as he willed to keep. 
"Except always are reserved," runs the act, "such and as 

1 Calendar, x. No. 975. Rot. Parl. ^^ Hen. VIII., 61. 

i8o Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

many of the same monasteries, priories, and houses, with 
all their hereditaments and possessions, goods and catties, 
which the king's majesty by his letters patent and under 
his great seal shall declare and limit to continue and be in 
their essential estate and to persevere in the body and cor- 
poration as they were before the making of the said act." l 

The court forthwith commenced its functions. Its officers 
were appointed on the 24th of April, 1536, Sir Thomas 
Pope being made treasurer. From the rolls of his accounts 
and those of his successors in that office we are enabled to 
form a very fair estimate of the progress of the spoliation, 
to gather the totals of the sums of money received, and to 
understand in some measure the mysterious manner in which 
these vast sums appear to have melted away. The chan- 
cellor of the court, Richard Rich, received a salary of 750 
a year, some 7500 or ^8000 of our money, and the 
treasurer, for whose accounts posterity should be grateful, 
half that sum. If minute receipts are not recorded, almost 
scrupulous exactness is manifested in the disbursements. 
The first payments are for the necessary equipment of the 
office, such as "green cloth called counterboard cloths," 
scales and weights, large and small iron safes and bags to 
hold the looked-for money, jewels, and plate. The official 
character of the court is manifested by the purchase of "a 
book called a 'jury-book' with a silver crucifix fastened 
upon it," to be used in the court sessions, and of the seals 
of office, great and small, for which a long price is paid, 
and to which the sum of I2d. is added for wax bought to 
show the king the first impressions of these new seals. 2 

Preparations for extensive dissolutions having been made 
by the creation of this court, Henry proceeded to carry out 
his intentions with regard to the lesser monasteries. As 
the parliament had granted him only such houses as pos- 
sessed an income of less than 200 a year, it became 
necessary to determine which monasteries were unfortunate 
enough to fall within this pecuniary limit. For this pur- 
pose the royal commission was issued to some of the leading 
men in each county to make a new survey of the houses 

1 R. O. Aug. Office Misc. Bk. 2. 

2 R. O. Exch. Augt. Office, Treas. Roll, I ; m. lod. For a knowledge of 
the existence of these " Rolls," as well as for much other information, I am 
indebted to the late W. D. Selby, Esq., of the Record Office. 

The Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries 1 8 1 

within certain appointed districts. As early as April 24th, 
the very day upon which the court of Augmentations was 
finally organised by the appointment of its officers, instruc- 
tions were issued for the guidance of these surveyors. 
They were to form a body of six visitors ; the auditor, the 
particular receiver appointed for the county, and a clerk 
were to be the royal officials, and they were to be accom- 
panied by " three other discreet persons to be named by the 
king in every county." On their arrival at any monastery, 
they were ordered to summon the superior and show him 
the " act of dissolution " and their special commission. Next 
they were to make the officials of the house swear to answer 
truly the questions they put them. Having done this, they 
had to proceed with their examination into the state of the 
establishment and were to report the result of their inquiry. 
They were specially directed to state the number of the 
religious " and the conversation of their lives ; " how many 
were priests and how many were willing to go to other 
houses, or would take "capacities," and what servants or 
other dependents were attached to the establishment. 
Having obtained this information, the royal commissioners 
were to call for the convent seal and all muniments of the 
house, and to make an inventory " by indenture " with the 
superior, of all plate, jewels and other goods and property, 
which belonged to the establishment on the 1st March of 
this year, 1536. They were then to issue their commands 
to the superior not to receive any rents nor to spend any 
money except for necessary expenses until the king's final 
pleasure was known. At the same time they were to enjoin 
him to continue his care over the lands, and to " sow and 
till" as before, till such time as the king's farmer should 
relieve him of this duty. As for the community, the officer 
was " to send those that will remain in the religion to other 
houses, with letters to the governors, and those that wish 
to go to the world to my lord of Canterbury and the lord 
chancellor for capacities." To the latter " some reasonable 
reward," according to the distance of the place appointed, 
was to be given. The superior alone was to have any 
pension assigned to him, and he was to go to the chancellor 
of the Augmentations for it. 1 

1 Calendar, x. 721. 

1 82 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

These instructions will afford the reader an idea of the 
methods employed by the king's officers to gather into the 
treasury of the court of Augmentations the revenues, pro- 
ceeds of sales and precious plate and jewels from the houses 
and churches of the lesser monasteries. The system was 
the same in all cases, and the history of one dissolution is 
that of all. What the arrival of the six royal commissioners 
with their retinue of servants at monastery and convent 
must have been to the inmates can be well imagined. The 
act of dissolution, it is true, saved them from the necessity 
of surrender, to which many of their more powerful brethren 
were subsequently constrained. Still their position was 
pathetic. The homes, which pious benefactors had built 
generations before, and in which for centuries men and 
women of their order had served God and aided their 
neighbours, were passing away from them for ever, and the 
demand for and defacing of their convent seal was the out- 
ward sign of the ending of their corporate life. Henceforth 
they were to pass the remainder of their days as strangers 
in a larger house, or as wanderers in a world which many 
had left years before and to which they could never again 
belong. The desecration of their churches, in which they 
and their forefathers in religion before them had gathered 
by night and by day for the service of God ; the seizure for 
the king's use of their altar plate, in itself perhaps often so 
poor, to them always so precious by association with the 
past ; the rude appraising of their bells and the lead which 
covered the roofs over their heads ; the hurried sales of the 
mean furniture of their cells, and of the contents of church, 
cloister and frater, were all so many heartrending evidences 
of the passing away of all that for which in this life most of 
the monks and nuns really cared. 

The work was of course a process of time, but through- 
out England it was begun very shortly after the commissions 
were issued, and by Michaelmas of the year 1536, or in six 
months from the passing of the act of dissolution, large 
sums had been paid into the treasury of the court of Aug- 
mentations, and a considerable number of monasteries had 
been desolated. In many instances the actual process of 
suppression occupied many weeks. Thus, at Clementhorpe 
convent, in the city of York, the commissioners first arrived 
on June I3th, and it was not till August 3 1st that the final 

The Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries 183 

steps were taken, and the nuns turned out of their house. 
During that period Isabel Ward, the prioress, had been 
obliged to provide for her household, consisting of nine 
nuns, an equal number of servants and a lady, Alice Tocotts, 
who, with her servant, had a corrody in the house. Besides 
this, here, no doubt, as elsewhere, provision had to be found 
for the servants of the commissioners who were left to carry 
out the work. To meet these expenses the prioress was 
forced to sell a silver chalice and cup, together with some 
reliquaries. 1 

In the same way Isabel Savage, the prioress of St. 
Michael's convent, Stamford, was obliged to sell various 
pieces of plate to keep up the hospitality of the convent 
and to support the nuns from May 31, when the dissolution 
commenced, to July 18, when the work was completed. 8 
And, from numerous examples which might be cited from 
the " Ministers' Accounts," it is probable that from six to 
ten weeks were usually occupied in the work of dissolving 
these religious houses. To many of the religious thus 
rendered homeless the hardship must have been more than 
would readily be believed. Many were of great age, or 
suffering from disease. Thus, to Elizabeth Johnson, a nun 
of Arden, a small pittance is allowed for her support, " be- 
cause she is helpless and deaf and is said to be over eighty 
years of age." 8 In the same way to William Coventry, a 
religious of Wombridge Priory, the sum of 6, 8s. 4d. is 
given, upon his being turned out of his home, "because 
he is sick and decrepid," * but such consideration was appa- 
rently only on rare occasions extended to the inmates of 
the dissolved houses. Of Esholt, a convent in Yorkshire 
marked out for dissolution at this time, it is said that two 
nuns, disabled by infirmities, were passed on to their friends. 
"Dame Elizabeth Pudsey prioress," the entry runs, "aged 
seventy years, infirm and unable to ride or walk gone to 
her friends." Also, " Dame Johanna Hallynrakes, aged fifty- 
four years, decrepid ; she is not able to be carried for she is 
lame ; (to) continue in her habit and be with her friends." 6 

The returns made by the mixed royal commissions at 
this time are of great interest and importance. The different 

1 R. O. Exch. Augt. Off. Mins. Acct. 27-28 Henry VIIL, No. 178, m. I4<L 

* Ibid., No. 173, m. 5. 3 Ibid., 178, m. I4d. 

4 Ibid., 165, m. 3. 8 R. O. Exch. Q. R. Suppress. Papers, ^ 

184 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

estimate these gentlemen formed of the state of the religious 
houses in England, to that pictured in the comperta of 
Layton, Legh and their fellow-inquisitors, has already 
been pointed out, and it is unfortunate that comparatively 
few of these documents are known to exist. 1 As an 
example of the interesting particulars found in these 
returns, the first in the report of the commissioners for 
Warwickshire may be here given. The abbey of Polles- 
worth is stated to be a convent of "Black nuns of St. 
Benedict's Order." The valuation made at the last visita- 
tion of their clear annual income was ^87, i6s. 3d., and 
the visitors now assess it at ^no, 6s. 2d. 2 The nuns are 
stated to have been fourteen in number, "with an abbess 
and one ' ancress,' of a very religious sort, one close upon 
a hundred years old ; all desire to ' keep out ' their religion 
there or be transferred to other houses." The number of 
servants and others attached to the abbey was thirty-eight, 
namely, three priests, eight yeomen, seventeen hinds, nine 
women servants, and of " persons having living by promise 
one very old and impotent creature sometime cook of the 
house." The lead, bells and buildings were estimated to 
produce $2 when sold, and the house was declared to be 
" in good repair." The value of all moveable goods, stocks, 
stores, and debts owing to the house was calculated at 
^127, 133. 8d., besides which there were 108 acres planted 
with trees, "whereof great woods about the age of 100 
years" were priced at 114, ios., and a great common 
with sixty acres of wood. 3 

In dealing with the lesser religious houses, those which 
claimed to be cells or dependencies of the greater monas- 
teries, proved a difficulty. This had been foreseen, and the 

1 See Calendar, x. pp. 495-500. Reference has been made in a previous 
note to other reports not known to Mr. Gairdner when he published this 
volume of the Calendar. They may be found printed in an article entitled 
" Overlooked Testimonies to the Character of the English Monasteries," in 
The Dublin Review, April, 1894. They deal with the houses in Norfolk, 
Suffolk, Hampshire, Wilts, Gloucester, and in the city of Bristol. So far as 
concerns the moral state of these monasteries and convents, these reports of the 
country gentry are wholly different from those of Crumwell's visitors. Whilst 
the latter defame, the former are found to praise, and in the notes appended to 
the later reports there is e% r idence that this discrepancy was remarked upon 
by the official into whose hands the report came. 

2 It is curious to find that in almost every instance the new valuation was 
higher than that returned by the commissioners for the Valor Ecclesiasticus 
the year before. 3 Calendar, x. No. 1191 (2). 

The Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries 185 

commissioners were instructed in the case of a cell "to 
deliver a privy seal to the governor, to appear before the 
chancellor and council of the Augmentations and not meddle 
with the same cell till the king's pleasure be known." 1 
Accordingly, in Warwickshire, the royal visitors gave privy 
seals to the prior of Avecourte, Warwick, who alleged his 
house to be a cell of Great Malvern, and to Charles 
Bradewaye, prior of Alcester, who claimed exemption from 
the act of dissolution, as a dependent of the abbey of 
Evesham, ordering them to appear before the court in 
London within fifteen days. Into these cases strict inquiry 
was made. In the case of Malpas, for example, which 
claimed to be a cell of Montacute, in Somerset, a com- 
mission was ordered to sit at that priory on November 27, 
1536, and to require all deeds and evidences of the claim, 
and to examine the prior and John Montague, prior of 
Malpas. 2 As might be expected, these claims for exemp- 
tion from the operation of the act of dissolution appear to 
have failed. In the three cases given above, the priors of 
the cells seem to have returned to their monasteries, where 
two years later they are found in the list of those pensioned 
on the final dissolution of the mother houses. 8 

One curious fact about the dissolution of these smaller 
monasteries deserves special notice. No sooner had the 
king obtained possession of them than he commenced to 
refound some in perpetuity under a new charter. In this 
way no fewer than fifty-two 4 religious houses in various 

1 Calendar, x. No. 7 21 2 Monasticon, v. p. 173. 

3 R. O. Aug. Off. Misc. Bk. 245, ff. 72, 102, 187. 

4 Canon Dixon says (vol. i. p. 365) : " Three hundred and seventy-six 
of the smaller monasteries came under the new act, and were dissolved. Out 
of which thirty-one were refounded for ever in August of this year, and con- 
tinued a year or two longer. " In this he follows Burnet so far as the number 
is concerned, who states that there were "in all thirty-one houses" thus 
restored. The names of the fifty-four are known. The treasurer of the court 
of Augmentations acknowledges sums of money received as "fines" from 
thirty-three houses, and twenty-one more, not including Bisham, are enrolled 
on the Patent Rolls. The dates of the grants will show that they were not 
all refounded in August. Stevens has, moreover (Monasticon, ii. Appendix 
17-19), published an original document containing the names of the lesser 
monasteries which escaped immediate destruction, specifying the individuals 
to whom the king had previously granted, and distinguishing those houses 
which had been actually refounded when the paper was drawn up From this 
it appears that the whole number respited was 123. Forty-six had already 
been refounded, five were still doubtful ; and of these fifty-one no less than 
thirty-three had been previously promised to different private persons. 

1 86 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

parts of England gained a temporary respite from extinction. 
The cost, however, was considerable to themselves, and 
likewise to their friends, as they were finally suppressed 
before they were able to repay the sums borrowed to pur- 
chase this favour of their royal founder. In hard cash 
the treasurer of the court of Augmentations acknowledges 
having received " in part payment of the various sums of 
money due to the king for fines or compositions, for the 
toleration and continuance " of thirty-three of these monas- 
teries some ^5948, 6s. 8d., or about .60,000 of our money. 
The same Sir Thomas Pope ingenuously adds, that he has 
not counted the arrears due to the office under this head, 
" since all and each of the said monasteries before the close 
of the account have by surrender come into the king's hands, 
or by the authority of parliament have been added to the 
augmentation of the royal revenue. For this reason there- 
fore the king has remitted all sums of money still due to 
him as the residue of their fines for his royal toleration." l 

The sums paid by the re-established houses vary from 
^400, given by the two houses of Polleshoe, in Devon, and 
Albaland, in the diocese of St. David's, to the 20 furnished 
by the Carthusians of St. Anne's, Coventry, the two first 
paying nearly three times their annual revenue as a fine to 
the king for a grant under the great seal, enrolled on the 
Patent roll, of establishment "in perpetuity." 8 Besides 
these pecuniary payments, Henry had in some cases helped 
himself well to the monastic manors, and having lessened 
the income of houses already suffering from poverty, allowed 
them to be re-established for a perpetuity commensurate with 
his royal whims. Thus the convent of St. Mary's, Winchester, 
which according to the Valor possessed a clear income of 
179, 7s. 2d., not only paid a fine of ^333, 6s. 8d., but was 
re-established with the loss of some of its richest possessions. 

It is well to note that several of the monasteries and 
convents thus re-established were among the number of 
those gravely defamed by Layton and Legh in their cont- 
perta, and in more than one case a superior incriminated by 
them was reappointed in the new foundation. Besides the 
sums paid to the king by the religious for the privilege of 

1 R. O. Augt. Off. Treasur. Rolls I. , mm. 4<i. 5. 

2 See "Rot. Pat.," 28 Henry VIII., pars i., ii., iv., v., and 29 Henry 
VIII., i., ii., iv., v. 

The Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries 187 

continuance, there is hardly any doubt that in days when 
influence was to be purchased, other bribes were exacted 
from the houses so refounded, by Henry's hungry officials. 1 
One example of the straits to which these exactions reduced 
many of the religious houses may be given. The convent 
of nuns at Stixwold, in Lincolnshire, wrote to Heneage, the 
king's visitor, to beg his good offices in their regard. "Right 
worshipful sir," they say, " as your poor and daily beads- 
women, we humbly commend us unto you, advertising you 
that by the goodness of my lord privy seal and by his only 
means and suit to the king's majesty, our house doth stand, 
paying to his highness nine hundred marks fine 2 besides 
our first-fruits, which is 150, and also a pension of .34 by 
the year for ever. Good Mr. Heneage, we most humbly 
pray and desire you, in the way of charity and for God's 
sake, to be mean to my lord privy seal that he will of his 
goodness be suitor to the king's majesty for to remit and 
forgive the said pension of .34 a year, or else we shall 
never be able to live and pay the king the aforesaid money. 

" We be eighteen nuns and a sister in our house besides 
officers and servants to the number of fifty persons in all, 
and our stock and cattle being delivered up this year past ; 
which was our chief hope and living. And if by my lord 
privy seal's goodness and yours we may obtain redemption 
of the said yearly pension we shall take pains to live poorly 
and serve God and pray daily for the king's majesty, my 
lord privy seal, and you during our lives. And if at your 
contemplation we cannot obtain grace of the said pension we 
shall upon necessity, for that we shall not be able to pay 
and perform all such payments as we be bound, give up the 
house into the king's highness' hand : which were great pity, 
if it pleased God and the king otherwise. 

" From Stixwold the 8th day of January 
" By your poor bedes-women 

" The whole convent of Stixwold." 8 

1 Burnet says, " It is not unlikely that some presents to the commissioners 
or to Crumwell, made these houses outlive this ruin : for I find great trading 
in bribes at this time, which is not to be wondered at, when there was so much 
to be shared. " 

2 The treasurer of the augmentation office only acknowledged having 
received 21, 135. 4d. 

8 Strype, EccL Mems. (ed. 1822), p. 395. The patent for the continuance 
of Stixwold is dated Qth July, a 29 Hen. VIII. (1537). " Rot. Pat.," 29 Hen. 

1 8 8 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

It is difficult to estimate correctly the number of houses 
which passed into the king's power by the operation of this 
act of dissolution. Various numbers have been stated, but 
the authority of Stowe is usually relied upon, that "the 
number of the houses then suppressed was 376, the value 
of their lands then .32,000 and more by year." As these 
suppressions were not all carried out at the same time, but 
occupied the royal commissioners many months, the number 
can only refer to all the houses of religion with an income 
of 200 or under. This number is apparently fairly correct. 
In the contemporary "list of monasteries in England of a 
less yearly value than 200 " the number stated is 362, 1 but 
in this are included " cells " belonging to the greater houses 
and several of the places are entered twice over in different 
counties. 2 Of the various counties affected, Yorkshire, in- 
cluding Richmond, had the most, numbering in all twenty 
convents of women, twenty-five houses of men and eight 
cells dependent on the greater abbeys. Lincolnshire con- 
tained within its borders thirty-seven houses which came 
within the operation of this act of dissolution. 

In respect to the annual value of the property which 
passed to the king by these suppressions, the estimate given 
by Stowe and others is probably fairly correct. The total 
stated in the contemporary list above referred to is 28,858, 
195. iofd., 3 and the difference is perhaps accounted for by 
the values of other monasteries which before the passing 
of the act, or subsequently by surrender or otherwise, had 
about this time passed into the king's possession. Indeed, 
lord Herbert puts the value at " about 30,000 or 32,000," * 
the former figure not differing materially from the estimate 
given above. Of this sum, a very large proportion, no less 

VIII. , Part L m. 29. The letter is evidence that much more was required by 
the royal founder than the sum acknowledged as received in the roll of the 
treasurer of the augmentation office. 

1 Calendar, x. No. 1238. 

8 The actual number of monasteries accounted for by the receivers from 
Michaelmas, 1535, to Michaelmas, 1537, is 243 (Exch. Augt. Office Mins. 
Accts., ann. 27-28 Hen. VIIL, and ann. 28-29 Hen. VIIL). The first accounts 
of some are missing, but in this number are included others which had fallen 
into the king's hands by surrender, like Abingdon, or by attainder, like 
Whalley and Barlings. This number, 243, together with the 123 stated in 
the original document published by Stevens (Aftmast., ii. Append, pp. 17-19) 
to have been respited, comes sufficiently near to the number above stated. 

3 It is added up in a later hand incorrectly .29,041, os. 3jd. 

< Ed., 1683, p. 441. 

The Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries 189 

than ^3460, us. id., came from the lands of the Yorkshire 
monasteries, and the almost equal amount of ^3062, 8s. o^d. 
from those in Lincolnshire. It will be seen subsequently 
how the promises of large annual receipts from the con- 
fiscated estates proved illusory, and, in spite of the rack- 
renting of the crown farmers, the monastic acres furnished 
less money for the royal purse than they did under the 
thrifty management and personal supervision of their former 

As for the spoils of the religious houses, consisting of 
money, plate and jewels, which were sent in kind into the 
king's treasury, and the proceeds of the sales of lead, bells, 
stock, furniture, and even buildings, it is clear that lord 
Herbert, following Stowe's estimate of these " Robin Hood's 
pennyworth's," has placed the amount received at too high 
a figure. It is, of course, undeniable that these goods were 
worth much more than the .100,000 at which they were 
estimated ; but, as will be seen later, nothing like that sum 
was received by the royal treasury, or at least acknow- 
ledged by Sir Thomas Pope as having been obtained from 
the sales of the moveables belonging to the lesser monas- 
teries. Corruption, without doubt, existed everywhere, from 
the lowest attendant of the visiting commissioner to the 
highest official in the court of Augmentation, whose high 
salary might be supposed to have raised him above a 
suspicion of dishonesty; but allowing for the numberless 
ways in which the royal revenue could be robbed, it seems, 
judging by the paltry sums realised by the sales of monastic 
effects, that an average of ^260 or 270 for each house 
would be altogether too high. 

Previous to the passing of the act which authorised this 
wholesale suppression, some few houses had already come 
into the king's hands. Few though they were, it was yet 
clearly thought necessary to cover the illegality of these 
suppressions by a retrospective clause in the act. Three 
houses, those of Langdon, Folkstone and Dover, had been 
appropriated as early as the November of the previous year, 
1535, and the cause of the surrenders as stated on the Close 
roll is, that they were burdened with debt, 1 and were thus 
unable to continue any longer, whilst on their northern 

1 "Rot. Glaus.," 27 Hen. VIII., Pars i., 27, 28, 29. 

190 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

visitation in February, Layton and Legh procured the sur- 
render of two houses, Marton, a priory of Austin canons 
near York, and the priory of Hornby, in Lancashire. This 
last was a poor place, and had even to borrow a seal from 
a neighbouring abbey with which to seal its doom. 1 Two 
other monasteries in the south of England, Bilsington in 
Kent, and Tiltey in Essex, both much in debt, complete the 
list of houses which had fallen into Henry's hands before 
the dissolution was made legal by the parliament. 

It is difficult to form any proper estimate of the number 
of persons affected by the dissolution of the lesser monas- 
teries. Besides the monks and nuns that were turned out 
of their houses and lost their support, and the number of 
servants, farm labourers and others, to whom these houses 
gave employment and means of subsistence, there must have 
been a vast number of men and women whose means of 
livelihood were more or less dependent upon the religious 
houses. Putting the latter class altogether on one side, it is 
possible that the calculation given by Stowe, that " 10,000 
people, masters and servants, had lost their livings by the 
putting down of these houses at that time," is not too high 
an estimate. From the particulars given in the returns of 
the royal commissioners it is known, that in the twenty-one 
religious houses for which their certificates exist, there was 
an average number of at least eight members in each monas- 
tery and convent, and that every house had besides some 
twenty-seven people directly dependent upon it. Taking 
the number of the lesser monasteries at only 350, and the 
average number of religious inmates at only six, it will be 
seen that over two thousand monks and nuns were at this 
time dispossessed. By the same method of calculation, it 
will appear that between nine and ten thousand people were 
direct dependents of the monasteries dissolved. 

Of course the work was not accomplished without some 
earnest protests and some strenuous endeavours to deter the 
king from continuing his work of destruction and desolation. 
Thus no sooner was the passing of the act made known than 
Crumwell received letters from persons of all sorts begging 
his good offices with Henry for the preservation of houses 
in which the writers were specially interested. Sir Piers 

1 Rot. Glaus.," 27 Hen. VIIL, Pars i. 38. 

The Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries 1 9 1 

Edgecombe, for example, writes that "here is much com- 
munication and bruits that all abbeys, priories, and nunneries 
under the clear value of 200 shall be suppressed, notwith- 
standing it is not as yet in these parts openly known the 
occasion of suppression, nor who shall take most benefit 
thereby, nor to what use it shall rest at length." He then 
goes on to say, that he is the founder of the priory of 
Totnes and the convent of Cornworthy, in Devonshire, both 
under 200 a year, and as the prior of Totnes is a man of 
"virtuous conversation and a good viander," he thinks it 
right to tell the king's secretary. 1 In the same way lord de 
la Ware begs for Boxgrave, and trusts it may be spared, as 
many of his ancestors and his wife's mother lie there. The 
parish church is under the roof of the church of the monas- 
tery, and there, he adds, I have made " a poor chapel to be 
buried in." z 

Nor did the monasteries themselves quietly wait for the 
royal commissioners to dispossess them of their effects. 
There are many indications of goods and even plate being 
turned into money, often no doubt with a view of obtaining 
the means of subsistence. Thus as early as March 27th, 
shortly after the passing of the act, it is reported to Crum- 
well that the house of Marham nunnery, in Norfolk, had 
been stripped of all the lead and left uncovered and bare. 
Richard Southwell, the writer, says that the convents of 
" Blackborough, Shouldham and Crabhouse also make away 
with all they can, and make such pennyworths as they are 
not able to pay any part of their debts, so that all the goods 
will be dispersed." The writer concludes by a petition for 
Pentney: "We beseech your favour," he writes, "for the 
prior of Pentney, 3 assuring you that he relieves those 
quarters wondrously where he dwells, and it would be a 
pity not to spare a house that feeds so many indigent poor, 
which is in a good state, maintains good service, and does 
so many charitable deeds. We hear that great labour will 
be made unto the king for the same and large offers, the 
rather because the house is new made tli: mghout and no 
house in the shire stands so commodiously. If you will 
prevent it, your labour will not be without remembrance." * 

1 Wright, p. 117. z Ibid., 119. 

8 He was one of the monks defamed by Layton and Legh in the comperta. 

* Calendar, x. No. 563. 

192 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

One other document addressed to the king, giving reasons 
for the continuance of Carmarthen priory, may be here given 
as possessing considerable interest. It is urged that "at 
the first survey for the tenth " the yearly value was returned 
as ^209, and it was by the fault of the commissioners that 
it was "presented as being under 200. 2. Beside the 
twelve canons, whereof four died but lately, there are daily 
and commonly found by the said priory about eighty persons. 
3. The house is well built and in good repair. 4. As to the 
behaviour of the brethren, they refer to the report of the 
country and the commissioners. 5. The priory stands in 
Carmarthen, a notable market-town and common thorough- 
fare, and a great number of people have their meat and 
drink in the said house. 6. As there is but little good 
lodging for noblemen resorting to these parts on the king's 
or other business, the house is an open lodging for all such. 
7. Hospitality is daily kept for poor and rich, which is a 
great relief to the country, being poor and bare. 8. Weekly 
alms are given to eighty poor people, which, if the house 
were suppressed, they would want. These charges are 
maintained more by good husbandry and provision of the 
house than by its revenues, which stand mostly in spiri- 
tualities. 9. When Henry VII. came to this country the 
prior made a new lodging for him, which is meet for the 
king or the prince if they happen to come to those parts. 
10. Strangers and merchantmen resorting to those parts 
are honestly received and entertained, whereby they are the 
gladder to bring their commodities to that country. The 
king of Portugal thanked the house under his great seal 
for entertaining his merchants." 1 

In the middle of the year 1537 the king refounded one 
or two monasteries which had been suppressed. This was 
a different and more solemn act than the permission which 
had been accorded to some to continue undissolved, and 
to which reference has been made. On the 9th July, for 
example, he granted a charter of foundation to a convent of 
Premonstratensian nuns, to which he had given the site of 
the convent of Stixwold. It was ordered to be called " the 
new monastery of King Henry VIII.," and a grant in mort- 
main was made to Mary Missenden, who was appointed 

1 Calendar, x. No. 1246. 

The Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries 193 

prioress " of the ground and site of the church, bell tower, 
church-yard, bells, ornaments, etc.," of the monastery of 
Stixwold, to be held at a rent to the crown of 15, 5s., 
"which is the true tenth." 1 

In the same way, on December i8th of this same year, 
Henry united several monasteries in one foundation at 
Bisham. William Barlow, bishop of St. David's and com- 
mendatory prior of Bisham, had surrendered that house to 
the king in July, 1536. A year later the abbey of Chertsey 
passed into the royal power by the act of the abbot and 
monks, and six months after, the abbot, " in consideration 
that the said John Cordrey, late abbot, and convent of 
Chertsey, had granted their possessions and monastery to 
the king," received a charter incorporating that house with 
a monastery the king desired to found at Bisham. It was 
to consist of an abbot and thirteen Benedictine monks, who 
were to pray for the king and queen Jane, and was to be 
called "King Henry VIII. new monastery of Holy Trinity, 
Bisham." The king also granted to Cordrey his royal 
permission " to wear a mitre like any other abbot of that 
order with large possessions in England." 2 

It is touching to see how some of the monks plead for 
permission to continue their religious life. To take but one 
example: on the 9th of June, 1536, the abbot of Waverley 
writes to Crumwell : " Pleaseth your mastership I received 
your letters of the 7th day of this present month, and have 
endeavoured myself to accomplish the contents of them, and 
have sent your mastership the true extent, value and account 
of our said monastery. Beseeching your good mastership, 
for the love of Christ's passion, to help me in the preservation 
of this poor monastery, that we your beadsmen may remain 
in the service of God with the meanest living that any poor 
men may live with in this world. So to continue in the 
service of Almighty Jesus, and to pray for the estate of our 
prince and your mastership. In no vain hope I write this 
to your mastership, forasmuch you put me in such bold- 
ness full gently, when I was in suit to you last year at 
Winchester, saying, ' Repair to me for such business as ye 
shall have from time to time.' Therefore, instantly praying 
you, and my poor brethren with weeping, yes ! desire you 

1 " Rot. Pat.," 29 Henry VIII., Pars. L 29. 
8 Ibid., Pars. iv. m. 12. 


194 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

to help them ; in this world no creatures in more trouble, 
and so we remain depending upon the comfort that shall 
come to us from you serving God daily at Waverley." l 

Meantime the progress of the dissolution went on apace. 
From the I2th May, 1536, when Calwich, in Staffordshire, 
a cell of the Augustinian monastery of Kenilworth, was 
taken by the commissioners as the first-fruits of the coming 
harvest, the work of destruction did not cease. On June 
1st John Freeman wrote to Crumwell that he hoped to 
"bring a profitable inventory to the king worth ^1000 in 
one shire, not reckoning Gilbertines nor cells which are ten 
houses. Of these," he continues, " I reckon a great part 
in lead and bells, not including woods. For other moveables 
they have left their houses meetly bare, nor can we make 
them bring all things to light." z 

So quickly was the work accomplished that by July 8th 
Chapuys was able to write : " It is a lamentable thing to 
see a legion of monks and nuns, who have been chased from 
their monasteries, wandering miserably hither and thither 
seeking means to live ; and several honest men have told 
me that, what with monks, nuns and persons dependent on 
the monasteries suppressed, there were over 20,000 who 
knew not how to live." 8 

Everywhere throughout the country the same scenes 
were being enacted. The thoroughness of Henry's policy 
was brought home to the people by the same sickening 
story of destruction, wanton waste, pilfering, pillage and 
mock auctions worse than plain pilfering, going on up and 
down the land. As for the ejected monks and nuns them- 
selves, to use Mr. Gairdner's words, "The full degree of 
hardship arising out of the king's proceedings was perhaps 
difficult even in that day to estimate impossible in ours." 4 

Some of the religious, however, did not take the spolia- 
tion of their houses as quietly as the abbot of Waverley. 
Even before the general rising in Lincolnshire the canons of 
Hexham absolutely refused to be suppressed by the king's 
officers. They had apparently a good cause, for archbishop 

1 Calendar, x. No. 1097. 2 Ibid., No. 1026. 

3 Ibid., xi. No, 42. Mr. Gairdner upon this (Preface xii.) says: "The 
estimate may possibly have referred to the ultimate effects of the act, though 
the previous statement shows that the results were painful enough already. 
For as yet not half the work could have been done." 

4 Ibid., Pref. xiv. 

The Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries 195 

Lee had begged that their house might be spared, and it 
seems his request was granted, since, as will appear, they 
received a grant under the great seal to continue. Their 
bold Northumbrian spirit could not submit calmly to what 
they must have regarded as most unjust resolutions of a 
parliament composed of Henry's creatures. The story of 
their successful resistance is of great interest. 1 It is found 
in a report upon " the misdemeanours of the religious per- 
sons of Hexham in the county of Northumberland. First," 
runs this valuable record, "whereas Lionel Gray, Robert 
Collingwood, William Green, and James Rokeby, commis- 
sioners for the dissolution of the monasteries within the 
county aforesaid, the 28th day of the month of September, 
in the 28th year of the reign of our sovereign lord king 
Henry VIII. (1536), associated with their ordinary company, 
were riding towards the said monastery of Hexham, there 
to execute the king's most dread commandment of dissolu- 
tion. Being in their journey at Delston, 3 miles from the 
same monastery (they) were credibly informed that the said 
religious persons had prepared them with guns and artillery 
meet for war, with people in the same house and to defend 
and keep the same with force." (Upon this report they) 
"assented that the said Lionel Gray and Robert Collingwood 
should with a few persons repair to the same monastery, as 
well to view and see the number of persons keeping the 
same house as to desire the subprior and convent of the 
same thankfully and obediently to receive the king's com- 
missioners, coming near at hand to enter into their house, 
with due entertainment, there to execute and use the effect 
of their duties of dissolution, according to the king's most 
dread commandment. The said Lionel and Robert accord- 
ingly did enter into the said town of Hexham. Riding 
towards the said monastery (they) did see many persons as- 
sembled with bills, halberts, and other defenceable weapons, 
ready standing in the street, like men ready to defend a town 
of war. And in their passing by the street, the common 
bell of the town was rung, and straight after the sound of 
it the great bell in the monastery was likewise rung, whereby 
the people forceably assembled towards the monastery where 

1 Calendar, xi. No. 504. Printed in Raine, Priory of Hexham (Surtees* 
Society), Appendix, p. cxxvii., &c., from the MS. collections of the Rev. John 
Hodgson. The story is well told in the excellent preface to that volume. 

196 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

the said Lionel and Robert found the gates and doors fast 
shut. And a canon, called the master of Ovingham, belong- 
ing to the same house, being in harness, with a bow bent 
with arrows, accompanied with divers other persons, all 
standing upon the leads and walls of the house and steeple. 
This master of Ovingham answered these words hereunder 
written : ' We be 20 brethren in this house and we shall die 
all, or that ye shall have the house.' 

" The said Lionel and Robert answered with a request, 
and said : ' Advise you well and speak with your brethren, 
and show unto them this our request and declaration of the 
king's gracious writings, and then give us answer finally.' 
And so the master departed into the house. After his de- 
parture did come into the same place five or six of the 
canons of the house with divers other persons, like men of 
war in harness with swords girt about them, having bows 
and arrows and other weapons, and stood upon the steeple 
head and leads in the defence of their house, the said Lionel 
and Robert being without. About whom did come and con- 
gregate many people, both men with weapons and many 
women, and stood there a great space, assured by the said 
master of Ovingham that they should remain peaceably 
there until their answer were made and so to depart without 
bodily hurt. 

"The said master of Ovingham being in harness with 
the subprior, being in his canon's apparel, not long after did 
repair again to the said Lionel and Robert, bringing with them 
a writing under the king's broad seal, and said these words 
hereafter written, by the mouth of the subprior : ' We do 
not doubt but ye bring with you the king's seal of authority 
for this house, albeit ye shall see here the king's confirma- 
tion of our house under the great seal of king Henry VIII. 
God save his grace ! We think it not the king's honour to 
give forth one seal contrary to another, and before any 
either of our lands, goods or house be taken from us we 
shall all die ; and that is our full answer.' And so the said 
Lionel and Robert returned and met the rest of the commis- 
sioners approaching near the town. And so all together 
recoiled back to Corbridge, where they lay all that night." 

Next day they learnt " that immediately after the com- 
missioners departed the town, the canons being all in 
harness, associated with a great company of tenants and 

The Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries 197 

servants belonging to the said monastery to the number of 
60 persons and more, did issue forth of the monastery in 
defenceable array, by two together, all in harness, and so 
did walk from the monastery to a place called the green, 
towards where the commissioners did meet, and there stood 
in array with their weapons in their hands until the com- 
missioners were past out of sight of the monastery. And 
so returned into the monastery again." 

It would seem that from the 28th of September, when 
the royal commissioners were driven away, till the 1 5th of 
October, the canons held the monastery by force of arms. 
After that they wavered in their determination, and said 
" that the abbey should be delivered to the king's commis- 
sioners to be ordered at their pleasure, so that they might 
there serve God and remain, though they begged for their 
livings." Their message of submission, however, was not 
taken to the king, and Hexham remained untouched till, on 
the final suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace, they could 
be dealt with. Probably many of the canons suffered for 
their temerity in resisting the royal will, for Hexham is 
mentioned by name in Henry's letter to the duke of Norfolk, 
as one of the places where the monks " are to be tied up 
without further delay or ceremony." 1 Prior Jay, who is 
not named in the account of the resistance offered to the 
suppression, was possibly, like so many superiors at this 
time, a crown nominee. He alone received the grant of a 
pension when Hexham finally fell into the hands of Henry 
in March, 1537.* 

1 Lemon, State Papers, i. 537. 

3 Exch. Augt. Off. Mins. Accts., 28-29 Hen. VIII., 200 m. 4d. The 
grant is dated 10 March, anno 28. Canon Raine says that tradition has it he 
was hanged at the gate of his monastery. This possibly was the subprior. 
It could not have been prior Jay. 

The Rising in Lincolnshire 

THE resistance offered to the royal commissioners at Hexham 
was an indication of the popular disapproval of Henry's 
measures. Before punishment could be dealt out to the 
hardy northerners, and indeed even within a few days of 
the affair at Hexham, the smouldering flame of discontent 
had burst into the full blaze of open defiance in Lincolnshire. 
No part of England had a worse reputation for disorder, and 
the crown records for a long period previously afford ample 
proof of the bold and turbulent spirit of the inhabitants of 
the fen lands and the adjacent districts. They were the last 
people in England to see changes which they could not 
approve taking place in their midst without making an en- 
deavour to stay the course of events by an appeal to arms. 

Only one other county had been so greatly affected by 
the late act of parliament which had dissolved the lesser 
monasteries. By this measure some seven-and-thirty reli- 
gious houses in Lincolnshire passed into the king's possession, 
and a rental of more than 3000 a year, which had hitherto 
been spent in the county and, in a great measure at least, 
for the good of the people, was transferred to the royal purse 
for the vague purpose of augmenting the crown revenues. 

The full meaning of this change must have come home 
in a practical way to almost every class in the county. 
Not only were a large number of monks and nuns ren- 
dered homeless, and a still greater number of their de- 
pendents, deprived of their means of livelihood, become 
outcasts and beggars, but the clergy, who were vicars of 
livings appropriated to the dissolved monasteries, must have 
been uncertain whether they could continue to count upon 
their stipends, now that the greater tithes had passed into 
the hands of the royal officials and other laymen. The 

poor, also, long dependent in great measure on the charity 


The Rising in Lincolnshire 199 

and assistance of the religious, must have regarded the 
movement with feelings akin to despair, whilst even those 
who had been accustomed to relief left them by dead bene- 
factors, and of which the monks had been the careful 
guardians, would have known that their trusts had likewise 
been swept away into the capacious purse of Henry. 

In no part of England, moreover, was the ugly business 
of gathering in the spoils pushed on with greater vigour 
than in Lincolnshire. By the feast of St. Michael, 1536, 
or in six months from the passing of the act of dissolution, 
John Freeman, the royal receiver for the district, was able 
to account for a large sum to the treasurer of the court of 
augmentation. His receipts from the sales of the religious 
houses, including buildings, furniture, lead, bells, with 
stocks and moveables of all kinds, had reached the high total 
of 7484, os. 4fd., or, in round figures, some ^"75,000 of 
our present money, to which a further sum of nearly ^"200 
was to be added for " pictures, clocks," and other precious 
articles sold subsequently. Altogether, with rents and other 
items of receipts, John Freeman admitted having obtained 
for the king in the first six months no less a sum than 
^"8756, us. 9fd., of which about one fourth part had been 
paid away in the process of dissolution. 1 

It is, of course, impossible that the people could have wit- 
nessed the desecration of the monastic churches, the sales of 
the sacred vestments, the carrying away of the altar plate 
to the royal treasure-house, and the expulsion of the reli- 
gious from monastery and convent without deep and angry 
feelings. They argued, rightly, as the event proved, that 
a power which could proceed to such extremities against 
ecclesiastical rights would not stop here, and that gradually 
the treasuries of parish churches would be searched and 
emptied to satisfy a greed which would only be whetted 
by the spoils already obtained from the monastic houses. 
Other causes of discontent were likewise at work on the 
popular mind. The religious changes, and in particular the 
renunciation of papal authority at the royal pleasure, were 
eminently distasteful to the nation at large. The ecclesiasti- 
cal appointments made by Henry, especially those of bishops 
regarded by the Catholic instincts of the people as heretics 

1 Exch. Augt. Office Mins. Accts., 27-28 Hen. VIII., No. 166. 

200 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

and false pastors, had stirred up feelings of resentment 
ready to burst out on the slightest provocation; and the 
late enactments of Henry's parliament about property ap- 
peared to attack a long-established right as to the free 
disposal of acquired estates and to destroy the possibility 
of making provision by will for the support of the younger 
members of a family. 

Just at this time three commissions were issued by the 
crown which singly might have tried the temper of a nation, 
but which combined were irritating beyond the limits of 
popular self-control. In the autumn of 1534 a subsidy or 
tax of two and a half per cent, on all incomes of more than 
20 a year had been voted by the parliament. The first 
part had been paid, and the second now being due, the 
royal officials were endeavouring to enforce the payment and 
to push their inquisitorial demands for the correct returns 
of income. 

At the same time other commissioners were busy con- 
ducting the work of suppressing the lesser monasteries. 
With bands of retainers and workmen imported from distant 
places, they were carrying on the forced sales, dismantling 
the conventual churches and other buildings, and dispatching 
convoys with plate and muniments to London, or with the 
lead of church roofs and gutters melted into fodders and 
pigs, and the metal of broken bells to some place where they 
were to be stored for use or sale. 

Simultaneously a third set of royal agents were busy 
carrying round certain injunctions, which Crumwell, as 
vicar-general in spirituals, had made for the clergy at large. 
Their powers were extensive, and were intensely disliked by 
those whom they most concerned. They were directed to 
call before them every individual parish priest, to inquire 
into his character, habits and reputation, to examine into his 
qualifications and learning, and to dismiss from their cures 
those they considered unfit. 

As might be expected, rumours were busily circulated 
which served to inflame the popular mind. According to 
the declaration of the abbot of Barlings, for about a month 
or six weeks before Michaelmas day, 1536, reports were 
going about the country " that two or three parish churches 
should be put in one." Also "that about the same time, 
it was likewise bruited that all chalices, crosses and other 

The Rising in Lincolnshire 201 

jewels of the church should be taken away from the same 
churches, and chalices of tin should be given to the said 
churches in lieu of them ; " also " that all manner of gold, 
coined and uncoined, should be brought to the Tower of 
London to be touched." 1 According to another witness, it 
was commonly said at this time that the churches were to 
be destroyed, "that all the abbeys of England should be 
suppressed save only the monastery of Westminster. And 
further. . . that all the jewels of the church, that is to say 
crosses, chalices, censers, should be taken away from the 
churches, and chalices, crosses and censers of tin put in their 
places." 2 

The first outbreak of the storm took place at Louth. 8 
By the close of September the monastery of Louth-park had 
been dissolved, and the people had witnessed the sales of 
the ornaments and vestments of the church, which, together 
with the other effects of the place, realised close upon the 
large sum of a thousand pounds. 4 At the feast of St. 
Michael the process of dissolution was going on at the 
convent of Legbourne, just outside the town, and two of 
Crumwell's servants, Millicent and John Bellow, had been 
left by the commissioners to complete the work. 

On Saturday, the last day of September, Dr. Raynes, 
chancellor of the bishop of Lincoln, held a court of examina- 
tion at Bolingbroke, and the priests of the district had been 
much exercised by his inquiries. According to the declara- 
tion of a former monk of Louth-park, it was the chancellor's 
scribe, Peter, who fanned the spark into flame by " recom- 
mending the priests to study up their books, for they should 
have straight examination taken of them shortly." 6 One was 
heard to say: "They will deprive us of our benefices be- 
cause they would have the first-fruits." 8 Another declared 
that " they would not be ordered nor yet examined of their 
ability in learning or otherwise in keeping of cure of souls." 7 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. ,&, p. 12. 

2 Ibid., p. 25. In this declaration, as to the popular belief that Henry 
coveted the treasures of the parish churches, all the numerous witnesses exa- 
mined as to the rising agree. 

s Only a slight sketch of both the Lincolnshire rising and the Pilgrimage 
of Grace is here attempted, in so far as they bear upon the question of the 
dissolution of monasteries. 

4 Exch. Augt. Off. Mins. Accts., 27-28 Hen. VIII., 81, m. 43. 

8 Chapter House Bk., A. ,&, P- *43- 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid., A. ^, p. 8. 

2O2 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

And the parson of Farforthe, Simon Maltby, " returned home 
to his parish and reported amongst his neighbours that the 
church goods should be taken from them." He also said that 
" there were divers chalices made of tin which should be de- 
livered to them in exchange for their silver chalices, and the 
said silver chalices to be had to the king's use. And further 
the said Sir Simon said, that he with other priests were deter- 
mined that if the said chancellor did sit any more they would 
strike him down, trusting that their neighbours would take 
their parts in that behalf." l 

The report that the king was going to take possession of 
all church plate was fully believed on all sides. "One William 
Man that singeth bass in the choir at Louth and parson 
Sotbye going to board with Thomas Manby at Louth," just 
before the rising, said, that " the common fame was that the 
inhabitants of the town of Hull had sold the church stuff to 
prevent the king's commissioners." 2 And whilst dining at 
Grimsby, a sailor, " a very tall man having a tall woman for 
his wife," was heard to say : " We hear at Hull that ye 
should have a visitation here shortly, and therefore we have 
taken all our church plate and jewels and sold them and 
paved our town withal. And so, if ye be wise, will ye do too 
and mend your town, which is foul withal." 3 

There were, however, other matters which moved the 
people more deeply than any question about their church 
plate. Kendal, the vicar of Louth, declared that there was 
much grumbling about the supremacy question, although he 
could not give the names of those who " murmured that the 
king's highness should be head of the church." And also 
that "all men with whom he had any communication did 
grudge and murmur at the new opinions touching our Lady 
and Purgatory, and himself also did grudge at the same. 
Item," runs the record of the vicar's examination in the 
Tower, "he saith it was reported that the sacrament was 
irreverently taken down at Hagneby by the king's officers 
at the time of the suppression and dissolution of the same 
house." 4 

It is impossible to inspect the depositions of witnesses 
and examinations of prisoners on this matter, without a 
conviction that the men of Lincolnshire rose in arms in 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. &, p. 7. 2 Ibid.,K. &, p. 3. 3 Ibid., p. 144. 
4 Ibid., p. 3. 

The Rising in Lincolnshire 203 

defence of what they held to be matters of both Christian 
faith and practice. The vicar of Louth advised them most 
strongly " in no wise to meddle with the king's highness, 
but only for the repression of heresies and maintenance of 
the faith of Christ." 1 They regarded Crumwell and some 
of the bishops as banded together to destroy the Catholic 
faith, and they were loud in their demands for their punish- 
ment. " Item," said one witness, " they intended if they 
might have prospered in their journey to have slain the 
lord Crumwell, four or five of the bishops, the master of the 
Rolls, and the chancellor of the Augmentations." Also 
and to this part of the examination an ominous hand with 
a finger pointing is placed in the margin with the remark, 
"Note this specially" the gentlemen "demanded of the 
commons whether they would have the lord Crumwell and 
others before named, saying to them : " The lord Crumwell 
was a false traitor, and that he and the same bishops and 
master of the Rolls and the chancellor of Augmentations 
calling them two false pen-clerks were the very imaginers 
and devisers of all the false laws.' " 2 

Against Crumwell in particular, the feeling of the priests 
and people was extremely bitter. One priest is accused of 
saying that "the king's most noble counsel were false 
harlots in devising of false laws for spoiling the goods of 
the spirituality, and named the procurement thereof to be 
the lord Crumwell," 8 and many threats of personal violence 
are recorded as being uttered against him. Altogether there 
can be no doubt that the people, as one witness has it, 
"called my lord privy seal most vilipendiously at their 

Besides the religious questions there were also social 
matters which irritated the people at this time. Parliament, 
in the last session but one, had passed the celebrated 
" Statute of Uses." 5 Up to this time, land had not been 
subject to disposition by will, but this bar to the free dis- 
posal of real property had been practically removed by a 
system of "uses " or "trusts," under cover of which it had 
been the practice to make provision for younger children, 
for the payment of debts and for other charges, which were 
often tantamount to a transfer of such property. The king's 

i Chapter House Bk., A. A, P- 6. 2 Ibid., p. 28. 3 Ibid., A. ^, p. 5. 
4 Ibid., A. &, p. 169. 27 Hen. VIII., Cap. 10. 

204 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

anxiety in the passing of the "Statute of Uses" was to 
prevent the failure of his feudal dues. Some three years 
before the measure passed into law, he had endeavoured 
to effect what he wanted by a measure relating to "ward- 

The populace were thus at this time thoroughly roused 
by the temporal and spiritual innovations which they were 
compelled to witness. In Lincolnshire also the extensive 
suppressions of religious houses coming at this time, in 
conjunction with the constant reports of yet further destruc- 
tion and desecration of churches, and of the greater seizure 
of ecclesiastical property meditated by Henry, determined 
the people to have recourse to arms for the preservation of 
the rights of church and nation. 

The story of the rising may be best told in the words 
of those who were present, and which are preserved in the 
depositions of witnesses and the examination of prisoners 
after the close of the rebellion. "Sir William Moreland, 
priest, late monk of Louth-park," deposed l that he was a 
monk in the abbey up to the 8th of September, 1536, and 
that on "Holy Rood day (i4th September) next following" 
he had received his capacity, "and ever since then hath 
gone in secular habit, saving at such time as he was at 
Pomfret with Sir Robert Constable, when he did wear their 
white jacket and a scapulary." After leaving his monastery, 
he had lodged at the house "of one Thomas Wrightson of 
Kedington," a little village about a quarter of a mile from 
his old religious home, and had only been away twice, when 
he went to a house in Louth " to meet two or three of his 
late brethren." 

"About three weeks before Michaelmas," this exiled 
monk declares, " a great rumour was busily spoken (speci- 
ally after the commissary's visitation kept at Louth church, 
in Saint Peter's choir, by one Master Peter, then scribe 
to the commissary of Lincoln) that the chalices of parish 
churches should be taken away, and that there should be 
but one parish church within six or seven miles compass. 
Also, that every parson and vicar should be examined and 
tried by their learning whether they were able and sufficient 
of their learning to have and take upon themselves the cure 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. ^, pp. 91 to 129. 

The Rising in Lincolnshire 205 

of souls or not. Wherewith this deponent was right glad, 
and thought to himself that it might perchance be his fortune 
to succeed some of such unlettered parsons or vicars in 
some of their rooms. 

" And the Monday (2nd October) next after Michaelmas 
day, as this deponent remembereth, the said inquiry and 
visitation should have been kept at Louth aforesaid. And 
the same Sunday (ist October) when the insurrection 
first began at Louth, he rode forth by four o'clock in the 
morning on a bay gelding, which he borrowed of one Dane 
Thomas Lilborne, late subprior of Louth-park, and so rode 
on to Markby and Hagneby to deliver there certain ' capaci- 
ties ' to the number of ten, into divers of the brethren of the 
monasteries there also late suppressed. And the same after- 
noon about three o'clock he came home again to Kedington. 
And then he heard say that the vicar of Louth, called 
Kendall, had made a certain collation 1 that same Sunday 
unto his parishioners, in which, amongst other things, he 
advised them to go together and to look well on such things 
as should be inquired of on the next morrow at the visitation. 
And the same Sunday at evensong (as this deponent heard 
say, for he was not thereat), the parishioners ' commoning ' 
amongst themselves of the premises, the head men of the 
parish and the poor men all together, or the most part of 
them, at last fell at such diversity of sundry opinions amongst 
themselves that in conclusion, the poor men took the keys 
of the church from the rich men and churchwardens there, 
and said they would keep the keys themselves. And that 
night, he heard say, that the parishioners did put into the 
church to keep the same ten or twelve of their neighbours." 

On the Monday morning, Moreland, after having " said 
matins," hearing of the disturbance of the night before, went 
into Louth to make inquiries. "And then," he continues, 
"this deponent would have gone into the church to hear 
mass, but such of the parishioners as kept the church would 
not suffer him nor none other to enter into the same, but 
only such as they liked." Not being able to hear his mass, 
he retired " from the church unto the house of one William 
Hert, a butcher," where, amongst others, he met one of his 
old brethren of Louth-park, "Robert Hert." They, of 

1 i.e., sermon or address. 

206 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

course, discussed the events of the previous evening, " and 
as they sat together there at breakfast with puddings, 
suddenly the common bell was rung by such as were within 
the said church." 

At the sound of the alarm the people rushed towards 
the church, where its meaning was soon discovered, by the 
appearance of John Heneage, " the proctor," who riding into 
the town had been seized by the excited populace, who 
would have killed him. Some of the better disposed, how- 
ever, hurried him to the church, where they managed to get 
him into the choir, " and to lock the door between him and 
the commons." He was, however, forced to take the oath to 
be true to God and the people. Nicholas Melton, "whom 
afterwards they named captain Cobler," was the chief leader 
of the people at this time. 

This excitement had somewhat subsided when, as the 
people were turning home, "suddenly, at the coming into 
the town of one master John Franke, the registrar of the 
bishop of Lincoln, the common bell was rung again, and 
then all the commons in like manner with weapons, as 
they did before, ran again unto the house of one William 
Goldsmith, where the said registrar was alighted, and there 
they took all his books from him. And one John Taylor, of 
Louth, ' webstar,' brought out of the said house a great 
brand of fire, and by the commoners the said books were 
conveyed to the market-place." 

The witness declares that he did his best to prevent this 
destruction of the registers, but could not. "And then 
they by force carried this deponent under the high cross 
there, and said that he, with others to the number of six, 
being there of the same opinion should look in the books 
to know what was in them." He commenced to read the 
king's commission in order to declare its meaning to the 
people, when the others, frightened by the noises of the 
mob, " ' flang ' all the books down unto them beneath the 
cross, and then every man that was beneath got a piece of 
them and hurled them into the fire." 

Whilst this scene was being enacted at the market-cross, 
some of the crowd went and brought the registrar to the 
square, "and caused him, by a ladder, to climb up to the 
altitude of a half-part of the cross. And when he came up, 
-he said unto this deponent, ' For the passion of Christ, 

The Rising in Lincolnshire 207 

priest, if canst, save my life. And as for the books that be 
already burnt, I pass not of them ; ' so as a little book of his 
reckoning of such money as he had laid out might be saved, 
and also the king's commission, which to be saved this 
deponent promised as much as in him was." Meantime the 
mob clamoured for the registrar to come down from the 
cross and burn his own books, which he was forced to do. 
The monk of Louth-park tried to save the small book of 
accounts, but as he was carrying it off " they all drew about 
him, and demanded of him what book was that which he 
had in his hands." He told them that it was a book of 
reckonings. But they would not believe him, "and carried 
him with strength the breadth of the market-stead, unto a 
shop window of one Thomas Grantham, tailor, and then he 
read unto them some parts of the contents of the book." At 
length they permitted him to keep the volume, but as he was 
carrying it to the registrar he was surrounded again by three 
or four hundred people, who "took it out of his sleeve." 
He informed the king's officer of the loss, who, however, for 
his good service " paid for his dinner," and promised him 
" his letters of orders." In the afternoon the registrar was 
conveyed out of danger. 

"Whilst this deponent," he continues, "was thus at 
dinner with the said registrar, the commons of the said 
town went unto the monastery of Legbourn, a mile and a 
half from Louth, and from thence they fetched and brought 
to Louth with them one Millicent and John Bellow, servants 
unto my lord privy seal, and put them in great fear and 
jeopardy of their lives." In the evening they put these two 
men and another, George Parker, into prison. 

Thus passed the first day of the rising. Early on the 
morning of the following day, Tuesday, the common bell at 
Louth was again set ringing. The king's commissioners 
were reported to be at Caistor; and Melton, otherwise Captain 
Cobbler, harangued the mob and gave order, that at the 
" next ringing of the bell " all should set out for that neigh- 
bouring town. Four priests and four laymen were appointed 
to speak with the commissioners, and of these " Dane 
William Borowby alias Moreland," the chief informant, was 
one. They set out on foot till they came to Irford, a 
convent of Premonstratensian nuns, where they " b.orrowed 
for this deponent, of the prioress there, a white trotting 

208 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

gelding, ready bridled and saddled." On their way they 
were met by contingents from the neighbouring villages, 
and at Caistor hill they found about a thousand men, 
unarmed, waiting for them. Seeing the commissioners, 
Borowby, with some eighteen or twenty others, rode on to 
speak with them, " and with his cap in his hand desired them, 
in the name of the said company of commoners, to return and 
speak with them." This, most of them consented to do, 
and they were forced to take the oath to aid the commons. 
Lord Borough, however, who was with the gentry when they 
were overtaken by the people, set spurs to his horse and 
escaped. The rioters thought that his servant Nicholas had 
aided him in his flight, and angry at not having secured the 
master, they turned upon the servant. "And," continues 
the witness, " so great a number of them striking at him, as 
I never saw man escape such danger as he was in, having 
so many strokes and wounds as he had. And at last when 
he had fled evermore backward from them almost a quarter 
of a mile, saving himself always amongst the horsemen, he 
was stricken down by the footmen of Louth and Louth-Esk. 
And then, when he was stricken down they cried for a priest 
for him. And at last with much pain this deponent came 
unto him, and so at length he caused him to be conveyed 
unto the town and then confessed him, and sent two surgeons 
unto him from Louth." l 

On the same day, Tuesday, October 3rd, the country 
round about Horncastle rose with even greater unanimity 
than at Louth. Some of the townsmen discovered that Dr. 
Raynes, the chancellor of the bishop of Lincoln, was still at 
Killingbroke, and unable to move from sickness. Upon 
this information they came thither " with a great company 
to take the chancellor, and did ring the common bell. And 
then the commons did cry, ' Kill him ! ' and would have 
drawn him out of his bed " had they not been dissuaded 
by others from violence. 2 The people of Killingbroke 
promised, however, to come to a great muster on Ancaster 
heath near to Horncastle, and thither they brought with 
them Dr. Raynes, the chancellor of Lincoln, "being very 
sick." The following day the gentry of the county were 

1 The whole of the above narrative is taken from the depositions of 
Moreland, alias Borowby, the Louth-park monk. A. &, pp. 91-129. 

2 Ibid.. A. A, P- 3- 

The Rising in Lincolnshire 209 

present, with the sheriff, Mr. Dymmoke, at their head, who 
" gave divers of the rebels, being poor men, money for their 

As the chancellor rode into the field with his captors the 
passions of the mob were stirred, and there occurred one of 
the two acts of violence, which alone in this or the subsequent 
Yorkshire rising, disgraced the movement. 1 " At his coming 
into the field," declares one witness named Brian Staines, 
" the rebels, whereof were many parsons and vicars, cried 
out with a loud voice, ' Kill him, kill him.' And upon 
that one William Hutchinson, of Horncastle, and William 
Balderstone, by the procurement of the said parsons and 
vicars, pulled him violently off his horse, kneeling upon his 
knees, and with their staves they slew him. And being 
dead, this deponent saith the priests continually crying 
' Kill him, kill him,' he also struck the said chancellor upon 
the arm with a staff." 2 

As the body of the murdered chancellor lay upon the 
ground in the midst of the mob, " his apparel was divided 
amongst them, and his purse brought to the sheriff, who 
afterwards distributed the money that was in the same to 
the poor men that were amongst the rebels." And the 

1 Canon Dixon (vol. i. p. 457, note) rightly says : " It (the ' Great Insurrec- 
tion ') was throughout more of a demonstration than a civil war, and with the 
exception of the murder of the chancellor and of a serving-man, the behaviour 
of the so-called rebels was wonderfully temperate and orderly. On the other 
hand, the bloody perfidy of the strangely chosen hero of Mr. Froude comes 
out more conspicuously in his excited narrative than in any of the histories." 

2 Chapter House Bk. , A. fe, pp. 24-25. The deposition of this witness, 
Brian Staines, is the authority for supposing that the priests were the chief 
instigators of this crime. Mr. Froude accepts the statement without question, 
and exclaims: "These, we presume, were Pole's seven thousand children 
of light who hid not bowed the knee to Baal the noble army of saints 
who were to flock to Charles' banners." Canon Dixon (vol. i. p. 457) has 
followed his guidance, and stated that the chancellor "was killed at the 
instigation of the clergy." The authority of the witness is, however, not alto- 
gether beyond suspicion. To judge from the depositions in this matter, those 
implicated were generally ready to excuse themselves by casting the blame on 
others. In fact, Staines himself was accused of perpetrating the deed ; and 
this seems to have been considered the true version. For in the notes which 
were intended to sum up the evidence, the following is entered : ' ' Brian 
Staines was he which killed the chancellor" (Ibid,, A. #g, p. 3). There is no 
reason to suppose, as would be natural from Mr. Froude's and Canon Dixon's 
narratives, that Dr. Mackarel, the abbot of Barlings, and "all his fraternity" 
were present at the murder of the chancellor ; in fact, it appears that the 
abbot was not with them till some days afterwards (Ibid., A. fo P- '3) an ^ 
knew nothing of the insurrection till the day after the murder. 


210 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

priests and vicars then advised them strongly to proceed on 
their journey, saying " they should lack neither gold nor 
silver." Banners were made and carried at the head of the 
detachments. A tenant of the abbot of Barlings "tied a 
white towel on the top of a banner and pinned a picture of 
the Trinity painted in parchment on the same towel, and 
caused his son to bear it." 1 And another, called Dymmoke's 
banner, was thus described by the man who carried it. 
" Item, the said Trotter saith the meaning of the plough 
borne in the banner was to encourage the husbandmen. 
The meaning of the chalice and the host was borne in 
remembrance that chalices, cross and jewels of the church 
would be taken away. The meaning of the five wounds 
was to 'couraging' of the people to fight in Christ's cause. 
The meaning of the horn was borne in taking of horn 
cattle." 2 

Before, however, the assembly broke up at Horncastle 
they devised certain articles of grievance which were to be 
forwarded to the king. They were drawn up by the gentry, 
including the sheriff Dymmoke and his brother, who held 
their discussion a mile or so from the body of the people, 
and were written out by one of their number " on the field 
upon his saddle-bow." When they were finished, Dymmoke 
and the rest rode up to the mob, and in a loud voice pro- 
claimed the articles, saying: "Masters, ye see that in all the 
time we have been absent from you we have not been idle. 
How like you these articles ? If they please you, say yea. 
If not, ye shall have them mended." And then the commons 
held up their hands, with a loud voice, saying : " We like 
them very well." 3 

The demands thus made to the king were six in number. 
They complained, (i) of the dissolution of the religious 
houses and of the consequent destitution of " the poorealty 
of the realm ; " (2) of the restraints imposed on the dis- 
tribution of property by " the statute of uses ; " (3) of 
the grant to the king of the tenths and first-fruits of 
spiritual benefices; (4) of the payment of the subsidy de- 
manded of them; (5) of the introduction into the king's 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. -fo, p. 7. 

2 Ibid., p. 37. It was reported that the king was going to levy a tax on 
all cattle. 

3 Ibid., A. A, P- 31- 

The Rising in Lincolnshire 2 1 1 

council of Crumwell, Rich, and other " such personages as 
be of low birth and small reputation ; " and (6) of the pro- 
motion of the archbishops of Canterbury and Dublin, and 
the bishops of Rochester, St. David's, and others, who, in 
their opinion, had clearly " subverted the faith of Christ." J 
These articles were dispatched at once to the king at 
Windsor, and Heneage, the royal commissioner, was allowed 
to accompany 2 the messenger. 

At Lincoln itself there had been a rising of the people 
also. The town was occupied by armed insurgents, and 
bishop Longland's palace had been broken into and sacked, 
the people doing there " as much hurt as they could." 

For the first week the course of the insurgents was 
unchecked. They armed themselves as best they might, 
and did not hesitate to seize upon weapons and armour 
wherever they could be found. 3 They set beacons blazing 
and alarm-bells ringing throughout the county, but the 
movement lacked a leader of ability, and it collapsed almost 
as suddenly as it had come into existence. 

The messengers from the meeting at Horncastle were 
detained by the king for a short time, while preparations 
were hurried on to collect forces and forward munitions of 
war to the north. In a week from the first commencement 
of the movement Sir John Russell, with the advance guard, 
was at Stamford, and the duke of Suffolk, to whom the 
supreme command had been given, was coming up in his 

On Wednesday, October nth, just ten days after the 
outbreak, the king's herald arrived in Lincoln with the royal 
answer to the articles. It was couched in angry and 
vigorous language. " Concerning choosing of counsellors," 
the king wrote, " I never have read, heard nor known, that 

1 Canon Dixon, vol. i. p. 457, on the authority of Speed's account of the 
Lincolnshire articles, says that the insurgents acknowledged the king " to be 
by inheritance the supreme head of the Church of England." There is no 
indication of this as far as can be known. In the original depositions rather 
the opposite would appear, both in their case and that of the "Pilgrims of 
Grace," who subsequently adopted the same articles. 

2 "Perhaps to save him from being murdered by the priests ! !" is Mr. 
Froude's remark on this permission accorded to Heneage. 

'' An interesting example of this may be given. "Philip Trotter, of 
Horncastle, is accused by Edward Dymmoke, saying he took the coat armour 
of Sir Lyon Dymmoke out of Horncastle church, where he was buried, and 
wore it upon his back." Ibid., A. ,\, p. 13. 

2 1 2 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

princes' counsellors and prelates should be appointed by 
rude and ignorant common people; nor that they were 
persons meet or of ability to discern and choose meet and 
sufficient counsellors for a prince. How presumptuous then 
are ye, the rude commons of one shire, and that one of the 
most brute and beastly of the whole realm, and of least 
experience, to find fault with your prince for the electing 
of his counsellors and prelates, and to take upon you, 
contrary to God's law and man's law, to rule your prince 
whom ye are bound to obey and serve with both your lives, 
lands, and goods, and for no worldly cause to withstand. 

"As to the suppression of houses and monasteries," 
they were granted to us by the parliament, "and not set 
forth by any counsellor or counsellors upon their mere will 
and fantasy, as you, full falsely, would persuade our realm 
to believe. And where ye alledge that the service of God 
is much thereby diminished, the truth thereof is contrary ; for 
there are no houses suppressed where God was well served, 
but where most vice, mischief, and abomination of living 
was used : and that doth well appear by their own confes- 
sions, subscribed with their own hands, in the time of our 
visitations. And yet were suffered a great many of them, 
more than we by the act needed, to stand ; wherein if they 
amend not their living, we fear we have more to answer for 
than for the suppression of all the rest. And as for their 
hospitality, for the relief of poor people, we wonder ye be 
not ashamed to affirm that they have been a great relief to 
our people, when a great many, or the most part, hath not 
past four or five religious persons in them and divers but 
one, which spent the substance of the goods of their house 
in nourishing vice and abominable living. Now, what un- 
kindness and unnaturality may we impute to you and all our 
subjects that be of that mind that had rather such an un- 
thrifty sort of vicious persons should enjoy such possessions, 
profits and emoluments as grow of the said houses to the main- 
tenance of their unthrifty life, than we, your natural prince, 
sovereign lord and king, who doth and hath spent more 
in your defences of his own than six times they be worth." 

The king's proclamation dismisses the " act of uses " as 
a subject which they cannot comprehend, and coming to 
speak of their demand to be relieved of the subsidy imposed 
upon them, he upbraids them for "so unkindly and un- 

The Rising in Lincolnshire 213 

truly " dealing with him, who has done so much for them 
"without any cause or occasion." 

Lastly, as to the "first-fruits" Henry declared that the 
people ought to be glad for him to have them, to enable 
him to bear " the great and excessive charges for the main- 
tenance " of the commonwealth. " Wherefore," he concludes, 
"we charge you, eftsoon, upon the aforesaid bonds and 
pains, that ye withdraw yourselves to your own houses, 
every man; and no more to assemble, contrary to the laws 
and your allegiances ; and to cause the provokers of you to 
this mischief to be delivered to our lieutenant's hands or 
ours, and you yourselves to submit to such condign punish- 
ment as we and our nobles shall think you worthy." l 

On Thursday, October 12, the people were ordered to 
be at the Castle-garth, in Lincoln, to hear the king's answer 
to their petition. Difficulties had by this time arisen 
between the gentlemen and the common people. They 
mutually distrusted each other, and at the reading of the 
royal letter the dissensions became apparent. "We the 
gentlemen," says one of them, when the letters came, 
" thought to read them secretly among ourselves, but as we 
were reading them the commons present cried that they 
would hear them read or else pull them from us. And, there- 
fore, I read the letters openly; and because there was a 
little clause there, which we feared would stir the commons, 
I did leave that clause unread, which was perceived by a 
canon there, and he said openly the letter was falsely read, 
by reason whereof I was like to be slain. " 2 

From that hour agreement was impossible, and on the 
following morning, Friday, October 13, the Lincolnshire 
resistance to Henry's measures was at an end. The gentry 
went forward to Stamford to meet the duke of Suffolk, and 
in their company he, with Russell and Richard Crumwell, 
rode through Lincoln, the streets of which were crowded 
with a sullen and disheartened populace. On that same 
day, Friday, October 13, the royal proclamation was read at 
the cross in the market-place at Louth, and by Sunday, 
Henry had received at Windsor the news of the complete 
collapse of what threatened to be a formidable popular 
protest against his policy and government. 

1 State Papers, i. p. 463. 
2 "Confession of Thomas Mayne," quoted by Froude, iii. p. 117. 

214 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

The king saw at once how prejudicial to his position 
abroad was this overt expression of popular dissatisfaction 
with his domestic policy. He did not even wait for the 
news of the suppression of the rising, but on October I3th, 
even before Suffolk had entered Lincoln, he had written to 
his ambassadors at the court of France, bishop Gardiner 
and Sir John Wallop, to counteract any evil which might 
arise from the news of the rebellion. "You shall under- 
stand," he says, "that, by the blowing abroad of certain 
false tales that is to say, that we should intend to take all 
the ornaments, plate, and jewels of all the parish churches 
within our realm into our hands and convert the same 
totally to our own use ; and that we should also therewith 
intend to tax all our commons, as the like thereof was never 
heard of in any Christian religion, when we assure you 
there was never word spoken, or thing thought, by us or 
any of our council touching such matters; which certain 
traitors (whereof two be already executed, and we have 
more of the authors ready to suffer like punishment) devised 
and invented, being they otherwise in the danger of our 
laws, and thinking, in this tombeling to fly and escape 
certain of our subjects, with a number of boys and beggars, 
assembled themselves together in our county of Lincoln. 
And for as much as the matter of this insurrection may be 
there noted a greater thing than it is and so spoken to our 
dishonour, we thought meet to advertise you, as of the cause 
and the state of the thing we have done already." He 
concludes by saying that Suffolk, " who is now there, with 
a great force," will, without doubt, "give the traitors the 
reward of their traitorous attempt very shortly." And he 
adds that in six days he has " levied and conveyed " to 
Ampthill "an army of" 80,000 tried men, which he hopes 
his ambassadors "may declare it" to the king of France, 
" and to all others whatsoever shall be bruited of the same, 
and that we can at all times return every man home again 
to his house or dwelling-place, in as short space, without 
tumult or any manner of inconvenience." l 

1 Tierney, Dodo's Church Hist, of England, vol. i. App. xlii., "from the 
original, in my possession." No such army as the king speaks of was in 
existence. Eleven days later the privy council ask the duke of Norfolk's 
advice whether it was "expedient that his grace should levy an army." 
(Hardwicke State Papers, i. p. 26.) 

The Rising in Lincolnshire 2 1 5 

Upon the submission of the men of Lincolnshire, Henry 
issued another proclamation giving them his pardon and 
extolling his own generosity in so doing. They were 
ordered to "leave all their harness and all other weapons 
in the market-place of our city of Lincoln," and to depart 
peacefully to their homes. "And if," the document con- 
cludes, " you will not take this most gracious and merciful 
clemency at this present time, but continue one whole day 
longer after the receipt hereof, we shall execute all extremity 
against you, your wives and children without mercy; to the 
most terrible and fearful example of all others, whilst the 
world shall endure hereafter." 1 

It is well to enter more in detail into the part taken by 
the monks in the insurrection. They must doubtless have 
given their best wishes to a movement which was initiated 
in their defence, but beyond this and the fact that they had 
given food, and perhaps money, to the mob, and that some 
few were violently compelled to go with it, there is nothing 
that can be construed into a proof of complicity. The first 
with whose name the Lincolnshire rising is especially 
associated is Dr. Mackarel, abbot of Barlings. 2 He and his 
brethren, who were of the Premonstratensian order, are 
accused not only of taking an active part in fomenting the 
disturbance, but the abbot is made by Mr. Froude and those 
who follow him the head of the rising. 

In his own examination, taken in the Tower of London 
on January I2th, 1537, abbot Mackarel declares that: 
"By command of Mr. Dymmocke, the sheriff, he brought 
a cartload of victuals to the rebels. And at his coming 
amongst them, for fear of his life and for safeguard of his 
house, and to the intent they should not spoil his said 
household, he said to the sheriff these words, or like in 
effect following : ' Mr. Sheriff, I beseech you to be good 
master unto me and save my house from spoiling, and I 
will help you with such victual and goods as I have." 
Further, after declaring that he knew nothing about the 
insurrection till the Wednesday (October 4th), and ex- 

1 State Papers, i. p. 468. 

2 He was titular bishop of Chalcedon and suffragan of Lincoln. As 
chosen agent of so prudent and experienced a prelate as Longland in the 
administration of his diocese, it is to be presumed he was not naturally of the 
temper of a brawler, or disposed to rush to the head of a rabble. 

2 1 6 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

plaining what he considered to be the causes which led 
to the rising, he asserts that the sheriff Willoughby, " with 
great bragging and menacing words commanded him to 
bring victuals," and denies utterly that " he did at any time 
persuade the people by sermon or oration or any kind of 

"Item," the record runs, "he saith that upon Friday 
after the commencement of the insurrection (October 6th), 
when he had sure knowledge that the rebels would come 
into his monastery and at that time there were in his 
house a hundred of the same rebels he then weeping 
declared to his brethren and some of his servants these 
words, or like in effect following : ' Brethren and servants, 
I perceive that these rebels will have both you and me with 
them, and what shall become of us God knoweth ; but this 
ye shall understand, that their cause is nought, and surely 
God and man must of justice take vengeance on them.' 

" Item he saith, that he would have fled at the beginning 
of the insurrection, saving he feared the burning of his 
house and the utter destruction of the same and spoiling 
of all his goods." 

"Be it remembered," continues the document, "that 
a canon of the abbot of Barlings, now prisoner in the 
Tower of London, being examined what words the said 
abbot had to his canons, servants and the rebels, at their 
being in his house as is aforesaid, declared that the abbot, 
being by them required to send his canons to the rest of 
their company, answered, it was against the laws of God 
and man that any religious person should go to battle and 
specially against their prince. And said further, that the 
said abbot was so sorrowful that he could not, in a great 
while after their departure from his house, say any part 
of his divine service for weeping." l 

In a subsequent examination on March 23rd, 1537, 
before Legh, Layton and Ap Rice, abbot Mackarel made 
certain admissions about the way in which he viewed the 
work of suppression. He says that when they were 
prisoners in Lincoln gaol the cellarer was admitted to bail 
by Sir William Parr in order that he might collect the 
rents due to the abbey, and of these Sir William got 20. 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. ^, pp. 11-13. 

The Rising in Lincolnshire 217 

He also confessed that " he was in much fear of deprivation 
(at the) time of the king's late visitation. And the visitor 
Mr. Bedyll came so suddenly on him that he had no leisure 
or deliberation to tell the money which he delivered in a 
purse to ' one Thomas Osegarby.' Also he says," continues 
the record, " that when Freeman and Wiseman, the king's 
surveyors, were suppressing the lesser abbeys in Lincoln- 
shire, the report was common, that they should return to 
resolve the greater, and he then gathered his brethren 
together and said to them thus : ' Brethren, ye hear how 
other religious men be treated and how they have but forty 
shillings given to each of them and so let go ; but they that 
have played the wise men among them have provided 
beforehand for themselves and sold away divers things, 
wherewith they may help themselves hereafter. And ye 
hear also this rumour that goeth abroad as well as I, 
namely, how that the greater abbeys should go down also. 
Wherefore by your advice, this shall be my counsel, that 
we do take such plate as we have and certain of the best 
vestments and set them aside and sell them if need be, and 
divide the money coming thereof among us, when the house 
is first suppressed. And I promise you, on my faith and 
conscience, ye shall have your part thereof and of every 
penny that I have during my life. And thereupon the said 
brethren agreed thereto.' " Upon this, concludes the abbot, 
" I sent plate worth ;ioo and some of the best vestments to 
one 'Thomas Bruer.'" 1 

The only real witness against the abbot of Barlings was 
one Bernard Fletcher. He deposed " that the rebels being 
within a flight shot of the said abbot's pastures, the same 
abbot brought them 80 wethers, 6 oxen, and a wain laden 
with bread and drink." Further on in his examination he 
declared that when the abbot " brought his said victual to 
the rebels, he there openly declared unto them these words, 
or like in effect following : ' Masters, I have brought you 
here certain victuals. Go forward and stick to this matter. 
I have a lordship at Sweton, and I will prepare for you as 
much more victual and bring the same to you to Ancaster 

But " be it remembered," runs the record, " that after 

1 Brit. Mus. Cleop., E. iv. f. 245. 

2 1 8 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

the examination of this deponent named Bernard Fletcher, 
the same deponent and the abbot of Barlings were brought 
face to face. And there the abbot denied utterly that he 
brought any sheep to the rebels, and further said that there 
came no sheep in his company. Whereupon this deponent 
being asked the question whether he did or no, saith that 
he cannot perfectly tell whether the 80 sheep expressed in 
his examination were the same abbot's or no, or to whom 
they did belong or appertain." 

" The same abbot also denieth that he said to the said 
rebels at his repair to them : ' Go forward and stick to this 
matter, etc.' . . . But saith that, being amazed and fearing 
lest they would have killed him, forasmuch as a great many 
of them were his mortal enemies, said unto them : ' Masters 
I have according to your commandment brought you victuals, 
beseeching you to be good unto me and preserve my house 
from spoil. And if ye will let me have a passport, I will 
go to a lordship of mine called Sweton, where against your 
coming to Ancaster heath I will prepare for you as much 
more victual.' And the same abbot being asked why he 
spake these words, said he intended if he might have had 
his passport to have stolen from them clean and gone his 
way, for without he should use such policy it was not 
possible." 1 

The depositions of Thomas Bradley, subprior of Barlings, 
and other canons of the house agree with their abbot's in 
the main facts. Compelled by the insurgents, six of the 
brethren appear to have borne arms for some days and gone 
along with the host. From the evidence, it certainly does 
not appear that the abbot and all his canons " rode at the 
head of the host in full armour," or that he and one of his 
brethren were justly executed for having " been concerned 
in the murder of the chancellor." 2 

As to Bardney and Kirksted, the evidence of complicity 
is even more meagre. Seven monks of the first monastery 
were examined in November, and confessed that four or 
five of their number went for a short time with the rebels, 
" by command of William Wright." 8 Some other witnesses 
confessed having seen them in the ranks, and one "heard 
say that the said traitors " had help from the abbey. 4 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. ^, pp. 19-22. 2 Froude, iii. p. 212. 

* Calendar, xi. No. 828. * Chapter House Bk., A. ^, p. 116. 

The Rising in Lincolnshire 219 

The Kirksted monks acknowledged their part in the 
rising when questioned. Under threats that, " if they came 
not forth to the host, (they) should be (burnt in) their own 
house "... about four o'clock in the evening, the abbot, 
cellarer, bursar and all the monks able to go, 17 in all, went 
to the outer gate, where they met a servant of the abbey, 
who told them they could wait till the next day. At eleven 
o'clock the following morning all except the abbot departed, 
"the cellarer and bursar horsed and with battle-axes, the 
rest unhorsed." Two days before, a band of sixty of the 
insurgents had carried away all the servants of the abbey to 
the muster. The abbot, "as being sick," was excused, but 
he gave the bursar 2os. and a horse laden with victual. The 
day upon which the monks arrived at the head-quarters of 
the insurgents two of them returned home sick, four went 
the following day (Friday), and four more on Saturday; 
the rest remained "till Tuesday morning." As for the 
abbot, he " was glad of their return, and thanked God there 
was no business." l 

The punishment meted out to the insurgents was terrible. 
About a hundred are said to have been carried away to 
London, and lodged in the Tower. The following year 
they were tried by Sir William Parr and a special com- 
mission sitting at Lincoln on Tuesday in the third week 
of Lent, March 6th. The jury was apparently in their 
favour. Thomas Moigne, a gentleman of the county and 
one of the accused, spoke skilfully for a long time in their 
behalf, and "but for the diligence of the king's serjeant" 
they would have been acquitted. As it was, they were con- 
demned, although sixty-three were immediately respited. 
The other three-and-thirty, including the abbot of Kirksted 
and three of his monks, six monks of Bardney, four canons 
of Barlings, and seven secular priests, were ordered for 
immediate execution. Towards the end of March the abbot 
of Barlings, William Moreland, monk of Louth-park, Thomas 
Kendal, vicar of Louth, with two other priests and twelve 
laymen, were tried in London before chancellor Audeley, 
found guilty, and condemned to death. 

1 Calendar, xi. No. 828. 


The Pilgrimage of Grace 

THE sudden termination of the Lincolnshire rising did not 
by any means relieve Henry from his domestic difficulties. 
Popular protests against his policy and active interference 
with his agents in carrying out his orders were not confined 
to the fen district and its immediate neighbourhood. " Alarm- 
ing reports came in of the temper of the north-midland and 
eastern counties. The disposition of the people between 
Lincoln and London was said to be as bad as possible." A 
servant of Sir William Hussey reported, that "in every 
place by the way as his master and he came, he hath heard 
as well old people as young pray God speed the rebellious 
persons in Lincolnshire, and wish themselves with them, 
saying that if they came that way that they shall lack 
nothing that they can help them unto. And the said Hugh 
(the servant) being asked what persons they were which so 
reported," replied "a//." 1 Another witness declared that 
" he heard some say in the south parts (as he rode towards 
London, between Stamford and London) that the commons 
of those parts were in one mind with ' the northerners/ and 
wished they had come forward an end, for then they should 
have had more to take their parts." And also when in 
London, a shopman said to him: " Because you are a northern 
man you shall pay but sixpence for your shoes, for ye have 
done very well of late, and would to God you had come an 
end, for we were in the same mind that you were." 2 But 
the inquisitorial severity of the king and his advisers visited 
with the extremity of punishment even the slightest approval 
of the popular movement. The English terror had now 
fully set in. "The ninth of October," writes Stowe, "a 
priest and a butcher were hanged at Windsor, by martial 

1 Sir W. Fitzwilliam to Crumwell, quoted by Froude, iii. p. 1 12. 
2 Chapter House Bk., A. ,V. P- 66 

The Pilgrimage of Grace 221 

law, for words spoken in the behalf of the Lincolnshire 
men. The butcher wished the good fellows (as he termed 
them) in Lincolnshire to have the flesh on his stall rather 
than to sell it at such a price as he was offered. The priest 
standing by likewise wished them to have it, for he said 
they had need of it. Also James Mallet, doctor of law, late 
chaplain to Queen Catherine, for like words was executed at 
Chelmsford." 1 

Simultaneously with the movement in Lincolnshire the 
king experienced opposition to his schemes of suppression 
in Cheshire, which but for the prompt action of Sir Piers 
Button, the sheriff, might have proved serious. The abbey 
of Norton, in that county, did not come strictly within the 
act for suppressing monasteries under 200 a year, its 
income having been returned at 258, us. 8d. Still, as 
early as August, 1536, it had by some means or other fallen 
into the king's power. On the third of that month Sir Piers 
informed Crumwell that he had "taken the bodies of the 
abbot of Norton, Robert Jamyns and the stranger, a cunning 
smith, two of the said abbot's servants, also Randal Brere- 
ton, 2 baron of the king's exchequer of Chester, and John 
Hall, of Chester, merchant, and have them in my custody 
and keeping." 3 Shortly after Anne Boleyn's disgrace, the 
bishop of Salisbury had interceded with Crumwell for " the 
poor abbot of Norton" and the religious of "that house, 
for the poor people " of that neighbourhood were much 
" refreshed there." 4 But by October the abbey was in the 
hands of the king's receiver, John Byrkhed, who in his 
Michaelmas account acknowledges that he has received nearly 
.350 from the rents and sales of the abbey moveables, and 
has already remitted about 100 to the king. The greater 
part of the rest had been given to Thomas Byrkhed, the then 
called abbot, to keep up the house till the final dissolution. 6 

1 Stowe, ed. 1615, p. 572. Hall places this circumstance in the Yorkshire 
rising. Wriothesley, however, gives the date "gih October." The nephew of 
the imperial ambassador (Calendar, xi. No. 714) refers to the fact, but calls 
the man "a shoemaker." 

2 Brereton is supposed to have been uncle to Sir William Brereton, who had 
been beheaded in May preceding for his alleged connection with Anne Boleyn. 
(Ormerod, Cheshire, i. p. 502, note.) 

3 Wright, p. 52. * Calendar, x. No. 942. 

5 Exch. Aug. Off. Mins. Accts., 27-28 Hen. VIII., 80, M. 3. It would 
hence appear that a relation of the receiver Byrkhed had been appointed to 
the office of abbot. Robert Hall was the last regular abbot (Monasticon, 

222 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

By this time Robert Hall, the true abbot, had been re- 
leased or had escaped from prison, and apparently arrived 
at his monastery as the royal commissioners were packing 
up the valuables previous to removing them. " Pleaseth 
your good lordship," writes Button to Crumwell on October 
I2th, "to be advertised that Mr. Combes and Mr. Balles, 
the king's commissioners within the county of Chester, were 
lately at Norton, within the county of Chester, for the 
suppressing of the abbey there. And when they had 
packed up such jewels and stuff as they had there, and 
thought upon the morrow after to depart thence, the abbot 
gathered a great company together, to the number of two or 
three hundred persons, so that the said commissioners were 
in fear of their lives, and were fain to take (to) a tower 
there, and thereupon send a letter to me ascertaining me 
what danger they were in, and desired me to come and 
assist them or else they were never like to come thence. 

" Which letter came to me about 9 o'clock in the night 
upon Sunday last (October 8th), and about two o'clock in 
the same night I came thither with such of my lovers and 
tenants as I had near about me, and found divers fires made 
as well within the gates as without. And the said abbot 
had caused an ox and other victuals to be killed and pre- 
pared for such of his company as he had then there. And 
it was thought on the morrow after he had comfort to have 
had a great number more. 

'' Notwithstanding, I used some policy, and came suddenly 
upon them, so that the company that were there fled. And 
some of them took to poles and the waters, and it was so 
dark that I could not find them. And it was thought if the 
matter had not been quickly handled it would have grown 
to further inconvenience, to what danger God knoweth. 

"Howbeit, I took the abbot and three of his canons, and 
brought them to the king's castle of Halton, and there 
committed them to ward to the constable, to be kept as the 
king's rebels upon pain of ,1000, and afterwards saw the 
same commissioners and their stuff conveyed thence, and 
William Parker, the king's servant, who is appointed to be 
the king's farmer there, restored to his possession." 1 

vi. p. 313). Thomas Byrkhed received a pension of 24 (Aug. Off. Mins. 
Bk. , 249, f. 22), while the real abbot was condemned to death, as will be seen. 
1 Ellis, Orig. Letters, 3rd Series, iii. p. 42. 

The Pilgrimage of Grace 223 

On receipt of this letter Henry sent to thank Sir Piers 
Button for his great service. In reply to the sheriffs implied 
question as to the punishment of the abbot and his three 
canons, the king wrote: "For answer whereunto ye shall 
understand that for as much as it appeareth that the said 
late abbot and canons have most traitorously used them- 
selves against us and our realm, our pleasure and command- 
ment is, that if this shall fully appear to you to be true, that 
then you shall immediately upon the sight hereof without 
any manner further delay cause them to be hanged as most 
arrant traitors in such sundry places as you shall think 
requisite, for the terrible example of all others hereafter. 
And herein fail ye not . . . Travail with such dexterity as 
this matter may be finished with all possible diligence." * 

The execution was not carried out immediately, because, 
as Button explains a month later (3Oth November), before 
there was time he learnt from the earl of Berby that the 
Pilgrimage of Grace was at an end, and concluded to wait 
till the king's "further pleasure were made known." He 
tells Crumwell that he writes for instructions, as his fellow 
commissioner, Sir William Brereton, refuses to follow this 
course, and he adds that he has "the said evildoers and 
offenders in straight endurance of imprisonment within his 
castle of Chester, there surely to be kept to abide his grace's 
pleasure." 2 The final fate of the abbot and his companions, 
like that of so many others at this time, remains uncertain, 
but no record appears of their pardon. 

The most formidable opposition which Henry experienced 
at this time was without doubt the popular movement known 
as the "Pilgrimage of Grace." In the numbers who joined 
the agitation, in the high position of their leaders, and in 
the extent of the disaffection, the king and his counsellors 
had reason for the utmost alarm, especially as they felt the 
southern population could not be relied upon to support a 
policy which they detested; and from over the seas were 
floating rumours of foreign combinations to aid the English 
people in their struggle for the rights of the church, their 
ancient faith, and their own temporal good. In five counties, 
from the borders of Scotland to the Lune and the Humber, 
the agitation remained for a short time unchecked. 

1 Ormerod, Cheshire, i. p. 502. 2 Ibid. 

224 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

As in Lincolnshire, so in the more northerly parts the 
effect of the late act of suppression had been patent to all. 
In Yorkshire, with the archdeaconry of Richmond and the 
bishopric of Durham, including the cells of larger monasteries, 
some forty-seven houses of men and twenty-three convents 
of women came within the pecuniary limit for dissolution, 
and a yearly income of 4384, 8s. 8d. had been transferred 
from the district to the king's purse. 1 By the feast of St. 
Michael of this year, 1536, Hugh Fuller, the royal receiver 
for the county of Yorkshire, reported that he had gathered 
in for the king's use from the half-yearly rents, the sales of 
goods and the estimated value of plate, bells and lead, above 
.4500. Five hundred and three ounces of gilt plate, 657 
ounces of parcel gilt, and 321 ounces of silver in all 1481 
ounces of plate, valued at 224, /s. 6d. had besides this 
sum been already forwarded to Henry's treasure-house, and 
133 fodders of lead, worth 440, with thirty-seven bells, 
valued at an average of 3 each, the spoils from the church 
roofs and belfries of the district, were stored up for subse- 
quent sale. 2 

That the people were stirred most deeply by these auctions 
of monastic effects and by the fear of even more extensive 
desecration of consecrated churches and seizure of ecclesi- 
astical property in the near future does not admit of doubt. 
The causes which led to the armed protest were fully and 
boldly declared by the leader of the movement, Robert Aske, 
when he wrote to the lords holding Pomfret Castle urging 
them to deliver up their charge and join the popular move- 
ment. "And in the same letter the said Aske rehearsed 

1 Vide list, Calendar, x. No. 1233 

* Exch. Aug. Off. Mins. Accts., 27-28 Hen. VIII., No. 178, mm. 5d. i8d. 
One or two instances of hardships in particular monasteries and convents of 
this district have been already referred to. We may here add a few more. 
One monastery, Warter, which supported a prior and twelve canons, with 
fifty dependents and boys, was sold with all its goods to the earl of Rutland 
for ;8oo (Ibid., 178, m. 5). At Nunbumholme, a small convent, there 
were twelve dependents and "many poor living there" (Ibid., m. 15). At 
Molstby, a convent of eight nuns, a certain Elizabeth Ward had received a 
corrody, and on August 4th, when the nuns were dismissed, in consideration 
of ^3, 6s. 8d. paid by the commissioners, she renounced all further right. She 
was " impotens et surda" and in consideration of her debility and poverty the 
commissioners gave the sum to a man of trust, who promised to keep the 
poor lady during her life {Ibid., m. 15). At Drax there were thirty-nine 
"dependents and boys," besides other poor people (Ibid., I4d.). At Ferriby 
thirty-four servants with boys and poor supported in the house (Ibid., m. 15). 

The Pilgrimage of Grace 225 

how the said commons were gnawn in the conscience with 
spreading of heretics, suppression of houses of religion and 
other matters touching the commonwealth." In his subse- 
quent interview he "declared to the said lords, as well 
spiritual as temporal, the griefs of the commons. And how 
first, that the lords spiritual had not done their duties in 
that they had not been plain with the king's highness for 
the speedy remedy and quenching of the said heretics and 
the preachers thereof and for the suffering of the same; 
and for the ornaments of the churches and abbeys suppressed 
and the violating of relics by the suppressors, with the 
irreverent demeanour of the doers thereof, with abuse of the 
visitors and their impositions taken extraordinary. . . . And 
to the lords temporal the said Aske declared they had misused 
themselves in that they likewise had . . . not declared to his 
said highness the poverty of his realm and that part specially; 
in so much as in the north parts much of the relief of the 
commons was by succour of the abbeys, and . . . now the 
profits of abbeys suppressed, tenths and first-fruits went out 
of those parts." By reason of this " within short space of 
years there should be no money nor treasure in those parts ; 
neither the tenant to have (money) to pay his rents to his 
lord, nor the lord to have money to do the king's service 
withal." 1 

At the close of his narrative to the king, Aske again 
insists upon the same points. " In all parts of the realm," 
he says, " men's hearts much grudged with the suppression 
of abbeys, and the first-fruits, by reason the same would be 
the destruction of the whole religion in England. And their 
especial great grudge is against the lord Crumwell, being 
reputed the destroyer of the commonwealth, as well amongst 
most part of the lords as all other the worshipful commons. 
And surely, if he continue in favour and presence with your 
grace it will danger the occasion of new commotions which 
will be very dangerous to your grace's person ; for as far as 
the said Aske can perceive, there is no earthly man so evil 
believed as the said lord Crumwell is with the commoners. . . . 
And also the said Aske saith that the most part of all the 
realm greatly impugneth against certain bishops of the new 
learning, reputing them and their folks as heretics and the 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. ^, p. 53. Aske's narrative to the king. 


226 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

great causes of this late commotion : and also against the 
lord chancellor for so general granting of injunctions and 
for playing of ' ambi-dexter ' in granting and dissolving of 
injunctions." 1 

But if the popular leader was bold in his declaration to 
the king, he is more explicit still as to the nature of the 
popular desires when examined in the Tower. Asked as to 
whether he considered that false reports " were not one of 
the greatest causes of the " insurrection, 2 he replies " that 
he thinks those bruits were one of the greatest causes, but 
the suppression of abbeys was the greatest cause of the 
said insurrection which the hearts of the commons most 
grudged at." And further he adds "that he thinks that 
only the suppression of the abbeys and 'dimission' of 
preachers had caused an insurrection though the said bruits 
had not been spoken of at all." * 

Another fragment of his examination goes more particu- 
larly into the reasons which actuated the people in this 
movement. "To the 23rd article," runs this record, "the 
said Aske saith : First, to the statute of suppressions, he 
did grudge against the same, and so did all the whole country, 
because the abbeys in the north parts gave great alms to 
poor men and laudably served God. In which parts of late 
days they had but small comfort by ghostly teaching ; and 
by occasion of the said suppression the divine service of 
Almighty God is much diminished, great number of masses 
unsaid, and the blessed consecration of the Sacrament now 
not used and showed in those places, to the distress of the 
faith and spiritual comfort to man's soul. The temple of 
God (is now) razed and pulled down, the ornaments and 
relics of the church of God unreverently used ; the tombs 
and sepulchres of honourable and noble men pulled down 
and sold. No hospitality (is) now, in those places, kept, 
but the farmers for the most part let and tavern 4 out the 
farms of the same houses to other farmers for lucre and 
advantage to themselves. And the profits of these abbeys 
yearly go out of the country to the king's highness, so that 
in short space little money, by occasion of the said yearly 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. &, p. 64. 

8 Ibid., p. 87. " Interrogatories" signed by "T. Crumwell." 

* Ibid., A. A, PP- 198-199. 4 " Underlet." 

The Pilgrimage of Grace 227 

rents, tenths and first-fruits, should be left in the said country, 
in consideration of the absence of the king's highness in 
those parts, want of his laws and the frequentation of mer- 

"Also divers and many of the said abbeys were in the 
mountains and desert places where the people are rude of 
condition and not well taught of the law of God. And when 
the said abbeys stood, the said people not only had worldly 
refreshing in their beds, but also spiritual refuge both by 
the ghostly living of them, and also by spiritual information 
and preaching. And many their tenants, whether feod 1 
servants to them or serving-men, (were) well succoured by 
abbeys. And now not only these tenants and servants want 
refreshing there both of meat, cloth, and wages, and know 
not now where to have any living, but also strangers and 
baggers of corn (who) betwixt Yorkshire, Lancashire, Kendal, 
and Westmoreland, and the bishoprick (were) greatly helped 
both horse and men by the said abbeys ; for never was in 
these parts denied either horsemeat or man's meat, so that 
the people were greatly refreshed by the said abbeys, where 
now they have no such succour. Wherefore the said statute 
of suppression was greatly to the decay of the common- 
wealth of that country; and all its parts of all degrees 
greatly grudged against the same, and yet doth, their duty 
of allegiance always saved. 

" Also the abbeys were one of the beauties of this realm 
to all men and strangers passing through the same. Also 
all gentlemen (were) much succoured in their needs, with 
many their young sons there assisted, and in nunneries their 
daughters brought up in virtue, and also their evidences (i.e., 
title-deeds) and money left to the use of infants in abbeys' 
hands always sure there. 2 And such abbeys as were near 
the danger of sea-banks, were great maintainers of sea-walls 

1 t.e., holding leases. 

2 As examples see the wills in Testamenta Eboracensia (Surtees Soc.)., 
vol. iii. pp. 203-205; vol. v. pp. 189-191, 222; in Archaeological Journal, 
vol. xxv. p. 72, see the provision of Sir John Stanley on his becoming a 
monk of Westminster, whereby his young son and heir is to be brought up 
until twelve years old by the abbess of Barking, and from that age until man- 
hood under the care and guardianship of the abbot of Westminster. When in 
1503 Margaret of Richmond, with the advice of Bishop Fisher, finally settled 
her Divinity lectureship at Cambridge, the abbey of Westminster was made 
trustee of the estates with which it was endowed, and charged with the pay- 
ment of the salaries. 

228 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

and dykes, maintainers and builders of bridges and highways 
(and) such other things for the commonwealth." l 

Aske then goes on to state his reasons for objecting 
to the statute by which the princess Mary was declared 
illegitimate. "Also it was thought," he concludes, "that 
the divorce made by the bishop of Canterbury, hearing that 
appeal, was not lawful. Yea! and then men doubted the 
authority of his consecration, having not his pall as his 
predecessor had." 

Passing on to speak of the statute of " first-fruits," Aske 
calls attention to the way in which houses still standing 
were hampered by the new legislation ; " it was thought 
good that the statute should be annulled because it would 
be the destruction of the state of religion, which was and is 
profitable for the commonwealth both in soul and body, as 
before rehearsed. For it may chance so that in some year, 
by death, deprivation or resignation the king's highness may 
be entitled thereunto two or three times, or more. And for 
the pain of the same, worshipful men and friends must be 
bound, and so they to be in danger and the house not able 
to pay the same. For now, in manner, what with the king's 
money granted by them and the tenths yearly by them paid, 
all or most part of their plate is gone and cattle also and 
their houses in debt. So that, either they must minish their 
household and hospitality and, enforced, keep fewer monks 
than their foundation; or else surrender their abbeys into 
the king's hands as forced (to do) for need, and the money 
thereof always coming out of that country to the great 
detriment of the commonwealth there. Whereby all the 
riches and treasures of religion was and is esteemed the 
king's treasure, as ready at his commandment. Also because 
they had plenty of riches they adorned the temple of God 
and always succoured their neighbour in their need with 
part of the same their money for the most part current 
amongst their people. 2 

When questioned about the statutes of the "royal 
supremacy" Aske replied, "that then all men much mur- 
mured at the same and said it could not stand with God's 
law. And divers reasons thereof (were) made, whereof he 
delivered one to the archbishop of York in Latin, containing 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. ^, pp. 209-210. 2 Ibid., p. 211. 

The Pilgrimage of Grace 229 

a whole sheet of paper or more. . . . But the great bruit 
in all men's mouths then was, that never king of England 
since the faith came within the same realm claimed any such 
authority. And it would be found to be an increase of a 
division from the unity of the Catholic Church, if men might 
without fear, and by the king's favour declare their learning 
without his grace's displeasure." 

With regard to the " statute of words that be treason," 
he declared that except in relation to the supremacy question 
"he heard few men grudge thereat." But on that matter 
" every man is fearful to show his learning or to labour for 
the same intent to show their learning, because there is a 
temporal law whereby they should incur the danger, or else 
the displeasure of their prince. And if the cause touch the 
health of man's soul, then it were a gracious deed that the 
king's highness would annul that statute and that learned 
men in divinity might show their learning either in convoca- 
tion or preaching." l 

Examined as to the popular opinion about the bishops 
and the griefs of the commons on that score, Aske said that 
they declared them to be heretics, "because they were so 
noted in the petitions of Lincolnshire and because they were 
reputed to be of the new learning and (holding) many tenets 
of Luther and Tyndal. And to the bishop of Worcester 
(Latimer), because it was said, either he was before abjured 
or else should have borne a faggot for his preaching. And 
that the archbishop of Canterbury was the first that ever 
was archbishop of that see that had not his pall from a 
spiritual man or from the see of Rome. And because he 
took upon him to make the divorce betwixt the king's high- 
ness and the lady Catherine dowager, where it was appealed 
to the Church, and for other his opinions, which the said 
Aske much noted, not because they were so openly bruited 
with all men. And as to the other two bishops, 2 surely they 
be marvellously evil spoken of, to be maintainers of the new 
learning and preachers of the same; and that because of 
their information religion was not favoured and the statute 
of suppression taken place, for they preached as it was said 
against the benefit of habits in religion and such like, and 
against the common orders and rules before used in the 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. &, p. 215. 

2 Hilsey of Rochester and Allen of Dublin. 

230 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

universal Church. This was the common voice of all 
men." . . . And also "because they varied from the old 
usages and sermons of the Church, and because they preached 
contrary to the same, therefore they were bruited so to be 
schismatics." l 

As Aske the leader thought, so thought the rest who 
followed him. Lord Darcy, speaking to him of the supre- 
macy question, assured him "he had in the parliament 
chamber declared before the lords his whole mind touching 
any matter there to be argued touching their faith." 2 At 
another time the same lord in regard to the preaching of the 
new bishops said "that he would be no heretic." 3 Others 
deposed that they demanded the deprivation of the bishops 
" because they were supposed to be occasion of the breach 
of the unity of the Church." 

Thus in the " Pilgrimage of Grace " the causes of Ihe 
armed resistance to the royal policy appear to have been 
chiefly ecclesiastical. The suppression of the abbeys was 
felt to be a blow to religion in those parts no less than a 
hardship to the poor, and a detriment to the country at 
large. The royal supremacy was looked upon as founded 
only on Henry's whim and as a pretension without precedent 
in history, while the renunciation of papal authority was 
held to be subversive of the principle of unity in the Christian 
Church, and the first step towards diversity of doctrine and 

The story of the actual rising is well known. The 
sketch that it is needful to give here may be best taken 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. &, pp. 227-228. 

2 Ibid., p. 233. Lord Darcy's account of the method followed in parlia- 
ment is of interest. " Before this last parliament," he said, "it was accustomed 
amongst the lords, the first matter they always discussed after the mass of the 
Holy Ghost ... to affirm and allow the first clause of Magna Charta touch- 
ing the rights and liberties of the Church, and it was not now so." Also, " that 
in any matter which touched the prerogative of the king's crown or any matter 
that touched the prejudice of the same, the custom of the lords' house was 
they should have upon their request a copy of the bill of the same," to examine 
it and get counsel about it. But "that they could now have no such copy 
upon their suit, or at the least so readily as they were wont to have in parlia- 
ment before. And to his remembrance he thought default in those of the 
chancery, in their use of their office amongst the lords, and in the hasty reading 
of the bills and request of the speed of the same. " The statute which gave 
the king generally all monasteries under ,200 both Aske and lord Darcy 
considered " little better than void," as the particular houses were not stated. 

* Ibid., 241. 

The Pilgrimage of Grace 231 

chiefly from the account given of it by Robert Aske himself. 
At the beginning of October in the year 1536, Robert with 
his two brothers, John and Christopher, met at the house of 
their brother-in-law, William Ellerkar, for a hunting party. 
On the father's side the Askes were Yorkshire gentry of 
good descent. Their mother was a Clifford, daughter of 
John lord Clifford, the stout Lancastrian who was killed 
on Towton field; and aunt of the first Clifford, earl of 
Cumberland. John, the eldest of the three brothers, had 
the family estate of Aughton ; Christopher possessed a 
property at Marshland, and Robert himself, with a manor in 
Yorkshire, was a barrister in good practice at Westminster. 
The latter was on his way back to London, when, crossing 
over the H umber in the Barton ferry, he learnt from the 
boatman for the first time " that the commons on the Lincoln- 
shire side were up." 

On landing at Barton, on the Lincolnshire side of the 
river, he proceeded to the house of a brother-in-law at 
SawclifFe. When two miles on his road he was met by a 
band of mounted insurgents, who forced him to take the 
oath to be true to the commons, and then conducted him to 
his destination. A few nights after, he and his three nephews 
were taken out of their beds by the people, but the three 
youths were allowed to go over to Yorkshire, " because two 
of them were heirs apparent." Robert Aske himself was 
forced to become the leader of the insurgents in this part, 
who were in number some 4000. He appears to have 
accepted the position thus forced upon him and for some 
days endeavoured to organise the movement. 

Leaving the southern side of the Humber after a short 
time, he crossed back into Yorkshire, where the rumour that 
he had been a leader in Lincolnshire had already preceded 
him. Almost immediately he prepared to return, but before 
he could do so he learnt the complete failure of the popu- 
lar movement, and was obliged to fly. That night (October 
1 3th), as he crossed the Trent, he saw the beacons blaze 
out over the waters and heard the clash of the alarm-bells 
calling upon the northern counties to rise in defence of their 
rights. The people of the north country had adopted the 
demands of the commons of Lincolnshire, and as the 
spark was stamped out in the fen districts, the flame 
burst forth again in all the country from the Humber to 

232 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

the Scotch marches and from the Irish sea to the German 

Aske turned back, and passing once more over the Ouse 
into Howdenshire, found all the country far and wide astir. 
In places the " cross of the church " was with the villagers 
as their standard, and everywhere they "enforced gentlemen 
and heirs apparent to come unto them." l 

To most the " Pilgrimage of Grace " was undoubtedly 
a rising in defence of religion and Catholic practice, and the 
actors bound themselves by an oath to fight " for the pre- 
servation of Christ's church, of the realm, and of the king." 
Aske at once fell into his place as leader, and with 9000 men 
or more he marched on York. In a letter to the mayor he 
urged him to give free access to the host, and as, the city 
was fortified "neither with artillery nor gunpowder," this 
was conceded. The chiefs published an address in which 
the causes of the " assembly or pilgrimage " are stated, and 
an invitation is given to all to join in the work. 2 In the 
two days that the insurgents then remained at York, Aske 
"took order for religious houses suppressed, because the 
commons would need put them in again. Which order was 
set on the minster door at York, to the intent all the houses 
suppressed should resort there and know how they should 
use themselves." 

Acting on this, many of the monks and nuns who had 
been ejected from their houses returned. "Work is done 
rapidly by willing hands in the midst of a willing people. 
In the week which followed, by a common impulse, the king's 
tenants were universally expelled. The vacant dormitories 
were again peopled; the refectories were again filled with 
exulting faces." 3 "Though it were never so late when 
they returned," the monks "sang matins the same night." 4 
The Abbey of Sawley, which had been vacant since the 
I4th of May, and which had been, with all its moveables, 
sold to lord Darcy for close upon ^400, was again occupied 
by the abbot and his twenty-one brethren, 6 and " being the 
charitable relief of those parts, and standing in a mountain 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. &, pp. 47-51. 

3 State Papers, i. p. 466. 

* Earl of Oxford to Crumwell, quoted by Froude, iii. 133. 

4 Calendar, xi. No. 1319. 

8 Exch. Aug. Off. Mins. Accts., 27-28 Hen. VIIL, No. 178, m. 5. 

The Pilgrimage of Grace 233 

country and among three forests," the men of Craven, Kendal, 
Furness, and the districts, bound themselves together to 
resist any attempt to take it from the monks a second time. 1 

It was on Sunday, October 15, that Aske and his 
followers entered York. The people of Richmondshire and 
Durham had by this time also risen in arms, had seized the 
persons of lord Lumley, the earl of Westmoreland, and lord 
Latimer, and by Tuesday, the i/th, Aske had information 
that they were coming to join him. Pomfret castle, held 
by lord Darcy, was surrounded by the insurgents, and the 
garrison was known to incline to the popular movement. 
On Thursday Aske summoned lord Darcy to surrender, and 
the following morning, October 2Oth, after a long parley, 
Aske was allowed to take possession of the stronghold, and 
Darcy, Sir Robert Constable, the archbishop of York and 
the others who had sheltered within its walls, took the oath 
of the " Pilgrimage of Grace." 

Of all the Yorkshire strongholds, Skipton and Scarborough 
alone held out for the king. The people daily flocked to the 
banner, and the host increased to an alarming size. " Lords 
Nevill, Latimer, and Lumley and 10,000 men, with the 
banner and arms of St. Cuthbert," and the men of Pickering 
and Blackmore, "with knights and gentlemen about 5000," 
came to the support of Aske. So great grew the multitude 
that when he moved forward on Doncaster he was followed 
by between thirty and forty thousand men "well tried on 
horseback." They marched under the banner of the pilgrims, 
which was practically that which the Lincoln men had 
adopted, and each wore on his arm a badge either with the 
"five wounds" worked upon it, or with a cross and I.H.S., 
which was used especially by those who marched under 
" Saint Cuthbert's banner." 

The earl of Shrewsbury was now at Doncaster with his 
armed tenantry, together with the duke of Norfolk and some 
5000 men. The river Don separated the opposing forces, 
and had battle been given, there is little doubt that victory 
would have been on the side of the people. The duke of 
Norfolk, on his side, had received the king's special com- 
mandment, "above all things, never to give stroke . . . 
unless you shall think yourself to have great and notable 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. --$, p. 57. 

234 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

advantage for the same." And particularly if he found the 
rebels too strong for him, or if he thought "any of the 
company" with the earl of Shrewsbury "evil willing," he 
was to retire, and not hazard a fight. How he was to do 
this he left to the judgment of Norfolk himself, only recom- 
mending him his own " politic device," and warning him as 
to his "promises, to be made to the rebels for the stay of 
them, till your forces shall be come and joined with the 
others. Albeit we certainly know," the royal letter con- 
cludes, "that you will pretermit no occasion wherein, by 
policy or otherwise, you may damage our enemies ; yet we 
doubt not again, but in all your proceedings you will have 
such temperance, as our honour, specially shall remain 
untouched and yours rather increased than, by the certain 
promise of that which you cannot certainly promise, appear 
anything defaced." 1 

On their side the insurgents appear to have been by 
no means anxious to shed the blood of their countrymen. 
Some, indeed, of the younger lords and gentry were eager 
to proceed to extremities at once; but their leader, Aske, 
reminded them that "it was no dishonour," and that "their 
whole duty was to declare their griefs to their sovereign 
lord, to the intent that evil counsellors about his grace might 
be known and have punished." 2 

Actuated by such motives the one side by what Henry 
called a "politic device . . . wherein you may damage our 
enemies," and the other apparently by a sincere desire to 
obtain their demands without bloodshed the leaders of the 
two forces agreed to a conference. The desires of the 
" pilgrims " were, at the request of the duke, drawn up in 
a set of articles, and at a second meeting on Doncaster 
bridge it was agreed that Norfolk should accompany two of 
the northern leaders to the king to present their demands ; 
that the king's forces should retire from Doncaster, and the 
" pilgrim " army return to Pomfret. 

A fortnight passed in suspense. Many of Aske's followers 
returned to their homes, weary of waiting, and he himself 
was fully occupied in his endeavours to keep the remain- 
der from active aggression pending the royal reply. From 
Craven came the news one morning that the earl of Derby 

1 State Papers, i. p. 494. 
2 Chapter House Bk., A. &, p. 55. (Note Lord Darcy "playing the fool."} 

The Pilgrimage of Grace 235 

was marching with a force to expel the reinstated monks 
of Sawley Abbey, and that the people of the district were 
gathering to resist. Through the earl of Shrewsbury, Aske 
managed to stop the movement of lord Derby, and sent 
messages to the commons, "who had already attained 
Whalley Abbey," to "withdraw them to the mountains" 

The next day the leader had to be in York to quiet the 
people there; and then again the following morning he was 
off fourteen miles away, at Watton Priory of the order of 
Sempringham, on the same errand "to stay the commons 
there who would have chosen a new prior because the said 
prior was fled to the lord Crumwell, being one of his pro- 
motion, and had left behind him brethren and sisters of the 
same house, nigh sixty or eighty and not forty shillings to 
succour them." Aske managed to pacify the people, and 
"deputed the sub-prior for the time to order the same 
house," as the prior was yet absent. 

Again, the day following, Aske was at Hull, to see Sir 
Robert Constable, who held the town for the commons, and 
to examine the fortifications made against the duke of 
Suffolk, who was "directly against the town." That town 
had fallen into the possession of William Stapleton, one of 
the insurgent leaders, about the middle of October. 

Meantime, whilst Aske was fully occupied in his en- 
deavour to keep the people quiet in the hopes that their 
petitions to Henry would be accepted, the royal agents were 
busy over two futile plots to secure the leader's removal 
by assassination or betrayal. "Alas, my lord! " wrote lord 
Darcy to Norfolk, "that you, being a man of so great honour, 
should advise or choose me to betray any living man, French- 
man, Scot, yea, or even Turk. To win for me or for mine heirs 
the best duke's lands that be in France, I would not do it to 
no living person." 1 

In the middle of November the two insurgent envoys, 
Ellerkar and Bowes, were sent back to the north "with 
general instructions of comfort," and with the information 
that the duke of Norfolk, with other commissioners, would 
follow after them with the royal reply. Henry had essayed 
several answers to the Yorkshire articles, but in each draft, 

1 Quoted by Froude, iii. p. 169. 

236 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

annexed to the general pardon, was a reservation of certain 
persons to be excluded from it, and it was only finally, in 
deference to the advice of the duke of Norfolk, that he could 
be induced even to undertake to forego his royal vengeance 

On November the 2 1st the insurgent leaders met at York 
to consider their future action. They had been invited to 
meet the king's commissioners at Doncaster, but they " de- 
bated long whether they should do so or not, because of a 
letter sent by Lord Crumwell to Sir Jlalph Evers. Wherein 
were these threats or such like : ' Except the commons of 
those parts soon would be pacified, there should be such 
vengeance taken upon them that the whole world should 
speak thereof and take example by them." l 

It was agreed finally, however, to meet the duke at 
Doncaster with 300 persons, and "letters were sent to the 
clergy to stand for the articles profitable for the faith of the 
Church and liberties of the same." " But," writes Aske to 
Henry, "by reason of the same letters, and also for the 
extreme punishment of the great jury of Yorkshire, for 
WicklifFs cause and for the extreme assessment of their 
fines, the lord Crumwell was and yet (at the close of the 
first rising) is in such horror and hatred with the people in 
those parts that in a manner they would eat him, and esteem 
their griefs only to arise by him and his counsel, as the said 
commons there declared their minds to the herald Lancaster 
nigh Hampall in Yorkshire, who can recount their words to 
your highness." 2 

Before the meeting at York broke up it was settled that 
two days before the meeting at Doncaster the lords should 
assemble at Pomfret. As the royal commissioners approached 
the borders of Yorkshire, towards the close of the month of 
November, the beacons were lighted, and " bells rung back- 
ward," again recalling the scattered forces of the insurgents 
to the banner of their "pilgrimage." Norfolk sent letters 
back to the king " in such extreme and desperate sort, as 
though the world should be in a manner turned upside down, 
unless we," as Henry writes, "would in certain points 
condescend to the petition of the rebels." 8 The forces which 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. i&, p. 59. a Ibid., p. 60. 

8 State Papers, i. p. 512. 

The Pilgrimage of Grace 237 

the king had been able to get together during the delay were 
considered by his lieutenant altogether inadequate to face 
the 20,000 insurgents ready to meet them and hear the 
king's answer to their complaints. Henry again enjoined 
Norfolk " not indeed to meet with them but in such sort as 
shall be for your perfect surety." Still, he was to try and 
get them peacefully to accept the pardon he was instructed 
to offer. If, however, they refused to entertain such an 
offer, unless the pardon was "general and without excep- 
tion," or demanded a parliament or proposed any other 
article, Norfolk was to say that his commission did not 
contemplate " the granting of any of those things," but that 
such was his love for them, and his fear lest they should 
act against the king foolishly, that he would himself go to 
the king, and, writes Henry, "join with them as humble 
suitors and petitioners unto us." 

Further, if the duke found that the people only demanded 
a free and general pardon and a parliament, then the king 
instructed him to pretend to go away for six or seven days 
as if for the purpose of going to him, " and when that time 
shall be expired, at the day to be prefixed, declare unto 
them that, with great dint, you had obtained their petitions, 
and so present unto them the general pardon." In fact, so 
far did this diplomacy of Henry go that Sir John Russell 
already had in his possession the general pardon, with in- 
structions not to let any one know of its existence. 1 It is 
obvious that for the purpose of obtaining delay, Henry, as 
he himself puts it, " therein waded, as far as possible, with 
our honour." As for Norfolk himself, he wrote to the king 
"all desperately," but, as the latter reminds him, "in the 
end you said you would esteem no promise that you should 
make to the rebels, nor think your honour touched in the 
breach and violation of the same." 2 

On Monday, November 27, the leaders of the insurgents 
met at Pomfret. The assembly comprised five peers, more 
than thirty knights, and, as Aske afterwards declared, " all 
or most part of the esquires of the said shire and gentlemen 
also." 3 They agreed to certain articles and conditions upon 
which they would lay down their arms. Simultaneously the 
clergy who were in the town, with archbishop Lee at their 

1 State Papers, p. 511. " Ibid., p. 51. s Chapter House Bk., A ^, p. 60, 

238 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

head, met in the church to consider their answer to a set of 
ten articles proposed to them, or, as one witness described 
it, the archbishop took "certain clerks to discuss their 
griefs." And "as it was amongst them that were in his 
company, the archbishop of York held the same opinion" 
(that the movement was "good and gracious") "at the 
beginning, but now at the last meeting he preached to the 
contrary." 1 Still, as Aske afterwards declares, the people 
"would have the clergy's opinions touching the articles 
concerning our faith, to the intent they should make their 
articles to the lords at Doncaster certain." And, he added, 
" if the clergy did declare their minds contrary to the laws 
of God it was a double iniquity." 2 

The assembly of clergy, in spite of the sermon of arch- 
bishop Lee, drew up a brief set of articles which rejected 
as unlawful all that Henry had done in his ecclesiastical 
legislation. Convocation, they declared, should condemn 
preaching against purgatory, pilgrimages, saints, and images, 
and also all books against the same teaching should be con- 
demned ; the pains and punishment of heretics decreed by 
Henry IV. ought to be executed. Holidays, bidding of 
bedes, and preaching should be observed according to the 
ancient custom of the Church. " No temporal man might be 
supreme head of the Church, or exercise any jurisdiction or 
power spiritual therein ; no temporal man had authority by 
the laws of God to claim the tenths or first-fruits of any 
spiritual promotion." Lands given to God, to the Church, 
or religion might not be taken away and put to profane 
uses. The pope of Rome ought to be taken for the head of 
the Church. Clerks now in prison or fled the country for 
withstanding the king's superiority in the Church should 
be set at liberty and restored; apostates from religion, not 
dispensed by the pope, should be obliged to return to their 
houses. 8 The articles, of which the above are the most 
important, were presented to the leaders of the movement, 
who sent forward to Doncaster for a safe conduct from the 
duke. And on Wednesday Aske and 300 followers crossed 
the bridge over the Don into the town. They were lodged 
at the Grey Friars, and on Thursday, the last day of 
November, they made choice of "twenty knights, squires 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. ^, p. 232. 2 Ibid., A. &, pp. 91-93. 

3 Dixon, History, i. p. 473. 

The Pilgrimage of Grace 239 

and commons," with Aske as their spokesman, to proceed to 
"the White Friars to the duke and earls." Entering into 
Norfolk's presence, "and all making their low obeisance 
and kneeling on their knees," they asked for the king's 
pardon, and Norfolk appears to have satisfied the leader 
of the king's intention in respect to their demands, and 
chiefly as regards the general pardon and the parliament 
to be held within the year in some place appointed by 
the king. 

Aske retired first to the Grey Friars, where he told his 
followers what had happened, and then to Pomfret to the 
main body of the host. Early the following morning he 
sent the " bellman " round the town ordering the commons 
to come to the " market-cross " to receive the king's pardon, 
telling them they were to receive it under the great seal. 
The people " gave a great shout of joy " at the news, and 
the whole body of the insurgents moved onward with their 
leader. "And incontinent," continues Aske's narrative, 
"came there a letter from the lord Lumley how the said 
commons would not be satisfied except they saw the king's 
most merciful pardon under seal, and that the abbots new 
put in of houses suppressed should not void their posses- 
sions to the parliament time," adding that " the parliament 
should be at York or else they would burn beacons and 
raise the whole country." 

But Aske himself was satisfied with the assurances of 
Norfolk and trusted to the honour of Henry, and so re- 
turned at once to Pomfret, where he persuaded the people 
who were assembled there, to the number of some 3000, to 
accept the pardon. His reasoning prevailed, and the royal 
herald arriving the same night with the document, early 
the following morning they all assembled on " St. Thomas' 
Hill," outside Pomfret, and receiving the pardon, at once 
departed to their homes. 

Once more Aske returned to Doncaster, and, in the 
presence of the duke of Norfolk and the earls, he and his 
followers tore off the " badges and crosses with five wounds " 
as a token that their " pilgrimage " was at an end, exclaim- 
ing : " We will wear no badge nor figure but the badge of 
our sovereign lord." 1 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. ,\, p. 63. 

240 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

Thus ended the first act of the " Pilgrimage of Grace." 
The sequel of the story, the part borne in the movement 
by the monks and the punishment meted out to the van- 
quished, will be briefly related in the next chapter. 1 

1 As to the position of affairs at the close of the year 1536 Mr. Gairdner 
writes : " It was a new experience to Henry VIII. that he had been, even 
for a time, completely checkmated by his own subjects. But this was the 
state of matters at the end of the year 1536. He had not been able to bring 
the North of England back into subjection without entrusting Norfolk with a 
large authority to make concessions, and Norfolk had been obliged ... (to 
dispense) the pardons without even the reservation of a few notable offenders 
to satisfy the king's vengeance. With what feelings Henry endured such a 
rebuff, the events of the next six months enable us to judge without misgiving. 
But at present he could not afford to give ready vent to his anger." ( Calendar, 
xiL (i.) preface, p. i.) 

The Second Northern Rising 

INFLUENCED by Aske's advice, the northern bands quickly 
dispersed to their homes. The leader himself trusted im- 
plicitly to the royal promises made through the duke of 
Norfolk, and unhesitatingly performed his part in the com- 
pact. That the king's government had been in the greatest 
danger of overthrow cannot be questioned, and the per- 
sistency and earnestness with which the fidelity of the few 
troops Henry had collected to oppose the forward movement 
of the insurgents is asserted, leads to a suspicion of even 
their loyalty to his cause. As early as the beginning of 
November, the king had been anxious to discount the effect 
of the news of this fresh rising at the foreign courts. For 
this reason, as he had done in the case of the Lincolnshire 
disturbances, Henry wrote to his ambassadors in France the 
account he wished circulated abroad. So that, as he tells 
them, "you may boldly affirm the same to be true to all men 
and in all presences where you shall have any occasion, 
cause or opportunity to speak thereof." Judged by the 
documents, the king's account of the movement is far from 
being correct in any particular. The whole insurrection, he 
declares, was planned by those who wished to obtain plunder 
during the tumult, an intention which is conspicuously absent 
during the entire affair. He says further that when the 
people learnt they had been deceived by their leaders, they 
" much lamented their offences therein committed," and 
humbly " desired pardon for the same." " And as concern- 
ing the Yorkshire men," he continues, "they do already, 
being thus retired, lament their traitorous attempt and make 
great suit and labour for their pardon ; so that we have no 
doubt but we shall in time dispose of them as we will and 
bring them to like submission, as is already made by them 
of Lincolnshire. . . . And yet do both shires remain wholly 

242 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

at our commandment, neither having our pardon, nor any 
certain promise of the same. And therefore you may be 
bold not only to declare the premises, as they be before 
specified, but also to affirm that, against every of the insur- 
rections of those shires (being one attempted after another, 
and yet chiefly by one principal actor) we had in readiness, 
and that within six days for every of them, such two armies 
as we think would first haye devoured the said rebels and 
yet have remained right able, every of them, after to have 
given battle to the greatest prince christened. And surely 
we be as much bound to God as ever was prince, both for 
that we found our subjects so forward, so willing, and so 
ready to have fought against the rebels, that we were rather 
enforced to keep them back and to cause great numbers to 
retire home to their countries, than, by any manner of 
allurements, to prick them forward. . . . We have them 
again in so good quiet, without effusion of blood or the 
striking of any stroke by either party, which is somewhat 
strange, and, peradventure, hath not been often seen they 
(the insurgents), being, as is said, such a multitude, as, 
doubt you not, had been able, well furnished with artillery, 
ordnance, and good captains, to have overthrown the better 
of either the emperor's or French king's army." 1 The 
manifest contradictions and falsehoods contained in this 
royal letter need not be pointed out ; but the document is of 
interest as showing the worth of the king's word, upon the 
faith of which the insurgents had laid down their arms. 

But notwithstanding the king's round assertions the 
truth had been understood. On the 24th of December 
Crumwell wrote to the same ambassadors, Gardiner, bishop 
of Winchester, and Sir John Wallop, with respect to rumours 
which had been circulated as to the methods employed in 
staying the insurrection, and the need in which the king 
stood which compelled him to come to terms. It was alto- 
gether false, he says, that the " commons assembled for the 
king's part, were so faint and unwilling that they would not 
have done their duties if it had come to extremity." Still 
he admits that it was so reported in the country, but states 
" that the most part of the king's retinue in manner wept 
when they were commanded to return, considering the 

1 Tierney, Dodtfs Church Hist, of England, i. p. 430. Quoted from " the 
original in my possession." 

The Second Northern Rising 243 

rebels were not more extremely punished." 1 However this 
may be, it is certain that the duke of Norfolk had no con- 
fidence in the forces at his disposal. Both he and Henry 
were unwilling to " adventure the king's honour in battle," 
and the king left the matter to his discretion, although the 
council told the duke of their "regret to receive so many 
desperate letters, and, in the same, to hear no mention of 
the remedies." 2 

With regard to the promises made to the rebels, the 
conclusion of Crumwell's letter, written a few weeks after 
the duke of Norfolk had made them in the king's name, 
shows how little Henry regarded them as obligatory on his 
part. " It is reported," the letter runs, " that the matter 
should be taken up with conditions and articles. It is true 
that, at the beginning, the rebels made petition to have 
obtained certain articles ; but in the end they went from all, 
and remitted all to the king's highness pleasure, only in 
most humble and reverent sort desiring their pardon, with 
the greatest repentance that could be devised ; insomuch as 
in their chief article, which, next their pardon, was for a 
parliament, for that they might have their pardon therein 
confirmed, they remitted the appointment of the same wholly 
to the king's majesty, without the naming of time, place, or 
any other thing touching that matter: and this discourse 
may you declare to all men for truth ; for no man with truth 
can impugn the same." s 

If the people were deceived, they had at the time no 
notion of any such deception, neither did they in any way 
abandon their demands, as Crumwell in the foregoing letter 
implies. Aske, in his narrative to the king, speaks of " the 
articles now concluded at Doncaster, which were drawn, 
read, argued and agreed among the lords and esquires" at 
Pomfret, and whether Norfolk exceeded his power or not in 
treating with Aske and his followers, a distinct agreement 
was made and signed. 

From the meeting at Doncaster Aske had gone to the 
abbeys of Haltemprice and Ferriby, into which the expelled 
religious had been again brought by the " pilgrims," and 
pending the decision of the expected northern parliament 
he arranged that the king's farmers should be reinstated in 

1 Tierney, ut sup., i. p. 432. 2 Hardwicke State Papers, i. 28. 

8 Tierney, i. p. 433. 

244 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

their charges. 1 The resumption by the religious of their 
old houses and lands during the few weeks of the insurrec- 
tion and the consequent expulsion of the royal officials had 
been a bold step. It is probable that, however willing the 
monks had been to regain possession of their monasteries, 
they had no part in the actual work of dispossessing the 
king's receivers. From Aske's narrative it is clear that the 
people had determined rfot only to put a stop to future sup- 
pressions, but to demand the restoration of those houses 
which had already passed into the hands of Henry. 

After the meeting at Doncaster and the dispersal of the 
people to their homes, the king's heralds were sent round 
about the northern counties to proclaim the royal pardon. In 
so doing the envoy was directed to note well the demeanour 
of the people and to find out whether they had settled down 
to their occupations or were still disturbed. If he thought 
well, he should declare the king's sorrow that, after twenty- 
eight years, during which he had "ever tendered them in 
all things rather like his natural children than like his sub- 
jects," they should listen to false tales about him. What the 
king had done had the approval of the parliament and the 
clergy. Then " with gentle words" the envoy should declare 
" how the king having a main army of 50,000 men besides that 
force which was addressed against them," still on account of 
his affection for them, directly he heard they had retired, de- 
termined not to advance and punish them as they deserved. 
Having said this much, the herald was to read the proclamation, 
and have it fixed to the Market Cross or other public place, 
which shall be strictly watched to see whether anyone tear 
it down. " And finally," the officer " shall in all his journey, 
diligently, secretly and substantially ensearch what monks, 
canons, nuns or other religious persons, of any religious 
houses, within the limitation of the act of suppression, having 
been discharged by his grace's commissioners, be again 
restored by any of the rebels to the possessions of their said 
houses ; how they use themselves in the same ; and of what 
inclination the people is for their continuance." 2 

An instance of the way in which the directions issued by 
the king for the proclamation of his pardon were observed, 
is given in the examination of William Colyns, the bailiff of 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. &, p. 63. 2 State Papers, i. 473. 

The Second Northern Rising 245 

the town of Kendal. " And on the morrow after our Lady's 
day before Christmas," runs the record, " they received the 
king's gracious pardon at Pomfret, which they have to show 
in Kendal town under the king's broad seal at this exami- 
nat's house, brought by Clarencieux the herald about four- 
teen days before our said Lady's day. Which herald made 
proclamation in Kendal town the said fourteenth day of 
the king's said pardon, And because certain farmers of 
priories about sent to him showing him how divers brethren 
took away their corn from them, and therefore like to have 
been murder between them about the same, therefore the 
said herald gave commandment openly in the king's name, 
upon pain of high treason, that no man should disturb any 
man about the possession of lands and tithes; but they 
should be in like manner as they were at the last meeting at 
Doncaster, and so continue till the duke of Norfolk came 
again to the country, which should be about the twentieth 
day after Christmas. Which done, as the herald was departing 
away, came two of the brethren of the late priory of Cartmell, 
and desired the herald to write unto them the same order 
that they might show it to their neighbours. And he said 
he could not tarry so to do, but desired this examinat to 
write them a word or two of the effect of the said order. 
And thereupon this examinat at his request and to the 
intent to have the said brethren to keep them out of danger 
of the king's statutes, wrote unto them the said order of 
this effect : ' Neighbours of Cartmell, so it is that the king's 
herald has made proclamation here that every man (under) 
pain of high treason should suffer everything, as farms, 
tithes and such other to be in like stay and order concerning 
possession, as they were in the time of the last meeting at 
Doncaster, except you will of your charity help the brethren 
there somewhat towards their board.' " l 

As he " showed me," says a witness, " that all the canons 
of Cartmell had entered the house except the foolish prior, 
who would not go to them," I wrote to him. As far as I 
remember " it was to this effect : Forasmuch as all religious 
persons in the north parts had entered their houses by 
putting in of commons, and I am informed that you, meaning 
the prior of Cartmell, being required so to enter, do withdraw 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. -fo, p. 250. 

246 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

yourself, I think you may safely enter and do as others do, 
keeping yourself quiet for the season and praying for the 
king. And at the next parliament then to do as shall be 
determined, and I have no doubt but so doing you may 
continue in the same with the grace of God who keep you." 
The letter was written from York on the ninth of December, 
and the writer declared that he sent it, because it was openly 
said at the time both at Pomfret and York that the abbey 
should continue " in such manner as they were put in, unto 
the next parliament." For this same reason, and because 
he "understood that such was the promise made at Don- 
caster," he spoke in the same way to prior Coke of St. 
Agatha's. 1 

The letter to Cartmell probably confirmed the brethren 
there in their determination to hold to their old home. 
Their trust in thus relying on the herald's word was terribly 
expiated, for as Colyns, the bailiff of Kendal, declared in 
his examination: "After this, four of the brethren of the 
said house of Cartmell and eight yeomen were put to execu- 
tion for withstanding the king's farmer Mr. Holcrofte and 
stirring up a new commotion about eight weeks after (the 
letters) without the knowledge of this examinat or any other 
man of Kendal to his witting." 2 

It does not seem open to doubt that Aske endeavoured 
to restrain the people and prevent any further attempt at 
insurrection, in the expectation that Henry would redeem 
his promises made at Doncaster. A fortnight after the 
people had dispersed to their homes the king wrote to him 
pressing him to come and see him. " We have conceived," 
he says, " a great desire to speak with you and to hear of 
your mouth the whole circumstance and beginning of that 
matter," and he promises that he will " accomplish towards 
you and all others our general and free pardon, already 
granted unto you." 3 

In obedience to this summons Aske travelled to the 
south and remained some time with the king. At his wish 
he wrote out a full and complete history of his connection 
with the rising and a straightforward and honest declaration 
of the various causes which led to the disturbance. It is 
from this invaluable document that many of the details of 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. &, p. 345. 
a Ibid., A. tfV, p. 250. 3 State Papers, i. p. 523. 

The Second Northern Rising 247 

the rising are known, and that it is known how keenly the 
people of the North felt the destruction of the religious 
houses and the various ecclesiastical innovations introduced 
by Henry. 1 

Aske was then sent back to the North with fresh assur- 
ances of the king's intention of abiding by the pledges given 
by Norfolk. But meantime the people were becoming dis- 
heartened by the long delay and doubtful of the royal inten- 
tion. The fact that Crumwell remained apparently as secure 
as ever in Henry's favour in spite of all the objections 
they had urged against him; that rumour had spoken of 
the massing of royal troops round about the disaffected 
counties, and of the strengthening of the defences of Hull 
and elsewhere, seemed to suggest that Henry had no real 
intention of keeping faith with them. On his return to 
Yorkshire Aske saw the danger and immediately wrote to 
inform the king of the agitation. " I do perceive," he said, 
" a marvellous conjecture in the hearts of the people, which 
is, they do think they shall not have the parliament in 
convenient time; secondly, that your grace hath by your 
letters written for the most part of the honourable and 
worshipful of the shires to come to you, whereby they fear 
not only danger to them, but also to their ownselves ; thirdly, 
they be in doubt of your grace's pardon by reason of a late 
book answering their first articles, now in print, which is 
a great rumour amongst them ; fourthly, they fear the danger 
of fortifying holds, and especially because it is said that the 
duke of Suffolk would be at Hull and to remain there; 
fifthly, they think your grace intendeth not to accomplish 
their reasonable petitions by reason now the tenths is in 
demand ; sixthly, they say the report is my lord privy seal 
(Crumwell) is in as great favour with your grace as ever 
he was, against whom they most specially do complain ; 
finally, I could not [but] perceive in all the shires, as I came 
from your grace homewards, that your grace's subjects be 
wildly minded in their hearts towards commotions or assist- 
ance thereof, by whose abetment yet I know not ; wherefore, 

1 It is significant that whilst the filthy scribbles of Layton and his com- 
peers have been printed and reprinted and their reports dinned into people's 
ears for the last two centuries, such a weighty document as Aske's "expostu- 
latory narrative to the king," drawn up at Henry's express request, has never 
yet seen the light. 

248 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

sir, I beseech your grace to pardon me in this my rude letter 
and plainness of the same, for I do utter my poor heart to 
your grace to the intent your highness may perceive the 
danger that may ensue ; for on my faith I do greatly fear 
the end to be only by battle." 1 

It would Appear that Aske was loyal to the king in his 
implicit belief that the promises made at Doncaster would 
be adhered to. The letter given above, together with his 
narrative of the events, hardly admit of a doubt that he was 
honest in his endeavour to restrain the people from any 
further aggressive measures. John Hallom, one of those 
most deeply compromised by the second rising, declared at 
his examination that Aske had done what he could to 
prevent it, 2 and in this opinion he was borne out by most 
of the witnesses. Lord Darcy also joined Aske in this 
attempt to preserve the peace. He, like the leader, had 
been invited to journey to Windsor to see the king, but 
although he had excused himself on the plea of such ill- 
health that " he was more like to die than to recover there- 
of," 3 he wrote several letters advising the people to trust 
to the king's promises and to his looking to their grievances.* 
He also declared to the lord admiral, in a letter written on 
the 2Oth of January, 1537, that Aske, Babthorp, Ellerker, 
Constable and he himself were doing their best to quiet the 
restless humour of the people. " And Sir Richard Tempest," 
he adds, " is sent home . . . with good comfortable words 
of the parliament for spiritual and temporal men, and of the 
king's free and mere pardon of his own benign grace granted, 
and that true justice shall have place against all that was 
in the bill of article." And if the duke of Norfolk only come 
to promise this, he concludes, " he will accomplish more than 
40,000 men could." 5 

On the eve of Sir Francis Bigod's rising, letters were 
sent to him and the commons with him urging them to 
pause. With these Sir Robert Constable, on January i8th, 
sent a paper saying that " the king's highness hath declared 
by his own mouth unto Robert Aske that we shall have our 
parliament at York frankly and freely for the ordering and 
reforming of all causes for the commonwealth of this realm ; 

1 Froude, iii. p. 182. * Chapter House Bk., A. ,&, p. 48. 

Ibid,, B. A, P- 40. * Ibid., pp. I, 3, 7. 

5 Ibid., p. 21. 

The Second Northern Rising 249 

and also his frank and free convocation for the good stay 
and ordering of the faith and other spiritual causes." 1 

Bigod, however, had no belief in the honesty of the royal 
promises. " You are deceived," he said in a speech to his 
followers, " by a colour of a pardon, which is but a pro- 
clamation. It is as if I should say the king will give you a 
pardon, and I bade you go to the Chancery for it. You are 
there (in the pardon) called rebels, and if you accept it you 
will acknowledge yourselves to have acted against the king. 
A parliament, too, is promised, but neither place nor time 
appointed; and the king claims to have cure both of your 
bodies and souls, which is against the Gospel." 2 

But Aske and others had no suspicion of double dealing ; 
and in fact it was this very confidence in the royal honesty 
which was afterwards construed into high treason, and for 
which lord Darcy, Aske and many others were executed. 
In the notes upon the evidence against them it is stated that 
a letter from Darcy to Aske, written on January 2ist, de- 
clared that the duke of Norfolk was to come into the North 
"to proclaim a free parliament to be kept there, and also 
free liberty to the spirituality to utter their learning ; " also 
that in this parliament all grievances were to be considered. 
This shows, the author of the "note" rightly infers, that 
lord Darcy still looked for reform, "which," he continues, 
"is high treason." Moreover, in a letter to the duke of 
Suffolk, he asked that " the appointments made at Doncaster 
on the king's part should be observed," and this again, says 
the annotator, proves that he is a " traitor " still. The same 
deductions are made from the letters and actions of Robert 
Aske subsequent to the pardon, whereby the very reliance 
he placed upon the plighted word of Henry is counted as 
proof of a traitorous disposition. 8 

In March Norfolk wrote to Crumwell that he had suc- 
cessfully lured Robert Aske into his toils. Whilst affect- 
ing to treat him with perfect confidence the Duke was in 
reality setting traps to catch him for the king. He wrote 
to Crumwell that he had induced the late popular leader 
to go to London, giving him letters of recommendation, to 
which, however, the all-powerful minister was to attach no 
importance, as they were " only intended to lull the bearer 

1 Chapter House Bk., B. ^-, p. 131. 2 Calendar, xii. (i), No. 369. 
8 Chapter House Bk., A. -fa, pp. 241-247. 

250 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

into false security." At the same time]" he recommended the 
king to pursue the same policy, affecting to repose great 
trust in him till he had wormed out all his secrets " 1 and 
had him in his power. " It was rather superfluous work," 
writes Mr. Qairdner, " to teach Henry double-dealing. From 
the time of his previous conference with Aske he had been 
constantly studying how to get both him and all the other 
leaders entirely within his power, and have them judicially 
convicted of offences committed since the pardon, or such as 
the pardon did not cover." 2 

It is unnecessary to follow the history of the several 
sporadic risings, by which the people endeavoured to force 
attention to their disappointed hopes. Sir Francis Bigod 
and others endeavoured to seize Hull and Beverley in the 
beginning of January, and were captured in the attempt. 
The leaders of the first rising lost no time in repudiating 
the new movement, and Aske received a letter from the 
king, thanking him for his services in endeavouring to put 
an end to it. 3 Various commotions followed in the northern 
parts, which culminated in an attack upon Carlisle by some 
eight thousand men of Westmoreland. They failed in their 
attempt, and only afforded the duke of Norfolk a pretext for 
advancing into the disturbed districts with an army upon 
which he could rely. Martial law was proclaimed and 
remorseless executions finally broke the resistance of the 

These ill-judged and hopeless disturbances afforded the 
king an excuse for breaking off the convention of Doncaster. 
Even those who, in reliance upon the royal promises, had 
done their best to restrain the impatience of the people, 
found themselves involved in the consequences of their for- 
mer acts although they had sued and obtained pardon for 
them. Aske, whose good offices in keeping the people quiet 
had been acknowledged by Henry, and lord Darcy, who had 
certainly taken no part in such risings, found themselves 
prisoners in the royal power. 

Before speaking of the final act in the drama of the 
Pilgrimage of Grace the trials and executions of those 
implicated in the movement the special attention of the 
reader must be directed to the part taken in it by the 

1 Calendar, xii. (i), Nos. 710, 712. 2 Ibid., preface, p. xxix. 

3 State Papers, i. 529. 

The Second Northern Rising 251 

religious. The king, in his letter just quoted, declared that 
"all these troubles have ensued by the solicitation and 
traitorous conspiracies of the monks and canons of those 
parts." It will be of interest to see how far such an asser- 
tion, borne out apparently by the numerous executions of 
abbots and monks, is confirmed by the depositions and 
examinations of witnesses and prisoners, on which alone, 
if justice had had its course, their condemnation or acquittal 
should have rested. 

Speaking of the beginning of the insurrection, one witness, 
William Stapleton, accuses an Observant friar of being im- 
plicated in the movement. He was staying, he says, at the 
Grey Friars, Beverley, with his elder brother Christopher, 
" a very weak, crazed and impotent man," who had been ill 
for some sixteen years and was at that time at the Friars 
"for change of air," as he "had been the summer before 
from May till after midsummer." William, who was on his 
way to London, did not leave as he intended on October 4th, 
because he heard that the "commons of Lincolnshire" had 
risen, and so he remained on from day to day, till Sunday, 
the 8th, when the people about Beverley joined in the move- 
ment. William Stapleton tried to keep his people indoors, 
but his brother's wife would not be controlled, and went to 
the hedge, crying out, " God's blessing have ye and speed 
ye well in your good purpose." The people asked where 
her people were, " and she replied, ' They be in the Friars. 
Go pull them out by the heads.'" For this she was blamed 
by both brothers, but she replied "that it was certainly 
God's quarrel." At this time, as Stapleton declared, there 
was with the people "one Sir Thomas Johnson, otherwise 
called Bonaventure, an Observant friar, who was sworn, and 
had been much with the said Christopher both at his house 
at Wighill and at Beverley, and before that time was assigned 
to the said house of Beverley by Doctor Vavasour, warden 
of the Grey Friars at York. And the said Bonaventure 
supervised much the rising, and was very busy going betwixt 
the wife of Sir Christopher and the said wild people, oft 
laying scriptures to maintain their purpose." l 

It was apparently at the suggestion of the same friar 
that William Stapleton was forced to become the leader of 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. &, p. 150. 

252 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

the people, and subsequently, as he says, "the Observant 
offered himself to go into the quarrel in harness to the field, 
and so did to the first stay." The same witness accuses 
" Sir Robert, a friar of St. Robert's of Knaresborough," l of 
working, hard to stir up the people to join the movement, 
and these two are about the only individual names mentioned 
as connected with the rising and not belonging to abbeys 
well known in history as attainted for their supposed part 
in the Pilgrimage of Grace. 

In the second rising, the Gilbertine priory of Watton, 
on which a new prior had been imposed against the wish 
of the community by Crumwell, was said to be mixed up 
with the movement. The story is best told in the words of 
one William Horsekey when examined as to his knowledge 
of the matter. " Upon Monday was a fortnight," he says, 
" which was plough-day after that (Christmas day) the said 
Hallam, Hugh Langdale and this examinat had a drinking 
together at one John Bell's in Watton with many other of 
the parishioners, being there together in great number as 
the manner is there of plough-days, and every man departed 
homeward. The said Hallam, Hugh Langdale and this 
examinat, with the vicar of Watton, as they passed by the 
church of Watton turned in the same to say a pater noster, 
and there being, the said Hallam called this examinat and 
the said Langdale to an altar, called our Lady's altar, and 
said unto them : ' Sirs, I fear me lest Hull do deceive us 
the commons, for there is ordnance daily received there by 
ships.' " He then went on to declare that the king was not 
going to keep his promises and that they must look to them- 
selves. Aske, as the witness declared, did all he could to 
prevent the second rising, which was " for the pulling down 
abbeys " and the payment " of tenths." 

" Also he saith," continues the document, " that the sub- 
prior, the confessor of the nuns, and the vicar of Watton . . . 

1 The king personally examined all the evidence against those accused, 
and in regard to this " friar of Knaresborough " Mr. Gairdner thus characterises 
Henry's action. He acted generally " in the spirit of a detective policeman, 
and writing marginal comments (on the evidence) for the instruction of Norfolk. 
As a specimen of these it may be worth while to note the observation made 
upon the first information about the friar of Knaresborough : ' This Knave is 
to be taken, and, well examined, to suffer ; ' the fate of the victim, it will be 
observed, being quite decided by the king himself before any judicial investi- 
gation. How to satisfy his thirst for blood and save appearances as regards 
the law might sometimes be a problem." (Calendar, xii. (i), preface, p. xxix.) 

The Second Northern Rising 253 

are great favourers and setters forth of this matter of sedition, 
for he heard them and every of them since Christmas last, 
at sundry times say that it would never be well as long as 
the king's grace should be the supreme head of the Church, 
and that the same would not be reformed without the people 
did set forward again with a new insurrection. And upon 
his conscience he thinketh that there is never a good one 
of all the canons of the said house ofWatton, but that every 
one of them is glad to set forward this business. And he 
saith that they all great(ly) grudge their prior and would 
fain have a new one." l 

In the examinations of the religious of Watton them- 
selves much the same evidence was elicited. The subprior, 
" D. Harry Gill," says they were asked by the insurgents 
for money and horses. They gave only 10 and a gelding, 
and " also Master Aske had one spice plate of silver, which 
was a pledge of the earl of Northumberland," and if it had 
not been given the house would have been " spoiled." He 
declared that the archbishop of York sent a letter "to all 
curates and religious that they should go a procession every 
day and send their minds out of Holy Scripture and the 
four doctors touching the commons' petition." From their 
house two replies were sent, one from a " Dr. Swinburne " 
and another " from a young man of our habit called Thomas 
Asheton" . . . "and they were both one as touching the 
Supreme Head." 

With regard to the election of a prior in place of the 
one appointed over them by Crumwell, who had fled on the 
first sign of the rising, the subprior deposed that at the time 
of the first insurrection Hallam came " with a great number 
of his soldiers after him into the infirmary of Watton where 
the brethren were bound to dinner, and there in the presence 
of the prior of Ellerton and the prior of St. Andrew's, York, 
charged the brethren to elect them a new prior. And they 
said it was against their order and statutes of their religion, 
their prior being alive, and not lawfully removed. Then he 
said if they did not, he would spoil their house, and would 
nominate one himself. And he said : ' Methinks this man ' 
pointing to the prior of Ellerton 'is meet to be your 
prior.' Then for fear of spoiling of their goods, as they 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. &, pp. 41-45. 

254 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

say, they met together and did nominate the said prior of 
Ellerton to be their prior." He, however, would not take the 
office, " nor they receive him for such indeed, but to have 
him to bear the name only through fear of the commons." l 

Lastly examined as to the crucial question of the 
"Supreme Headship" of the king, the subprior declared 
that for himself "he had no learning to discuss the matter; 
but as he saith it was in every man's mouth that if that 
were not laid down 2 it should not be well." 

The answers of two other religious of Watton s do not 
add anything material to the declaration of the subprior, 
although they confirm its accuracy in every particular. It 
may, therefore, be supposed that in these various informa- 
tions and examinations the various ways in which alone the 
priory of Watton was implicated in the rising are stated. 
None of the canons took any active part in the movement, 
their contributions were small, and even these were extorted 
by force. As for the matter of the election, however much 
they disliked the superior appointed by Crumwell, and what- 
ever cause they had to endeavour to get rid of him, they 
appear to have acted loyally to him, except in so far as they 
were compelled to give way to force. 

Beyond the foregoing isolated instances, none of the 
numerous depositions and relations furnish any accusation 
against monastery or monk of active co-operation with the 
insurgents, with the exception of the abbeys of Jervaulx 
and Whalley, the priory of Bridlington and the individual 
connection of the quondam abbot of Fountains with the 
movement. These cases must now be considered. 

With respect to Jervaulx, the chief witness against the 
monks is one Ninian Staveley, himself one of the leaders 
of the movement and a representative of the swashbuckler 
element among the insurgents. He engaged in the move- 
ment as an adventurer rather than as a "pilgrim," and 
having compromised himself, endeavoured to save his own 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. -fy, pp. 77-80. It will be remembered that Aske 
declared he had gone at this time to Watton to prevent this new election from 
taking effect. 

2 i.e., if the king did not put aside the title of Supreme Head which he 
had assumed. 

3 That of "J. D. Thomas Lather, cellarer and granator," is prefaced by 
the expressions, "Jesus sit in adjutorio" "Jesu adjuva me" and " Deus in 

The Second Northern Rising 255 

neck by incriminating others. By his deposition it would 
appear that the abbot during the second rising had promised 
to join the insurgents "with all his brethren;" and had 
sent a messenger to Sir Thomas Percy " to have him come 
forward," and also a servant into Lincolnshire to find out 
the state of the country, and to let them know whether the 
duke of Norfolk was advancing " with arms or no." l These 
form the chief points of the abbot's offending, and they 
may be considered best in the light of his own examina- 
tion in the Tower on 2/th of April, 1537. "Adam Sedbar, 
abbot of the monastery of Jervaulx, ' sworn and examined,' 
said that during the first rising, about Michaelmas day, there 
'came to the garth or court of the abbey of Jervaulx,' some 
two or three hundred men. He knew nothing about it at 
that time, but hearing that their captains, Middleton and 
Staveley, were asking for him, ' he conveyed himself by a 
back door' to a place 'called Wilton Fell.' He only had 
a boy with him, and ' bade his other servants get them every 
man to his house and save their cattle and goods.' He 
remained thus concealed for four days, only coming home 
at night," and during all those days the said commons 
wandered about the said house in the country about. "At 
the last, hearing say that this examinat had said that there 
should no servant of his ever after do him service, nor 
tenant dwell on no land of his that should go with them, 
they therefore turned back to Jervaulx and inquired for this 
examinat, and they were answered that this examinat was 
not at home. And then said they: 'We charge you brethren 
to go and choose you a new abbot.' Whereupon the brethren 
rang the chapter bell and went towards making of a new 
election. And certain among them would in no wise agree 
to make any new abbot. Then the commons gave them 
half an hour's respite to choose one ; and if they did choose 
none in that space they would burn their house over their 
heads. Then the brethren sent several ways about to seek 
this examinat, and at last one William Nelson came where 
this examinat was upon Wilton Fell in a great crag, and 
showed him that the commons would burn the house except 
he should come home, and all the brethren cried ' Woe 
be (us).' 

* Chapter House Bk., A. ^, pp. 117-118. 

256 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

" Then for saving of the house this examinat came home 
(and) about the outer gate he was torn (from his horse) and 
almost killed, they crying ' Down with that traitor.' At last 
by means of some of his friends he was carried in from them, 
and whert he came to the hall entry Leonard Burgh, one of the 
ringleaders, drew his dagger and would have killed him, but 
for them that stood by. Then he came further where one 
William Asleby, chief captain of these parts, was, and he 
said to this examinat : ' Horeson traitor, where has thou 
been ? ' and said : ' Get me a block to strike off his head 
upon,' and there this examinat was commanded to take the 
oath, which he took, the said Burgh ministering the same to 
him. And so took this examinat with them forthwith and 
gave him no respite, but caused him to ride with them upon 
a brown horse, which he rode upon his coming into them." 

He was forced to remain with them for some days, but 
at last, through the intercession of one of the leaders, was 
allowed to return home. During this time, letters were 
sent to Jervaulx from the " commons " of the district, to 
receive which and forward to their destination, certain of the 
insurgents were quartered on the monks. This continued 
till the settlement at Doncaster, when the strangers left. 

In answer to an inquiry as to what aid he had given the 
insurgents, the abbot replied " that the commons took all his 
servants with them . . . but (that) he never gave one of them 
one penny of wages." Further, " he saith," continues the 
record, " he never sent victuals unto them, and that the 
commons took with them two of this examinat's brethren x 
among them, against this examinat's mind and will, who 
returned again with this examinat." 

Further examined, the abbot said that "there came to 
this examinat's chamber immediately after breakfast" one 
day in the winter Staveley and Middleton, " and his son and 
heir, and many more were in the hall." Staveley told the 
abbot that formerly he had deceived the people, "and 
therefore bade him come with them and half a dozen 
of his brethren forthwith. And this examinat desired 
them to forbear and said they were his neighbours and 
should be his friends and were his enemies. . . . And 

1 From the notes on this examination (Chapter House Bk., B. fo, p. 140) 
it appears that the names of these two were Roger Hartlepool and John 
Stan ton. 

The Second Northern Rising 257 

partly by his importunity and refusal and partly by the 
entreaty of one Beckwith that came with them, they let this 
examinat and his brethren alone. But they took against 
this examinat's will certain of his friends with them." 

The following day the abbot fled to Bolton Castle to 
Lord Scrope, where he remained until the insurgents were 
" broken at Richmond," when he returned home. " Since 
that time," he says, " he heard nothing of the matter. And 
other comfort, aid or assistance he gave not them by word 
deed or writing, by the virtue of his oath and upon his 

Lastly, as to the special points upon which Staveley 
accused him, he denied " utterly that ever he sent or caused 
to be sent, nor that he was privy that any messenger should 
be sent to Sir Thomas Percy, or that he put his servants 
and tenants with Staveley or gave them any aid or comfort, 
or that he sent any man to lie in Lincolnshire to consider 
the state of the country there, but saith that the cellarer of 
the house sent one Jackson to Lincolnshire at the latter 
end of the Christmas holidays to gather their rents, and 
for no other purpose to this examinat's knowledge as he 
saith." * 

The quondam abbot of Fountains, William Thirsk, was 
implicated in the movement, 2 together with the abbot of 
Jervaulx. Thirsk had been deprived of his office at Foun- 
tains by Crumwell's visitors in the beginning of the year 
1 5 36. Lay ton and Legh had written to Crumwell about his 
having made away with the plate and jewels of the abbey, 
and of their success in getting him to "resign privately 
into their hands." 8 On the appointment of his successor, 
Marmaduke Bradley, who had offered Crumwell six hun- 
dred marks, and the king .1000 as " first-fruits" if he could 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. ^-, pp. 259 to 263. 

2 Ibid., B. A, P- 101. 

* Layton and Legh, the king's commissaries, accepted the resignation of 
William Thirsk in " The Church Chamber," at the monastery of St. Mary's 
Fountains, 19 January, 1536. They granted him a pension of 100 marks a 
year (Calend. x. No. 131). In a letter written by his successor on March 6th, 
it appears that there were considerable difficulties about the money arrange- 
ments. The pension of ^40 was objected to as excessive, and Thirsk is 
said to want to keep all the house goods above the value of ^1000 
(No. 424), and according to archbishop Lee he had not resigned by the 
end of March, as he wished to be made secure as to his proper and promised 
pension (No. 521). 


258 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

obtain the office, abbot Thirsk retired first to London and 
afterwards to Jervaulx. How far he had any part in the 
insurrection for which he was executed must be judged 
from his* examination, as there is little else known about 
him. On April the 24th doctors Layton and Legh, his old 
enemies, had him before them in the Tower, and, being 
sworn, he said : " About the beginning of the last Lent 
(1537), as this examinat was in his chamber at Jervaulx 
abbey, came to him one of the servants of the house, called 
James Thwaites, desiring this examinat in the abbot of 
Jervaulx's name to deliver to Middleton that came with him 
forty pence: one Staveley being there also. And he said 
he would, and with that took out an angel noble and bade 
them change it. And Staveley took the same in his hands 
and said it was cracked. Then this examinat took out 
another angel and bade them change that. And the said 
Staveley took both and put them up, saying, 'Ye churle 
monks ye have too much and we have nothing. Neither of 
these thou gettest again.' Then this examinat said again, 
' Ye shall not have my money so. If ye be true men ye 
will not take my money away. Ye should have but forty 
pence of me.' Middleton, however, promised to repay the 
money if Staveley did not, ' and so they departed without 
any more words.' " 

About a week after this " the said Middleton and Staveley 
in harness came to the said abbot of Jervaulx as he and this 
examinat were in his chamber, and bade the said abbot and 
this examinat upon pain of death, and all their brethren and 
servants go with them forthwith. And many other of the 
commons were in the hall and about the house. And he 
desired them instantly to suffer him and his brethren to be 
still, seeing it was not meet that religious men should go 
about any such business. And so this examinat desired 
them also to let him likewise alone, for he was old and feeble 
and nothing, meet for such business. Nevertheless, as this 
examinat heard say, they took with them the servants of the 
house, but whether it were by the abbot's command or not 
he cannot tell." 

Further he denied absolutely that he had ever desired 
Staveley or any other " if there should be any new insurrec- 
tion ... 'to help to put him in his room again.'" And 
he declared he knew nothing of the first rising, " being in 

The Second Northern Rising 259 

London all the time," and never heard of any message being 
sent to Sir Thomas Percy. 1 

If the abbots of Jervaulx and Fountains do not appear 
to have afforded active assistance to the insurgents, the part 
played by the abbot of Whalley was of a still less com- 
promising nature. William Rede, a baker of Oxford, said 
that he had carried letters from the abbot " to his scholars 
being in Oxford," and also "another to the abbot of Hayles." 
The abbot had told him to recommend him specially " to the 
abbot of Hayles, and tell him that I am sore stopped and 
acrazed. And pray him to send me word when he purposeth 
to come over to this country, for I would be glad to see him 
once ere I depart out of this world, seeing I brought him up 
here from a child." The baker on his way received a packet 
of letters from a schoolmaster to give to " Philip, his son, at 
Oriel college." And when he came to Wotton, having told 
the constable there what he was carrying, he found himself 
taken prisoner and conveyed to Kenilworth castle. The 
letters were examined, and, as far as can be judged from 
the document, only implicated the schoolmaster and not the 
abbot. 2 

One witness, indeed, declared that the abbot of Whalley 
had lent a horse to Nicholas Tempest, of Brashall. But 
Tempest's account of the matter is very different. He says 
that he went to the abbey " with three or four hundred 
men," and after " being kept out about two hours, were at 
last let in for fear of burning their barns and houses. And 
there this examinat swore the abbot and about eight of his 
religion according to Aske's oath." 3 So that according to 
Nicholas Tempest even the oath of the pilgrims was extorted 
from the monks by threats of violence. The only other 
matter which appears to tell against the abbey of Whalley 
is that lord Darcy had some communication with the abbey. 
" Memorandum," it is noted, " also that lord Darcy this Lent 
last past sent a copy of a letter which my lord of Norfolk 
wrote to him unto the prior of Whalley who is now attainted 
of high treason, whereby appeareth that the lord Darcy 
favoured the said prior, being a traitor." * 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. &, pp. 257-258. 

a Ibid., p. 134. 

8 Calendar, xii. (i), No. 1014. 

* Chapter House Bk., A. -&, p. 247, i.e. the lord Darcy being the traitor. 

260 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

Lastly, as to Bridlington the only item of information is 
obtained in a note possibly in Crumwell's hand. " Item," 
it runs, "the prior of Bridlington and Dr. Pickering, the 
friar, had been great setters forth of both the first and last 
insurrections. And the said Dr. Pickering, a great writer 
of letters, to move and stir as well the first as the last. And 
also the prior of Bridlington had in readiness as well all his 
household servants as also divers his tenants in harness, for 
to have given assistance to Bigod and Lumley in the last 
insurrection." l In a list of those implicated, the names of 
"Nicholas Tempest, Hammerton and Pickering, friar," are 
associated with that of " the abbot of Bridlington." These 
four names have been subsequently erased. Against the 
names of Hammerton and Tempest is the note: "The 
petition made to Thomas Percy by the abbot of Sawley, 
wherein is no apparent matter against them but before the 
pardon. 2 And even as to this, Nicholas Tempest denied 
upon oath that he knew anything about that " supplication," 
and declared that his connection with Sawley abbey was 
confined to advising the abbot's chaplain to lay their cause 
before the meeting at Pomfret, and "when the commons 
had put in the abbots and monks," to giving "them a fat 
ox, one mutton, and two or three geese." 3 In like manner 
Sir Stephen Hammerton denied having had anything to do 
in the matter. His declaration is of interest, as it shows 
that it was for the crime of taking possession of their old 
home that the abbot of Sawley, and doubtless some of his 
brethren, perished on the scaffold. "And he saith," runs 
the record of Hammerton's examination, "that the abbot of 
Sawley, as he was condemned to die, sent divers persons to 
this examinat to desire his forgiveness for that he had named 
this examinat in the said letters . . . and he took it upon 
his death that neither this examinat nor no other gent or 
other person of the county was counsel to the making or 
devising of the said supplication but only he himself and the 
said Estgate (his chaplain), and two of his said brethren 
called Bradford and Parish." 4 

1 Chapter House Bk., B. 7 a T P- *43- * Ibid., p. IOI. 

8 Calendar, xii. (i), No. 1014. 

4 Chapter House Bk., A. -fg, p. 30. The Monasticon, v. p. 511, says that 
William Trafford, last abbot of Salley, was hanged at Lancaster for opposition 
to the crown in 1^38. The declaration of Hammerton, made in 1537, states 
that he was condemned to deth, and it would seem to imply that he had 

The Second Northern Rising 261 

The punishment meted out to the insurgents now that 
the last resistance was at an end was, as might be expected, 
not wanting in severity. 

"Norfolk," writes Mr. Gairdner, "had really little to do 
except to arrange for some further butcheries and terrify all 
the other malcontents into the most abject submission. The 
wretched country people ' poor caitiffs ' as he himself said 
they might well be called, having lost their horses, harness 
and everything in their flight flocked into Carlisle to submit 
to the King's mercy. The Duke's answer was to select 
seventy-four of the chief insurgents and lock them up in 
prison till they should be sentenced by martial law and 
hanged, letting the rest go home without any promise of 
pardon. 'Dreadful execution' was the one great object 
with Norfolk. It had been insinuated that some old feeling 
of regard for those monastic establishments now being re- 
morselessly overturned would make him less zealous in the 
execution of the King's orders ; and he was anxious to clear 
himself of any such imputation. His only regret was that 
he could not find iron chains enough in the country to hang 
the prisoners in ; ropes must serve for some. He flattered 
himself, however, that so great a number put to death at a 
time had never been heard of." 1 

The chief prisoners were first tried by a commission in 
York. 2 In forcing friends and even relations of the prisoners 
to take part as jurors in this trial, Norfolk perpetrated a 

already been executed. Walcott says his execution was at Lancaster on March 
loth, 1537, and this is the year assigned by Stowe (ed. 1615, p. 573), who 
says that " one Astlebe, a monk of Jervaulx," was executed with him. 

1 Calendar, xii. (i), preface, p. xxvi. 

2 It is well to understand the kind of pressure which was exerted upon the 
northern juries to find verdicts of guilty. On March 2$rd and 24th, 1537, one 
William Levenyng was tried at York for complicity in Bigod's rebellion. The 
majority of the jury were for an acquittal, believing that the only witness was 
actuated by malice, " having had a promise of his lands from the king." The 
jury were locked up from nine on Friday morning until Saturday night, and 
as " a more effectual way of promoting unanimity, they were deprived of all 
warmth." In the end they acquitted the prisoner. Norfolk was dissatisfied, 
and further examined Levenyng, and even proposed sending him up to 
Crumwell. "A few days later," writes Mr. Gairdner, "we find the Duke 
promising to ascertain for Crumwell the names of the grand juries who found 
indictments in Yorkshire, and who apparently had disappointed expectations 
by finding so few, but he cannot help suggesting that if they were sent for to 
appear before the Council, it would lead to rumour ' that men should be com- 
pelled to pass otherwise than their consciences should lead them.' " (Calendar, 
xii. (i), preface, p. xxxi.) 

262 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

cruelty which could hardly have been believed as intentional 
were it not for the testimony of his own letter to Crumwell. 
Aftei telling him that the king's commission had arrived 
" with two books of indictments and two schedules ; ^the one 
of such as should be indicted and the other of gentlemen 
to be impanelled," he goes on to say : " I doubt not to have 
the greatest appearance that was seen at York of many 
years, on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning (May 9th, 
1537). I will sit upon those that be named in the schedule 
on Wednesday by nine o'clock, and also upon two monks of 
the Charterhouse for not knowing of the king to be supreme 
head of the Church, unless they do openly recant from their 
false opinion, which I think they will not do." l 

The duke then goes on to say that, as he presumes 
Crumwell intends, he thinks it well to have "two divers 
inquests ; for they being so kept that one of them shall not 
know what another doth shall make them the more quick to 
find the matter. And I have so provided that we shall lack 
no number if I would have four inquests. And I am at this 
time of such acquaintance with the gentlemen that I dare 
well adventure to put divers on the quests (of whom) some 
hath married with the lord Darcy's daughters and some 
with Sir Robert Constable's. 2 And I will put John Aske 
thereupon, who is eldest brother to Robert Aske. Doubt 
ye not, my lord, but the matter shall be found according to 
the king's pleasure." 

Continuing, he says he hopes to have the evidence before 
Thursday, which " is no day to sit, considering as it shall 
be Ascension day," and if so, "Crumwell shall have the 
result and be able to proceed with the London arraignments 
on Monday or Tuesday. My good lord," he goes on, "I 
will not spare to put the best friends these men have upon 
one of the inquests, to prove their affection whether they 

1 The names of these two were "John Rochester and James Walwercke," 
two of the heroic members of the London Charterhouse. They were hanged 
in chains at York. Vide p. 74, ante. 

2 Raine, Hexham Priory (Surtees Soc.), i. App. clxii., note, says : "These 
were Brian Stapleton, of Carlton ; Henry Babington, of Dethick ; Sir William 
Fairfax, of Gilling ; Sir Thomas Dawney, of Cowick ; and Sir Thomas 
Metham. Sir Thomas Metham was a grand juror. 

Sir Robert Constable's daughters married into the houses of St. Quintin, 
Gower, Pudsey, Cholmeley, and Husee : Sir Roger Cholmeley and Sir Edward 
Gower were on the York grand jury. 

The Second Northern Rising 263 

will rather serve his majesty truly and frankly in this matter, 
or else to favour their friends, and if they will not find, then 
they may have thanks according to their cankered hearts. 
And, as for the other inquest, I will appoint such that I 
shall no more doubt of than of myself." l 

The commission was held at York Castle on " Wednes- 
day, the vigil of the Ascension, May Qth," before the Duke 
of Norfolk, Sir Thomas Tempest and others. The jury, 
amongst whom was John Aske, the brother of Robert, 
found the prisoners guilty of conspiring with lord Darcy 
on the loth of October "to deprive the king of his dignity, 
title, name, and royal state, namely, of being on earth the 
supreme head of the English Church." Also they found 
them guilty of endeavouring to compel the king " to summon 
and hold a parliament and convocation, and other divers 
high treasons." Further, that having been pardoned, they 
repeated these treasons in January. 

A week later they were brought up before chancellor 
Audeley at Westminster, and pleading not guilty, May 24th 
was appointed for the trial. On that day all the prisoners 
except Ralph Bulmer 2 were condemned to death. 8 

There can be no doubt that the abbots and monks now 
tried and put to death fell victims to Henry's cupidity and 
sanguinary vengeance, and that they did not suffer for their 
own misdeeds, or for any real connection with the insurrec- 
tions. Among the rest the following religious were ordered 
to be executed : Adam Sedbar, abbot of Jervaulx ; William 
Thirsk, quondam abbot of Fountains ; William Wood, prior 
of Bridlington; James Cockerel, prior of Gisborough and 
rector of Lythe; and John Pickering, late of Bridlington, 
and a friar of the Dominican Order. Lord Darcy was 
executed on Tower Hill. The abbots, with Percy, Bigod, 
John Bulmer, Hammerton, Lumley, and Tempest, were 
hanged and quartered at Tyburn, while Constable and Aske 
were hanged in chains at Hull and York. The fate of those 
who had withstood the royal will and appealed even to arms 
to save the ancient abbeys of England from spoliation and 

1 Raine-, ut sup., i. App. clxi. 

2 Coram Rege. Roll, 33 Hen. VIII., Easter, M.'g. Ralph, son of Sir John 
Bulmer, by a letter dated 29 Jan., A 32 Hen. VIII., was pardoned and 

* Ibid., and Baga de Secretis, in iii. Rept. Dept. Keeper, App. ii. 

264 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

to protest against the changes in religious faith and practice 
imposed upon an unwilling nation, struck terror into the 
hearts of the English people. The collapse of the rising 
removed every restraint upon the autocratic power of the 
crown and opened the way for further seizures of monastic 
and church property. 


Dissolution by Attainder 

THE Northern disturbances, in the autumn of 1536 and the 
spring of the following year, acted as a check upon the 
suppression schemes of Henry. From Michaelmas of the 
former year to the same feast in the latter, according to 
the accounts of his ministers, very few religious houses 
passed into his possession. In Yorkshire and the adjoining 
counties during the spring months of 1537 the royal officers 
were occupied in once more ejecting the monks and nuns 
who had been reinstated by the insurgents in their old 
homes. The king's instructions to the duke of Norfolk on 
this point were precise. He was immediately after the 
execution of Constable and Aske to restore the keeping of 
the monasteries formerly suppressed to the royal farmers, 
" and aid such commissioners as his majesty shall appoint 
to dissolve the other monasteries within the limit of the said 
act not yet dissolved." Further, the instructions run, "the 
said duke shall cause all the religious persons that were or 
be in any of the said houses either to take their livings in 
such other monasteries of their religion as they shall be 
assigned to, or else if they shall refuse so to do, he shall 
punish them as vagabonds and enemies of the common- 
wealth, so as no one of that sort remain at large in that 

Norfolk and the earl of Sussex had, indeed, in behalf of 
the king, made large promises at the meeting of Doncaster 
that the restored religious should be left undisturbed until 
the Northern parliament had finally settled the question of 
the dissolution. But the king evidently did not consider 
himself bound by the acts of his plenipotentiaries. " And 
forasmuch," his instructions continue, "as the said duke 
of Norfolk and the lord admiral at their late being at Don- 
caster promised to be suitors to the king's majesty that the 


266 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

monks, canons, and nuns of such religious houses suppressed 
should have victum and vestitum of the goods of the monas- 
teries they were of, till further determination should be taken 
touching that matter, by reason whereof some ringleaders 
may perchance make some argument for the continuance 
of the said monks, nuns and canons with such sustentation 
at their liberties, the said duke in such case shall make a 
discourse to all men appearing so much affectionate towards 
them, of their essential wilful poverty, chastity and obedi- 
ence, and dilate how far they vary from good religious men, 
from them that will be wilfully poor : yea, from true subjects 
that would direct their prince and sovereign lord ; that will 
not live but as they list themselves, and therewith declare 
how the king's majesty is by his laws rightfully entitled to 
those monasteries, and that those that will so direct his 
majesty therein be not esteemed for his great true subjects, 
but to be punished as his traitors and rebels." * 

In a previous letter, written by Henry at the time when 
the duke had proclaimed martial law, the commander had 
been praised for the way he had "discreetly, plainly and 
truly," painted and set forth to the people in their true colours 
"those persons that call themselves religious." "And we 
doubt not," continues the king, " but the further you shall 
wade in the investigation of their behaviours, the more ye 
shall detect the great number of them and the less esteem 
the punishment of such, as you shall find, in will or deed, 
culpable in things that may touch us or the common quiet of 
our realm. ..." 

"Thirdly," the letter continues, "we do right well ap- 
prove and allow your proceedings in the displaying of our 
banner. And forasmuch as the same is now spread and 
displayed, by reason whereof, till the same shall be closed 
again, the course of our laws must give place to the ordi- 
nances and estates martial, our pleasure is, that, before you 
shall close up our said banner again, you shall in any wise 
cause such dreadful execution to be done upon a good 
number of the inhabitants of every town, village and hamlet, 
that have offended in this rebellion, as well by the hanging 
of them up in trees, as by the quartering of them and the 
setting of their heads and quarters in every town, great and 

1 Chapter House Bk., A. ^, pp. 367 et seq. 

Dissolution by Attainder 267 

small, and in all such other places, as they may be a 
fearful spectacle to all other hereafter that would practice 
any like matter : which we require you to do, without pity or 
respect, according to our former letters ; remembering that 
it shall be much better, that these traitors should perish in 
their wilful, unkind and traitorous follies, than that so slen- 
der punishment should be done upon them, as the dread 
thereof should not be a warning to others." Further, Henry 
expressed his desire that after " such execution" had been 
done by the summary processes of martial law, the ordinary 
legal forms of " ordinary justice " should, at the duke's dis- 
cretion, complete the work of punishment. 

" Finally," the letter concludes, " forasmuch as all these 
troubles have ensued by the solicitation and traitorous 
conspiracies of the monks and canons of those parts; we 
desire and pray you, at your repair to Sawley, 1 Hexham, 2 
Newminster, 8 Lanercost, 4 Saint Agatha's, 6 and all such other 
places as have made any manner of resistance, or in any 
wise conspired or kept their houses with any force since 
the appointment at Doncaster, you shall without pity or 
circumstance, now that our banner is displayed, cause all 
the monks and canons that be in any wise faulty to be tied 
up without further delay or ceremony to the terrible example 
of others." 6 

The rigours of martial law are only by chance recorded, 
and it is now impossible to calculate the numbers of religious, 
and of the people who rose to defend them, that perished 
during the months when legal trial was suspended in the 
North, and Sussex and Norfolk acted upon the royal com- 
mand " to cause all the monks and canons that be in any 
wise faulty to be tied up without further delay or ceremony." 
And even when Sussex stayed his hand in compassion, 
Henry would hear of no pleading for those who had offended 
against his majesty. " Concerning the old man," he writes, 
" whom you wrote you had respited, upon the lamentation 
he made at the bar and the allegation of his service thrice 
heretofore against the Scots and otherwise done unto us; 
albeit we cannot but take your stay of him in good part, yet, 
considering he hath so often received our wages and would 

1 In Craven, West Riding. 2 In Northumberland. 

8 In the same county. 4 In Cumberland. 

8 At Richmond, Yorks. 8 State Papers, i. 537. 

268 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

nevertheless at the last be thus corrupted against us, we 
think him for an example more worthy to suffer than the 
rest that before had not experience of our princely puissance, 
nor had received any benefit of us ; and so remit him unto 
you to be executed according to his judgment." * 

Under the terror of the royal vengeance and with the 
example of these remorseless punishments inflicted on all 
who came within reach of the royal arm, the commissioners 
do not appear to have experienced much difficulty in re- 
gaining possession of the confiscated monasteries. At the 
beginning of February, Norfolk had anticipated a very 
different result, and declared that, although the nobles and 
gentry had promised " to put the king's farmers in possession 
of the religious houses," no one would dare to do so. 2 But 
a couple of months later, what with the paralyzing effect of 
the executions actually carried out, and the dread each one 
had of being involved in the same fate, resistance was at an 
end. 3 A correspondent writing to reassure Dr. Legh, the 
royal visitor whose punishment had been demanded by the 
Pilgrims of Grace, says on April 24th : " Loving to God, the 
country is quiet enough, saving that every malefactor dreads 
himself. . . . And as concerning any complaint against you 
or other for the visitation, there is nothing spoken of that 
matter. I dare well say there is no religious man that will 
avow any grief for that matter."* 

According to the directions given by the king to his 
generals, the monasteries of Sawley, Hexham, Newminster, 
Lanercost and St. Agatha's were quickly retaken from the 

Newminster was finally suppressed on August 2Oth, 
after the commissioners had been there from July 1st. The 
value of the moveables was counted at close upon a thousand 
pounds; more than one-half of which was represented by 
the lead and the worth of 660 ounces of plate. Pensions 
were promised to the community, consisting of seventeen 

1 State Papers, i. p. 541. a Ibid., i. 534. 

8 At heart, there can be no doubt, the people remained as opposed as 
before to the king's ecclesiastical policy generally, and in particular to his 
assumption of the supreme headship of the Church of England. Two years 
later, in the opinion of Mr. James Gairdner (Calendar, xiii. (i), preface ii), " We 
have ample evidences at this time of ill-concealed disaffection " towards the 
king in these matters. 

* Calendar, xii. (i), No. 1025. 

Dissolution by Attainder 269 

priests, three junior monks, as well as to four choir boys; 1 
but the following year only the abbot, Edward Tirry, 
and a former abbot, Edward Dunfield, received anything. 2 
The suppression of St. Agatha's, Richmond, followed 
about the same time; one only, Robert Brampton, re- 
ceiving any pension. The goods and plate were valued 
at close upon ^"loco, and some rich vestments from St. 
Agatha's and Calder were handed to Sir Thomas Pope 
for the king's use. Much of the property was, however, 
seized by the insurgents during the northern rising, as 
it still remained in the possession of the receiver, and 
some was not recovered 3 for the royal purse. Sawley, 
Hexham and Lanercost had already been dealt with in the 
same fashion. 

Several of the larger monasteries, moreover, fell into the 
royal power at this time by the attainder of their abbots. 
In the statute for the settlement of the royal succession (25 
Hen. VIIL, c. 22), under the ambiguous terms "estate of 
inheritance" and "successors," were introduced two great 
changes into English law. By the first, estates tail were 
made liable to forfeit for treason, and by the second " other 
than such persons as shall have been so convict, their heirs 
and successors" may have been intended, as is suggested by 
Sir Matthew Hale, to fasten upon lands held in the right 
of a corporation, as by a bishop or abbot. The king had a 
personal concern in all property so confiscated, and it was 
to his interest to make the meaning of the act as wide as 
possible. Hitherto the attainder of a bishop or abbot would 
not affect the property of the diocese or abbey over which 
the attainted superior ruled. It was left to Henry to include 
the forfeiture of possessions of a corporation in the punish- 
ment awarded to its head for supposed or real treasonable 
practices. Even Burnet argues that such a proceeding was 
unjustifiable. " How justly soever these abbots were at- 
tainted," he writes, " the seizing on their abbey lands, pur- 
suant to those attainders, was thought a great stretch of 
law, since the offence of an ecclesiastical incumbent is a 
personal thing, and cannot prejudice the church; no more 
than a secular man, being in office, does by being attainted 

1 Exch. Aug. Off. Mins. Accts., 27-28 Hen. VIIL, 200, m. 4<1. 
8 Ibid., 29-30 Hen. VIIL, No. 204, m. id. 
8 Ibid., No. 169, m. 5. 

270 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

bring any diminution of the rights of the office on his 
successors." * 

Upon this novel interpretation of the law of treason, 
however, Henry now determined to act, and the supposed 
complicity of some of the abbots in the Pilgrimage of Grace 
gave him the opportunity of laying hands upon the posses- 
sions of their houses. The part taken by John Paslew, 
abbot of Whalley, has already been remarked upon. Ac- 
cording to the evidence, there was very little, if indeed 
anything, which could be construed into active co-operation 
with the insurgents. Still he was tried, probably by martial 
law, at Lancaster, together with two of his monks, John 
Eastgate and William Hay dock, and the abbot of Sawley. 
William Trafford, the abbot of Sawley, was hanged at 
Lancaster on March roth, and the abbot of Whalley, with 
Eastgate, two days later at Whalley. Haydock, the other 
monk of Whalley, suffered the same punishment the follow- 
ing day, March 1 3th, in a field a few miles from his monastery, 
where his body was left hanging for some time. 2 

Writing to the earl of Sussex about this time, Henry 
conveys his thanks for the punishment inflicted upon those 
who had offended him. " And whereas," he continues, 
" upon the execution of the abbot of Whalley, you have 
taken order for the good direction of the house, and the safe 
keeping of the goods without embezzlement, till further 
knowledge of our pleasure; approving much your good 
foresight thereof, we have thought convenient to signify 
unto you, that forasmuch as it appeareth that the house of 
Whalley hath been so sore corrupt amongst others, that it 
should seem there remaineth very few therein that were 
meet to remain and continue in such a corporation, we think 
it shall be meet that some order be taken for the remotion 
of the monks now being in the same. And that (it is proper) 
we should take the whole hous^ into our own hands ; as, by 
our laws, we be justly, by the attainder of the said late abbot 
entitled unto it ; and so devise for such a new establishment 
thereof, as shall be thought meet for the honour of God, our 

1 Hist, of Reformation (ed. 1679), Bk. iii. p. 240. 

2 Whittaker, Hist, of Whalley ; p. 123. The actual date seems uncertain. 
From the king's letter to Sussex it would seem that the abbot of Whalley was 
dead before Sussex wrote letters which Henry speaks of receiving on March 
nth. (State Papers , i. p. 540.) 

Dissolution by Attainder 271 

surety and the benefit of the country. Wherefore our 
pleasure is, that you shall, with good dexterity, lay unto 
the charges of all the monks there their grievous offences 
towards us and our commonwealth, and therewith assay their 
minds, whether they will conform themselves gladly." They 
may either go to other houses or "receive secular habit," 
but Sussex is enjoined to endeavour to get them to go to 
some other monastery, as, says the king, "it cannot be 
wholesome for our commonwealth to permit them to wander 
abroad." 1 

The directions of Henry were acted upon, and by Michael- 
mas, 1537, John Kechin, the receiver, had sold goods and 
got in rents to the value of 9$?, us. ?d. from the abbey 
of Whalley, and had sent up to Brian Tuke, the king's 
treasurer, some ^5OO. 2 Thus in a few months the king 
had apparently given up all idea of "devising the new 
establishment " which was to be more " meet for the honour 
of God and the benefit of the country " than the old monas- 
tery of Whalley. Perhaps, however, he considered that by 
filling the royal purse he was but carrying out his original 
idea of " honouring God " and benefiting the country. 

In the same way the abbeys of Barlings, Jervaulx and 
Kirksted, and the priory of Bridlington, came at this time 
under the law of attainder. Bishop Mackarel, the abbot of 
Barlings, was executed in March. His supposed offences 
have already been spoken of, and his monastery shared the 
fate of Whalley. The minster church, 300 feet in length, 
was defaced, the lead on the buildings, both here and at 
Kirksted, being torn from the roofs and melted down at the 
special direction of Crumwell. 3 

Bridlington, an important priory of Austin canons in 
Yorkshire, possessing an income of 547 a year, likewise 
came to Henry by the attainder and execution of the prior. 
The previous year Crumwell had pressed the house to 
recognize the king as founder, a request which the com- 
munity refused. 4 By Michaelmas, 1537, public sales of the 
monastic property had been conducted by Tristram Teshe, 
the royal receiver for the district, and had realized more 
than ;8oo. The canons had been ejected some months 

1 State Papers, i. p. 540. 

* Exch. A. O. Rec. Gen. Accts., 28-29 Hen. VIII., No. 211. 

3 Calendar, xii. (i), No. 676. * Wright, 80. 

272 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

before, and in May, Crumwell had written to the duke of 
Norfolk of the king's intention to look after the interests 
of the poor people round about Jervaulx and Bridlington. 
He thought 4 of trying to get " some substantial person meet 
and necessary to stay the country and keep hospitality, to 
dwell in the principal part of the monastery," and thus in 
some measure to keep up the traditions of the place. 1 The 
Bridlington people had petitioned that the church, "which 
is the parish church for 1500 houseling people," and the 
shrine of St. John of Bridlington, might be kept and not 
defaced. 2 The early English choir of five bays had an east 
end like those of Whitby and Rievaulx. The altar possessed 
a magnificent reredos, and between it and a chapel aisle 
with five altars stood the shrine of the saint 3 from appro- 
priating which the people begged the king would restrain 
his hand. But Henry had a scruple. " As for the shrine/' 
Crumwell says in the letter to Norfolk already quoted, " the 
king's highness, to the intent that his people should not be 
seduced in the offering of their money, his grace would have 
taken down, which and all other jewels and plate apper- 
taining to his highness, except such as you desire to have 
for your money," are to be sent to him. The vestments, 
he adds, and other goods not fit for the royal use are to 
be sold.* The actual demolition, however, did not take 
place till a few months later. Richard Bellasis, who had 
been engaged in this work for the king, wrote in November 
that he would delay the destruction till March " because the 
days now are so short." But, he added, " from such time 
as I begin I trust shortly to dispatch it, after such fashion, 
that when all is finished, I trust your lordship shall think 
that I have been no evil husband in all such things as your 
lordship hath appointed me to do." 6 The nave of ten bays 
with its aisles, which alone remain to this day, indicates the 
faithful way in which this agent of destruction kept his 
promise to Crumwell. 

The people of the neighbourhood might well petition for 
the safety of the priory, for the poor of the district annually 
received in alms from the benefactions left in trust to the 
religious more than ^250 of our money. The four vicars 

1 Calendar, xii. (i), No. 1257. 2 Calendar, xii. (i), No. 1307. 

8 Walcott, Eng. Minsters, ii. p. 77. * Calendar, xii. (i), No. 1257. 
6 Wright, p. 165. 

Dissolution by Attainder 273 

and four deacons who served the parish church of Scar- 
borough received a yearly stipend from the funds of the 
monastery, 1 while more than one aged priest found an 
asylum within its walls. 

The neighbouring abbey of Jervaulx, situated in the vale 
of the Ure, fell likewise a prey to the royal rapacity in 
consequence of the insurrection. Adam Sedbar, the abbot, 
was hanged, and his brethren soon found themselves turned 
out of their monastery. "The house of Jervaulx," wrote 
the king with keen prevision, to the earl of Sussex, shortly 
after the death of the abbot, " is in some danger of suppres- 
sion by like offence as hath been committed at Whalley," 2 
and the danger was not long delayed. At the beginning 
of June, Sir Arthur Darcy informed Crumwell that he had 
been "at the suppression. . . . The houses within the 
gate," he says, " are covered wholly with lead, and there 
is one of the fairest churches that I have seen." In fact, 
he was so delighted with the place, that he suggested it 
would make a good stable for the royal "stud of mares," 
which were so costly to the king, " at Thornbury and other 
places." 8 

By the middle of November, what Darcy declared to be 
"one of the fairest churches" he had ever seen had been 
desecrated and demolished through the energetic action of 
Richard Bellasis. Crumwell had ordered the lead to be 
taken from the roof, and this zealous officer soon wrote to 
say that " all the lead of Jervaulx " was melted down into 
pieces of half fodders, amounting to the number of eighteen 
score and five fodders, with thirty-four fodders and a half 
that were there before. "The said lead," he continues, 
" cannot be conveyed nor carried until the next summer, for 
the ways in that country are so foul and deep that no 
carriage can pass in winter. And as concerning the razing 
and taking down the house, if it be your lordship's pleasure, 
I am minded to let it stand to the spring of the year, 
because the days are now so short, it would be double 
charges to do it now." As to the bells, " I can," he says, 
" get only fifteen shillings a hundredweight " for them, and 
would gladly know whether I shall take the price " or send 
them up to London." * 

1 Valor Eccl., p. 120. 2 State Papers, i. 542. 

8 Wright, 158. 4 Ibid., 164. 


274 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

By Michaelmas, 1537, the king's officer was able to 
account for receipts from the attainted monastery of Jervaulx 
exceeding 600, or more than .6000 of our money. The 
following year the same property brought to the exchequer 
.764, 133. 8d. 

The great abbey of Furness, in Lancashire, was also 
now induced to surrender to Henry. Roger Pyle, the abbot, 
and some of his monks, were thought to be incriminated with 
the northern insurgents. The members of the community, 
" with the tenants and servants, were successfully examined 
in private." 1 The result was summed up in a bill of accusa- 
tions against some members of the abbey. The abbot had 
been guilty of "falsehood at the time of the visitation in 
causing his monks to be forsworn." The monks of Sawley, 
on the suppression of that monastery, had been sent to 
Furness, and the abbot had induced them to go back to their 
monastery during the rebellion. "The abbot concealed the 
treason of Henry Sawley, monk, who said no secular knave 
should be head of the Church ; which abbot also made suit 
to his brethren to hold with him in all things that should be 
laid to his charge, promising to be for the same good unto 
them." These were the accusations of a friar named Robert 
Legat. A priest named Roger Pele, vicar of Dalton, said 
that the abbot did not keep the king's injunctions ; and one 
of his monks, John Broughton, added that he knew of the 
prophecies of the Holy Maid of Kent and others. One of 
the abbey bailiffs said that the abbot had told the brethren 
to be of good heart, " for he was sure on both sides both for 
the king and the commons." And a tenant said that he had 
ordered the monks to do the best for the commons ; but this, 
runs the document, "the abbot in his confession doth flat 

As regards the monks, the prior, Brian Garner, and one 
of the seniors, John Groyn, were reported as assembling 
their tenants on "All Hallows" Eve, when the latter said 
that " the king should make no more abbots there, but they 
would choose them themselves." Another monk had spoken 
against the king as rightful possessor of the crown of 
England, while others had said that "the bishop of Rome 
was unjustly put down." 2 

1 Lingard, History, vi. 339. 2 West, Antiq. of Furness, 165. 

Dissolution by Attainder 275 

The result of the examinations at Furness was commu- 
nicated to Henry by the earl of Sussex. Sufficient matter 
had been reported against the abbot to have secured his 
sharing the fate of the abbots of Whalley and Sawley, and 
the passing of the monastery to the king by his attainder. 
Sussex, however, hit upon another plan. " By such exami- 
nations as you have sent us," wrote the king to him, "it 
appeareth that the abbot of Furness and divers of his monks 
have not been of that truth towards us that to their duties 
appertained. We desire and pray you (therefore) with all 
the dexterity you can, to devise and excogitate to use all the 
means to you possible, to ensearch and try out the very truth 
of their proceedings, and with whom they, or any of them, 
have had any intelligence. We think verily, that you shall 
find thereby such matter as shall show the light of many 
things yet unknown. And our pleasure is, that you shall, 
upon a further examination, commit the said abbot and such 
of his monks as you shall suspect to have been offenders to 
ward; there to remain till you shall, upon the signification 
unto us of such other things as by your wisdom you shall 
try out, know further our pleasure." 1 

In reply to this communication Sussex wrote on the 6th 
of April that he had in his previous examination at Furness 
used " the said abbot and his brethren in such wise as ... 
it was impossible to get any more than was had before " out 
of them. He told the king that he " had committed to ward 
and sure custody in the castle of Lancaster two of the same 
monks, 2 which was all we could find faulty." Seeing, there- 
fore, it was not likely that any "material thing" done "after 
the pardon" would be discovered by further examination 
against the abbot and his monks "that would serve for the 
purpose," the earl now exposed his plan for obtaining the 
rich possessions of the abbey for the king. " I, the said 
earl," he says, " devising with myself, if one way would not 
serve, how and by what other means, the said monks might 
be rid from the said abbey, and consequently how the same 
might be at your gracious pleasure, caused the said abbot to 
be sent for to Whalley, and thereupon, after we had examined 
him, and indeed could not perceive that it was possible for 

1 State Papers, i. 541. 

a Henry Sawley was apparently one of these, as his name does not appear 
on the deed of surrender. 

276 Henry VHL and the English Monasteries 

us to have any other matter, I, the same earl, as before by 
the advice of other of your council, determined to essay him 
as of myself, whether he would be contented to surrender, 
give and grant, unto your heirs and assigns the said 
monastery." l 

With the fate of his brother abbots brought so clearly 
before his mind, and with the bodies of abbot Paslew and 
his companion still perhaps swinging before the gate of 
Whalley, where this examination was conducted, it is scarcely 
a matter of surprise that Sussex carried his point. It was 
a choice between death or surrender. 8 In either case the 
royal hand would seize the coveted possessions, and, as 
Sussex so clearly said, " the monks would be rid from the 
abbey, and the same be at" the king's gracious pleasure. 
The abbot chose the course most in accord with the weak- 
ness of human nature. He saved his life, but at the cost 
of his honour and his house. On the 5th of April, 1537, 
in the presence of Sussex and others, he signed a paper 
surrendering the monastery to the king on account of the 
" misorder and evil lives, both unto God and our prince, 
of the brethren of the said monastery." 8 He did not doubt, 
the earl continues, " but that we and he together shall easily 
obtain the ratification of the same gift of the convent, under 
their convent seal, as shall be requested." 

1 West, Antiquities of Fumtss, p. 166. 

2 Mr. Gairdner (Calendar, xiii. (i), preface xxviii.) says: "How easy it 
was to entangle heads of houses in such charges may be seen by the case of 
an abbot who, under rather trying circumstances, contrived not to commit 
himself very seriously. At Pershore, a groom of the King's Privy Chamber 
took advantage of that free hospitality which all monasteries offered to the 
wayfarer to listen to the conversation at the abbot's table and report it to the 
king." A neighbour, one Ralph Sheldon, having commended the King for 
throwing off the "usurpation of the Church of Rome," the abbot blamed him 
for what he said, and declared that for his part he hoped to die a child of 
Rome, and added that any one was accursed who resisted " a power " ordained 
by God. Harrison, the groom, wished to continue the conversation, but the 
abbot only " scornfully smiled and made no answer." He purposely turned 
the conversation ; but it was no use. A remark about the great mortality 
about Pershore at the time made by a man from the North, led the abbot to 
say, "You died fast enough in the North last year" (alluding of course to the 
savage executions on the suppression of the rebellion) ; " and as for us in this 
country, we be smitten with the plagues of David for David's offences." 
Harrison understood the allusion, and the words were taken to the King. " If 
this conversation was truly reported," says Mr. Gairdner, "it is strange that 
the abbot, notwithstanding his discreet reticence on some points, escaped 
examination and indictment." 

Wright, 153. 

Dissolution by Attainder 277 

Immediately this document had been obtained from 
the abbot of Furness three knights were dispatched from 
Whalley " to take into their hands the rule and governance 
of the said house to the use of your highness, and to see 
that the monks and servants of the same be kept in due 
order and nothing to be embezzled." Sussex was evidently 
pleased with what he had done, and, as he informed the 
king, Fitzherbert, to whom he unfolded his plan, " liked the 
same very well, saying, that he thought it was the most 
convenient way that could be to conduct that monastery 
to your grace's hands, and that new they may be ousted." 
It was Fitzherbert who drew up the deed of surrender 
ready for the monks' signatures, which the earl proposed to 
demand a few days later. 1 

On the following Monday, therefore, April gth, when 
the commissioners arrived with the abbot, and the deed 
prepared by Anthony Fitzherbert had been read to the 
community in their chapter-house, they took the only 
possible course left for them and ratified the act of their 
superior. Thirty monks, out of the thirty-three named as 
the community by Sussex, signed away their rights; two 
were in prison; only one apparently did not affix his name 
to the instrument. 2 

None of the monks, it seems, received any pension in 
return for the surrender of their monastery, which was 
worth, free of all charge, more than 800 a year. All they 
received on being turned out into the world was forty 
shillings each ; three of the thirty-one, " being sick and 
impotent," were given three pounds. 8 Abbot Roger, a year 
later, was provided for by the grant for life of the profits of 
the rectory of Dalton, which were then valued at ^33, 6s. 8d. 
a year. 4 Apparently he lived in the parsonage, for he was 
subsequently directed by Crumwell to give it up to " John 
Bothe, one of the king's servants." In his reply, which he 
dates from Furness, he pleads that he has "nothing else 
to live upon," and adds, " but for your displeasure I should 
be there now." To propitiate the all-powerful minister he 
sends him forty shillings in gold, and promises to send as 
much more at Easter. 6 

1 West, ut sup. a Eighth Rep. Dep. Keep. App., ii. 21. 

3 Exch. Augt. Off. Mins. Accts., 29-30 Hen. VIII., No. 187, mm. 13-14. 

4 West, p. 190. B R. O. Crum. Corr., viii. f. 18. 

278 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

"The vast and magnificent edifice of Furness was for- 
saken," writes Canon Dixon, " the lamp of the altar of St. 
Mary went out for ever, and in the deserted cloisters no 
sound was heard but the axe and hammer of those who 
came to cut away the lead, dash down the bells, hew away 
the rafters, and break in pieces the arches and pillars. Thus 
dismantled, the ruin was left as a common quarry for the 
convenience of every countryman who could cart away the 
sculptured stones for building a pigsty or a byre." 1 

Here as elsewhere the suppression was felt most keenly 
by the poor. From " time immemorial " on Maunday Thurs- 
day alms had been liberally bestowed on the poor at the 
abbey gate, while a hundred poor boys in the cloister 
each received a sum equal to more than a shilling of our 
money. Yearly on the feast of St. Crispin, according to the 
will of the founder, five oxen were given to the poor of the 
neighbourhood with a request for prayers for his soul. 
" Each week eight widows " had their bread and beer at the 
monastic kitchen, while from the foundation of the abbey to 
the day of dissolution thirteen poor people had been entirely 
maintained within its walls. Thus the regular charities 
alone, for which the monks of Furness were the trustees, 
amounted to a yearly sum of nearly 500 of our money. 2 
This loss to the poor of the neighbourhood, even if no 
account is taken of the numerous other services done to 
them under no strict obligation of justice, may be well 
imagined. The money to furnish bread and alms, which 
pious benefactors had left to the needy of the district, passed 
away from them for ever into the king's purse or the pockets 
of his courtiers. The thirteen "poor almsmen who had 
their living" within the old monastic walls, were, through 
the generosity of the royal commissioners, enriched by the 
gift of one mark each on being turned out into the world to 
beg for their living. 3 What the commonwealth at large 
lost by the destruction may be gathered from the fact that 
four hundred horsemen and twice that number of foot are 
said to have formed the monastic contingent at Flodden 
field. 4 

Another great Cistercian house, at no great distance from 
Furness, passed into Henry's hands by surrender. The 

1 Dixon's Hist, of Ch. of Engl., vol. i. 496. 2 Valor Ecd. t v. 270. 

* Exch. Augt. Off., ut sup. 4 Walcott, English Minsters, ii. p. 124. 

Dissolution by Attainder 279 

abbey of Holm Cultram was situated on the coast, and looked 
over the waters of the Solway Firth towards Scotland. At 
the time of the dissolution it possessed an income of 535, 
33. /d. It was a royal foundation, and among its annual 
expenses were pensions for priests who at the " Jesu altar " 
in the church offered the daily mass for the soul of Henry 
II. and the good estate of Henry VIII. Every year on 
Maunday Thursday alms were distributed equal in value to 
more than 30 of our money to the " boys brought up in 
the cloister " and " to the poor at the abbey gate," that they 
might remember to pray for the king, while five poor people 
received their support in the house for the same purpose. 
At the expense of the monks likewise were maintained the 
sea-dykes and walls by which alone the waters of the 
Solway Firth were prevented from devastating the adjacent 
country. 1 At the time when Layton and Legh visited the 
northern monasteries, in the beginning of 1536, Thomas 
Carter held the office of abbot, and his community consisted 
of five-and-twenty religious. He and several of his monks 
received a bad character from the royal commissioners, 
which may or may not have been deserved. 2 

But whatever desire the king might have had for the 
reformation of monks, nothing was apparently done until, 
the northern insurrection breaking out, Thomas Carter was 
involved in the suspicion of treason in aiding the rebels. 
Before the outbreak of the Lincolnshire rising he had been 
summoned to London, "to answer before the king and 
council such things as " should be objected against him, and 
on October 1st he replied to the order asking to be allowed 
to appear by "a friend." 8 The insurrection had already 
broken out, and Crumwell was obliged to delay his dealing 
with the refractory abbot until the rising had been quelled 
in the spring of 1537. A commission was then appointed 
to consider the matter, and it sat in the abbey church. 
"The articles against the abbot of Holm Cultram for high 
treason " were presented and signed by a religious, Thomas 
Graham ; and two other monks gave evidence. The gist 
of the accusation is, that at the first rising abbot Carter 
forced his tenants, "upon pain of hanging," to join the 
commons : that he had contributed forty shillings to the 

1 Valor Eccl., v. p. 282. 2 Calendar, x. No. 364. 

8 R. O. Crum. Corr., xvii. 

280 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

expenses of the insurgents : that he was one of the com- 
missioners from the people to Carlisle, and rode near to 
demand- that the city should be delivered up to them: and 
finally, that at the last rising when the people laid siege to 
Carlisle he had said "almighty God prosper them, for if 
they speed not this abbey is lost," and upon the saying, 
" he sent for his subprior and commanded him to cause the 
brethren to go daily with procession to speed the commons' 

Beyond the above, the abbot was accused of violating 
the injunctions of the king's visitors. It was said that he 
had admitted women to dine and sup within the precincts 
of the abbey: that he had sold the monastic plate to the 
value of 100 or more: that he had given out leases and 
" convent seals : " and that he had given the abbot of Byland 
" for helping him to his promotion, a salt of gold and silver 
worth twenty shillings." 1 The commission was, however, 
never concluded. 

The abbot appears to have died on the loth of August, 
and thus to have anticipated his fate. 2 Writing from Carlisle 
on August i/th (1537), Sir Thomas Wharton, one of the 
commissioners, states that he has attended the assizes at 
Carlisle and desires to plead the cause of the abbot's chief 
accuser, the monk Graham, who had given his late superior 
grave cause for anxiety by the irregularity of his life. " It 
may further please your lordship," he writes to Crumwell, 
" to know that, since the death of the late abbot of Holm, 
there were labours made unto me to sue for one Graham, 
monk of that monastery, who would besides his first fruits 
to be paid to the king's highness bestow for his preferment 
to be abbot there 400 marks." 3 

Graham was unsuccessful, for Crumwell had another 
worthy candidate for the appointment. Gawin Borodale 
about five years before had been for some months in prison 
at Furness Abbey on the charge of having caused the death 
of his abbot, Thomas Carter's predecessor, " in poisonning 
him." In a letter to Crumwell he had declared his innocency, 
and had asked to be tried " according to the statutes of the 
holy " Cistercian religion. 4 Dr. Legh, at the request of the 
abbots of Furness and Byland, " the visitors and reformators 

1 Raine, Hexham Priory, i. App. cliv. 2 Calendar, xi. No. 276. 

8 Ibid., 319. 4 R. O. Crum. Corr., iv. f. 118. 

Dissolution by Attainder 281 

of the Cistercians," had begged Crumwell's favour for him, 
as "he had well served the king in his house," and was 
" kept out of his monastery through the sinister information 
of some evil-disposed persons." x It was this Gawin Boro- 
dale who received the office of abbot of Holm Cultram in 
the autumn of 1537, and who, in the March following, re- 
signed the abbey into the king's hands. As in the cases 
of Jervaulx, Whalley, Kirksted and other monasteries, the 
superiors of which had been executed for treason, so Holm 
Cultram would no doubt have come into the royal power by 
attainder if other arrangements had not been made. 

On February i8th, 1538, the king issued a special com- 
mission to Thomas Legh, William Blithman, and James 
Rokeby to repair to the abbey. The commission states that 
" whereas the abbot and convent of our monastery of Holm 
Cultram . . . freely and willingly be determined and con- 
cluded to surrender all the title and interest of the monastery 
and of the goods and possessions thereunto belonging into 
our hands and disposition," the king appoints the above to 
obtain from the abbot and convent " such sufficient writing 
under their convent seal as shall be expedient." Further, 
that at the dissolution they shall promise the abbot and 
monks " such things as shall be necessary for them and his 
living according to their discretion ; shall make an inventory 
and survey of the goods and lands, and conduct the sales of 
the monastic effects." 2 

Acting upon these instructions, the commissioners at- 
tended at the monastery upon March 6th, 1538, and at 
once dispatched James Rokeby to London "to declare the 
surrender." In their account at the following Michaelmas 
they acknowledge having sold 802 ounces of plate for 147, 
us. 4d., and 146 fodders of lead worth ^486, while they 
have left the covering on the church roof for the further 
"pleasure of the king, because it was the parish church." 
The monks on being dispatched had various sums given to 
them, varying from 6 to Robert Langton, the prior, to 2 
to each of the three novices. 3 Gawin Borodale secured for 
himself a pension of .100 a year, a house and stables, and 
all the tithes as rector of Holm Cultram. 4 Most of the 

1 R. O. Crum. Corn, xxii. No. 9 (Aug. 16, 25 Hen. VIII.). 

- Exch. Aug. Off. Mins. Accts., 28-29 Hen. VIII., No. 165. 

3 Ibid. * Aug. Off. Misc. Bk., 232, f. 43. 

282 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

community were pensioned at the same time. 1 To Thomas 
Graham, the chief accuser of abbot Carter, Dr. Legh, as royal 
commissioner, made the special grant of "a chapel called 
Saint Thomas chapel to make him a chamber of there." 2 

The dissolution of two other houses may be here noted, 
not that their fate had any apparent connection with the 
northern rising, but that they were brought by some means 
or other under the law of attainder. These were the 
Cluniac priory of Lenton, in Nottinghamshire, and the 
Cistercian abbey of Woburn, in Bedfordshire. The former 
house, like so many others, had been much disturbed by 
the action of Crumwell's visitors. One of the monks, Dan 
Hamlet Pencriche, had brought an accusation against the 
prior before the council, and finally fled from his monastery, 
as he had twice before done, carrying away goods belonging 
to the house. 3 He was, however, subsequently lodged in 
the Fleet prison by order of the Chancellor, 4 and although 
Nicholas Hethe, the prior, had originally been promoted to 
his post by the good-will of Crumwell himself, he soon 
discovered that his duty to his house forced him to break 
with his patron. As early as April, 1536, apparently not 
long after coming to his office, Hethe wrote to say that his 
predecessor had left the house much in debt, and that 
although he had promised Crumwell, through his nephew 
Richard, ^100, he was then only able to pay 60; he 
hoped that the rest might stand over to Martinmas, or 
otherwise he would have to borrow money " in London of 
some merchant" to "keep up hospitality." He concludes 
by asking that the rule banishing all young men from the 
cloistered life may be relaxed for Lenton. "I beseech," he 
says, "I may have your favour concerning two young men 
in our religion at Lenton. All my brethren, except four or 
five, are very impotent and of great age, and request your 
favour that they may continue in their religion." 6 

On the 2Qth of June the same year, 1536, the prior is 

. said to have committed some act of treason against the 

king. 6 What the treason was does not appear, unless it be 

1 Aug. Off. Misc., Bk. 233, ff. 2, 170. J Exch. Q. R. y, N <>. 5- 

s Calendar, x. No. 655. 4 R. O. Crum. Corr., xxxii. No. 38. 

* Calendar, x. No. 1234. 

8 R. O. Exch. Augt. Off. Misc. Bk., 313^, f. 8, a curious list of the dates 
of the treasons of those attainted. 

Dissolution by Attainder 283 

the sale of some of the plate of the monastery, disposed of 
doubtless to relieve the needs of his community, and for 
which Godbery, a London goldsmith, who had purchased 
it, was subsequently forced by Crumwell to refund nearly 
20 to his private purse. 1 Whatever his act may have 
been, the prior was seized and thrown into prison in 
February, 1538, where he remained till the middle of the 
following month, 2 when he, together with eight of his monks 
and four labourers of Lenton, were indicted for treason at 
Nottingham. 3 In the Crumwell's " Remembrances " at this 
time is entered the following note: "The suppression of 
Lenton and the execution of the prior,"* and on the "Con- 
trolment Roll " is found the record of the conviction of 
" Nicholas Hethe, prior of Lenton, William Gylham, monk 
of Lenton," four labourers and a priest for high treason, 
after whose names are entered the ominous " T et S," " to 
be drawn and hanged," as the sentence passed upon them. 
What became of the rest of the monks is not known. None 
of them obtained any pension from the king, nor apparently 
did the five poor men kept by the monastery alms 5 receive 
any compensation upon being deprived of their inheritance. 
A clear revenue of upwards of ^329 a year passed into 
Henry's hands by the attainder of the monastery, and more 
than ^252 were obtained by the sales of the monastic 
goods. 6 

The story of the destruction of Woburn and the fate of 
the abbot is rendered even more pathetic by the touching 
details which have been preserved. By it the veil is lifted 
and a glimpse is afforded of the fears, hopes and despair 
which filled the souls of the religious in the short time 
during which the sword of destruction hung over their 
heads. Their hearts appear chilled by the uncertain fate 
which awaited them, their actions paralyzed by the masterful 
policy of Crumwell, and the very fountain of religious life 
dried up by injunctions conceived with the deliberate purpose 

1 R. O. Chapter House Bk., B. , f. 40. 

8 R. O. Exch. Aug. Off. Mins. Accts., 29-30 Hen. VIII., 181. 

* R. O. Control. Roll, 30 Hen. VIII., m. 39. The names of the monks 
were : Ralph Swenson, Richard Bower, Richard Atkinson, Christopher 
Browne, John Trewnam, John Adelenton, William Eery, William Gylham. 

4 Brit. Mus. Cott. MS., Titus B. i. f. 468^. 

6 Valor Eccl. , v. 149. 

6 R. O. Exch. Aug. Off. Mins. Acct., 29-30 Hen. VIII., 181. 

284 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

of making the cloister unbearable and compelling rebellion 
or surrender. 

Richard Hobbes had been abbot of Woburn for many 
years, and, together with his monks, had given in to the 
royal demands and sworn to the king's "headship." It was 
clearly against his better judgment and that of many at 
least of his monks, that the oath was taken, and they were 
troubled in conscience at their weakness in not standing 
out for what they believed to be the only truth. Dan Ralph, 
the subprior, subsequently acknowledged his scruples and 
begged Henry's pardon for his "erroneous estimation of 
Mr. More and the bishop of Rochester, whose death he a 
great while thought meritorious, wishing he had died with 
them." In fact, he asserted that it was the abbot himself 
who, " by counsel and menaces," persuaded him to take the 
required oath of supremacy. Another of the community, 
Dan Laurence, the sexton, declared that when he was first 
sworn he could not touch the book on account of the num- 
bers, and so he considered his conscience was free, although 
he had signed " the carte of profession." l 

Even at the beginning of the year 1536 rumours were 
circulated about the probable fate of the abbey, and it was 
said that " it and other more should go down ere Twelfth- 
tide." 2 But it was really not until the spring of the year 1 538 
that any steps were taken against it. The final catastrophe 
was hastened through the malicious informations of discon- 
tented monks, who, here as in many monasteries of England 
at this time, served Crumwell as spies upon the acts and 
words of their superiors and brethren. 

On the 1 2th of May, 1538, abbot Hobbes and certain of 
his monks were examined in the Tower. The subprior and 
some others deposed that at the time when the Carthusians 
were put to death the abbot had called them together and 
said these words : " Brethren, this is a perilous time ; such 
a scourge was never heard since Christ's passion. Ye hear 
how good men do suffer death. Brethren, this is undoubtedly 
for our offences. Ye read, so long as the children of Israel 
kept the commandments of God, so long their enemies had 
no power over them, but God took vengeance on their 
enemies; but when they broke God's commandments, then 

1 Calendar, x. No. 1239. * Ibid., No. 5. 

Dissolution by Attainder 285 

they were subdued by their enemies, and so be we. There- 
fore, let us be sorry for our offences and undoubtedly he 
will take vengeance on our enemies ; I mean these heretics 
that cause so many good men to suffer thus. Alas ! it is 
a piteous case that so much Christian blood should be shed. 
Therefore, good Christian brethren, for the reverence of God, 
every one of you devoutly pray and say this psalm Deus 
venerunt gentes through, and say this versicle Exurgat 
Deus et dissipentur inimici. This foresaid psalm to be said 
every Friday, immediately after the litany, prostrate, when 
ye lie before the high altar, and undoubtedly God will cease 
this extreme storm." 

This injunction the monks faithfully carried out, although 
some murmured at the command, and when at the begin- 
ning of 1536 parliament passed the act by which the lesser 
monasteries were suppressed, the abbot again spoke to his 
monks. "The abbot," says the deposition of four of the 
monks, "with such like exhortation in the said chapter- 
house, with lamentable mournings for the dissolving of 
them, enjoined us to sing, ' Salvator mundi salva nos omnes ' 
every day after Lauds. And we murmured at it, and were 
not content to sing it for such cause. And so we did omit 
it divers times, for which the abbot came unto the chapter 
and did in manner rebuke us, and said we were bound to 
obey his commands by our profession. And so he did com- 
mand us to sing it again with versicles: ' Exurgat Deus} 
etc., and enjoined us to say at every mass that every priest 
did sing, a collect : ' Deus qui contritorum] etc. And he 
said if we did thus with good and pure devotion, God would 
handle the matter so that it should be to the comfort of all 
England, and so show us mercy as he showed unto the 
children of Israel. And surely brethren, he said, there will 
come over us a good man that will re-edify these monasteries 
again that are now suppressed, 'quia potens est Deus de 
lapidibus istis suscitare filios Abrahae.' " x 

Meantime during the period of waiting for the final doom 
there arose excitement and contentions among the monks, 
and cross-accusations of one party against the other. In 
the " shaving house " Dan John Croxton was openly accused 
by a brother, Laurence Blonham, of being one of the " new 

1 Calendar, xiii. (i), No. 981. 

286 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

world." Dan John replied with bitter words, saying that 
such ideas would get them into trouble, but Blonham 
answered : " Neither thou nor yet any of us all shall do 
well as long as we forsake our head of the Church, the 
pope." Croxton retorted that if Blonham really thought 
this, he was "a false, perjured knave to his prince," and 
upon his saying that "he never was sworn to forsake the 
pope as head, and never would be," said, "Thou shalt be 
sworn spite of thy heart one day, or I will know why nay." 1 
Another monk, called Crowe, complained that, having spoken 
against the bread supplied to them, the abbot told him " to 
go further and fare worse." 

These and such like tales, duly carried to the ears of 
Crumwell, brought the abbot under suspicion. He was 
arrested and conveyed together with other of his monks to 
the Tower. He with his monks had tried, it seems, to antici- 
pate the event by a joint letter handing over themselves and 
their monastery to the king's mercy. They indeed acknow- 
ledged Henry " to be supreme head " and their " comfort and 
joy," and declared that they were innocent of the charges 
brought against them, including "high treason." 2 But the 
submission, ample and humble as it was, either came too late, 
or the king had determined to discourage disobedience in 
other monasteries by another example of an abbot ending 
an honoured life on the scaffold. 

In his examination Richard Hobbes practically allowed 
all that had been advanced against him. With regard to the 
pope, he does not hesitate to admit that in " much preaching " 
he has not declared the king "supreme head;" not out of 
malice, as he says, " but only for a scrupulous conscience he 
then had touching the continuance of the bishop of Rome." 
He had got Dan William Hampton, his secretary, to tran- 
scribe a book written by John Mylward, priest of Todington, 
called " De potestate Petri." He will not allow that he spoke 
of England as an heretical country, for not joining in the 
general council ; nor that he neglected to give up all the 
" papistical bulls " he could find to " Mr. doctor Petre " at 
the visitation ; nor that he neglected to have the pope's name 
erased out of the " calendars and other books, as mass books, 
grayles and other usual books of the choir." He commanded 

1 Cakndar, xiii. (i), No. 981. * Wright, 145. 

Dissolution by Attainder 287 

the cantor, Dan Robert Neve, and others to obey the king's 
order in this matter, and himself put the name out of " such 
books as he had to say his service." 

On the other hand, he confesses that, when the papal 
bulls were sent up to doctor Petre, he got Dan Robert Salford 
" to write the principal bulls in a fair hand," and the junior 
monks not priests to transcribe the others in a running hand, 
so that when the quarrel between the king and pope was 
settled he might have evidence of his old privileges and 
exemptions. These copies, he said, "remained yet in my 
chamber at my coming away." 

He fully admitted his sermons to his brethren, and even 
himself says he likened Henry to Nebuchodonosor taking 
away the sacred vessels of the Temple. Also on several 
occasions he had spoken to young men, "commensals" of 
the house, as "Mr. Morice, Mr. Carye and Mr. Hervy," 
whose schoolmaster was very earnest against the " new 
learning," in the same strain. "And I the said abbot," he 
says, " confess that in all audiences from time to time I have 
stood stiffly in my opinions of the old trade unto this present 
day, maintaining the part of the bishop of Rome, so far as I 
durst, thinking that it was the true way, and the contrary of 
the king's part but usurpation desiderated by flattery and 
adulation." 1 

As abbot Hobbes had spoken to his brethren and those 
living in his house, so he had declared for the old faith to 
his friends outside. To lord Grey of Wilton he had been 
explicit as to his opinions, and also to Dan Augustin, " the 
quondam " of Wardon, who was staying at Woburn. Most 
plainly of all had he opened his mind to Sir Francis Brian, 
and throughout his examinations he manifests a fear lest his 
friendship with Sir Francis should be considered detrimental 
to that gentleman's interests. He had often been at Ampt- 
hill with him, and always took care to extol the teaching of 
the "old fathers Catholic," and specially condemned the 
preaching of Latimer " as touching our Lady and the saints." 
On one occasion in particular, after the Lent of 1538, he was 
with a large company at Sir Francis's house at Ampthill. 
He went, " after loving cheer and disports," with Brian to 
his bedroom, where he saw a "goodly book," which proved 

1 Brit. Mus. Cott. MS., Cleop. E. iv. f. 108. 

288 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

to be the new English translation of the Bible. He took 
advantage of the chance to speak about it. " It is a fair 
book," he said, " but in my opinion not well interpreted in 
many places, which hereafter may be the cause of much 
error." ,Sir Francis opened the volume and turned to the 
place in St. Luke which speaks of the " consecration of the 
blessed Body and Blood." Having read it, he asked the 
abbot what he thought about it. He confessed that it was 
good, but took occasion to say again that there were many 
false translations in the volume. 1 

The abbot admitted that he had wished he had died with 
the Carthusians, More and Fisher. He was ill at the time, 
a few weeks before his imprisonment, and, as the accuser 
says, " Dan Ralph Woburn, subprior, reported in his own 
chamber to one Dan William Hampton, in the presence of 
this examinat, that the abbot from whom he came a little 
before said to him (after he had asked him how he did) that 
he wished himself to have died with the good men that died 
for holding with the pope, and said that his conscience doth 
grudge him daily for it. Whereunto this examinat," says 
the accuser, " answered, ' If he be disposed to die for that 
matter, he may die as soon as he will.'" 2 

"And finally," says abbot Hobbes in his confession, "as 
touching acts of the archbishop of Canterbury in ordaining 
and consecration of bishops, dispensations of matrimony, 
capacities given to religious men, I have thought he had no 
authority so to do without power of the bishop of Rome, 
and in likewise all such things done by him, not lawfully 
exercised by those that have received such dignities and 
dispensations from him." 

This ample confession, which was evidently made by the 
advice of Crumwell, pitifully reveals mind and soul and heart 
in all their perplexities. But the abbot had also vividly 
before him the horrors of imprisonment and the thought of a 
terrible death. Under stress of this fear, before his exami- 
nation is concluded, he, in accents more pitiful still, admits 
that he may have been mistaken after all, and prays for 

This is but a picture of the anguish of conscience and 
the sinking of heart in dread of an uncertain end which must 

1 Brit. Mus. Cott. MS., Cleop. E. iv. f. 109. 
1 State Papers, Dom. 1538, ut sup. 

Dissolution by Attainder 289 

have been the experience of thousands in that terrible time. 
The storm burst first and most heavily, as usual, not on the 
practised theologian and skilled dialectician, but on men who 
mostly lived by authority and tradition. By instinct they 
knew what was right. Their conscience " was scrupulous 
touching the continuance of the bishop of Rome." They 
maintained his part " as far as they durst, thinking it was 
the true way," and regarding with equal distrust and fear 
the ecclesiastical policy of Henry and the acts of Cranmer, 
believing that the archbishop "had no authority to do as he 
did without power of the bishop of Rome." The expectation 
was general that the " quarrel," as it was esteemed, between 
the king and the pope would be made up again, and that at no 
very distant time. To men wise after the event, such an expec- 
tation may seem to betoken a simplicity bordering on foolish- 
ness, but to men in those days it was a sheet-anchor of hope. 

To those in the position of the abbot of Woburn the 
immediate interests were pressing, involving both the wel- 
fare of brethren, servants, dependents, friends, and the fate 
of a home they loved. Such considerations must have 
added a moral weight to suggestions prompted by personal 
fears, and perchance may have helped them even to deceive 
themselves. Like prior Houghton of the Carthusians, they 
might come to believe that they were making themselves 
anathema for the sake of their brethren, and even "the 
daily grudge of conscience" would appear to men of this 
stamp but part of the sore burden to be borne in their 
Master's service, so subtle is the mind in finding the highest 
motives to avert an evil before which the flesh quails and 
the heart sinks. All that could be done for the moment was 
to hold out and gain time. 

But such a surrender of convictions as that to which 
abbot Hobbes had brought himself was all in vain. His 
prayer for pardon was denied ; he was not allowed to live. 
Henry had passed beyond the stage of compassion for any 
human weakness, of pity for any living soul. The abbot 
was apparently tried at Lincoln, together with Laurence 
Blonham or Peck, and Richard Woburn or Barnes, two 
monks of the abbey, and all three being found guilty, were 
ordered to be drawn, hanged and quartered. 1 Of the two 

1 R. O. Control. Roll, 30 Hen. VIII., m. 6d. 

290 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

monks thus condemned, one, Laurence Blonham, was he 
who in the "shaving house" had declared he never would 
"be sworn to forsake the pope." The other, Richard, or 
as he is otherwise called, " Ralph," Woburn or Barnes, was 
the subprior of whom abbot Hobbes has left it on record, 
that he ''always held the strongest views and expressed 
them " on the matter of the pope's authority. 1 

The abbot, together with the vicar of Puddington and 
others, was hanged before the gate of Woburn abbey, and 
tradition as late as the beginning of this century pointed to 
an old oak tree in front of the monastery as the gallows upon 
which the monks were executed. 2 

The possessions of the abbey, producing a clear income 
of nearly 400 a year, 3 thus passed into the royal hands by 
the new interpretation of the law of attainder on the 2Oth of 
June, 1538. By the 2Qth of September the royal receiver 
for attainted lands acknowledged from sales of the monastic 
goods the sum of .266, 1 2s. 4 A few years later this property 
was granted, together with many other broad acres belonging 
to the Church and the poor, to Sir John Russell. 

1 Cleop. E. iv. f. io6d. 

2 Brit Mus. Add. MS- 27,402, p. 47, gives only one monk " the prior" 
executed with the abbot. The parson of Puddington's name was John 
Hcnmersh. Cont. Roll, 31 Hen. VIII. ; Dodd's Wobtirn, 1818, p. 38. 

* Valor Eccl., iv. p. 213. 

* R. O. Exch. Augt. Off. Mins. Accts., 29-30 Hen. VIII., 181, m. 3. 


The Suppression of Convents 

SEVERAL circumstances relating to the destruction of English 
nunneries render some particular account of them advisable. 
Many things combined to render the dissolution of con- 
ventual establishments of women and the disbanding the 
inmates more terrible to nuns than to monks. A woman 
compelled to exchange the secluded life of a cloister, with all 
its aids to piety, for an existence in the world, to which she 
could never rightly belong, would be obviously in a more 
dangerous and unbearable position than a man. To the 
monk, who was also a priest, there was always a possible 
future in the exercise of his sacred calling, and however 
remote his chance of obtaining a cure of souls or other 
sacerdotal employment, when the tendency of Henry's policy 
was on every hand to destroy the influence and diminish 
the occupation of the clergy, still the bare possibility must 
have rendered expulsion from home less hopeless in its 
outlook. The nun's lot, however, had no such ray of 
consolation. Even had the circumstances attending her 
dismissal from conventual life been more fortunate, or had 
it been the result of her own act and choice, her future 
must have been dark and uncertain, since the vows which 
bound her heart and conscience must keep her always apart 
from the secular surroundings in which she was compelled 
to exist. The cleric, even although his monk's garb were 
torn from him, and he was forced to trudge the world in 
poverty, could not be deprived of the sacred character of 
the clerical state ; but the nun, driven from the dismantled 
walls of her convent, and the veil of her profession denied 
to her, could not but suffer the pains of daily martyrdom in 
the rough surroundings of an uncongenial world. 

At the time of the dissolution there were in England 
some hundred and forty convents of women. Of these, 

29 2 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

rather more than half belonged to the Benedictine order. 
They were scattered over the face of the country ; Yorkshire 
containing a greater proportion than any other county. 
The majority were not possessed of a yearly income suffi- 
cient to exempt them from the operation of the act by which 
the lesser houses passed into the king's hands. In York- 
shire alone, more than half the convents were suppressed 
under cover of this act of dissolution. 

With regard to the regularity and order which prevailed 
in the English nunneries at the time of their destruction, it 
will be sufficient here to indicate that even Layton and Legh 
in their celebrated " comperta" are able to bring compara- 
tively few charges against their good name. It will be 
remembered that the reports of these worthy emissaries of 
Crumwell embraced some thirteen counties, and only twenty- 
seven nuns in all the convents they visited are charged 
with vice of any kind. Even of these seven-and-twenty 
all but ten can be identified as subsequently receiving the 
grant of a pension. It is, moreover, most remarkable that 
even Layton and his fellow-visitor can only name two nuns, 
out of all the convents visited, who are anxious to cast off 
the restraints of religious life ; and this even after the im- 
position of vexatious injunctions, the very acknowledged 
purpose of which was to render the practice of religious life 

In the subsequent reports of the mixed commissions of 
gentry and officials, the character given to the convents is 
uniformly most excellent. Thus the White nuns of Grace 
Dieu in Leicestershire, the only convent of the order in 
England, are declared to be " of good and virtuous conver- 
sation and living, and all desirous to continue their religion 
there, and none willing to have capacities" to return to a 
life in the world. They were fifteen in number, and their 
convent, situated in the wilds of Charnwood forest, was a 
blessing to the neighbourhood. Although their whole avail- 
able income was under ^100 a year, they yet gave em- 
ployment to thirty-six dependents, and twelve people, nine 
of whom were absolute paupers, were supported in the 
convent. 1 Besides this, out of their scanty income they 
had to distribute on the anniversary of the death of their 

1 Calendar, x. p. 497. 

The Suppression of Convents 293 

foundress a sum equal to .20 of our money, to obtain the 
prayers of the poor for the repose of her soul. 1 

A few months before this report the previous royal 
visitors had accused two of the nuns of the worst offences, 2 
who are now declared to be " of good and virtuous conver- 
sation." The house came, of course, within the pecuniary 
limit appointed by the act dissolving the lesser houses of 
religion, but on August iyth the prioress, Agnes Litherland, 
received the king's licence to continue. For " divers causes 
and considerations," the convent was allowed to be re-estab- 
lished "in perpetuity," and the prioress was continued in 
her office. 8 On October 2ist, 1538, however, the house 
was suppressed by Dr. Legh, who promised Cecily Bagnald, 
then apparently the prioress, a pension of ^40 a year. 4 On 
the 2Oth of the following December, fifteen other nuns, 
amongst whom were the two so grievously incriminated by 
doctors Layton and Legh, were also granted pensions. 

In the same way the poor priory of Black Benedictine 
nuns at Langley, in the same county, received an equally 
good character from the mixed commissioners. There were 
six nuns besides the prioress, "who is," says the report, 
"of great age and impotent; all are of good and virtuous 
living and conversation ; one is sister to the late Sir Richard 
Saccheverell, almost 80 years old ; ' one other is in regard 
a fool.' All are desirous to continue in religion." 5 They 
had a chaplain, fourteen dependents, and two people living 
in the house to whom they had granted a perpetual corrody. 
Of a thirtieth part of their small revenue they were only the 
trustees, being bound by their founder to distribute corn 
and money, worth in these days some 10, every year, on 
the Wednesday in Holy Week, to twelve widows, that they 
might pray for the repose of his soul. 6 On the 24th of 
June, 1536, the royal commissioners descended upon the 
priory, and the process of dissolution took them exactly 
three months. The plate and jewels belonging to the church 
and house, including a silver vessel weighing 108 ounces, 
and a "pix" for the blessed Sacrament of 16 ounces, were 
estimated to be worth nearly 60, and were forthwith 

1 Valor Eccl., iv. 175. z Calendar, x. p. 183. 

Rot. Pat., 28 Hen. VIII., Pars ii. m. (ff)- 

4 R. O. Augt. Off. Misc. Bk., 245, f. 225. 

8 Calendar, x. p. 247. ' Valor Eccl., iv. 176. 

294 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

dispatched to the royal treasury. The prioress, Dulcosa 
Bothe, was obliged during these months of weary waiting 
to sell a silver salver and eleven spoons in order to keep up 
the hospitality and almsgiving of the house. 1 The vest- 
ments and moveables of the convent were sold for more 
than 81 ; while the lead on the roofs and gutters, together 
with two small bells, were appraised at ^"34 more. When 
all arrangements had been made, on September 24th, the 
nuns were expelled, and thirty-six shillings and eightpence 
was distributed amongst them. 2 There were no pensions, 
apparently, granted to any of the nuns. Very probably the 
prioress, to whom, according to the rule followed in most 
of the early dissolutions, some small allowance would have 
been made, did not long survive her expulsion, since she 
was " of great age and impotent " at the time. In Mary's 
reign, one nun only, Isabel Seton, appears on the pension 
list of the survivors of the dissolved monasteries. 8 

Among the religious houses, which ought to have been 
suppressed under the act for the dissolution of the lesser 
monasteries, but which purchased from the king a royal 
grant to continue, were twenty-one convents of women. 
The nuns who thus obtained a temporary respite were some 
273, and their dependents may be considered to have 
equalled four or five times that number. The price they 
paid to the king's treasury as purchase-money for their own 
convents and for leave to continue in the cloister was, in 
almost every case where payment had been made before the 
final catastrophe, greatly in excess of their annual revenue. 
About half the number, however, chiefly those situated in 
the northern counties, had apparently paid nothing when 
their property was again seized by Henry. The others, 
although the treasurer of the Augmentation Office is careful 
to note that the sums entered were only "part payment," 
and that the arrears due had been forgiven them as they 
had come into the king's hand before the settlement of the 
debt, paid dearly for their continuance. Thus Lacock, a 
convent of eighteen nuns in Wiltshire, actually paid .300, 

1 Besides this, she accounted for 47, 45. 2jd., received from rents, as 
spent on the support of the house. Exch. A. O. Mins. Accts., 27-28 Hen. 
VIII., 90, m. 28. 

2 R. O. Exch. Augt. Off. Mins. Accts., 27-28 Hen. VIII., 168, m. 4. 
8 Brit. Mus. Add. MS.. 8102, Co. Leicester. 

The Suppression of Convents 295 

its annual income being only i6S ; and St. Mary's, Chester, 
which maintained its thirteen nuns upon the slender income 
of 66 a year, was compelled to purchase exemption by a 
payment of ^^o. 1 

If these sums are large, there can be little doubt that 
many other payments were also made, either as bribes to 
induce the king's officials to interest themselves in the pre- 
servation of various houses, or to obtain the royal favour 
by money offered personally to him. Thus the prioress of 
Catesby wrote to Crumwell that " the queen had moved the 
king for me, and offered him 2000 marks for the house of 
Catesby, but has not yet a perfect answer." She begs the 
all-powerful minister in her " great sorrow " to get the king 
to allow the house to stand, "and," she adds, "get me years 
of payment for the 2OOO marks. You shall have 100 marks 
of me to buy a gelding, and my prayers during my life, and 
all my sisters during their lives." She concludes by re- 
minding Crumwell of the good report the commissioners had 
sent of her house, and although, as she hears, a grant has 
already been made of the convent to some royal favourite, 
still she trusts to the queen's efforts and his that its destruc- 
tion may be averted. 2 

On May I2th the commissioners themselves anticipated 
their report of the visitation in Northamptonshire to try and 
save the convent. The "house of Catesby," they say, "we 
found in very perfect order, the prioress a pure, wise, 
discreet and very religious woman with nine nuns under 
her obedience, as religious and devout, and with as good 
obedience as we have in time past seen or belike shall see. 
The said house standeth in such a quarter much to the relief 
of the king's people, and his grace's poor subjects there 
likewise much relieved, as by the report of divers worshipful 
(men) near thereunto adjoining, as of all other that is to us 
openly declared. Wherefore if it should please the king's 
highness to have any remorse that any such religious house 
shall stand, we think his grace cannot appoint any house 
more meet to show his most gracious charity and pity 
to than to the said house of Catesby." They praise the 
"discreet entertainment" the prioress showed to the com- 
missioners, and write thus, " lest peradventure there may be 

1 R. O. Exch. Aug. Off. Treasurer's Roll, i. m. 4<I. 

2 Calendar, x. No. 383. 

296 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

labour made to her detriment and utter undoing, before 
knowledge should come to his highness and to you from 
us," and that the king "may stay the grant" of the house. 1 

This petition on behalf of the nuns of Catesby, from the 
very commissioners who had been sent to conduct the 
dissolution of their convent, perhaps did harm to the cause 
they wished to serve. The chancellor of the Augmentation 
Office showed Henry the letter, and subsequently declared 
that " the king's highness was displeased, as he said to my 
servant Thomas Harper, saying that it was like that we had 
received rewards, which caused us to write as we did." 2 
George Gyffard, the writer of the above letters, informed 
Crumwell on the 27th of June that by order of "Mr. 
Chancellor and Mr. Attorney of the Augmentation," the 
commissioners had returned to Catesby " to begin our sup- 
pression." Even then, however, they were loath to execute 
the decree of expulsion, and asked whether the order from 
the Augmentation Office was "a sufficient warrant." 3 

Crumwell's reply was, no doubt, an order to proceed 
with the unwelcome work, for the suppression was immedi- 
ately commenced. The establishment consisted of nine nuns 
besides the prioress, twenty-six dependents, the vicar of 
Catesby, two assistant chaplains and one parish clerk paid 
by the convent. The royal officers seized plate to the value 
of 29, 45., sold the furniture of the house, with the vest- 
ments and other ornaments of the church, for more than 
400, and estimated that the lead, which had been torn from 
the roof and melted, would bring in ;llO more, besides 3 
for the broken metal of two handbells. 4 

The work of dissolution took some time, and it was not 
till after September 2/th that the nuns were finally turned 
adrift. John Tregonwell, one of Crumwell's emissaries, 
gave them a good character to the last. "The prioress 
there," he says, " is a right sad matron ; the sisters also 
there now being by the space of twenty years hath been (by as 
much as I can learn) without suspicion of incontinent living." 6 

Joyce Bykeley, the prioress, was granted by letters patent 
a pension of 20 a year from July 2nd, 1 536. 6 The payment 

1 Wright, 129. 2 Ibid., 136. $ Calendar, x. No. 1215. 

4 R. O. Exch. Aug. Off. Mins. Accts., 27-28 Hen. VIIL, 173, m. 2. 
* R. O. Crum. Corr. xliii. No. 59. 
Exch. Augt. Off. Misc. Bk., 244, f. 32, " Orig. of Grants." 

The Suppression of Convents 297 

for this sum was made to her, as appears in the " Minis- 
ter's Accounts," until Michaelmas, 1541, when no charge is 
entered on her behalf and the pension apparently ceased. 

The fines paid to the king for the continuance of the 
convents reduced some of them, as already pointed out in 
the case of Stixwold, to a state of absolute beggary. It was 
made a plea by the commissioners for an increase of pension 
in some instances when the final doom came upon them. 
Thus Dr. London, writing to the chancellor Rich on the 
final dissolution of the convent of Pollesworth, says : 
" The convent to the great charge of the friends lately 
purchased again of the king, in your high court, the house 
to continue." And, as "the abbess hath always been re- 
puted a virtuous woman and a good housewife," he strongly 
advocates giving her a pension of 26 135. 4d. a year. 1 In 
the same way Alice Baldwin, the abbess of Burnham, is 
recommended for a small annual allowance " in considera- 
tion that she redeemed her house ;" 2 and, to give but one 
more example, the same royal commissioner writes that he 
and Dr. Baskerfield had dissolved the Cistercian house of 
Delapray, although the nuns had purchased " the same of 
the king that it should continue." They have consequently 
promised, he says, 4.0 a year to the abbess, for " she is 
very sickly and an aged woman, and hath been abbess there 
about thirty years, and hath lived always like a virtuous 
woman, and her house in like manner was well ordered." 3 

The convents of England were mostly small as regards 
numbers and poor in their resources. In fact, had not the 
king been persuaded to hold his hand for a time, the act 
dissolving monasteries and convents under 200 a year 
would have swept away all but eighteen of the houses of 
religious women. Only twelve out of the eighty- four convents 
of the Benedictine order were possessed of revenues greater 
than the pecuniary limit assigned by the act. Of the twenty- 
six Cistercian houses, one only, that of Tarrant, in Dorset- 
shire, was exempted from the operation of the act ; whilst of 

1 R. O. Exch. Augt. Off. Misc. Bk., 245, f. 15. The reason here assigned 
for granting the prioress a good pension is also urged in other cases. 

* Ibid., f. 29. The grant for this convent to continue is enrolled on Rot. 
Pat., 29 Hen. VIII., Pars. v. m. 17. The account of the treasurer does not 
mention any money. 

* Ibid., f. 38. 

298 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

the rest, only one Augustinian, the Bridgettines of Sion, the 
ladies of St. John of Jerusalem at Buckland, and two houses 
of nuns of the order of St. Gilbert, were rich enough to 
escape suppression in the year 1536. Special legislation 
was apparently made for the latter order, and one-and-twenty 
of the smaller convents purchased a temporary existence from 
the king ; but, with all the exceptions, there could not have 
been fifty convents throughout England spared when once 
the process of destruction commenced in 1536. 

The method of life in one convent must have been much 
what it was in every other throughout the land. The nuns 
in many cases came from the highest families, and mixed 
with their neighbours in kindly intercourse, and were by 
them well known and loved. Rigid enclosure was then almost 
unknown. The sisters, as has been well said, " were indeed 
not of the world, but they were in it, actively and intelli- 
gently to do a good work to it to elevate, to console, to 
purify and to bless." l 

It is unnecessary to speak of the many blessings which 
must have accrued to a neighbourhood by the presence ot 
a convent of cultivated English ladies. Their gentle teaching 
was the first experience of the youthful poor; from them 
they derived their early knowledge of the elements of religion 
and of Catholic practice ; to them they went in the troubles 
and cares of life as to a source of good advice ; theirs was 
the most potent civilising influence in the rough days of 
the Middle Ages ; and theirs was the task of tending the 
sick and smoothing the passage of the Christian soul to 

To the bounty of these religious ladies, as the " titles " 
to ordination in the episcopal registers show, a large 
number of the secular clergy of England owed their eccle- 
siastical position, while there is abundant evidence that the 
ranks of the regular orders received many recruits through 
their generosity and self-sacrifice. In the convents the 
female portion of the population found their only teachers, 

1 The portrait of the prioress given in Chaucer, who 

" Was so charitable and so pitous, 
And al was conscience and tender herte," 

will recur to many when considering the pre-reformation conventual life of 

The Suppression of Convents 299 

the rich as well as the poor, 1 and the destruction of these 
religious houses by Henry was the absolute extinction of 
any systematic education for women during a long period. 
Thus at Winchester convent, the list of the ladies being 
educated within the walls at the time of the suppression 
shows that these Benedictine nuns were training the children 
of the first families in the county. 2 Carrow, in Norfolk, 
for centuries gave instruction to the daughters of the 
neighbouring gentry, and as early as A.D. 1273 a papal 
prohibition was obtained from pope Gregory X. restraining 
the nobility from crowding this monastery with more sisters 
than its income could support. 3 And according to the 
evidence of Robert Aske, the people of Yorkshire objected 
strongly to the suppression scheme, because " in nunneries 
their daughters (were) brought up in virtue." 

The declaration made by the royal commissioners as to 
the good done by the convent of Pollesworth in Warwickshire 
is worthy of being here given in its entirety. It may be 
premised that these Benedictine nuns possessed an income 
of only .87 a year, and previous to this letter had paid 
some 50 for the king's permission to remain in religion, 
which money, as before noted, they had borrowed from their 

" After our duties of humble recommendation unto your 
good lordship made," Crumwell's agents write to him, "it 
may please the same to be advertised that we have surveyed 
the monastery or nunnery of Pollesworth in the county of 
Warwick. Therein is an abbess named dame Alice Fitz- 
herbert, of the age of 60 years, a very sad, discreet and 
religious woman, and hath been head and governor there 
twenty-seven years. And in the same house, under her 
rule are twelve virtuous and religious nuns and of good 
conversation, as far as we can hear or perceive, as well by 
our examinations as by the open fame and report of all the 

1 In the "Canterbury Tales" the miller of Trompington is described as 
both well to do and well married : 

" A wyf he hadde, come of noble kyn ; 
Sche was i-fostryd in a nonnerye . . . 
Ther durste no wight clepe hir but Madame 
What for hir kindred and hir nortelrye 
That sche had lerned in the nonnerye." 

Reeve's Tale, 11. 3940, &c. 

8 Monasticon, ii. p. 452. * Taylor, Index Monastic, viii. 

300 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

country. And never one of the nuns there will leave nor 
forsake their habit and religion. Wherefore in our opinions, 
if it might so stand with your lordship's pleasure, ye might 
do a* right good and meritorious deed to be a mediator to 
the king's highness for the said house to stand and remain 
unsuppressed ; for as we think ye shall not speak in the 
preferment of a better nunnery nor of better women. 

"And in the town of Pollesworth are 44 tenements, and 
never a plough but one, the residue be artificers, labourers 
and victualers, and live in effect by the said house. And 
the repair and resort there is made to the gentlemen's 
children and sojourners that there do live to the number 
sometimes of thirty and sometimes of forty and more, that 
there be right virtuously brought up. And the town and 
nunnery standeth in a hard soil and barren ground, and to 
our estimation if the nunnery be suppressed the town will 
shortly after fall to ruin and decay, and the people therein, 
to the number of six or seven score persons, are not unlike 
to wander and to seek their living as our Lord God best 
knoweth." l 

The general occupations of the nuns in their cloisters 
were the same as those described by an eye-witness at a 
Wiltshire convent There, says John Aubrey, " the young 
maids were brought up (not at Hakney Sarum Schools, &c., 
to learn pride and wantonness, but) at the nunneries, where 
they had examples of piety, and humility, and modesty, and 
obedience to imitate and to practise. Here they learned 
needlework, the art of confectionery, surgery (for anciently 
there were no apothecaries or surgeons the gentlewomen 
did cure their poor neighbours : their hands are now too 
fine), physic, writing, drawing, &c. Old Jacques could see 
from his house the nuns of the priory (St. Mary's near 
Kington St. Michael) come forth into the nymph-hay 2 with 
their rocks 3 and wheels to spin: and with their sewing 
work. He would say that he had told threescore and ten : 
but of nuns there were not so many, but in all, with lay- 
sisters, as widows, old maids and young girls there might 
be such a number. This," concludes the author, "was a 

1 Wright, 139. 

2 A meadow "on the east side of the house, with a delightful prospect on 
the south-east." 

8 i.e. distaff. 

The Suppression of Convents 301 

fine way of breeding up young women, who are led more 
by example than precept ; and a good retirement for widows 
and grave single women to a civil, virtuous and holy life." 1 

It is impossible to reflect on the trials and difficulties to 
which the nuns were exposed during the few years which 
elapsed before their final dispersion without a sense of 
horror. To be subjected to the questionings of such men 
as Layton, Legh and London in their visitation must have 
been an experience for ladies happily unique in the annals 
of England. Dr. Ortez, writing at the time, charges one of 
the commissioners with speaking "immodestly to the nuns," 
while Sander has mentioned Legh as "tempting the reli- 
gious to sin," and as "more ready to inquire into and speak 
about uncleanness of living than anything else." 2 

When the final doom of all monastic houses was decided 
on, only some fifty convents of women were left to seize. 
It was important that the surrender of the greater houses, 
by which means alone the king could legally become pos- 
sessed of their property, should appear to be voluntary, 
and every pressure was brought to bear upon the monks 
and nuns to induce them to resign their charges into Henry's 
hands. The methods pursued in this matter can best be 
understood by the precise instructions issued for the guid- 
ance of those engaged in the work. These agents are 
ordered to take "the consent of the head and convent by 
way of their fair surrender under their convent seal to the 
same. If they shall willingly consent and agree, the said 
commissioners shall appoint unto the said head and every 
of their convent pensions for term of their lives, and also 
give unto them by way of reward such sums of money for 
the change of their apparel, and likewise such portions of the 
household stuff," as they think proper. 

" And if they shall find any of the said heads and con- 

1 Aubrey's Collections (Wilts Archaeological Society), p. 12. The last 
prioress of the convent of Kington was Mary Dennys. She " lived," says the 
same authority, "a great while after the Reformation, and died within the 
memory of man in Somersetshire. (From my grandfather Lyte}" The editor 
notes that "she died 1593 at Bristol, and was buried in the church of the 
Gaunts on the green." 

2 Anglican Schism, Lewis' transl., p. 129. Those who wish to see this 
most repulsive side of a sad record may turn to the pages of Fuller, where it 
is drawn out in sufficient detail. It is evident that the blood o f the old Puritan 
was stirred within him, and he must have felt that the disgraceful relations 
made to him were only too true. Church Hist. (ed. 1837), ii. 216. 

302 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

vents, so appointed to be dissolved, so wilful and obstinate 
that they will in no wise submit themselves to the king's 
majesty in manner and form aforesaid ; in that case the said 
commissioners shall take possession of the house and lands, 
the jewels, plate, cattle, stuff and all other things belonging 
to them, to the king's majesty's use by force of the last act 
made for the alteration of all spiritual tenures at his majesty's 

" And in that case," if they will not resign at the king's 
wish, the commissioners "shall cause the brethren or 
sisters" to change their religious dress and give them 
money for the purpose, but they shall neither give pensions 
nor any part of their household goods to " such obstinate 
and wilful persons, till they shall know further of the king's 

"And if they shall find any of them so indurate that 
they will not yield thereunto according to their bounden 
duties, they shall commit such persons to such place or 
keeping for their punishment as for the time and oppor- 
tunity their wisdom shall think convenient." 

Further, as regards the property, the royal officers are 
ordered to retain all plate, jewels and ornaments " meet for 
the king's use," and compare what they find with previous 
inventories, that they may see that the property has been 
" well administered." Also they are to examine well what 
plate or other valuables are missing, " to the great damage 
of the king's majesty." l 

It would be natural to suppose that when pressure of a 
nature disclosed in these secret instructions to the royal 
agents was brought to bear upon convents, the ladies would 
readily acquiesce in Henry's designs. The two methods 
adopted to secure a voluntary surrender the one a promise 
of a pension and other substantial advantages, the other the 
threatened deprivation of even a scanty means of subsistence, 
and perhaps further punishment were calculated to allure 
or alarm the helpless inmates of monastic houses, and in 
particular the nuns, to compliance. But the design was 
only very partially successful as regards the convents, and 
even this success was marked by some extraordinary draw- 
backs. It is true, that of the fifty convents which survived 

1 R. O. Chapt. House Bk., A. ^ f. i. seqq. 

The Suppression of Convents 303 

the first dissolution the surrenders of some three-and-thirty 
are enrolled on the Close Rolls. But the original documents 
preserved in the Record Office prove that, for some reason 
or other, in the majority of cases, numbering no less than 
twenty-eight, the papers drawn up in blank form by the 
commissioners never received the signatures of the nuns 
at all Of the remaining five, one, the surrender of the 
great abbey of Shaftesbury, a convent of fifty-six nuns, and 
at the dissolution of which Crumwell himself assisted, is 
signed only by Elizabeth Zouche, the abbess. 

A second document, that of Tarrant, although having 
twenty signatures, is worthless, as all are written in the 
same hand. 1 Of the whole number of convents, therefore, 
only three signed surrenders exist. In the case of Nuneaton 
convent the document is dated the 1 2th of December, 1539, 
and has no names, but twenty-seven crosses appended to 
it. 2 Nesham, the surrender of which, without signatures, 
is dated December 9th, was suppressed by four commis- 
sioners on the 2 1st of the same month. 3 And the 
Benedictine nuns of Newcastle, the surrender of which to 
Dr. Layton, also unsigned, is said to have been made on 
January 3rd, 1540, was already suppressed by Dr. Legh 
and three others on December 3 1st, 1539.* Other evidence 
exists besides the absence of surrender deeds to show that 
the nuns of England resisted, in a heroic manner, the tempt- 
ing offers to resign their trusts and abandon the religious 
life itself at the bidding of the king. At the end of March, 
1539, three royal commissioners, Tregonwell, Petre and 
Smyth, came to the Benedictine convent of Ambresbury, 
in Wiltshire. They had received the surrenders of both 
Shaftesbury and Wilton, and no doubt expected to work 
their will at Ambresbury without difficulty. But they were 
soon undeceived. "We yesterday came," they say, "and 
communed with the abbess 6 for the accomplishment of the 
king's highness* commission in like sort. And albeit we 
have used as many ways with her as our poor wits could 
attain, yet in the end we could not by any persuasions bring 
her to any conformity. At all times she rested and so 
remaineth in these terms : ' If the king's highness command 

1 Eighth Rep. of Dep. Keeper, App. ii. p. 43. 2 Ibid., p. 35. 

* R. O. Exch. Augt. Off. Misc. Bk., 246, f. 9. * Ibid., f. 7. 

5 A mistake for " prioress." Ambresbury was not an abbey. 

304 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

me to go from this house I will gladly go, though I beg my 
bread ; and as for pension, I care for none.' In these terms 
she was in all her conversation, praying us many times to 
trouble her no further herein, for she had declared her full 
mind, in the which we might plainly gather of her words 
she was fully fixed before our coming." 1 

Some months went by, during which it is more than 
probable that pressure of every kind was brought to bear 
upon Florence Bonnewe, the staunch and fearless prioress. 
At the end of that time she announced to Crumwell her 
resignation " at the king's bidding." 2 In December, 1539, 
Dr. London, John Ap Rice and others arrived at the convent 
and suppressed it. 3 The successor of the intrepid Florence 
Bonnewe received a pension of ;ioo a year, one of the 
largest granted to any nun, and 33 of her sisters were also 
promised a pittance. 4 The name of the former prioress does 
not appear. No doubt she kept her word to go forth, 
" though I beg my bread." "As for pension," she had said, 
" I care for none," and none she received. 6 

One other example of the same pressure put upon a 
convent to secure its compliance with the king's wishes is 
furnished by the abbey of Godstow. This convent, in 
Oxfordshire, is well known as the place where fair Rosamond 
Clifford, the mistress of Henry II., passed her last years in 
penitence. The royal visitors had given it an excellent 
character ; " where there was great strictness of life, and 
to which were most of the young gentlewomen of the county 
sent to be bred ; so that the gentry of the country desired 
the king would spare the house." 6 

1 Cakndar, xiv. (i), No. 629. 2 Ibid., ii. No. 27. 

3 Speaking of Dr. London's employment in the task of suppressing the 
religious houses of women, Mr. Gairdner (Calendar, xiv. (ii.) preface xxviii.) 
writes : " When we think of the shame in which Dr. London ended his days, 
a few years later, committed to the Fleet for perjury, not to mention other 
stories against him ; and when we consider that Crumwell himself, the year 
before this, had been obliged to pay some regard to the abbess of Godstow's 
remonstrance against his conduct towards her and her companions, it might 
seem strange that the task of suppressing nunneries should have been more 
specially committed to him than to any other. But perhaps indelicacy was 
rather a recommendation for the kind of work that was to be done." 

4 R. O. Exch. Aug. Off. Misc. Bk., 245, t 98. 

5 It may be of interest to note about Ambresbury that upon its surrender 
" rewards " were given to 33 nuns, 4 priests, and 33 servants. Pensions were 
granted to 35 nuns. Ibid., Bk. 494, f. 31. 

6 Burnet (ist ed.), i. p. 238. 

The Suppression of Convents 305 

On Tuesday, November 4th, 1539, that valiant visitor, 
Dr. London, appeared at the abbey to dismiss the nuns and 
take possession for the king. The following day Kathe- 
rine Bulkeley, the abbess, wrote to Crumwell begging his 
protection. She had, as she says, "been appointed to 
her office through his influence, and up to that time had 
never been moved nor desired by any creature ... to 
surrender and give up the house." She will do as the king 
commands, but she says, " I trust to God that I have never 
offended God's laws nor the king's, whereby this poor 
monastery ought to be suppressed. This notwithstanding, 
my lord, so it is that doctor London, which, as your lord- 
ship doth well know, was against my promotion, and hath 
ever since borne against me great malice and grudge, like 
my mortal enemy, is suddenly come unto me with a great 
rout with him, and here doth threaten me and my sisters, 
saying that he hath the king's commission to suppress the 
house, spite of my teeth. And when he saw that I was 
content that he should do all things according to his 
commission, and showed him plainly that I would never 
surrender to his hand, being my ancient enemy, now he 
begins to entreat me, and to inveigle my sisters one by one 
otherwise than ever I heard tell that any of the king's 
subjects hath been handled. And he here tarrieth and 
continueth to my great cost and charge, and will not take 
my answer, that I will not surrender till I know the king's 
gracious commandment or your good lordship's." She adds 
that she will do what the king wants, but that it is not true 
that she has wasted the property of her house, as Dr. London 
told Crumwell. 1 

London's letter, written the following day, after saying 
that the abbess takes his coming "something pensively," 
adds that, while waiting for an answer, he intends to 
"something ripe" himself "in knowledge of the state of 
the house." And if the king insist on dissolving the house 
" notwithstanding her desire (to have a statement of) such 
considerations as moveth his grace, for the reformation of 
such abuses, to take the house by surrender," he begs that 
the nuns may be allowed suitable pensions. The abbess 
has had to borrow the money for payment of her "first- 

1 Wright, 229. 


306 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

fruits," many of the nuns are old, and " few of the others 
have any friends." x 

Crumwell sent his orders to let the house alone for a 
while. Then on November 26th, 1538, the abbess wrote 
her thanks " for the stay of doctor London, who was here 
ready to suppress this poor house against my will and all 
my sisters, and had done it indeed if you had not sent so 
speedily contrary commandments." She adds that according 
to further orders she has handed over the "domains and 
stock " to " master doctor Owen," and that she is ready to 
go any lengths if the house may be spared. In fact, she 
assures her master that " there is neither pope nor purgatory, 
image nor pilgrimage, nor praying to dead saints used or 
regarded amongst" them, and that they do not too much 
cling to "this garment and fashion of life." 2 

A year after Katherine Bulkeley had penned this miser- 
able surrender of her faith and principles, on November i/th, 
1539, she surrendered her trust. 3 Sir John Williams and 
others were sent down to effect the transfer of the convent 
property to the king, in place of her " old enemy " London, 
and they forwarded to Henry the deed of surrender, which, 
however, was signed by none of the nuns. The abbess and 
fifteen nuns were promised pensions ; three of them for the 
somewhat strange reason " because they cannot marry." * 

Besides the trials incidental to the uncertainty of the fate 
which awaited them, the nuns, at this time deprived of the 
aid and direction of their spiritual superiors in the episcopate, 
must have suffered extremely. This the prioress of Wilton, 
Joan Gybbart, writes in so many words to Crumwell. " We 
stand and have done long," she says, "for lack of a head in 
great unquietness and danger, as God knoweth not only in 
the decay, lack and disturbance of the service of God accord- 
ing to our religion, but also of the destruction and desolation 
of our monastery. We are so threatened by our ordinary, 
master doctor Hylley, that we know not what to do. He 
cometh to us many times, and among us as he says he does 
but order us after the law ; but as God knoweth we are 
unlearned, and not wont to such law as he doth exercise 

1 Wright, 227. 2 Ellis, Historical Letters, 3d Series, iii. 233. 

3 Calendar^ xiv. (ii), No. 539. There are no signatures to the deed of 

4 R. O. Exch. Augt. Office Misc. Bk., 245, f. 157. 

The Suppression of Convents 307 

amongst us. And because that we differ such matters as 
he would that we should consent to, the which as we suppose 
and think are not lawful, nor yet profitable to us or our 
house, he does sore and grievously threaten us. And he 
hath heretofore put us to great vexation and trouble, and 
yet mindeth so to do and continue. He hath admitted to 
bear rule with us, in this our vacation, 1 one Christopher 
Willoughby and another. This Christopher, for his subtle, 
crafty and false demeanour has been expelled first by dame 
Cecily Willoughby, the abbess, and then after, his service 
was utterly refused by Isabel Jordan, our last abbess." 2 

Over the community at Stratford a superioress, or, as 
they preferred to call her, a "supposed prioress," named 
Sibilla Kirke, had been appointed, who was the cause of 
great trouble in the community. " As soon as we speak to 
have anything remedied," they say, "she bids us go to 
Crumwell and let him help us. And the old lady, who is 
prioress in right, is like to die for lack of sustenance and 
good keeping, for she can get neither meat, drink, nor money 
to help herself." The chancellor of the bishop of London, 
they complain, told them that the intruder should continue 
" in spite of our deaths and of their deaths that say nay to 
it. He commanded her to look to us and to punish us, that 
all others may beware by us." ..." Sir," they continue in 
their appeal to Crumwell, "it is not possible for us to con- 
tinue in the manner that we be in now. Sir, the chancellor 
rebuked us, and said that we had got a temporal man over 
us for our ordinary and that he spake by you. But our 
learned counsel, who we had before we put our matter to 
the king's grace, told us it was not lawful for him to be a 
chancellor, for he is not a priest, and hath no power to hear 
confession, nor yet to give absolution as he doth." 8 

Very few of the convents were rich enough to bring any 
great amount of spoil to the king. The spoil, however, 
from Barking, the home of so many saints, the most ancient 
and venerable, and almost the richest nunnery in England, 
which came into the royal hands in November, 1539, proved 

1 Vacancy of the office of abbess. 

2 Calendar, vi. No. 285. Dame Cecily Willoughby, the abbess, died in 
1528, and was succeeded by Dame Isabel Jordan, who died in 1533. Her 
successor was Cecilia Bodenham, who surrendered the abbey to the king. 

3 Ibid., vol. xli. Nos. 2, 4. 

308 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

a valuable prize. The plate consisted of over 3000 ounces, 
the greater part being parcel gilt, besides what was found 
to be only copper gilt when broken. There was discovered 
here " a monstrance " weighing 65 ounces, enriched with a 
beryll ; and numbers of copes and other vestments of cloth 
of gold and tissue were reserved for the king's use. Besides 
this, the goods of the abbey sold for nearly 200; l so small 
a sum in so wealthy a house shows the poverty actually 
observed by the religious. 

One circumstance with regard to the suppression of the 
Bridgettine house of Syon is worth recording. In one of 
Crumwell's interesting remembrances is the following item : 
" Touching the monastery of Syon, the king may dissolve it 
bypremunire as he will." z This power possessed by Henry 
over the convent arose from a singular circumstance. On 
May 29th, 1538, the attorney-general, in behalf of the king, 
had presented a bill of complaint against John Stokesley, 
bishop of London, who was brought up from the Marshalsea, 
where he had been in prison. The charge was, that on 
February 5th, 1537, he had, in the ceremony of professing 
Thomas Knotton, a brother of Syon, and Godfrey, a lay 
brother, under the obedience of John Copinger, the father 
confessor, made use of the form of profession approved of 
by pope Paul II. In acting thus, he publicly proclaimed 
the jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome, and made use of 
" papistical rites, cultus and ceremonies ; " and by any one 
upholding the authority of the bishop of Rome after 3ist 
July, 1536, as well as all aiders and abettors, the penalties 
of premunire had been incurred. Moreover, he had acted 
in the same way on two later occasions, and it was con- 
tended that both the bishop, Agnes Jordan, the abbess of 
Syon, and others had thus forfeited their property to the 
king. Stokesley confessed the bill, and was bound over 
to appear under a bail of 10,000 marks and the surety of 
several London merchants. 8 And although Henry subse- 
quently pardoned all concerned, his hand already fingered 
the thread by which the sword of destruction hung suspended 
over the community. In December, 1539, the convent 
passed, apparently without surrender, into his possession. 

1 R. O. Exch. Aug. Off. Mins. Accts., 31-32 Hen. VIII., 257, m. 5. 

* Calendar, xiv. (ii). No. 424. 

8 Coram Rege, 30 Hen. VIIL Easter, Rex. Roll, m. 20. 

The Suppression of Convents 309 

One word must be said as to the number of nuns who 
were turned adrift into the world on the destruction of their 
homes. Hooper, in a letter written in 1546 to Bullinger 
from Strasburg, says : " He (the king) has caused all their 
(the monastic) possessions to be transferred into his ex- 
chequer ; and yet they are bound, even the frail female sex, 
by the king's command to perpetual chastity. England has 
at this time at least io,OOO nuns, not one of whom is allowed 
to marry." 1 Such an estimate is obviously much exagge- 
rated. The fact is, that allowing for the four or five con- 
vents about which some uncertainty exists, there do not 
appear to have been more than some 1560 religious women 
in England at the time of the dissolution. Of these, more 
than one-half, or some 850, belonged to the Benedictine 

1 Original Letters, Parker Society, No. 21. 


Fall of the Friars 

THE autumn of 1538 witnessed the destruction of the 
English friaries. From the thirteenth century the mendicant 
orders had taken an important part in the religious life of 
the country. They were actuated by a different fundamental 
principle from that which was the mainspring of the monastic 
state. In the latter, whatever may have been the work the 
members of the great religious orders were at times called 
upon to undertake, the basis upon which they rested was 
conventual life and seclusion from the cares of even parochial 
matters, in order that their lives might be given up to the 
calmer service of the cloister. The principle that inspired 
the friars, on the other hand, was devotion to the external 
needs of the Church. In its primary conception, the ideal 
of a friar's life was to be found in the performance of active 
religious duties among the people. Untrammelled, on the 
one hand, by the stricter traditions of the old monastic 
observance, and on the other by the petty exigencies of 
parochial management, they could devote their energies to 
the duties of preaching and teaching. Their houses were 
built in or near great towns ; but to the friar the convent 
was a very different place to what it was to the monk. To 
the latter, from the day of his profession the monastery 
became his home, and the brethren gathered within its walls 
his family; to the former, the convent cell afforded but a 
temporary shelter in which to recruit his powers, physical 
and mental, for new labours in the cause of religion. He 
had no home, properly so called, as the monk had in his 
monastery, and no special place could claim his services. 
His profession bound him to the general body of his 
brethren, not to any particular family. The friars were 
itinerant preachers, living to a great extent among the 

people, and endeavouring to influence their religious views 


Fall of the Friars 3 1 1 

and practices by every means at their command, and in the 
early days of their mission they achieved great and strik- 
ing successes. The whole history of the Church does not 
present a parallel to the enthusiastic reception given by the 
people to the reforms they preached, and their popularity in 
England, almost down to the day of their suppression, is 
evinced by numerous gifts and testamentary dispositions in 
their favour. 

In the sixteenth century the friaries throughout the 
country numbered some two hundred. Of these, the fol- 
lowers of St. Francis had sixty, the Dominicans about fifty- 
three, the Austin friars forty-two, and the Carmelites six- 
and-thirty. The rest were held by the Trinitarians and other 
less important bodies of men. Of the four great orders of 
mendicant friars, looking at them so far as England is con- 
cerned, the Dominicans or 'Black Friars,' small though some 
of their churches may have been in country towns, ever 
preserved a certain dignity, and, so to speak, an aristocratic 
character. It would appear as though,' whilst retaining the 
canon's dress first worn by St. Dominic in the cathedral of 
Osma, they bore with it something of the pre-eminence 
which naturally attaches to the clergy, The Franciscans or 
' Grey Friars' were the most popular, in the widest sense of 
the word, with high and low. The Carmelites or 'White 
Friars' were simple, homely, and spread through the country 
as if an order of native origin. 

The two or three greatest houses of Franciscans, as 
London or York, might vie whether in buildings or quantity 
of plate and richness of vestments with a Benedictine abbey 
of all but the first rank. The Carmelite houses and churches 
form a striking contrast. The church of so important a 
convent as Cambridge, for example, was furnished with a 
poverty which among these friars was not incongruous with 
their profession, but of which the smallest parish church 
would have been ashamed. It is remarkable how prolific 
the English Carmelites were in writers, although it is not 
impossible that their number was not really greater than 
those of the Franciscans or Dominicans. These latter orders, 
however, lacked a Bale ; for even Bale has a redeem- 
ing point in his literary character. Whilst it was yet pos- 
sible, he gathered up with scrupulous care the memorials 
of his order in England, and thus showed, in spite of vio- 

312 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

lence and virulence of speech and pen, that there was some- 
where in his heart a tenderness for the men of his old habit. 1 

The total number of friars is somewhat difficult to esti- 
mate, and can only be stated in general terms. From the 
list of names given in the "surrenders" and other docu- 
ments, it would appear that the average number of inmates 
in each Dominican friary was about nine, in each Fran- 
ciscan about eleven, in each Augustinian about eight, and 
in each Carmelite about nine. Taking these averages as 
approximately correct, it would appear that the total number 
of friars in England at the time of their dispersion was 
about eighteen hundred. Richard Ingworth, the suffragan 
bishop of Dover, writing to Crumwell on April ist, 1539, 
says that in the North of England he has received for the 
king twenty-six houses. In these there were " nine score 
friars ; " but he adds that these were " the poorest houses 
that ever" he went to, and that the best houses had been 
undertaken by other visitors. 2 The average of seven, there- 
fore, for the smaller houses given up to the bishop would 
seem to show that the estimate of eighteen hundred is not 

For some reason or other, the various orders of friars 
had not been included in the dissolutions which had been 
carried out under the act for suppressing houses of less 
than 200 a year. 8 It is probable that as, in accordance 
with their several constitutions, they were possessed of very 
little real property, it did not suit the king's purpose to risk 
the unpopularity of attacking them when so little was to be 
gained by so doing. When, however, the royal policy of 
plunder had been firmly established, and the complete over- 
throw of the northern rising had rendered resistance almost 
impossible, Henry could contemplate the seizure of the 
friaries and the absorption of their trifling possessions into 
the regal revenues without fear of the consequences. Small 
as their belongings really were, still some few manors, farms 
and houses were to be got out of their wholesale destruction. 
Each convent, however poor, had the site upon which it 

1 It is to be regretted that Bale's Carmelite collections in the Harleian 
MSS. at the British Museum (Nos. 3838, 7031, &c.) have not been printed. 

2 Calendar, xiv. (i), No. 661. 

3 It is curious to note the mistakes into which some authors have fallen 
upon this point. More than one writer could be cited who state that these 
" lesser monasteries " were chiefly the houses of friars. 

Fall of the Friars 313 

stood ; and even if the plate in the sacrist's keeping was 
generally worth but a trifling sum, the lead on the roof and 
gutters of the church would add a few pounds to the grand 
total of these ecclesiastical spoils. 

In the work of suppressing the friaries Crumwell found 
an energetic lieutenant in Richard Ingworth, formerly prior 
of the Dominican house of King's Langley, the richest 
possessed by the Black Friars, having an income of 12$ a 
year. On December gih, 1537, Ingworth was consecrated 
suffragan bishop of Dover, 1 and much about the same time 
he received two commissions " to visit and vex " his brother 
friars. In the first, power was bestowed upon him to 
depose or suspend incriminated superiors, and to appoint 
others in their places. In the second, he is directed to visit 
their convents, to take possession of their keys, to sequestrate 
goods, and make indentures and inventories. 2 No mention 
is made of suppression, and such a work was apparently 
entirely beyond the powers granted either to him or other 
visitors, 8 although their instructions quoted in the last chap- 
ter leave on the mind no doubt as to the royal intention. 

In the time that elapsed from 1534, when the troubles 
began, to the autumn of 1538, when the active suppression 
of the friars commenced, a considerable number of these 
religious evidently succeeded in leaving the country. Thus, 
rather than take the oath to hold Henry as head of the 
Church, the Franciscan Observants and others in the island 
of Guernsey had given up their convent in September, 1537. 
" I have called unto me," writes a correspondent to Crum- 
well, " all the Friars Observant strangers which were left in 
the convent of the Friars Observant of Saint Francis within 
the Isle of Guernsey," and ordered them immediately to 
take the required oath. They refused, and asked to be 
allowed to cross over " to Normandy, their natural country," 
saying " they would rather forsake their convent and country 

1 Stubbs, Episcopal Succession, p. 78. 

a Wilkins, Concilia, iii. 829, 835. 

3 Dixon, History of Church of England, ii. p. 37, says : "This was well 
contrived. If the visitors suppressed a house quietly, they were not complained 
of, though they exceeded their commission : the king pocketed the money. 
But if (which never happened) there had been a disturbance, the king and 
Crumwell were safe : they would have said that the visitors had exceeded their 
commission, and would have punished them exemplarily if public feeling had 
required a victim." 

3 H Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

than make" such an oath. The writer adds that he sent 
them over in a boat and took possession of their goods, an 
inventory of which he encloses. 1 

The way in which the number of friars was diminished 
before the final suppression of their convents may be illus- 
trated by the house of Dominicans at Derby. Previous to 
1534 the community consisted of about thirty religious. 
When Dr. London visited it in the January of 1539 he only 
obtained the signatures of some half-a-dozen. It is said 
on the highest authority that "a great part of the friar 
preachers of England in 1534-35 withdrew from the 
country into Ireland, Scotland and Flanders," 2 rather than 
conform, and in consequence of the poverty to which they 
were reduced. 

At this time numerous charges were preferred against 
priests and others for their hostility to the royal supremacy 
and the general policy of Henry in ecclesiastical matters. 
In April, 1537, the popular discontent manifested itself in 
a serious way in Norfolk. Men met in the streets of 
Walsingham and "condemned the suppression of so many 
religious houses in which God was well served and many 
good deeds of charity done." One man said, "See how 
these abbeys go down and our living goeth away with them. 
For within a while Burnham shall be put down and also 
Walsingham, and all other abbeys in this country. And 
further he said that the gentlemen there had all the farms 
and all the cattle in the country in their hands, so that poor 
men could have no living by them. And therefore, quoth 
(he), when these men shall come to put down the abbeys 
some men must step to and resist them." " I hear say," 
said another, " that all the abbeys in the country shall go 
down." " More pity if it pleased God," cried a third. 8 

The late experience of the northern rebellion had taught 
the king the necessity of prompt action. Some thirty or 
forty men of the district were seized and tried. They were 
charged with saying " that if they could get any company 
they would make an insurrection as well for the staying of 

1 Ellis, Orig. Letts., 2nd Series, ii. p. 91. 

2 Rev. C. R. F. Palmer, O.P., in the Reliquary, vol. xviii. p. 71. The 
volumes of this valuable periodical contain many communications from Father 
Palmer's pen on the English Dominican Convents. 

3 Calendar, xii. (i), No. 1056. 

Fall of the Friars 3 1 5 

the abbeys putting down as for reformation of gentlemen 
for taking of farms." Their object was to take Lynn and 
to seize and fortify Thetford and Brandon bridges. A 
special commission sitting at Norwich Castle on May 22, 
1537, tried and found them guilty. 1 Amongst them were 
John Grigby, rector of the church of Langham, two Augus- 
tinian canons of Walsingham, Nicolas Myleham and Richard 
Vowell, a cleric of Walsingham, William Younger, and two 
Carmelite friars of Burnham Norton, William Gybson and 
John Pecock. Friar Gybson was condemned to perpetual 
imprisonment, 2 together with another cleric, John Punte, 
rector of the parish church of Waterlow. This latter was 
specially charged with having approved the action of the 
others by saying, " Peradventure what they did was for the 
commonwealth." 3 

Of the rest, twelve were executed at different towns in 
Norfolk. Amongst these were George Gysborough, Ralph 
Rogerson and William Gysborough, whose avowed con- 
demnation of the destruction of the religious houses has 
been quoted above, and two religious : the Augustinian 
canon Mileham, executed at Walsingham on Wednesday, 
May 3Oth, and the Carmelite friar Pecock, who suffered at 
Lynn on Friday, June 1st, 1537.* The terror inspired by 
the constant accusations, trials, convictions and cruel exe- 
cutions of those guilty only of verbal treason, or of ex- 
pressing disapproval of the king and his actions, bore down 
all opposition. None was safe. As one man who was 
accused and examined expressed it, " If two or three good 
fellows be walking together, the constables come to them 
and will know what communication they have or else they 
shall be stocked." 5 

The case of another friar, Anthony Brown, who was 
condemned to death in the summer of 1538 for his belief 
in the old doctrine of papal supremacy, may be here briefly 
referred to, before passing on to relate the circumstances 
of the general dissolution of the friaries. The duke of 
Norfolk, writing to Crumwell on August 4th, 1538, told 

1 Coram Rege, 29 Hen. VIII., Hilary, m. 2. 

2 Controlment Roll, 29 Hen. VIII., m. 33d. 

3 Coram Rege, ut sup. These two were afterwards pardoned (Rot. Pat., 
29 Hen. VIII. Pars. i. m. 9). 

4 Calendar, xii. (i), No. 1300. 

8 Ibid., No. 1212. Confession of Richard Bishop, of Bungay. 

3 1 6 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

him that the justices of assize lately sitting at Norwich 
had before them "one called Anthony Brown, some time 
a Friar Observant of Greenwich, and of late taking upon 
him as a hermit." He wrote out " his own confession 
with his hand, which," says the duke, "you shall receive 
with this." The friar was found guilty, "giving respite to 
the sheriff for his execution ten days following, which they 
showed me the said duke, they did for this consideration, 
which was they thought it convenient that a sermon should 
be made by the bishop of Norwich, as was by the bishop 
of Worcester at the execution of Forest." 

The views of the bishop of Norwich were apparently 
considered doubtful, and it was thought well that the duke 
of Norfolk should thus make trial of both the friar and him. 
" And because," continues the duke, " Mr. Townsend is the 
only one of the king's council in these parts, I sent in like- 
wise for him to be present at all the examinations. And 
this afternoon we so handled the said friar that we brought 
him to this point, that he would not stick upon the authority 
of the bishop of Rome to be supreme head of the Church, 
but in no wise could we bring him from the opinion that 
the king ought not to be supreme head of the Church, 
saying that no temporal prince was capax of that name and 
authority." Neither " Dr. Call, a Grey friar," who was pre- 
sent and took the king's part, nor the bishop of Norwich, 
who argued well on the point, could move the friar. And 
so "we have delivered him," continues Norfolk, "to the 
sheriff to be carried to the gaol and there to suffer according 
to his foolish doings upon Friday next. Before his death 
the said bishop shall make such a sermon as we trust shall 
be to the king's highness contentation and apparent to the 
people (who, we think, will be there in great number) that 
this unhappy foolish friar is well worthy to suffer and that 
his opinions be false and untrue. My lord, the cause of 
the sending of this man in so great haste unto you is 
because that if the king's majesty and you shall think it 
convenient to have him to be brought to the Tower, there 
to be more straightly examined and to be put to torture, 
you may despatch this bearer or some other with command 
to the sheriff accordingly, so that the same may be with him 
at Norwich by Friday at ten o'clock." 

" After writing " this much, the bishop of Norwich tried 

Fall of the Friars 317 

once more to induce the friar to change his opinions, but 
without success. As the duke expresses it, " yet finally he 
persisted in his errors," l and though an actual record of the 
execution has not been found, there can be little doubt that 
the sentence of death was carried out on Friday, August 
9 th, 1538. 

The various dissolutions of religious houses and desecra- 
tion of churches, which had been witnessed in all parts of 
England from the spring of 1536, had a disastrous but 
natural effect on the friaries. These religious were almost 
entirely dependent upon the alms of the faithful for their 
support, and one immediate result of the royal seizure of 
ecclesiastical property was to dry up the spring of charity 
given for religious purposes. It could hardly be supposed 
that donations would be given for objects marked out for 
destruction, and which would only go to swell the total 
amount of the royal plunder. 

There were exceptions, of course, to the general rule, 
and there are instances of donations being given to the 
friars on the very eve of their dispersion. 2 Thus, on 
October 9th, 1537, just fifteen months before the surrender, 
Robert Davell, archdeacon of Northumberland, made an in- 
teresting covenant with friar Roland Harding, the successor 
of Richard Marshall at the Black Friars, Newcastle. The 
Dominican brethren promised that "between six and nine 
o'clock in the morning daily, before the picture of our Lord, 
called the crucifix, which was between the cloisters and the 
outer door of the choir within the church, the friars kneeling, 
would sing devoutly the anthem of the cross, beginning 
*O crux,' with the versicle Adoramus te Christe Jesu Fili 
Dei vivi, etc., and the collect of the same, Domine Jesu, 
etc. And after then (they were) devoutly to say, for the 
souls of William Davell and John Brigham, late of New- 
castle, merchant, their wives and children, with their bene- 
factors and all Christian souls, the De profundis with the 
preces belonging, ending with the oratio Absolve. In return 
of all which Robert Davell gave the friars 6, 8s. in their 

1 Ellis, Orig. Letts., 1st Series, ii. p. 86. 

2 Mr. Gairdner (Calendar, xiii. (i) preface xxiv.) says that at this time 
the friars clung " no doubt to the fond hope entertained by so many, that the 
royal supremacy would not last very long, and that much of the old order 
would be restored, when the Pope was able to bring the King to reason." 

3 1 8 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

great need. And the friars agree that if the anthem and 
prayers were not sung for two days, they would sing a 
solemn dirge with mass of requiem by note, sending the 
bellman round the town to notify the same in order that 
the people might come to the friars and make an offering 
for the souls. And if none of the premises were observed, 
truly and without delay the ,6, 8s. should be refunded." l 

The very terms of this contract would show, were there 
not ample evidence of the fact, that by this time the friars 
had been reduced to a state of extreme poverty. In fact, it 
is impossible to read the letters of bishop Ingworth and 
doctor London to Crumwell whilst they were engaged in 
the work of suppressing the friaries without seeing that 
their poverty left them no alternative but surrender. 
"Since that I last was with you," writes the former, "I 
have received to the king's use twelve houses of friars: 
that is, one in Huntingdon, four in Boston, four in Lincoln, 
one in Grantham, one in Newark and now one in Grimsby. 
They all were in poverty, and little left, scarce to pay the 
debts and in some places not so much as "$ or (so). In 
these houses the king's grace shall have but the lead, which 
I think in all twelve houses shall be, as I can judge it, 
about twelve score fodders or more and twenty-four bells, 
such as they be ; and of every house a chalice of six to ten 
ounces apiece, in some places more. These chalices I bear 
with me, and other silver if I find it." 2 So, too, according 
to the same authority the three houses of friars at Canter- 
bury were all in debt. The Austin friars, for example, owed 
.40, while all their belongings, exclusive of plate, which 
the bishop estimated at eighty-five ounces, would not fetch 
6. z In the twenty-six houses of friars in the north which 
he dissolved in the first months of 1539, he obtained little 
except the worth of the sacred vessels.* It is the same 
story wherever this episcopal commissioner goes. At Dun- 
stable, Ware, Walsingham and innumerable other houses 
the goods are reported as "some sold, some stolen and 
some pledged," so that little was left either in plate, lead or 
other valuables, 6 while at Scarborough the three houses 

1 Brand, History of Newcastle, quoted by Fr. Palmer. Keliquary, vol. 
xviii. p. 164. 

2 R. O. Crum. Corr., viii. f. 112. 

Ibid., 114. 4 Ibid., 115. 5 Ibid., 117. 

Fall of the Friars 319 

were so impoverished as to be obliged to sell the very stalls 
and the screenwork from their church, " so that nothing is 
left but stone and glass," and all that the king can expect 
to get is the lead off the roof and "very poor chalices." 1 

The testimony of the redoubtable Dr. London, to whom 
much of the work of dispatching the friars was committed, 
is to the same effect. At Northampton the Carmelites were 
so much in debt that all they had would not pay it off. 
The friars of Aylesbury were in the same plight. Dr. 
London thought their ornaments "very coarse," and sold 
them all with "the glass windows and their utensils." 2 
Thus, with few exceptions, if any, the friars throughout 
England had fallen into a state of poverty which rendered 
their continuance almost an impossibility. 

The chief object of bishop Ingworth, Dr. London and 
other royal agents was to force the alternative of submission 
upon the unwilling friars. "Good my lord," writes the 
bishop to his master, "I beseech you think not that I am 
any feigner to you, for I assure you I am not, but am and 
will be as true and as secret to you as any servant that you 
have. ... I would do all things with so much quiet and 
without any clamour so near as I know; if I knew your 
pleasure, there shall be no part left undone so near as I 
may. My commission giveth me no authority to put any 
out, without they give up their houses, but if I knew your 
pleasure, I may find causes sufficient to put them out of 
many places for their misliving and for disobeying the 
instructions and the king's acts." 3 " Divers of the friars," 
he writes again, "are very loath to forsake their houses, 
and yet they are not able to live," as their debts are so 
great all they have will not pay them. 4 

At Gloucester, as the memorandum of the mayor records, 
Ingworth gave the friars their choice either to " continue in 
their houses and keep their religion and injunctions accord- 
ing to the same," which, be it remembered, were framed for 
the purpose of making religious life impossible, " or else to 
give their houses unto the king's hands." The mayor con- 
sidered the injunctions "reasonable," and even the friars 

1 R. O. Crum. Corr., viii. f. 120. The letters of the bishop, printed by 
Wright, pp. 191-200, tell the same tale as to the poverty of the friars at this time. 

2 Ibid., xxiii. 8l. See also London's letters, printed by Wright. 

8 Wright, 200. 4 R. O. Crum. Corr., viii. f. 127. 

320 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

confessed " that they were according to their rules, yet as 
the world is now they were not able to keep them and live 
in their houses, wherefore voluntarily they gave their houses 
into the visitor's hands to the king's use." The visitor said 
to them, continues the declaration, "Think not, nor hereafter 
report not, that you are suppressed, for I have no such 
authority to suppress you, but only to reform you, wherefore 
if ye will be reformed according to good order ye may 
continue," as far as I am concerned. They, however, con- 
fessed that they could not remain on the terms offered them, 
and so " the visitor took their houses and charitably delivered 
them, and gave them letters to visit their friends and so to 
go to other houses with which they were content." l 

The fact is that the methods adopted were admirably 
conceived to force compliance to the royal will. When the 
chief source of their revenue, the charity of the faithful, had 
been cut off, the only means left to the friars to secure 
sufficient to live upon were sales of their effects or leases of 
the little property they possessed. For both, the free use 
of their corporate seal was required, and the first design of 
the visitor was to secure possession of this, and thus cut 
them off from any possibility of raising money. " In every 
place," says the bishop of Dover, "is jewels selling and 
other shift by leases. But in all these places I have set 
stay by making indentures and sequestering the common 
seals, so that now they have no shift to make." By this 
means " I think before the year is out there shall be very 
few houses able to live, but (they) will be glad to give up 
their houses and provide for themselves otherwise, for there 
they shall have no living." He then goes on to speak of 
the same two houses in Gloucester, from which he wrote, 
and the surrender of which has been recorded above. Of 
these he says, " I think there be two houses that will give 
up, for they have no living." a 

In some of the houses, however, bishop Ingworth did 
not have it all his own way. He thus relates his experience 
at the house of Austin friars at Canterbury : " Being there 

1 Wright, 202. 

* Wright, 193. In another communication he says that in "all places" 
he has been to he has "sealed up the common seals, so that they shall sell or 
alienate no more of their jewels nor other stuff, wherefore I am sure that 
within a year the more part shall be fain to give up their houses for poverty." 
Ibid., p. 202. 

Fall of the Friars 321 

the I4th day of December (1538), one friar there very 
rudely and traitorously used him before all the company, 
as by a bill here enclosed ye shall perceive. I seeing his 
demeanour, straight sequestered him so that none spake with 
him. I sent for the mayor, and before he came I examined 
him before master Spylman and also afterwards before the 
mayor and master Spylman, and at all times he still held 
and still desired to die for it, that the king may not be head 
of the Church of England, but that it must be a spiritual 
father appointed by God. Wherefore I required of master 
mayor to have horses and men to send him to you, charging 
both the men that no man should speak with him." 1 

At the Austin friars at Droitwich, bishop Ingworth 
found in the prior's coffer "eleven bulls of the bishops of 
Rome and above a hundred letters of pardons, and in all the 
books in the choir the bishop of Rome still standing as he 
did twenty years past." The prior had been only a year in 
the office when the bishop arrived, but he had already 
" felled and sold seven score good elms, a chalice of gilt of 
90 ounces, a censer of twenty-six ounces, two great brass 
pots each able to seeth a whole ox, as men say, spits, pans 
and other things, so that in the house is not left a bed, a 
sheet, a platter or dish." For all this, the writer adds, "I 
have charged the bailiffs that he shall be forthcoming." 2 

1 Ellis, 3rd Ser. iii. 181. This was probably friar Stone, who was executed 
at Canterbury about this time. The following account of the expenses incurred 
by the city in carrying out the sentence may be here quoted from the city 
records : 

" A.D. 1538-9. Paid for half a ton of timber to make a pair of gallaces 
(gallows) to hang Friar Stone. For a carpenter for making the same gallows 
and the dray. For a labourer who digged the holes. To four men that helped 
set up the gallows. For drink to them. For carriage of the timber from 
stable gate (Staplegate) to the dungeon (now Dane John). For a hurdle. For 
a load of wood, and for a horse to draw him to the dungeon. For two men 
who set the kettle and parboiled him. To two men who carried his quarters 
to the gate and set them up. For a halter to hang him. For two halfpenny 
halters. For sandwich cord. For straw. To the woman that scoured the 
kettle. To him that did execution, 45. 4d." (Hist. MSS. Comm., Qth Kept., 
Append., p. 153, "City of Canterbury Records.") It has been thought by some 
that the ' Friar Stone ' of this account was really Dom John Stone, a monk of 
Christchurch, Canterbury. It is however clear from A. Cope, Dialogi Sex, p. 
373, that the John Stone put to death was an Austin friar. The Christchurch 
monk, although in trouble at this time, appears subsequently on the pension 

2 Wright, 195. Other friars at this time got into difficulties. Sir Peter 
Egerton, for example, wrote to Crumwell that he had sent to Launceston gaol 
a " priest secular and two late friars priests." The secular, " Andrew Furlong, 


322 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

But with all his activity, bishop Ingworth was hardly the 
kind of man that the king's work required. Although he 
evidently from the first appreciated that the purpose of his 
commission was to drive the friars to surrender or abandon 
their houses, still he seems to have thought that some of 
them might be spared. He hesitated to desecrate the church 
of the friars at Droitwich, and appointed one of the religious 
to continue to say mass there, even although Sir John 
Russell wanted the place, and two other magnates of the 
county were making suit to the king and Crumwell for 
it. 1 The latter wrote him a sharp rebuke, and in his 
humble reply Ingworth says he shall act now that he knows 
his master's mind. " And where it hath pleased your lord- 
ship," he says, " to write to me, as ye judge, that though I 
have changed my habit I have not changed my friar's heart, 
good my lord, judge me not so. For God shall be my judge, 
my friar's heart was gone two years before my habit, saving 
only my living. But the favour I have shown has not been 
for my friar's heart, but to bring all things with the most 
quiet to pass. And also till now that your letter came to 
me I never could perceive anything of your pleasure, but 
ever feared that if I were too quick, that I should offend 
your lordship." He then goes on to edify Crumwell with 
some general accusations, which he thinks " would not a 
little have moved" his lordship, 2 and which are well-nigh 
the only suggestion of evil living the bishop makes against 
the friars in the whole of his many letters. 

He quickly amended his method of dealing with the 
religious, and although he had previously given leave to his 
brother of St. Dominic's order, the prior of the Black friars, 
Winchester, " to say mass " in his old church till further 
notice, on the receipt of Cromwell's letter he wrote " to 
avoid him thence." At the end of his career as a royal 

priest and schoolmaster at Saltash, Co. Cornwall, was sent by me to gaol," he 
says . . . "for this cause, there was a Bible of his found in his chamber. In 
the beginning thereof were three or four leaves cancelled and blotted out in 
such a manner that no man could read the same." Also "John Hunt and 
Robert Ellis, late Grey friars of Plymouth, by the confession and handwriting 
of the said Hunt, said to one that questioned them when they were put out of 
the Grey friars whether they would buy them new habits or not, and they 
both said that they would not for a year or two, and by that time perchance 
there would be another change." For this they were sent to gaol (R. O. 
Crum. Corr. , x. f. 26). 

1 Wright, 195. a Ibid., 199. 

Fall of the Friars 323 

visitor, in August, 1539, he wrote, however, to beg that a 
house of his own order in Shrewsbury might be allowed 
to continue. But on August 27th, he again sent to beg 
Crumwell not to grant his former request, for although he 
" could find no great cause in them to cause them to give 
up," 1 still he thought their "standing" would perhaps give 
him greater " business in divers places than (he) should 
have." He was specially thinking of the Franciscans and 
the Austin friars of Bristol, who "are stiff and bear them- 
selves sore by (the) great favour " in which they are. 2 The 
following day he returned to the subject. "I have left," 
he says, " but one convent standing, and that is (the) Black 
friars of Shrewsbury. For this there will be great suit 
made to you to have it stand still, and that specially by one 
of the bailiffs, master Adam a Mytton, who, as he saith, is 
much bound to your lordship. For your sake he made me 
great cheer. Yet for all that, I would that he had some 
pleasure, but not that pleasure." 8 Before Michaelmas the 
friars, who had been left in their house by the bishop, were 

The suppression was, of course, not carried to a conclu- 
sion without some severe handling of the friars. Instances 
of such measures have been noticed. No record, doubtless, 
was kept of much of the suffering endured by the religious 
before they were finally dispersed, but the glimpse that is 
afforded in the papers of this period is sufficient to show 
that the most extreme measures were often resorted to. 
Robert Buckenham, a member of the Dominican Order, was 
attainted of high treason and condemned to death for pro- 
mulgating the " venomous serpent, the bishop of Rome, to 
be supreme head of the Church." 4 He, however, escaped 
out of Henry's power. Another friar, William Storme, was 
kept in the Fleet prison for "honouring images and main- 
taining the use of pilgrimages," 6 and Robert Southwell, 
writing to Crumwell, informs him of the condemnation of a 
Franciscan for maintaining, or remaining staunch to, the old 
Catholic doctrine of papal supremacy. " Pleaseth it your 

i Wright, 204. 2 Ibid., 211. 8 Ibid., 210. 

* R. O. Rot. Parl., Hen. VIII., 147, No. 15. 

8 R. O. Crum. Corr., xl. 67. Dr. London writes about a "Black friar" 
who had been put in prison at Northampton at " All-Hallowes," and was there 
still on January 27. His offence was " certain words." 

324 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

good lordship to understand that William Dickinson, clerk 
and priested in Rome, with William Petty, sometime a friar 
minor in Jersey, were yesterday attainted of high treason 
upon their several denying the king's supremacy. In this 
they stuck as arrogantly as any traitors that I have much 
seen in my life, and more would have done if they might 
have been permitted thereto. Surely, sir," he continues, 
" they were and yet be two weeds not meet to grow in our 
garden, nor none of their seed that they have sown, whereof 
we can as yet learn nothing by their confession. Dickinson 
was apprehended by the seaside in Sussex in journey 
towards Rome if he had not been stayed. Petty is subtly 
witted as he is ingenious, and hath as pleasant an instru- 
ment for the utterance of his cankered heart as I have 
heard." The writer concludes by desiring to know " the 
king's pleasure concerning the time of the execution of 
these two traitors that be attainted." 1 

The character of doctor London was more fitted than 
that of his fellow, bishop Ingworth, for the rough work they 
were called upon to do in the suppression of the friars' 
houses. His letters give ample evidence that he did not 
scruple to perform any act of vandalism necessary to com- 
plete the wrecking of friaries built up by generations of 
pious benefactors, or for the desecration of churches which 
had for centuries been dedicated to the service of God. At 
Reading he says, " I did only deface the church, all the 
windows being full of friars, and left the roof and walls 
whole for the king's use. I sold the ornaments and the 
cells in their dormitory." ... At Aylesbury " I only did 
deface the church ; " and so too at Bedford and Stamford. 
At Coventry he partly razed the Franciscan house, " because 
the poor people lay so sore upon it." At Warwick he only 
smashed in the windows of " the friars' church," and added 
in his account to Crumwell, " I never pulled down any house 
entirely, but so defaced them that they could not be used 

Of the friars themselves we hear but little from this 
valiant destroyer. That little, as may be expected, is not 
complimentary in its character. The prior of the Austin 
friars at 2 Northampton is untruthful, "like a very friar;" 

1 Ellis, Orig. Letters, 3rd Ser. iii. 95. 2 Calendar, xiii. (ii), No. 719. 

Fall of the Friars 325 

but when all is over he has to confess that the town of this 
same Northampton and the villages round about are falling 
into decay, a good deal of which is popularly attributed to 
the destruction of the friaries. The warden of the Grey 
friars at Reading, London says, is " a friend of mine," which 
probably will not now be accounted much to his credit. This 
friar " also desired me," the doctor writes, " to be a humble 
suitor for him and his brethren that they may, with your 
lordship's favour, also change their garments with their 
papistical manner of living. The most part of them are very 
aged men, and not of strength to go much abroad for their 
livings, wherefore their desire is that it may please your 
lordship to be a mediator unto the king's grace for them that 
they might during their lives enjoy their chambers and 
orchard." 1 A fortnight later, however, (September I4th, 
1538) the doctor says that he has got the surrender, "and 
this day they all shall change their grey coats. Of friars," 
he adds, "they be noted here honest men." And after a 
description of the house and grounds he says, " the inward 
part of the church, thoroughly decked with Grey friars, as 
well in the windows as otherwise, I have defaced." 2 

Of the friars' houses at Oxford London gives some special 
information. The commission to visit them consisted of the 
mayor, "master aldermen," and the doctor himself. They 
first went to the Carmelites. Here he found that the friars, 
in anticipation of their dissolution, had sold an annuity of 
3 their house had from the abbot of Evesham, for .40 and 
divided the money. They were on the point of disposing 
of a similar annuity paid from the abbey of Westminster. 8 
Moreover, the land, small as it was which this friary possessed, 
was all let on a thirty years' lease. Their ornaments, " as 
copes and vestments," Dr. London considered " pretty," and 
these he took. The rest of their belongings he thought not 
worth .5 the lot. At the Augustinian friary all the trees had 
been felled. The Franciscans had good lands, woods and 
a " pretty garden." The house, however, was large and 
ruinous, and the religious had been obliged to pawn most of 
their plate. Even the lead pipes of their conduit had been 
lately dug up " and cast into 68 sows," twelve of which had 

1 Wright, 217. 2 Calendar, xiii. (ii), No. 346. 

3 These instances are interesting as showing how the great abbeys helped 
the poorer friaries. 

326 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

been sold to pay the expenses of taking up," but the inde- 
fatigable doctor secured the rest and " put into safe custody." 
He adds that the wind had lately blown down many of the 
trees, and, worse than all, the " house is roofed with slate 
and not with lead." In the case of the Dominicans they 
were more fortunate. " They have behind their house," he 
reports, "divers islands well-wooded," and although their 
convent was only covered with slate, the choir, " which was 
lately built, was covered with lead." The plate also was 
valuable, especially a great " chalice of gold set with jewels, 
worth more than a hundred marks." 1 

After what has been so far said about the state to which 
the friaries had been reduced by the middle of 1538 there 
is little need to dwell upon the surrenders which were ex- 
tracted from them. The chief object of a formal document 
was to secure to the crown the legal possession of the 
property belonging to the religious corporation, and for this 
purpose the deed was, as a rule, carefully entered on the 
" Close Roll." As the friars possessed real property so slight 
in amount, the " surrender " was of comparatively minor im- 
portance, and out of the two hundred convents of friars only 
some forty- five official deeds are known to exist. Of these, 
more than a fourth are not found enrolled, several have 
not been dated, and some not legalised by the convent seal. 
In the case of one, that of the Franciscans of Aylesbury, 
although the convent apparently consisted of fifteen members, 
the signatures of only seven are attached to the document. 
Besides these forty-five, a book of surrenders made to 
bishop Ingworth seems to contain the signed resignations of 
some five-and-twenty more, none of which are sealed docu- 
ments or have been enrolled. 

The form of surrender employed in many cases is 
curious. After stating that the act was altogether voluntary, 
the document proceeds to say that the house is resigned 
into the king's hands under the conviction that the religious 
who sign it have been guilty of crimes and vices. The 
same form is made use of in a great many instances, 2 and 
chiefly where doctor London was engaged in the work. 
And although the document has often been pointed to as 

1 Calendar, xiii. (i), No. 1335, 1342. 

2 e.g., Stamford, Franciscans and Carmelites j Bedford and Aylesbury, 
Coventry, &c. 

Fall of the Friars 327 

proof that the religious themselves confessed the iniquity of 
their lives, no reasonable man can doubt that, like other so- 
called " confessions," this was a ready-made document. 

Were there any doubts left on the mind as to the 
authorship of such documents, after examining their terms, 
they can be removed by the knowledge that there exists a 
draft of a surrender couched in a similar form, written in 
the hand of doctor London, and intended for the Carmelite 
friars of Oxford. 1 

How far this was to be a voluntary act may be under- 
stood from a letter written by the doctor on July 7th, 1538 : 
"We find," he says, "the White friars (these Carmelites) 
and the Augustins to be most out of order and brought into 
such poverty, that if they do not forsake their houses, their 
houses will forsake them, wherefore we are well onward in 
such order with them as they shall put themselves and their 
houses in the king's hands." At the end of this commu- 
nication he says : " If Mr. Fryer, now newly come from 
London, had not said in the Blackfriars that he heard say 
in London that the four orders in Oxford and Cambridge 
should stand, the Black had made their submission yester- 
day. The Grey and Augustins have done it already under 
their writings and seals." 2 It was thus, according to 
London's own admission, only when the friars were given 
plainly to understand that they must go, that their voluntary 
submission was executed. Even a rumour that they might 
be allowed to remain caused them to hesitate and draw 

The spoils obtained for the royal treasury by the sup- 
pression of the friars were in the first instance very small. 
Beyond the plate seized for the king, which was seldom 
more than the sacred vessels, often only one chalice, a few 
shillings, or at most a few pounds, represented the amount 
credited to the king after the expenses of the commissioners 
had been paid. Thus at Pontefract the goods sold amounted, 
in the Dominican friary, to only i zos. 4d., all the furniture 
of " the cells " fetching but eight shillings. Prior Day was 
given thirteen shillings and fourpence and each priest five 
shillings. Sixty-two shillings was the balance obtained by 
the king, besides a small amount of lead, two bells, "a 

1 Calendar, xiii. (i), No. 1335 (2). 2 Ibid. 

328 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

conduit and a brass ' hallywalter fatt ' " left in the keeping 
of the mayor. 1 

At Newcastle, to take but one instance more, bishop 
Ingworth sold the vestments and other moveables in the 
Black friars' house and church for less than 5 ; the mayor 
bought the tiles of the roof and everything in the dormitory 
for ten shillings ; two chalices, weighing 38 ounces, were 
sent to the royal treasure-house ; the lead was melted into 
1 8 fodders, and the episcopal visitor went away with thirty 
shillings as the price obtained by all the desecration and 
ruthless destruction. As for the community, six shillings 
and eightpence was given to the prior, five shillings to two 
other priests, to two lay brothers three and fourpence each, 
and to another, Robert Burrall, who did not sign the 
surrender, as much as ten shillings. The bishop "gave 
them a few hours' grace to quit their convent," and turned 
them out in the depth of winter without any other pro- 
vision. 2 

As to the sites and buildings, the crown, no doubt, made 
some profits by the sales of these. Situated in the heart 
of great towns, the space, and even the actual buildings, 
were much sought after. Thus, "in Lincoln," writes the 
bishop of Dover, "in the Grey friars is a goodly conduit, 
for which the mayor and the aldermen were with me to 
make suit to have the conduit into the city." 3 So, too, the 
mayor and aldermen of Grimsby wanted to beg half the 
friars' church " to make of it a common house for ordnance 
and other necessaries for the defence of the king's enemies 
if need be." It " stands very well for the purpose," writes 
John Freeman, who had conducted the dissolution, "near 
the water and open on the sea." And the thing asked he 
believes is "very necessary for the common wealth." 4 In 
Reading also the town wished for the church of the Grey 
friars to make a town-hall, and in several places the buildings 
were purchased by the cities in which they were situated. 
Thus in December, 1539, the king sold to the inhabitants 
of Worcester the sites, lands, churches, belfries and bells, 
churchyards and other belongings of the convents of the 
Black and Grey friars there for 541, ios., 6 and this was 

1 Fr. Palmer in The Reliquary, xx. p. 73. 2 Ibid., xviii. 165. 

8 Wright, 192. 4 Calendar, xiii. (ii), No. 567. 

6 Rot. Pat., 31 Hen. VIII., p. I, m. 28. 

Fall of the Friars 329 

after the superfluous buildings had been sold to private 
wreckers by men who took four days over the job at a cost 
of seventy-eight shillings and eightpence. 

It is necessary to say a few words about the lot of 
the disbanded friars. Only one or two individuals were 
granted any pension for their support. As a rule, a few 
shillings (on an average apparently about five shillings) 
was delivered to each one on being turned out into the 
world to find his own living as best he might. Even when 
they secured what is known as a " capacity " that is, per- 
mission to act as one of the secular clergy employment 
was by no means easy to be obtained. The bishops were 
no lovers of the wandering friars, and the great destruction 
of churches diminished the possibility of obtaining any cure 
of souls, even had the ordinaries been willing to employ 
them. This is evident in many letters of the period. " I 
beg your lordship," wrote Ingworth to Crumwell, "to be 
good lord for the poor friars' capacities. They are very 
poor and can have little service without their capacities. 
The bishops and curates are very hard to them without 
they have their capacities." x In another letter he says, 
" I pray you be good lord to me, that the warrants for their 
habits may be had according to my promise, for they (the 
friars) may not be suffered to say mass abroad in churches 
till they have their exemptions. I have written to divers 
of the bishops, and with divers I have spoken to license 
them till after Michaelmas, and at that time I have promised 
to send their license to certain places where they shall have 
them free, for the most part of them have no penny to pay 
for the charge of them." 2 

Lastly, to give but one more instance of the hardship to 
which the expelled friars were exposed, another letter of the 
same bishop Ingworth, who was the chief instrument in 
producing such misery, may be quoted. " Further my good 
lord," he writes, " in these parts within the diocese of York 
the poor men (the disbanded friars) that surrender their 
houses are hardly ordered by the bishop's officers at the 
bishop's commandment. They cannot be suffered to sing 
nor say in any parish church without they show the letters 
of their orders, my letters or their capacities notwithstanding. 

1 Wright, 193. 2 Ibid., 210. 

33 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

And, the charge for these letters of their orders be so great, 
that the poor men be not able to bear it. Some must go 
a hundred miles to seek them. And when they come there 
the charge of searching the register is so great that they are 
not able to pay it, and so they come home again confounded. 
I have been with my lord of York and showed him your 
lordship's letter, that your commandment is that they who 
have surrendered their houses should be suffered without 
interruption to sing and say in any church. The bishop 
made many objections and said that it must be known 
whether they were priests or not. And I certified him that 
we who received the houses made due search which were 
priests and which were not, and so made certificate to your 
lordship and your lordship to the king's grace. So that by 
that means (only) their capacities were granted. Wherefore 
I desired him to accept their capacities from the king's 
grace with as much favour as the bishop of Rome's capaci- 
ties had been before received, for which there never was any 
search made." Still, Ingworth does not think archbishop 
Lee was satisfied, and he begs that Crumwell will write his 
directions that these men may " sing and say " mass without 
having to show " any proof of orders." 1 

1 R. O. Crum. Corr., viii. 120. 


Progress of the General Suppression 

THE story of one dissolution, at least as to the general 
circumstances attending the work, is practically the history 
of all. The steps of the royal commissioners engaged in 
disbanding monks, in destroying what were accounted super- 
fluous buildings, and in sweeping the spoils into the king's 
treasure-house, have been so closely followed by Canon 
Dixon, 1 that little need be said here as to the mere sequence 
of events which culminated in the total extinction of the 
monastic body in England. 

For a year after the " Pilgrimage of Grace " few dissolu- 
tions, except of some of the lesser monasteries previously 
doomed by act of parliament, are recorded. The only ex- 
ceptions were those houses seized by Henry on account of 
the attainder of their superiors for their supposed connection 
with the northern rising. From Michaelmas, 1537, to the 
same date in the following year, the work of destruction 
was pushed on very vigorously. Besides the houses of 
friars, and the monasteries of Woburn and Lenton, which 
in this year fell under the law of attainder, many other of 
the larger monasteries either surrendered or in some other 
way came into the king's hands before the feast of St. 
Michael, 1538. The circumstances attending the destruction 
of one or two of these may be taken as a sample of the 
methods employed in the work. 

The need of voluntary surrenders for the legal posses- 
sion of the monasteries not included by parliament in the 
pecuniary limit assigned for suppression has already been 
pointed out. The instructions given to the royal agents 
were, by all methods known to them to get the religious 
"willingly to consent and agree" to their own extinction. 

1 In the second volume of his History of the Church of England. 

33 2 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

And it was only when they found "any of the said heads 
and convents so appointed to be dissolved so wilful and 
obstinate that they would in no wise" agree to sign and 
seal their own death warrant that the commissioners were 
authorised to " take the possession of the house " and pro- 
perty by force. 1 For many months, in fact, since the first 
wholesale dissolution of the lesser monasteries commenced, 
popular rumour had spoken of the total destruction of the 
abbeys of England, and the seizure of their lands and wealth, 
as the ultimate goal to which the royal intentions aimed. 
The religious themselves, whilst hoping against hope that 
some change of regal whim might bring again union with 
Rome and the dismissal of the then all-powerful, and, as 
they regarded them, evil counsellors, could have had little 
expectation that, under existing circumstances, their lot 
would ultimately prove more fortunate than that of their 
poorer brethren. Against such a notion it was to the king's 
interest to protest. A belief that within a brief period, to 
be measured, probably, by weeks or months, their property 
would pass into the royal power would naturally tend to 
make the monks not alone careless in the supervision of 
buildings and lands, but anxious to save something for 
themselves, if possible, from the general spoliation. Hence 
the visitors frequently in their letters urge rapidity of action 
when once the resolution is taken to deal with a particular 
abbey or convent. Hence, also, the care with which Henry 
and his agents endeavoured to dissemble the royal intention 
of suppressing the monastic body throughout the country. 8 

Thus the unscrupulous doctor Layton, in a letter written 
in the middle of January, 1538, describes his efforts to 
prevent the spread of reports detrimental to the king's 
interests. "On my coming to Barnwell priory on the I2th 
day in the evening," he says, " it was immediately bruited 
in Cambridge that the priory should be even then sup- 
pressed, 3 and that I would go from thence to Ely and to 
Bury and suppress wheresoever I came : and that the king's 

1 R. O. Chapter House Bk., A. ^, f. i, et seq. 

8 Mr. Gairdner {Calendar, xiii. (i), preface vi) says : " In spite of Dr. 
Layton's denial in spite even of the king's own denial conveyed to some 
monasteries by Cromwell it is impossible not to suspect that the complete 
suppression of monastic houses had already been resolved on." 

* The house was surrendered on the 8th November following, to Dr. Legh 
(App. ii. to 8th Kept. Dep. Keeper, p. 9). 

Progress of the General Suppression 333 

highness was fully determined to suppress all monasteries : 
and that Mr. Southwell and I were sent into Norfolk only 
for that purpose. Which bruit to stop, and to satisfy the 
people, I went with expedition to the abbeys and priories, 
calling unto me all such gentlemen and honest men as were 
nigh inhabitants there. I (then) openly in the chapter 
house commanded and charged the abbots and priors with 
their convents in the king's behalf that they should not in 
any wise, for fear of any such bruit or vain babbling of the 
people, waste, destroy or spoil their woods, nor sell their 
plate or jewels of their church, nor mortgage or pledge any 
part or parcels of the same for any such intent : nor let out 
their granges, pastures or glebe, ever retained in their hands 
for the maintenance of their house and hospitality, nor to 
make excessive fines for renewing any manor's lease for a 
hundred years . . . nor to sell or alienate their lands and 
revenues nor diminish their rents; nor sell any manor, 
portion, pension, quit-rent or any such like appertaining to 
their monastery. And finally (I ordered them) to keep 
everything in the same state as they have done always 
heretofore, and as they of right are bound, and not to give 
any credit to the vain babbling of the people. And what- 
soever they were that persuaded them to make any such 
alienation or sale, alleging that the king would suppress 
them and all other religious houses, and that it would be 
better for them to make their hands betimes than too late, 
no matter of what condition the people who said this were," 
the doctor continues, "in this they utterly slandered the 
king their natural sovereign lord." He told them not to 
believe such reports, and " commanded the abbots and priors 
to set" those who related such things "in the stocks," 
unless they were gentlemen, when they were to acquaint 

"This digression," Layton concludes, "hath somewhat 
hindered us for Westacre, which if I should not have sped 
before the dissolution of the same, the rumour would have 
so greatly increased in the heads of the common people, that 
surely all abbots and priors would have made foul shifts 
before we could have made full expedition and all finished 
at Westacre. Your (i.e. Crumwell's) commandment there- 
fore given me in your gallery in that behalf was much 
more weighty than I at that time judged or supposed or 

334 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

would have believed if I had not seen the very experience 
thereof." 1 

That the far-seeing minister had been fully alive to the 
danger is evident from the draft of a letter sent to various 
monasteries to assure them that no intention of suppressing 
them existed. "Albeit," this letter of Crumwell's runs, "I 
doubt not but, having not long since received the king's 
highness's letters wherein his majesty signified to you that, 
using yourselves like his good and faithful subjects, his 
grace would not in any wise interrupt you in your state and 
kind of living ; and that his pleasure therefore was that in 
case any man should declare anything to the contrary, you 
should cause him to be apprehended and kept in sure 
custody till further knowledge of his grace's pleasure, you 
would so firmly repose yourself in the tenour of the said 
letters as no man's words nor any voluntary surrender made 
by any governor or company of any religious house since 
that time, shall put you in any doubt or fear of suppression 
or change of your kind of life and policy." The king, 
however, feels that there are people who "upon any volun- 
tary and frank surrender would persuade and blow abroad 
a general and violent suppression." And because some 
houses have lately been surrendered, the king commands me 
to say "that unless there had been overtures made by the 
said houses that have resigned, his grace would never have 
received the same. And his majesty intendeth not in any 
wise to trouble you or to devise for the suppression of any 
house that standeth, except they shall either desire of them- 
selves with one whole consent to resign and forsake the 
same or else misuse themselves contrary to their allegiance." 
In this last case, the document concludes, they shall lose 
" more than their houses and possessions, that is, the loss 
also of their lives." Wherefore take care of your houses 
and beware of spoiling them like some have done "who 
imagined they were going to be dissolved." 2 

The royal fears that the work of spoliation might be 
anticipated by the monks themselves if they were allowed 
to suspect his designs were not altogether groundless. 
Numerous examinations held some years later as to sales 
and leases of lands, gifts of annuities and pledging of plate 

1 Calendar, xiii. (i), No. 102. 2 Brit. Mus. Cott. MS. Cleop., E. iv. f. 86. 

Progress of the General Suppression 335 

and jewels, prove that even a suspicion of the coming 
destruction was enough to make the monks anticipate it. 
Thus, to take an example of the many that might be cited. 

The priory of Launde (of which Crumwell notes : " Item, 
to remember Launde for my part thereof,") affords an 
interesting instance of the way in which some of the coveted 
plate and other valuables disappeared on the eve of the 
catastrophe. A gentleman of the county of Leicester, some 
years after the dissolution of this priory, informed the 
chancellor of the court of Augmentation that, shortly before 
the suppression, when he was "riding from Sowerby to Sir 
John Villiers, he met with a cart laden at Old Thorpe. 
With this cart there rode a canon and three servants of the 
prior of Launde." He asked them what was in the cart, 
"because the cart-horse swetted very fast." One of the 
servants replied, " ' It is some of the shortest stuff of Launde 
priory,' and so went his way smiling." Also the same 
informer had been told that a basket of plate had been 
carried from the priory to a house at Sowerby, and remained 
there for six weeks after the dissolution, when it was taken 
to the late prior at " Frisby parsonage." 

Other witnesses deposed that "three geldings and a 
mare " belonging to the priory were brought to a neighbour's 
stable shortly before the suppression, whence they were 
taken to the parsonage of Frisby ; that " three suits of vest- * 
ments," formerly belonging to the monastery, were saved 
from the sale of the effects by the same means, and that in 
the same place were hidden in a chest several pieces of 
plate goblets, spoons and other silver articles for a year 
or more after the dissolution. 1 

In the same way a curious story is told about some 
plate that belonged to the abbey of Croyland. The person 
examined had been one of the monks, and, when the exiled 
abbot, John Briggs, was dying shortly after, " was his con- 
fessor and one of his executors." He had heard that the 
late abbot had some plate given him by the king's commis- 
sioners. And " the said deponent," continues the record of 
the examination, " saith that he required of the said abbot 
on his death-bed to know where his plate was, and he said 
that after his death it should be found in his chamber . . . 

1 R. O. Aug. Off. Misc., Bk. 133, ff. 32-33. 

33 6 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

in a spruce coffer by his bedside." Besides this box there 
was another chest "bound with iron," which contained 
several pieces of plate. And "this deponent saith that 
about eight weeks before the surrender he went by the 
command of the abbot to one John Mereshouse at Croyland 
and there opened a long chest," in which there was some of 
the silver plate found on the abbot's death, "and a stand- 
ing piece which was after given to the earl of Essex that 
then was." 1 

Instances such as these could be multiplied, but the 
above are sufficient to show that the monasteries were often 
not inclined to wait calmly for the coming of the spoiler. 
Examples of leases made conditionally upon the suppression 
are very frequently met with, and more than one in which, 
for a similar purpose, a lease made on the eve of the dis- 
solution was antedated. Frequently the monks were no 
doubt moved by the desire or need to meet the liabilities of 
their convent, which were in all cases great, in some posi- 
tively overwhelming. In most instances, however, their in- 
tention in thus anticipating the royal seizure was probably 
the outcome of a natural desire to save something from the 
general ruin. 

As to the " surrenders " themselves, little need be said. 
About 150 monasteries of men appear to have signed away 
their property, and by the formal deed to have handed over 
all rights to the king. Their act, however, can hardly with 
justice be called free and voluntary. With Henry's hand 
upon their throats it was a question between life and pos- 
sessions. Even staunch resistance to the royal will would 
not save the property of which they were the guardians, 
from the covetous designs of king and minister. Refusal 
to resign at their bidding meant certain loss of the pittance 
generally allotted to those who acquiesced in the spoliation, 
and possible death for such temerity. It is not given to all 
to offer life for honour when no real advantage is purchased 
by the sacrifice. However much, therefore, the compliance 
of the monks is to be regretted, it must be confessed that 
the heroism of refusal could hardly be looked for in many. 
Moreover, Henry had carefully prepared the way for his 
design by the removal of refractory abbots, the substitution 

1 R. O. Aug. Off. Misc. Bk., f. 42. 

Progress of the General Suppression 337 

of others more pliable, and by other methods calculated to 
ensure success, to which reference will be made hereafter. 
It is well, also, to bear in mind that the idea of any general 
attack on monasticism was not only kept in the background, 
but actually repudiated by both king and agents. The 
monasteries stood alone. Singly they were attempted, and 
singly they fell. 

It was in the years 1538 and 1539 that most of the 
" surrenders " were made. Some three or four houses only 
had come into the king's possession in this way during the 
latter half of 1537. The convent of the London Carthusians 
is the earliest recorded instance ; but the document has no 
signatures appended to it, and the surrender of the Benedic- 
tine abbey of Chertsey may be regarded as the first legal 
document of this kind. It was signed by John Cordrey, 
the abbot, and fourteen of his monks, who, however, were 
not disbanded, but transferred to Bisham, which had been 
"dissolved and granted to the king by William Barlow 
bishop of St. David's and late commendatory prior," on the 
5th of July, 1536. Here, on December i8th, 1537, the old 
community of Chertsey were established by royal charter, 
as "King Henry's new monastery of the Holy Trinity," 
" in consideration that the said John Cordrey, the late abbot, 
and convent granted their monastery and possessions to the 
king." x This royal foundation, however, although endowed 
with lands to the value of nearly 700 a year, was very 
short lived, for on the I7th of June, 1538, or just six months 
after its establishment, it was resigned, or surrendered, into 
the king's hands. 2 

Doctor Layton, who was engaged in this work of sup- 
pression, wrote on June 22nd to Crumwell : " We have 
taken the assurance for the king. The abbot a very simple 
man, the monks of small learning and much less discretion. 
Plate very little, household stuff none but the abbot's bed 
and one mattress for two of his servants. I caused a bed 
to be borrowed in the town and brought into the abbey for 
Dr. Carne and myself. In lieu of hangings bare walls 
throughout the house; cattle none, but bought this day 
and to-morrow to the larder, saving a few milch kine not 
twelve in number. In the garners not one bushel of wheat, 

1 Rot. Pat., 29 Hen. VIII., Pars. iv. m. 12. 
* Eighth Kept. Dep. Keeper, App. ii. p. 13. 

33 8 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

malt or other grains. Vestments small store and not one 
good, for the abbot hath made money of all the best and 
sold them in London and even so the church plate." He 
then goes on to attribute this to the abbot's fondness for 
" white wine, sugar and burage," and says he has been 
obliged to raise money out " of the rotten copes and bells " 
to " dispatch " the monks. On the other hand, this visitor 
gives a good account of the state of the crops growing on 
the land, and concludes thus: "This day we dispatched 
the monks, for they be much desirous to be gone, for yester- 
day when we were making sale of the old vestments within 
the chapter-house, then the monks made a new mart in the 
cloister, every man bringing his cowl cast upon his neck to 
be sold, and sold them indeed." 1 

On the i6th November, 1537, William Petre visited and 
received the surrender of Lewes priory, 2 together with its 
rights over the cell of Castleacre, which resignation was 
confirmed at Castleacre before the same royal commissioner 
six days later. 3 The prior of the latter place had tried to 
propitiate Crumwell with " four marks as a token of my love " 
and a patent for the same amount each year, but he had 
been finally forced to send up the deeds of " foundation " 
and other things demanded of him, together with a fruitless 
prayer for "pity on me and mine."* By March 24, 1538, 
with the lengthening days, the work of destruction had 
commenced at Lewes. " I advertised your lordship," writes 
Crumwell's agent to him, "of the length and greatness of 
this church, and how we had to pull the whole down to the 
ground and what manner and fashion they used in pulling 
it down. I told your lordship of a vault on the right side 

1 Ellis, Orig. Letters, 3rd Ser. iii. p. 265. The house was endowed with 
lands of the late dissolved abbey of Chertsey, and with the possessions of the 
priories of Cardigan, Bethkelert, Ankerwyke, Little Marlow, &c. On the 
present letter Ellis notes : " From its contents we must conclude that the 
re-endowment by Henry VIII. could only have been promised . . . the 
poverty of the house is little reconcileable with the increased endowment." 
As the foundation only lasted from December 18, I "537, to July 19, 1538, it is 
more than probable no revenues were received. The goods of Bisham had 
already been sold on the first dissolution. 

2 Rot. Glaus., 29 Hen. VIII., Pars. i. m. 9. 

B Ibid., m. 10. The original surrender, without any seal, but signed in 
the margin by Prior Thomas and ten monks, is in the Brit. Museum (Add. 
Charter, 15,495). 

4 R. O. Crum. Corr., iv. 178. No pension was apparently granted to any 
monks of either place. 

Progress of the General Suppression 339 

of the high altar, that was borne up by four great pillars 
having about five chapels which are compassed in with 
walls " 210 feet in length. "All this is down on Thursday 
and Friday last. Now we are plucking down a higher vault 
borne up by four thick pillars 14 feet from side to side (and) 
45 feet in circumference. These shall down for our second 
work. As it goeth forward I will advise your lordship from 
time to time and that your lordship may know with how 
many men we have done this, we brought from London 
17 persons, three carpenters, two smiths, two plumbers, 
and one that keepeth the furnace. Every one of these 
attendeth to his own office. Ten of them hewed the walls 
about, among which there were three carpenters ; these 
made props to underset where the others cut away, the 
others broke and cut the walls. These are men exercised 
much better than the men we find here in the country." He 
then requests more men and concludes : " On Tuesday they 
began to cast the lead, and it shall be done with such dili- 
gence and saving as may be." At the close of the letter, 
the dimensions of the church which they were calmly 
engaged in destroying are given. It was a hundred and 
fifty feet long and sixty-three high. 1 Its walls were five 
feet thick and the walls of the steeple, which was ninety 
feet high, were ten thick. There were two-and-thirty pillars 
which carried the groined roof, which over the high altar 
rose to the height of eighty-three feet from the ground. 2 
Such was one of those magnificent creations of English 
architectural skill which at this time in almost every part 
of the country the government were occupied in wrecking. 

The first monastery to surrender in the year 1538 was 
the abbey of Westacre. The history of this transaction 
has already been referred to. The actual resignation of 
the monastery could hardly have been freely made, since a 
month before, on December 16 (1537), Sir Roger Townsend 
wrote to say that, "as directed" by Crum well's letters, he 
and others had repaired to the priory, " sequestered all the 
property " and taken inventories 3 of their possessions. As 
to the surrender itself, two documents exist, one dated on 

1 The church, from other dimensions given in the letter and from recent 
excavations, must have been 400 feet long. The 150 feet refers to the eastern 
limb only. The letter says the circumference of the church was 1558 feet. 

a Wright, 180. s Calendar, xii. (ii), No. 1219. 

34 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

the I4th January, 1538, and the other the following day. 
The first is a confession of maladministration and other 
general self-accusations in much the same form as the 
Northampton document. The second is the surrender 
proper, and apparently neither have been enrolled upon 
the Close Roll. Even had all been regular, the surrender 
could hardly have meant much more than the " confession," 
as the property of the priory was already in the hands of 
Crumwell's commissioners. What makes it somewhat more 
strange is, that Layton, on the i8th of January, wrote, in a 
letter already quoted, implying that the suppression was 
not an accomplished fact at that date. The work of putting 
a stop to the rumours of the coming suppressions had 
" hindered " him, he says, at " XVestacre," and he adds : 
"What untruth and dissimulation we find in the prior! 
What falsehood in false knaves amongst the convent ! 
What bribery, spoil and ruin with crafty colours of bargains 
contrived by the inhabitants it were too long to write; but 
for a conclusion all their wrenches, wiles and guiles shall 
nothing prevail them, and so God willing we shall serve the 
king truly." l 

The surrender of Abingdon on the gth of February 
of this same year, 1538, presents one or two remarkable 
features worth recording. Like many of the monasteries, 
the financial state of this great abbey does not appear to 
have been very flourishing. There had been difficulties with 
tenants, implying costly lawsuits and compromises detri- 
mental to the interests of the house. Internally the discipline 
of the cloister had suffered by the interference of the king 
and his vicar-general. Shaxton, the bishop of Salisbury, 
had safe in prison a monk of the house, who, when by the 
royal orders two of his brethren " were scraping out the 
bishop of Rome's name," came and told them that they 

1 Calendar, xiii. (i), No. 102. When the commissioners reached Westacre 
on January l8th, 1538, they found that they had been anticipated in their inten- 
tion of securing the property before the rumours of the intended suppression 
had got about. Not only had much of the land been let on long leases, but 
as early as the beginning of the previous December, the convent had been 
visited by one Charles Wyngfield, who had declared to the members that it 
was the royal pleasure they should sell their house to him and his heirs. This 
they had accordingly done, granting him a deed "to hold good only if the 
king's pleasure were such as he declared " (Calendar, xiii. (i), No. 101). This 
transaction gave Layton and his companion some anxiety and considerable 

Progress of the General Suppression 341 

" who set knife and pen to the book were cursed." l More 
than this : the exactions and demands of Crumwell hampered 
the abbot in the administration of his house. " Your letters," 
writes the abbot to him, demand that I give the office of 
"chamberer" to one Richard Birrall, "a monk of this my 
monastery, by convent seal for the rest of his life. It hath 
not been seen in time past that any monk hath ever had a 
convent seal of any office. For if he had it, I think it were 
my duty to take it from him. Also it is against his religion 
and standeth not with his profession. Wherefore seeing that 
it standeth neither with the good custom of the house nor 
doth agree with the good order of religion, I therefore 
beseech your good mastership with all my heart to be good 
master unto me that I may order a monk as he ought to be 
ordered according to the good rule of religion, and that no 
such precedent may be had." a 

The good order of the abbey, however, mattered little to 
Crumwell, who in the year 1537 enters among his notes, to- 
gether with other similar matters to be held in memory: 
"Item, the suppression of Abingdon." 8 How this was ac- 
complished may be judged from one circumstance. On the 
7th of February, 1538, a sum of 600, more than ;6ooo of 
our money, was paid by royal warrant to doctors Tregonwell 
and Petre, "to be spent by them on bringing about the 
dissolution of the monastery of Abingdon." 4 The monas- 
tery surrendered two days later. Thomas Pentecost, alias 
Rowland, the abbot, obtained the grant of a pension of 
200 a year and a house to live in, and each of the monks 
a suitable sum for their lives. On February the 22nd, Sir 
Richard Ryche wrote his report of the royal prize. The 
buildings he found in a great state of decay. The abbot's 
house was unfit for habitation, and would require a large 
amount of money to make it fit for the king. The ground 
was not fit to make a park, for if the fields on the south side 
of the Thames were taken for the purpose, the writer believes 
that the town of Abingdon, which was very populous, " will 
decay." He concluded by asking " what part of the church, 

1 R. O. Crum. Corr., xxxviii. 52. 

2 Ibid., i. 9. It is curious to note the peculiar form in which Richard 
Birrall signs the deed of surrender, "concede et ego Richardus Birrall." 

3 Brit. Mus. Cott. MS. Titus, B. i. f. 468d. 

4 R. O. Exch. Aug. Off. Mins. Accts., 28 Hen. VIII., i Edw. VI. 155. 
This sum is also entered as paid on Treasurer's Roll, I. m. I2d. 

34 2 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

cloister, dorter, chapter-house and frater shall be defaced. 
I think," he adds, " a great part thereof may be defaced and 
sufficient left to the king's contentation." l 

The spoils were gathered into the royal treasure-house. 
Two mitres were purchased by Sir Thomas Pope, the 
treasurer of the Court of Augmentations, and three ponti- 
fical rings with precious stones with a silver gilt cross were 
saved from the common melting-pot for the royal use. In 
the latter, set in a piece of gold, was a portion of the holy 
cross called "an esse." 2 

The dissolution of the abbey of Vale Royal affords an 
interesting insight into the methods employed to force com- 
pliance, and a criterion by which to estimate the value of 
the surrenders. Here, as elsewhere, the demands upon the 
resources of the abbey had been met until it became im- 
possible with further exactions to keep up the house. " My 
lord," writes the abbot to Crumwell in answer to a repeated 
demand, " I most humbly beseech your good lordship, for 
the love of God and our Blessed Lady and for the main- 
tenance of good service and poor hospitality to be kept in 
the house, to pardon our refusal." 

On the 22nd of August, 1538, one of the most energetic 
of the king's commissioners, Thomas Legh, was at the abbey, 
and on the 7th of September a surrender is said to have 
been made by the abbot and convent. It was entered in 
due course on the Close Roll as a valid document, but was 
repudiated by the abbot. At Lichfield, on his way to 
London, he wrote his protest against the surrender which 
Holcroft, the subsequent grantee, 8 was evidently the chief 
agent in extorting, if not in forging. The commissioners, 
so said John Harwood, the abbot, had brought the royal 
demand that we should " clearly of our own consents sur- 
render . . . our monastery." "My good lord," he writes 
to Crumwell, "the truth is, I nor my said brethren have 
never consented to surrender our monastery, nor yet do, nor 
never will do by our good wills, unless it shall please the 
king's grace to give us commandment so to do, which I can- 
not perceive in the commission of master Holcroft. And if 
any information be given unto his majesty or your lordship, 

1 Calendar, xiii. (i), No. 332. 2 Aug. Off. Treas. Roll, I. m. 3. 

3 He paid .450, IDS. 6d., with an annual fee of .3, 55. 8d., for the 

Progress of the General Suppression 343 

that we should consent to surrender as is above said, I 
assure your good lordship upon my fidelity and truth, there 
was never any such consent made by me or my brethren, 
and no person or persons had authority so to do in our 
names." He adds a prayer that the king may spare the 
monastery, and forwards " a bill indented made by me and 
my brethren " which the commissioner had refused. 1 

Abbot Harwood's journey failed in its purpose. Still 
the king could neither force the unwilling monks to surrender 
nor, at this date, was he apparently desirous of seizing the 
property without some pretence of justice. Mr. Ormerod 
remarks that the difficulty was overcome in this instance 
by bringing a capital indictment against the abbot. " The 
jurisdiction of the abbey courts," he writes, " afforded an easy 
opportunity of gratifying the royal wishes, and lord Crum- 
well, the seneschal of the abbey, presided in person at a 
court held at Vale Royal on the Monday after the feast of 
the Annunciation, I539> in which fourteen jurors found a 
bill against the late abbot and others for the following 
offences : 

" That John Harwood, late abbot of the monastery of O. 
B. Lady of Vale Royal, consented to the slaying of Hugh 
Chaliner, his monk; and that the day before the said 
monk's throat was cut, the said monk said unto a child, 
being his brother's son of twelve years of age or there- 
abouts, that he the said monk would be with his brother at 
Chester before the Assumption, or else he should suffer 
death if he tarried any longer in the said monastery." 

The jury further found that the abbot threatened a 
tenant of his that he would have nothing more to do with 
him if he fought against the northern men in the general 
rising. Also that the abbot's brother approved of the 
northern men, and one of his vicars refused to marry a 
couple upon a license obtained from the king as supreme 
head. 2 

A true bill being found against the abbot on these charges 
his life was in grievous peril. In fact, the Cheshire tradition 

1 Wright, 244. 

2 Ormerod, Cheshire, i. 503. See also Monasticon, vi. 701, note. The 
document is said to be a transcript of the Original Inquisition, and addressed 
" to Thomas Holcroft be these directed with speed." For the Inquisition, see 
Calendar, xiv. (i), No. 639. 

344 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

is said to be that he was executed. 1 This, however, was 
not the case, as in the year 1542 "John Harwood, late abbot 
of Vale Royal, was in receipt of a pension, 2 which he con- 
tinued to receive till the first year of Edward VI. 8 The 
effect of the condemnation was, however, sufficient doubt- 
less to place the abbot in the royal power, and thus to over- 
come his opposition to surrender his charge, of which John 
Harwood had given such unmistakable proofs. 

Of course by the middle of the year 1538 it became 
obvious to all that the king intended nothing less than the 
total destruction of the monastic orders. Rumours sprang 
up that not only the friars but monks generally would soon 
be expected to abandon their religious habits, and Prior 
Goldstone of Christchurch, Canterbury, wrote to Crumwell 
earnestly begging that such a measure might not be applied 
to himself and his brethren. Crumwell, he says, had sent 
him word that they should never be constrained to do this 
against their wills, and he assures him that they will never 
voluntarily break the profession they have made to serve 
God in their monastic dress, or give up a mode of life which 
had been led by the sons of St. Benedict at Canterbury for 
more than nine hundred years. 4 His entreaty was naturally 
of no avail. Crumwell, who happened to be at Canterbury 
with the king early in September, 1538, "intimated to the 
monks in the chapter-house that the change was actually 
resolved on, and Dr. Richard Thornden, warden of the 
cathedral manors, who was accustomed to provide new 
apparel for them yearly at All Hallows' day, wrote to ask 
when it was to take place." 6 

The pressure put upon the monks to resign their property 
may be further illustrated by two letters relating to houses 
in the county of Somerset the one from the prior of the 
Charterhouse of Hinton, the other from a priest employed to 
bring about the surrender of Athelney Abbey. " In the 
Lord Jesus shall be your salutation," writes prior Horde to 
his brother Alan, a barrister of the Middle Temple. " And 
where ye marvel that I and my brethren do not freely and 
voluntarily give and surrender up our house at the motion 
of the king's commissioners, but stand stiffly, and as you 

1 Ibid. * R. O. Aug. Off. Misc. Bk., 248, 41. 

3 R. O. Aug. Off. Treasurer's Roll, III. m. 106. 

4 Calendar, xiii. (ii), No. 139. 6 Ibid., preface, viii. 

Progress of the General Suppression 345 

think obstinately, in our opinion ; truly, brother, I marvel 
greatly that you think so, but rather that you would have 
thought us light and hasty in giving up that thing which is 
not ours to give, but dedicate to Almighty God for service to 
be done to His honour continually, with other many good 
deeds of charity which daily be done in this house to our 
Christian neighbours. And considering that there is no 
cause given by us why the house shall be put down, but 
that the service of God, religious conversation of the 
brethren, hospitality, alms-deeds, with all other our duties, 
be as well observed in this poor house as in any religious 
house in this realm or in France; which we have trusted 
that the king's grace would consider. But because that ye 
write of the king's high displeasure and my lord privy seal's, 
who ever hath been my especial good lord, and I trust yet 
will be, I will endeavour myself, as much as I may, to 
persuade my brethren to a conformity in this matter ; so 
that the king's highness nor my said good lord shall have 
any cause to be displeased with us, trusting that my poor 
brethren who know not where to have their living, shall 
be charitably looked upon." l 

After dissolving the abbey of Keynsham, John Tregon- 
well and William Petre, the two royal commissioners, 
arrived at Hinton on January 25th, 1539, for the same 
purpose. "Immediately after our coining," they write to 
Crumwell, " we entered conversation with the prior there 
about the cause of our coming, and used such means and 
persuasions unto him for the purpose as we thought most 
meet and might best take place in him. His answer in 
effect was, that if the king's majesty would take his house, 
so (that) it proceeded not of his voluntary surrender, he was 
contented to obey; but otherwise he said his conscience 
would not suffer him willingly to give over the same. In 
the end, after long conversation, he desired delay to make 
us answer until this morning. At this time, we often 
using like diligence in persuading him as we did before, 
he declared himself to be of the same mind he was ' yester- 

1 Ellis, Orig. Letters, 2nd Ser. ii. p. 130. "Of pressure being applied we 
have express evidence as at the Carthusian priory of Hinton. . . . The abbot 
of Winchcombe also wrote in August to Cromwell, saying he hoped that he 
had not done anything against the laws of God or the King to merit the sup- 
pression of the Monastery " ( Calendar, xiv. (ii), preface, xxix). 

346 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

night,' or rather more stiff in the same. In conversation 
with the convent we perceived them to be of the same 
mind the prior was, and had much like answer of them as 
we had from the prior (three only excepted who were 
conformable). And amongst the rest one Nicholas Balland, 
monk there, being incidentally examined of the king's high- 
ness' title of supremacy, expressly denied the same, affirming 
the bishop of Rome to be the vicar of Christ, and that he is 
and ought to be taken for supreme head of the Church." l 

Crumwell had long had his eye upon this house. Lord 
Stourton had written to him about a vision the prior was 
said to have had, which appeared to forecast the execution 
of one of Henry's queens, 2 and he had entered on his " re- 
membrances " "of the Charterhouse at Hinton." 3 And so, 
by March 3 1st, 1539, the opposition to the king's demands 
was broken down, and the surrender signed by prior Horde 
and fourteen monks. Two others, one of whom was Nicholas 
Balland, apparently did not sign the document. 4 The house 
was sold by Tregonwell to Sir Walter Hungerford, but 
although he paid his money, he complains three months 
later that Sir Thomas Arundel had on a royal grant sold 
and " despoiled and quite carried away a great part of the 
church and other superfluous buildings next." 6 

In much the same way evidently the surrender of the 
abbey of Athelney was procured by pressure. On November 
2nd, 1538, the parson of Holford writes an account of his 
visit to the abbot at the instigation of Crumwell and chan- 
cellor Audley. " I found," he says, " the said abbot in the 
church coming from mass at the hour of ten o'clock before 
noon. And, as reverently as I could, I delivered the said 
my lord and master's letters, and showed him that my lord 
Audeley recommended him to him. And the said abbot 
answered : ' I am glad to hear of my lord's welfare.' And 

1 Calendar, xiv. (i), No. 145. In a letter written on the 24th June, Sir 
W. Hungerford says he "kept in his house till I know your pleasure " this 
Nicholas Balland, who publicly declared he would die for the belief that the 
pope was the only head of the Church" (Ibid., No. 1154). 

2 R. O. Crum. Corn, xl. 71. 
8 Calendar, ix. No. 498. 

4 Eighth Rept. Dep. Keeper, App. ii. p. 23. 

8 R. O. Crum. Corn, xviii. n. On April 4th, 1540, grants of pensions 
were made to the prior and 22 monks, including Nicholas Balland (R. O. 
Augt. Off. Misc. Bk., 233, f. 242). For payment see A. O. Mins. Acct., 
30-31 Hen. VIII., 224, m. 8d. 

Progress of the General Suppression 347 

so he read his letter and said : ' Go with me to my chamber 
and you shall know my mind.' And I followed the said 
abbot, and suddenly he stopped and said : ' What, is my 
lord Audeley a man of the new set or after the old sort ? ' 
' My lord,' said I, ' he is after the best sort, and like a kind- 
hearted subject to the king's grace and a good Englishman 
that loveth all the realm.' 'Well/ said the abbot, 'do you 
think he doth not judge there will be another world shortly ? ' 
' My lord,' said I, ' there will be another world when we be 
out of this world, but in this I think there was never so 
gracious a prince as the king's grace is, for he loveth virtue 
and will punish vice.' Wherewith the said abbot shook 
his head and said : ' Hear you no new tidings of this great 
council beyond the sea?' 'No, my lord,' said I, 'there is 
no matter to be passed upon in their council, for the king 
will provide surely for all such matters.' And therewith I 
was in a study, for I wist not what that matter meant. And 
the abbot said again : ' Well, if I wist what would come of 
these matters I would soon be at a point with my lord.' 
With that the abbot went forth and said : ' I will write a 
letter to my lord and ye shall learn my mind.' And then 
he went to his chamber, where he called me in secret to 
him and said : ' Is it not my lord's mind to have me resign 
my house to him ? ' ' No, my lord,' said I, ' but it may 
fortune upon good considerations and causes that he would 
have you resign your house into the king's hands.' And 
then said he : ' Our house would be destroyed and all the 
country undone by that means, as it is about Muchelney.' 
' No, my lord,' said I ; ' my lord master will come and 
dwell here, and I think he will be a petitioner to the king's 
highness to have some part of the order here, as it is at 
Saint Mary's Altar ' (?). This I said, somewhat to satisfy 
the abbot's mind. 'Why,' said he, 'then what should I 
have ? ' ' My lord,' said I, ' I dare undertake, if you will 
be advised by my lord, he will get you a hundred marks, 
and he will get you some prebend of the bishop of Sarum, 
whereby ye shall wear a grey almuce, and all your brothers 
shall be provided for and shall have services and promotions 
as shall be meet for them.' ' Well,' said the abbot and shook 
up his hand, ' if I would have taken a hundred marks I 
could have been stayed ere this time, but I will fast three 
days on bread and water than take so little.' 'My lord,' 

34 8 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

said I, ' I speak of the least. You will find my lord much 
better when you speak with him.' 'Well,' said he again, 
'if I wist what should come of it, I would soon be at a 
point.' And therewith he sat himself down and eat bread 
and butter and made me eat with him." The writer then 
tells how the abbot wrote his letter to the chancellor, and 
how going to see the steward, he spoke with the community, 
and found them willing to take Audley's advice, and resign 
their house at the king's bidding. 1 

The abbey was surrendered to the king on February 8th, 
1539, by the abbot and six brethren, who all received 
pensions for their compliance with the royal will. 2 The 
effects of the monastery were sold for 80, of which sum 
Audley, who showed such anxiety to obtain the abbot's 
resignation, paid 20 for the whole of the buildings. 8 

The action of Audley was not confined to Athelney. He 
says himself that he sent for the abbot of Osyth's " before 
the dissolution, and induced him to yield the house to the 
king's majesty's good will, and that he should exhort his 
convent to conform themselves to the same, who by my 
advice and exhortation conformed themselves as humble 
subjects without murmur or grudge, wherein I trust that I 
have not for my part served the king's highness amiss." 
He then goes on to ask Crumwell to obtain him some return, 
for " I have no fee nor office of his highness," he says, " but 
the chancellorship, and although it be high and honourable, 
yet it is cumberous and chargeable." 4 

In the same way, even Burnet allows that the king pre- 
pared the way for the suppression by skilfully selecting 
men who were likely to resign their houses when called 
upon. Thus John Capon or Salcot, abbot of Hyde, although 
made bishop of Bangor in 1534, was allowed to remain 
commendatory of his monastery, and upon surrendering it 
in 1539 into the king's hands was rewarded with the See of 
Salisbury. So, too, Robert Pursglove, the prior of Gisburne, 
who was bishop of Hull, as a suffragan of York, not only 
surrendered himself, but was active in persuading others to 
act in the same way. He obtained a pension of 200 a 

1 Brit. Mus. Cott. MS. Cleop., E. iv. f. 135. 

2 R. O. Aug. Off. Misc. Bk., 223, f. 105. 

* R. O. Aug. Off. Mins. Accts., 30-31 Hen. VIII., 224, m. 6d. 
4 Wright, 239. 

Progress of the General Suppression 349 

year. 1 Stephen Sagar, abbot of Hayles, having been sent 
for to London, made a "privy surrender," 2 and was dis- 
patched to his convent to obtain the general consent. This 
he managed so well that he obtained high praise from the 
commissioners, who said he " did surrender his house with 
such discreet and frank manner, as we have seen no other 
do better in all our journey." 8 

"What could not be effected by arguments and fair 
promises," writes the learned Dugdale, " was by terror and 
severe dealing brought to pass. For under pretence of 
dilapidation in the buildings or negligent administration 
of their offices, as also for breaking the king's injunctions, 
they deprived some abbots and then put others that were 
more pliant in their room." Thus Richard Boreman alias 
Stevenage, the abbot of St. Alban's, was placed in the 
room of abbot Catton in April, 1538.* On the loth of 
December of the previous year, two royal commissioners, 
Legh and Petre, had written about Saint Alban's that " by 
confession of the abbot himself," there appears to be "just 
cause of deprivation, not only for breaking the king's in- 
junctions, but also for manifest dilapidation, making of shifts, 
negligent administration and sundry other causes, yet, by 
what means we know not, in all communications or motions 
made concerning any surrender he showeth himself so stiff, 
that, as he saith, he will choose to beg his bread all the 

1 The royal visitors had compelled the predecessor of Pursglove to resign 
his office in February, 1537, and had appointed "a friend" of Crumwell. 
Pursglove was sent to Whit by in October, 1538, to be present at an election 
of the abbot. He tried to force the community to let him " nominate " the 
one desired by Crumwell. This they refused. He then endeavoured to get 
them to allow his master to have the election ; they again refused, and claimed 
the right of free election. This the royal agents would not allow. The prior 
started for London to lodge a complaint (Wright, 249). The whole letter 
shows clearly how the elections were managed, in the last years of the exist- 
ence of the monasteries, and many other instances could be given of the 
strenuous efforts made by the crown to secure superiors pliant to the royal 
will. Whitby was dissolved on December I4th, 1539 ; no legal surrender was 
apparently made, but the monks were pensioned, Henry Darell, the abbot, 
receiving 100 marks (R. O. Aug. Off. Misc. Bk., 246, f. 14). For some time 
efforts had been made to force the late abbot of Whitby, John Hexham, to 
resign. He had refused, and although reports had been spread that he was 
willing, he wrote denying them. In the end he gave up his office to W. Petre 
in August, 1538 (Calendar, xiii. (ii), No. 108). 

* R. O. Crum. Corr., xx. 15. 

* Wright, 237. 

4 The conge on the "deprivation" of Catton is dated 23rd January, 1538. 
Rot. Pat., 29 Hen. VIII., Pars. iii. m. 9. 

35 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

days of his life than consent to surrender." The visitors 
tried every means to change him, but, as they say, "he 
waxeth hourly more obstinate and less conformable." They 
asked for instructions. If they deposed him, the house was 
in such debt " that no man will take the office of abbot here 
upon him, except any do it for that purpose to surrender 
the same to the king's hands; and by this means" they 
think "this may most easily and with least speech be 
brought to the king's highness' purpose." Another method 
they suggest is to leave the unfortunate abbot for a time in 
suspense "in utter despair of any favour," and perhaps he 
will then, expecting "to be deprived," "sue to have his 
surrender taken, because he would be assured of some 
living." 1 

But abbot Catton kept his word. Neither pressure 
from without nor the burden of difficulties could move him 
to do the king's will by surrender or resignation. Depriva- 
tion soon followed this letter. The last free abbot of St. 
Alban's had no pension. 

Richard Boreman, who was appointed by Crumwell to 
succeed, had his difficulties as abbot. He failed to pay 
his "first-fruits" to the king, and got locked up. "Mr. 
Gostwick," he writes to Crumwell, "hath detained me from 
my liberty and keepeth me within his gates, so that I can 
have no friendly means of him for my liberty. Notwith- 
standing I have offered him to pay out of hand .300, which 
is as much as I have and can make friends for in this short 
time, he demandeth of me besides other great sums the first 
payment of the first-fruits, which is above all my power to 
do. . . . Now this evening I am like to be imprisoned in 
the compter to my bitter shame and undoing." 2 

On December 5th, 1539, abbot Boreman, who, as the 
commissioners suggested, had doubtless taken the office for 
the purpose, surrendered the abbey into the king's hands. 
Not more than half a century before, abbot William of 
Wallingford had built the rich and sumptous high altar at a 
cost of above 733, and had beautified the church with gifts 
worth, as Weaver calculated, more than ^"8000. This 
noble minster was only redeemed from destruction and 
sacrilege by the townspeople, who purchased it from the 

1 Wright, 250. 2 Calendar, xiii. (i), Nos. 180, 181. 

Progress of the General Suppression 351 

king for 400. On the i/th December the sacred vessels 
and the treasures of St. Alban's shrine were brought into 
the royal jewel-house, and formed a rich prize of no less 
than 122 ounces of gold, 2990 ounces of gilt plate, and 
1144 ounces of parcel gilt and silver. Golden buckles, in 
which were set "great agates, cameos and coarse pearles," 
three pontifical mitres, and 400 ounces of copper, formed but 
part of the plunder. 1 

In the same way Clement Litchfield was compelled to 
resign the abbey of Evesham to one who would surrender 
it to the king. The royal inquisitors had reported this 
abbot to be " chaste in his living and to right well overlook 
the reparations of his house." He it was who built the 
noble gateway which still remains a memorial of him, and, 
although he had been obliged to pay 160 for his temporali- 
ties, with large sums as loan to the king and Wolsey, as 
well as for a whole year to keep four-and-twenty royal 
lacqueys and their horses, he still managed to adorn the 
choir and to add two chantries to the churches of St. 
Lawrence and All Saints. 2 To Latimer, the bishop of 
Worcester, he was, in the vigorous language employed by 
that ecclesiastic, a "bloody abbot," which probably means 
that he did not agree with him in his reforming tendencies. 

On the i/th of March, 1538, William Petre, the royal 
commissioner, wrote to Crumwell: "According to your 
commandment I have been at Evesham and there received 
the resignation of the abbot, which he was contented to 
make immediately upon the sight of your lordship's letters, 
saying that he desired me very instantly that I would not 
open the same during the time of my being here, because 
(as he said) it would be noted that he was compelled to 
resign for fear of deprivation." 8 On the 4th of April Philip 
Harford succeeded. 4 Latimer had assured Crumwell that he 

1 Monastic Treasures (Abbotsford Club), p. 29. Among these jewels was 
doubtless the " lapide preciosum qui constat ex sardonice, calcedonio et onic," 
presented to the church by king Ethelred II. Matthew Paris (Additamenta, 
ed. Luard, vi. p. 387) describes how the king "coming one day to Saint 
Albans, entered the chapter-house, brought with him the said stone, and kindly 
and lovingly offered it to the church, praising it and pointing out its merits. 
He asked," says the historian, "that the abbot and convent should lay a 
sentence of excommunication against all who should at any time take away 
this his gift." (See too the facsimiles in that volume.) 

2 May, History of Evesham, p. 72. 

8 Wright, 177. * Rot. Pat., 29 Hen. VIII., m. 14. 

35 2 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

would find him a true friend," 1 and so on January 27, 1540, 
the monastery was surrendered, the young abbot getting a 
pension of 240 a year as his reward. 2 

Another example of the personal pressure exerted by 
the king's agents to induce the religious to surrender may 
be here given. The important convent of Romsey, in 
Hampshire, on the eve of its dissolution maintained a com- 
munity of twenty-five nuns, ruled over by an abbess, 
Elizabeth Ryprose. They appear to have been unwilling 
to fall in with the royal views or to abandon the religious 
life in order that their property might pass into Henry's 
possession. Eight nuns, nearly a third of the entire com- 
munity, had made their religious profession on July 28th, 
1534, only a few years before their troubles commenced. 3 
One of these was Catherine, youngest daughter of Sir 
Nicholas Wadham, governor of the Isle of Wight, whose 
sister Jane had been for some years a professed nun in the 
same abbey of Romsey. At this time the convent steward 
was a certain John Foster, who lived at Baddesley, near 
Romsey, and rented the greater tithes of that place from the 
Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem. 4 Foster's position 
would have given him accurate information as to the extent 
and value of the property, and his intercourse would have 
afforded him the means of bringing influence to bear upon 
the nuns. It was this man who was apparently selected by 
the king's agents for the delicate service of sounding the 
nuns as to their disposition to satisfy Henry's desire for 
their property. In the report he forwarded to Sir Thomas 
Seymour, 5 "of the king's Privy Chamber," he says: 
" According to your request, I herein signify and subscribe 
unto you the state of the house of Romsey. . . . First you 
shall understand that the house is out of debt; also the 
plate and jewels are worth 300 and more; six bells are 
worth 100 at least; also the church is a great sumptuous 
thing, all of free stone and covered with lead, which, as I 

1 R. O. Crum. Corn, xlix. 42. 

2 R. O. Augt. Off. Misc. Bk., 245, f. 105. There is no deed of surrender 
and no enrolment on the Close Roll. 

8 For this and much other valuable information I am indebted to F. J. 
Baigent, Esq., of Winchester. His cordial co-operation and encouragement 
in my work I desire here gratefully to acknowledge. 

* Mr. Baigent's MSS. Collections. 

8 Brother of Jane Seymour, one of Henry's wives. 

Progress of the General Suppression 353 

esteem it, is worth ^"300 or 4.00 or rather much better." 1 
He then goes on to give particulars of the revenue coming 
from the abbey lands, on some at least of which Seymour 
had set his heart. 2 He then concludes : " And where you 
wrote unto me by Mr. Fleming, that I should ascertain you 
whether I thought the abbess with the rest of the nuns 
would be content to surrender up their house : the truth is 
I do perceive throughout the motion that your kinswomen 
and other (of) your friends made for you, (that) they will be 
content at all times to do you any pleasure they may. But 
I perceive they would be loath to trust to the commissioners' 
gentleness, for they hear say that other houses have been 
straightly handled." 3 

Attached to this letter is a list of the nuns in the abbey. 
From this it appears that Catherine Wadham, who had only 
been four or five years in the convent, had mounted up to 
the office of subprioress, while her sister held the next rank. 
These, and another nun, Elizabeth Hill, were the kinswomen 
of Sir Thomas Seymour, through whose influence John 
Foster hoped to accomplish the voluntary destruction of the 
convent. 4 Apparently his design was unsuccessful. There 
is no surrender deed of the abbey ; neither are the names of 
the abbess and her nuns found in the pension lists. 

If there were some who showed themselves ready to 
urge the monks to do all that Henry wished and surrender 
their houses and goods into his hands, there were not 
wanting others who exhorted them to remain staunch to 
their religious vocation. Above others, Dr. Richard Hill- 

1 This building was afterwards purchased of the king by the inhabitants 
for some .100. 

2 Tenth Report Deputy Keeper, p. 268. " Particulars for Grants." 

3 Brit. Mus. Royal MS., 7, C. xvi. f. 147. 

4 Sir Nicholas Wadham, the father of the two nuns of that name, married 
twice. His first wife was daughter of Robert Hill, of Antony; and his 
second Margaret, daughter of Sir John Seymour, of Wolfhall, Wilts, and 
sister to queen Jane Seymour and Sir Thomas Seymour. The high connection 
of the Wadhams seems to suggest a reason for the early promotion of Catherine 
to a high office in her convent. Of John Foster, of Baddesley, the writer of 
the above letter, one who lived at the end of the sixteenth century records a 
rhvme popular in the neighbourhood when he went to school as a boy : 

" Mr. Foster of Baddesley was a good man 
Before the marriage of priests began, 
For he was the first that married a nun, 
For which he begat a very rude son." 

(Mr. Baigent's MSS. Collections.) 

354 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

yard, the late secretary to bishop Tunstal, of Durham, 
endeavoured to instil the spirit of heroic resistance into the 
souls of the religious. Fortunately for himself, he escaped 
from Henry's hands into Scotland, or he would certainly 
have paid for his boldness with his life. As it was, he was 
attainted and condemned to death in his absence. 1 The 
doctor, writes an informer, "says in Edinburgh that he 
fled away because he had given counsel to sundry religious 
houses, yet unsuppressed, not to render their houses into 
the king's hands until they were violently put therefrom." 
Another writer informed Sir William Eure " that the said 
Hillyard saith himself that he being in company with 
certain gentlemen would lament the suppression of the 
house of Mountgrace and spake large words in favour of the 
same house. Unto which, as the same Hillyard affirmeth, 
a gentleman answered : ' that for as small offences as the 
said Hillyard did commit by speaking these words at that 
time he had seen men taken as traitors to the king's 
majesty.' And so the same Hillyard fearing to have been 
accused for the said words, did so suddenly convey himself 
out of the realm." 2 

The only religious mentioned by name as connected 
with Hillyard was the prior of Mountgrace. He was sup- 
posed to have helped him to escape, and Eure gave informa- 
tion to Crumwell, in order that "further search, as well 
touching the prior as his ' conversants and familiars,' might 
be made." 8 John Wilson, the prior of Mountgrace, was 
examined, and confessed having talked to Dr. Hillyard 
about the suppressions. He acknowledged that he did not 
wish to surrender his house " if it might have stood with 
the king's pleasure that he might have kept it." And 
" finally, there never was any one that gave unto them con- 

1 Rot. Parl., Hen. VIII., 147. 

2 Brit. Mus. Cott. MS. Calig., B. vii. f. 249. The story of the escape of 
Hillyard through the help of the prioress of Coldstream is full of interest, but 
foreign to the present subject. Henry demanded that Hillyard should be 
given up to him by the Scotch king as one who "had laboured to sow in 
the realm much sedition." The envoy was to bring him back at once if 
possible, "having special watch for the sure conveyance of him, and 
specially noting in his return who shall be desirous to talk with him" 
(Sadler Papers, i. p. 12). The later editions of Sander, Schism (e.g. 
1590, p. 167) give a quotation from his account of the destruction of the 

3 Ibid., f. 255. 

Progress of the General Suppression 355 

trary counsel but doctor Hillyard, who said it was in a 
manner selling the house to surrender up their house for 
money or pensions." 1 

Another witness, Nicholas Wilson, a "prisoner in the 
Tower," being examined as to his relations with the escaped 
doctor Hillyard, wrote : " First I had a conversation with 
him touching the putting down of monasteries, which, as I 
remember now, began by my asking him to give the prior 
of Mountgrace, to the north, one of my friends, advice to 
be obedient and conform himself to the king's highness in 
giving up his monastery when he should be required. . . . 
Upon this motion the said doctor began to doubt, touching 
the suppression of monasteries, how it might be done. 
Whereunto I answered him, that their deed, who were then 
in the houses and had government of them, by their common 
consent and seal, must needs be of value in the law. And 
that all such things must be under the disposition and 
government of the king's highness and his realm as should 
be thought most meet for the commonwealth. Which words 
of mine and such other, as far as I perceived, did not fully 
then satisfy him." In this matter, continues the declaration, 
" I have certainly tried to satisfy my own conscience and also 
to take away other men's scruples in obeying the act of 
suppression. I have told them that the king and his council 
did this for the common good, although I and other mean 
men did not perceive the whole considerations for it, and 
that it was matter for subjects to be under lowly obedience 
and think the best of their rulers in all things. And further, 
that as monasteries were founded and endowed" by the 
licence of princes, so they ought to be able to put them to 
other uses if they thought it good for the state. 2 

1 Calendar, xv. No. 125. 

2 Ibid., No. 747. Mountgrace fell into the king's hands on December 
18, 1539. John Wilson was the prior who surrendered it (Rot. Claus., 31 
Hen. VIII., Pars. iv. m. 3). He obtained a pension of 60 and the house 
and chapel called "le Mounte." Sixteen priests, four novices and six lay 
brethren were also pensioned (R. O. Aug. Off. Misc. Bk., 246, f. 13). In a 
list of those executed in this reign (Brit. Mus. Add. MS., 27,402, f. 47) occurs 
the name of " Wilson, monk of the Charterhouse, Mountgrace." This 
could not have been the prior, and it hardly appears likely that it could have 
been his namesake, Nicholas Wilson, who, although "a prisoner in the 
Tower," was not a monk of Mountgrace. Dr. Nicholas Wilson was a York- 
shire man, and educated at Cambridge. He refused to take the oath of 
succession, and was sent to the Tower with Sir Thomas More. He finally 
took the oath, however, and died June 8, 1548. Hall (838) says that he and. 

356 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

It has been possible in this chapter to take notice of only 
some few points to illustrate the general dissolution of the 
monasteries in the years 1538-1539. The methods em- 
ployed by the agents of the king in suppressing these 
houses of religion may be best understood by the account 
given of the destruction of Roche abbey by one who was a 
boy living in the neighbourhood at the time. " In the pluck- 
ing down of these houses," he writes, " for the most part, 
this order was taken : that the visitors should come suddenly 
upon every house unawares ... to the end to take them 
'napping,' as the proverb is, lest if they should have had so 
much as an inkling of their coming, they would have made 
conveyance of some portion of their own goods to help them- 
selves withal, when they were turned forth of their houses. 
And both reason and nature might well have moved them so 
to have done, although it may be said all was given to the king 
before by act of parliament, and so they had neither goods 
nor houses nor possessions. 1 And thus they had to give 
the king great thanks yea, pray for him upon their black 
beads that was so gracious a prince to them, to suffer them 
to stay so long after all was given from them. And there- 
fore, if the visitors, being the king's officers and commis- 
sioners in that behalf, took their dinner with them and then 
turned them forth to seek their lodging where they could 
get it (at night or at the furthest the next day in the 
morning), as was done indeed, they did no wrong nor truly 
no great right. 

" For so soon as the visitors were entered within the 
gates they called the abbot and other officers of the house, 
and caused them to deliver all the keys and took an inven- 
tory of all their goods, both within doors and without. For 
all such beasts, horses, sheep and such cattle as were abroad 
in pasture or grange places, the visitors caused to be brought 
into their presence. And when they had done so, (they) 

bishop Sampson, with Richard Farmer, a London grocer, were implicated " in 
relieving of certain traitorous persons which denied the king's supremacy." 
Richard Hilles (Ep. Tigurina, p. 140; Orig. Letters, Parker Soc., No. 105) 
says : " The treason they had committed, as I hear, was sending alms to that 
papist Abel, then brought down to the lowest misery through his long deten- 
tion in a most filthy prison, and, as the papists say, almost eaten up by worms, 
vermibus fere necatus." 

1 It is not, of course, accurate to say that parliament had given all houses 
and goods to the king. It can hardly be expected, however, that the writer 
should know the niceties of the changing law. 

Progress of the General Suppression 357 

turned the abbot and all his convent and household forth of 
the doors. 

"This thing was not a little grief to the convent and all 
the servants of the house, departing one from another, and 
especially such as with their conscience could not break their 
profession. It would have made a heart of flint melt and 
weep to have seen the breaking up of the house, the sorrow- 
ful departing (of the brethren), and the sudden spoil that fell 
the same day of their departure from their home. And, 
every one had everything good, cheap, except the poor 
monks, friars and nuns who had no money to bestow on 
anything. This appeared at the suppression of an abbey 
hard by me, called Roche abbey 1 a house of White monks, 
a very fair built house, all of freestone, and every house 
vaulted with freestone and covered with lead as the (abbeys 
were in England, as the churches are (now)). At the break- 
ing up of this an uncle of mine was present, being well 
acquainted with certain of the monks there. Arid when 
they were put out of the house, one of the monks, his friend, 
told him that every one of the convent had given to him his 
cell in which he lived, wherein was not anything of price, 
but his bed and apparel, which was but simple and of small 
price. This monk wished my uncle to buy something of 
him, who said, ' I see nothing which is worth money for my 
use.' ' No,' said he, ' give me two shillings for my cell door, 
which was never made with five shillings.' ' No,' said my 
uncle, ' I know not what to do with it ' (for he was a young 
man unmarried, and then neither stood in need of houses or 
doors). But such persons as afterwards bought their corn 
or hay or such like, finding all the doors either open or the 
locks and 'shackles' plucked down, or the door itself taken 
away, went in and took what they found and filched it 

" Some took the service books that lay in the church and 
put them upon their wain ' coppes ' to piece them ; some 
took windows of the hay-loft and hid them in their hay, and 
likewise they did of many other things. Some pulled forth 

1 The Cistercian abbey of Roche was surrendered on June 23rd, 1538, by 
the abbot and seventeen monks (Eighth Kept. Dep. Keeper, App. ii. p. 39). 
The deed has not been entered on the Close Roll. Henry Crundall, the abbot, 
was granted a pension of 50 marks, and most of the monks $ a year (Augt. 
Off. Misc. Bk., 232, f. 59). A short inventory of the goods found on the 
dissolution of this priory is given in the Monasticon, v. p. 506. 

35 8 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

the iron hooks out of the walls that bought none, when the 
yeomen or gentlemen of the county had bought the timber 
of the church. The church was the first thing that was put 
to spoil and then the abbot's lodging, dorter and frater, with 
the cloister and all the buildings thereabout within the abbey 
walls. Nothing was spared but the ox-houses and swine- 
cots and such other houses of office that stood without the 
walls, which had more favour shown them than the very 
church itself, which was done by the advice of Crumwell, as 
Fox reporteth in his book of Acts. It would have pitied 
any heart to see what tearing up of the lead there was, 
what plucking up of boards and throwing down of spires. 
And when the lead was torn off and cast down into the 
church and the tombs in the church all broken (for in most 
abbeys were divers noble men and women yea, in some 
abbeys kings whose tombs were regarded no more than the 
tombs of inferior persons for to what end should they stand 
when the church over them was not spared for their sakes), 
all things of price either spoiled, carried away, or defaced 
to the uttermost. 

" The persons who cast the lead into fodders plucked 
up all the seats in the choir, wherein the monks sat when 
they said service, which were like to the seats in minsters, 
and burned them and melted the lead therewith, although 
there was wood plenty within a flight shot of them, for the 
abbey stood among woods and rocks of stone. In these 
rocks were found pewter vessels that were conveyed away 
and there hidden, so that it seemeth that every person bent 
himself to filch and spoil what he could. Yea, even such 
persons were content to spoil them that seemed not two 
days before to allow their religion and do great worship 
and reverence at their matins, masses and other services 
and all other of their doings. This is a strange thing to 
consider that they who could this day think it to be the 
house of God, the next (did hold it as) the house of the 
devil ; or else they would not have been so ready to have 
spoiled it. ... I demanded, thirty years after the sup- 
pression, of my father, who had bought part of the timber 
of the church, and all the timber of the steeple with the 
bell frame, with others partners therein (in the steeple 
hung eight yea nine bells, whereof the least but one 
could not be bought at this day for 20, and which bells 

Progress of the General Suppression 359 

I myself did see hang there more than a year after the 
suppression) whether he thought well of the religious 
persons and of the religion then used. And he told me 
' Yea, for,' said he, ' I saw no cause to the contrary.' 
' Well,' said I, ' then how came it to pass you were so 
ready to destroy and spoil what you thought so well of?' 
' Might I not as well as others have some profit from the 
spoil of the abbey ? ' said he. ' For I saw all would away, 
and therefore I did as others did.' . . . 

" No doubt there have been millions and millions that 
have repented the thing since, but all too late. And thus 
much, upon my knowledge, touching the fall of Roche abbey, 
which had stood about 300 years, for the church was dedi- 
cated by one Ada, bishop of Coventry (A.D. 1244). By the 
fall of this it may be well known how all the rest were 
used." 1 

It is, of course, somewhat difficult to estimate the number 
of monasteries and of religious that were affected by the 
final suppression. Judged by the lists of surrenders, the 
grants of pensions and other sources of information, the 
abbeys and priories, exclusive of convents of women and 
friaries, which have already been spoken of in previous 
chapters, as being swept away between the years 1538 and 
1540, numbered some two hundred and two. From the 
same source of information, it would appear that there were 
living in these houses at the date of suppression about 3221 
monks and regular canons. If to these be added 1560 
the estimated number of the nuns, 1800 that of the friars, 
and excluding the nuns, 1 500, religious who were turned out 
of their homes under the act dissolving the lesser houses, 
it will be seen that as a rough estimate there were in the 
monasteries some 6521 monks, regular canons and friars, 
and some 1560 nuns of various orders at the date of the 
suppression. In round numbers eight thousand religious 
persons were expelled from their homes at this time, be- 
sides probably more than ten times that number of people 

1 Brit. Mus. Add. MS., 5813 (Cole xii.). It is said by Cole to be a copy 
of an old MS. written about the year 1591, which he had from Thomas Porter, 
of Nottinghamshire and Cambridge. Ellis, Orig. Letters, iii., Series iii., 
pp. 31-36, has printed the more interesting portions. The editor remarks 
that the " extracts probably exhibit what was at that time the genuine as well 
as general feeling of the English public." This document will be again referred 
to in the concluding chapter. 

360 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

who were their dependents or otherwise obtained a living 
in their service. 1 

It would be easy to multiply the incidents, often so 
significant and touching, which occur in the correspondence 
of the time in regard to the suppression of this or that great 
house, the name of which is still held in honour by English- 
men ; to relate how prior Goldstone of Christchurch, Canter- 
bury, pleaded to be left to die in his old rooms; how the 
ruin of St. Edmundsbury broke the heart of abbot Melford ; 
how abbot Malvern, of St. Peter's, Gloucester, unable to 
avert the doom of his house, could never be brought to sign 
the fatal surrender. Who shall tell the sorrow that filled 
the hearts of thousands and thousands of lay people, when 
they saw the shrines they honoured, the houses of God 
which had been to them a rest and a delight, profaned, 
despoiled and brought to destruction ? 

This chapter in the tale of ruin may be fitly closed in 
the words of one who deeply felt its sadness and its mean- 
ing. What he says of the abbey of St. Peter's, Gloucester, 
holds good of many another home of piety and religion 
swept away by the tyrant who, if any, deserves the name 
" the Ruthless." " Having existed for more than eight 
centuries under different forms, in poverty and in wealth, in 
meanness and in magnificence, in misfortune and in success, 
it finally succumbed to the royal will; the day came, and 
that a drear winter day, when its last mass was sung, its 
last censer waved, its last congregation bent in rapt and 
lowly adoration before the altar there, and doubtless as the 

1 The number of monasteries suppressed or surrendered between 1538 and 
1540 is thus obtained : 

Benedictine . 54 houses and i>3o monks. 

Cluniac . 
Cistercian . 
Carthusian . 
Austin Canons 
Gilbertine . 

8 houses and 108 monks. 
40 (including attainted houses) and 596 monks. 

9 nouses and 134 monks. 
59 houses and 773 canons. 
12 houses and 159 canons. 
20 houses and 151 religious. 

Houses . 202 Monks and Canons 3,221 
Friars according to estimate ..... 1, 800 
Monks and canons in lesser monasteries . . . 1,5 
Nuns according to estimate i5^ 

Total . 8, 08 1 

Progress of the General Suppression 361 

last tones of that day's evensong died away in the vaulted 
roof, there were not wanting those who lingered in the 
solemn stillness of the old massive pile, and who, as the 
lights disappeared one by one, felt that for them there was 
now a void which could never be filled, because their old 
abbey, with its beautiful services, its frequent means of 
grace, its hospitality to strangers and its loving care for 
God's poor, had passed away like an early morning dream, 
and was gone for ever." J 

1 Cart. Man. S. Petri Gloitcestria (Chronicles and Mem.), edited 
by the late W. H. Hart, iii., Introduction, xlix. 

The Three Benedictine Abbots 

THE circumstances attending the fall of Glastonbury, 
Reading and Colchester are deserving of special record. 
By the autumn of 1539 Henry's designs upon the monastic 
property had so far succeeded that comparatively few 
houses still remained in the possession of their religious 
owners. County after county was laid desolate by the 
royal commissioners, and the monks and nuns turned from 
their homes. Every expedient was resorted to in order 
to obtain the so-called voluntary surrenders 1 of houses and 
property into the king's hand, and few, indeed, were found 
bold enough to withstand the royal methods of persuasion. 
Where resistance was offered, the ready process of attainder, 
with its accompanying confiscation of the common goods 
of a monastic corporation, which, " against every principle 
of received law," 2 was held to follow upon the treason, 
supposed or real, of the superior came to effect what the 
threats or promises of the royal officials had been unable 
to accomplish. Some examples of the working of the 
mysterious law of attainder in bringing about the desired 
end have been already given. The execution of the three 
mitred abbots of Glastonbury, Reading and Colchester, and 
the seizure of the great possessions of these abbeys by 
virtue of their attainder for treason, are instances of the 
working of Henry's laws which cannot be passed over. 

Few spots in England were counted more sacred than 
Glastonbury. To the people of pre-reformation days it 
was a " Roma secunda." The scene, according to mediaeval 
legend, of the burial of St. Joseph of Arimathea and the 
home of the earliest followers of Christ in this land of 

1 "A step of very questionable legality." Hallam, Constitutional Hist. 
(loth ed), i. p. 72. 

The Three Benedictine Abbots 363 

Britain, Avalon or Glastonbury had become recognised as 
the principal sanctuary of the island. Almost alone among 
the churches of Britain it was spared by the destroying 
hands of the invaders, and when St. Augustine came from 
pope St. Gregory to plant the faith, it was already associated 
with the names of St. Patrick and St. David. For a period 
St. Paulinus is said to have been at this renowned sanctuary 
before setting out for the scene of his apostolate in northern 
England. Rendered more renowned in later times by the 
fame and virtues of St. Dunstan, the abbey of Glastonbury 
was the centre of the monastic revival which marked the 
reign of Edgar the Pacific. With varying fortune but with 
unbroken life the monastery continued to flourish till, at 
the close of the year 1539, the venerable Richard Whiting, 
the last of a long line of abbots, was hanged as a traitor 
to Henry VIII., and its possessions thus passed into the 
royal power. 

It is, perhaps, difficult to understand fully why abbot 
Whiting was singled out as an example of the royal 
severity. It was "probably," writes an historian, "to 
show forcibly the overpowering character of the royal will 
by destroying an ecclesiastic of immense moral weight and 
territorial influence. To adopt the language used ten years 
before respecting his friend Wolsey, the abbot of Glaston- 
bury was probably considered to be the 'bell-wether' of 
the mitred abbots, and when he had fallen the others would 
be without hope and an easy prey." l 

The position of an abbot of Glastonbury was one of 
great dignity. The house was one of the largest and richest 
monasteries in the kingdom, and the church in length was 
exceeded in England only by that of old St. Paul's. The 
abbot was a great local magnate, a peer of parliament, and 
the master of vast estates. Four parks teeming with game, 
domains and manors of great extent and number, bringing 
to the monastery an income of more than .3000 a year, 
or ten times that amount in our money, gave him an 
influence of the highest importance in the west, and even 
throughout all England. 

What the monastic buildings themselves were can be 
well imagined. "The house is great, goodly and so princely 

1 J. H. Blunt, History of the Reformation, p. 345. 

364 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

as we have not seen the like/' 1 write those sent to seize 
the possessions for Henry. The library filled Leland with 
amazement. It was second to none in the land, and he had 
scarcely passed the threshold when the very sight of so 
many treasures of antiquity struck him with such awe that 
for a moment he hesitated to enter. He spent days making 
a list of the most valuable manuscripts. 2 

The rule of abbot Whiting over the vast establishment 
at Glastonbury had to be exercised in very difficult times. 
Within a few months of his election Sir Thomas Boleyn 
was created by Henry viscount Rochfort, and this marked 
the first step in the king's illicit affection for the new peer's 
daughter, Anne, and the beginning of the troubles of Church 
and State. Four years of wavering counsels on the great 
matter of the desired divorce led in 1529 to the humiliation 
and fall of the hitherto all-powerful cardinal of York. 

The sequel is well known. The clergy, caught in the 
cunningly-contrived snare of premunire, were at the king's 
mercy. With his hands upon their throats Henry de- 
manded, what in the quarrel with Rome was at the time 
a retaliation upon the pope for his refusal to accede to the 
royal wishes, the acknowledgment of the king as supreme 
head of the Church in England. Few among the English 
churchmen were found bold enough to resist this direct 
demand, or who even, perhaps, recognised how they were 
rejecting papal supremacy in matters spiritual. As a rule, 
the required oath of royal supremacy was apparently taken 
wherever it was tendered, and the abbots and monks of 
Colchester, of Glastonbury, and probably also of Reading, 
were no exception, and on September 19, 1534, abbot 
Whiting and his community attached their names to the 
required declaration. 

It is easy, after this lapse of time, and in the light of 
subsequent events, to be loud in reprobation of such com- 

1 State Papers, i. p. 620. 

2 Cf. Walcott's Engl. Minsters, ii. 129. The antiquary spoke of abbot 
Whiting as "homo sane candidissimus et amicus meus singularis," "and 
though," says Warner (Hist, of Glastonbury, p. 219) "the too cautious 
antiquary in after times passed his pen through this language of praise and 
kindness, lest it should be offensive to his contemporaries, yet happily for 
the abbot's fame the tribute is still legible and will remain for ages a 
sufficient evidence of the sacrifice of a guileless victim to the tyranny of a 
second Ahab." 

The Three Benedictine Abbots 365 

pliance ; to wonder how throughout England bishop Fisher, 
Sir Thomas More, and the Observants, almost alone, should 
have been found from the beginning neither to hesitate nor 
waver. It is easy to make light of the shrinking of flesh 
and blood, easy to extol the palm of martyrdom. But 
neither is it difficult to see how to abbot Whiting, no less 
than to blessed John Houghton and his other holy com- 
panions of the Charter House, reasons suggested themselves 
for temporising. To most men at that date the possibility 
of the final separation of England from Rome must have 
seemed incredible. They remembered Henry in his earlier 
days, when he was never so immersed in business or in 
pleasure that he did not hear his daily mass ; they did not 
know him as Wolsey and Crumwell, or as More and Fisher 
knew him ; the project must have seemed but a momentary 
aberration, under the influence of evil passions or of evil 
counsellors. The king had at bottom a zeal for the faith, 
and would return by-and-by to a better mind, a truer self, 
and would then come to terms with the pope. Meantime 
the oath was susceptible of lenient interpretation. The idea 
of the headship was not absolutely new : it had in a measure 
been conceded some years before, without, so far as appears, 
exciting remonstrance from Rome. Beyond this, to many 
the oath of royal supremacy of the Church of England 
was never understood as derogatory to the see of Rome; 
while even those who had taken this oath were in many 
instances surprised that it should be construed into any such 
hostility. 1 

1 Calendar, viii. Nos. 277> 387, &c., are instances of the temper of mind 
described above. No. 387 especially is very significant as showing the gloss 
men put on their supremacy oath, distinguishing tacitly between Church of 
England and Catholic Church, and <: in temporalibus " and "in spiritualibus." 
It is usually stated that, however unwillingly, Convocation of 1531, in acknow- 
ledging the king as Supreme Head, allowed him "absolute spiritual jurisdic- 
tion and legislative power." A comparison of what Henry demanded from the 
clergy, and what after a long deliberation in two-and-thirty sessions Convoca- 
tion granted, makes it absolutely clear that any direct acknowledgment of 
"spiritual jurisdiction" was avoided by the final vote of the Convocation. 
Warham in his protest ( Wilkins, Concilia, iii. p. 746) makes the attitude of the 
clergy certain, as he maintains that the title Supremum Caput had reference to 
temporal matters only, and must not be twisted in "derogation of the Roman 
Pontiff or the Apostolic See." Moreover, the very last act of Warham's life 
was to draft an elaborate exposition to be delivered in the House of Lords of 
the impossibility of the king having spiritual jurisdiction, from the very con- 
stitution of the Church of Christ. The supreme spiritual jurisdiction, he 

366 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

However strained this temper of mind may appear to us 
at this time, it undoubtedly existed. One example may be 
here cited. Among the State Papers in the Record Office 
for the year 1539 is a long harangue on the execution of the 
three Benedictine abbots in which the writer refers to such 
a view : 

"I cannot think the contrary [he writes], but the old 
bishop of London [Stokesley], when he was on live, used 
the pretty medicine that his fellow, friar Forest, was wont 
to use, and to work with an inward man and an outward 
man ; that is to say, to speak one thing with their mouth 
and then another thing with their heart. Surely a very 
pretty medicine for popish hearts. But it worked madly for 
some of their parts. Gentle Hugh Cook by his own confes- 
sion used not the self-same medicine that friar Forest used, 
but another much like unto it, which was this : what time 
as the spiritualty were sworn to take the king's grace for 
the supreme head, immediately next under God of this 
Church of England, Hugh Cook receiving the same oath 
added prettily in his own conscience these words following : 
' of the temporal church,' saith he, ' but not of the spiritual 
church. 1 ' " 

Nor from another point of view is this want of apprecia- 
tion as to the true foundation of the papal primacy a subject 
for unmixed astonishment. During the last half-century 
the popes had reigned in a court of unexampled splendour, 
but a splendour essentially mundane. It was a dazzling 
sight, but all this outward show made it difficult to recognize 
the divinely ordered spiritual prerogatives which are the 
enduring heritage of the successors of St. Peter. The 
dignified titles expressing those prerogatives might pass 
unquestioned in the schools and in common speech in the 
world, but from this there is a wide step to the apprehension 
of the living truths they express, and a yet further step to 
that intense personal realization which makes those truths 
dearer to a man than life. 2 

argues, must of necessity rest with the Pope (see Mrs. Hope's First Divorce of 
Henry VI II., Introduction, pp. viii-xiv. (where this point is treated fully). Evern 
the later renunciations of the Pope's " usurped jurisdiction " were certainly ' 
understood by many to have reference to questions of temporals only. 

1 Calendar, xiv. (ii), No. 613. 

2 The words of Cardinal Manning on this point may be here quoted : 
" It must not be forgotten that at this time the minds of men had been so 

The Three Benedictine Abbots 367 

To some that realization came sooner, to some later; 
some men there are who seize at once the point at issue 
and its full import. They are ready with their answer 
without seeking or faltering. Others answer to the call at 
the third, maybe the eleventh hour ; the cause is the same, 
and so is the reward, though to the late comer the respite 
may perhaps have been only a prolongation of the agony. 

The royal visitation of Glastonbury was conducted by 
Lay ton. He came to the abbey on Saturday, August 2ist, 
1535 ; and from St. Augustine's, Bristol, whither he departed 
on the following Monday, he wrote to Crumwell a letter 
showing that even he, chief among a crew who " could ask 
unmoved such questions as no other human being could 
have imagined or known how to put, who could extract 
guilt from a stammer, a tremble or a blush, or even from 
indignant silence as surely as from open confession" 1 
even Layton retired baffled from Glastonbury under the 
venerable abbot Whiting's rule, though he covered his 
defeat with impudence unabashed. "At Bruton and Glaston- 
bury," he explains, " there is nothing notable, the brethren 
be so straight kept that they cannot offend : but fain they 
would if they might, as they confess, and so the fault is not 
with them." 2 

distracted by the great western schism, by the frequent subtraction of obedi- 
ence, by the doubtful election of popes, and the simultaneous existence of two 
or even three claimants to the holy see, that the supreme pontifical authority 
had become a matter of academical discussion hinc inde. Nothing but such 
preludes could have instigated even Gerson to write on the thesis de Auferi- 
bilitate Papa. This throws much light on the singular fact attested by Sir 
Thomas More in speaking to the jury and the judge by whom he was con- 
demned, when the verdict of death was brought in against him : ' I have, by 
the grace of God, been always a Catholic, never out of communion with the 
Roman Pontiff; but I have heard it said at times that the authority of the 
Roman Pontiff was certainly lawful and to be respected, but still an authority 
derived from human law, and not standing upon a divine prescription. Then, 
when I observed that public affairs were so ordered that the sources of the 
power of the Roman Pontiff would necessarily be examined, I gave myself up 
to a most diligent examination of that question for the space of seven years, 
and found that the authority of the Roman Pontiff, which you rashly I will 
not use stronger language have set aside, is not only lawful, to be respected, 
and necessary, but also grounded on the divine law and prescription. That is 
my opinion ; that is the belief in which, by the grace of God, I shall die.' " 
Dublin Rev., Jan. 1 888, p. 245. 

1 Dixon, History, i. p. 357. 

2 Wright, p. 59. Godwin, the Protestant bishop of Hereford, says that 
the monks, "following the example of the ancient fathers, lived apart from 
the world religiously and in peace, eschewing worldly employments, and 

368 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

At this period it would seem that Richard Layton even 
spoke to the king in praise of abbot Whiting. For this 
error of judgment, when some time later Crumwell had 
assured himself of the abbot's temper, he was forced to sue 
for pardon from both king and minister. " I must therefore," 
he writes, " now in this my necessity most humbly beseech 
your lordship to pardon me for that my folly then committed, 
as ye have done many times before, and of your goodness 
to instigate the king's highness majesty in the premises." 1 

The letters of abbot Whiting which still exist, for the 
most part, answers to applications for benefices or offices in 
his gift, are marked by a courteous readiness to comply in 
everything up to the limits of the possible. It is evident, 
moreover, that he had an intimate concern in all the details 
of the complex administration of a monastery of such extent 
and importance, no less than a determining personal influence 
on the religious character of his community ; and that public 
calls were never allowed to come between him and the 
primary and immediate duties of the abbot. He is most at 
home in his own country, among his Somersetshire neigh- 
bours, and in the " straight " charge of his spiritual children. 
Confident too in the affection with which he was regarded 
by the population, he had no scruples, whatever may have 
been his mind in subscribing to the Supremacy declaration 
of 1534, in securing for his monks and his townsfolk in his 
own abbey church the preaching of a doctrine wholly opposed 
to the royal theories and wishes on the subject. Thus on 
a Sunday in the middle of February, 1536, a friar called 
John Brynstan, preaching in the abbatial church at Glaston- 
bury to the people of the neighbourhood, did not hesitate to 
declare that " he would be one of them that should convert 
the new fangles and new men, otherwise he would die in 
the quarrel." 2 

Knowing doubtless what would be the nature of its 

wholly given to study and contemplation ; " and Sander, writing when the 
memory of the life led at Glastonbury was still fresh in men's minds, says 
that the religious were noted for their maintenance of common life, choral 
observance and enclosure. 

1 Calendar, xiv. (ii), No. 185. 

2 Calendar, x. No. 318. That the royal supremacy was unpopular does 
not admit of doubt. Even in 1 540 Mr. Gairdner says " it was evidently a 
trying question for the conscience a thing opposed by many in principle and 
disliked by others in its operation, even when the principle was conceded." 
(Calendar^ xv., preface, p. xiv.) 

The Three Benedictine Abbots 369 

business, abbot Whiting, excusing himself on the plea of 
age and ill-health, did not attend the parliament of 1539, 
which so far as it could do, sealed the fate of the monasteries 
as yet unsuppressed. He awaited the end on his own 
ground and in the midst of his own people. He was still as 
solicitous about the smallest details of his care as if the 
glorious abbey were to last in csvum. Thus an interesting 
account of abbot Whiting at Glastonbury is given in an 
examination about a debt, held some years after the abbot's 
execution. John Watts, "late monk and chaplain to the 
abbot," said that John Lyte, the supposed debtor, had paid 
the money "in manner and form following. That is to 
say, he paid 10 of the said 40 to the said abbot in the 
little parlour upon the right hand within the great hall, the 
Friday after New Year's Day before the said abbot was 
attainted. The said payment was made in gold " in presence 
of the witness and only one other : " for it was immediately 
after the said abbot had dined, so that the abbot's gentle- 
men and other servants were in the hall at dinner." . . . 
Also, " upon St. Peter's day at midsummer, being a Sunday, 
in the garden of the said abbot at Glastonbury, whilst high 
mass was singing," the debtor " made payment " of the rest. 
" And at that time the abbot asked of the said master Lyte 
whether he would set up the said abbot's arms in his new 
buildings that he had made. And the said master Lyte 
answered the said abbot that he would ; and so at that time 
the said abbot gave unto the said Mr. Lyte eight angels 
nobles. . . . 

"And at the payment of the .30 there was in the 
garden at that time the lord Stourton. ... I suppose," 
continues the witness, " that the said lord Stourton saw not 
the payment made to the abbot, for the abbot got him into 
an arbour of bay in the said garden and there received his 
money. And very glad he was at that time that it was paid 
in gold for the short telling, as also he would not, by his 
will, have it seen at that time." l Thus too almost the last 
glimpse afforded of the last abbot of Glastonbury in his 

i R. O. Exch. Augt. Off. Misc. Bk., xxii., Nos. 13-18. In view of the 
circumstance of the time, it seems likely that the witness was anxious to ward 
off any possibility of lord Stourton being mixed up in the affair. This anxiety 
to save friends from embarrassing examinations is a very common feature in 
documents of this date. 

2 A 

37 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

time-honoured home shows him in friendly converse with 
his near neighbour, lord Stourton, the head of an ancient 
race which popular tradition had justly linked for centuries 
with the Benedictine order, and which even in the darkest 
days of modern English Catholicity proved itself a firm and 
hereditary friend. 1 

To understand the closing acts of the venerable abbot's 
life it is necessary to premise a few words on suppression 
in its legal aspect. Many writers have assumed that the 
monasteries were really dissolved by parliament, and that 
accordingly an unwillingness to surrender, however morally 
justifiable as a refusal to betray a trust, and even heroic 
when resistance entailed the last penalty, was an act in 
defiance of the law of the land. And in this particular case 
of Glastonbury, it has been suggested that in insisting on 
its surrender the king was only requiring that to be given 
up into his hands which parliament had already conferred 
on him. However common the impression, it is not accurate. 
What the act (27 Hen. VIIL, cap. 28) of February, 1536, 
did, was to give to the king and his heirs only such monas- 
teries as were under the yearly value of 200, or such as 
should within a "year next after the making of" the act 
" be given or granted to his majesty by any abbot," &c. 
So far, therefore, from giving to the king the goods of all 
the monasteries, the act distinctly recognises, at least in the 
case of all save the lesser ones, the rights of their present 
owners, and contemplates their passing to the king's hands 
only by the voluntary cession of the actual possessors. How 
these surrenders were to be brought about was left to the 
king and Crumwell, and the minions on whose devices there 
is no further need to dwell. Before a recalcitrant superior, 
who would yield neither to blandishment bribery nor threats, 
the king, so far as the act would help him, was powerless. 

For this case, however, provision was made, though but 
indirectly, in the act of April, 1539 (31 Hen. VIIL, cap. 13). 
This measure, which included a retrospective clause covering 
the illegal suppression of the greater monasteries, grants to 
him all monasteries, &c., &c., which shall hereafter happen 
to be dissolved, suppressed, renounced, relinquished, for- 

1 For the first may be seen Hoare's Modern Wiltshire. The evidence 
of the second is written in the domestic annals of my own house of St. 

The Three Benedictine Abbots 371 

feited, given up or come into the king's highness. These 
terms seem wide enough, but there is an ominous parenthesis 
referring to such others as "shall happen to come to the 
king's highness by attainder or attainders of treason." The 
clause did not find its way into the act unawares. We 
shall see it was Crumwell's care how and in whose case it 
was to become operative. And with just so much of counte- 
nance as is thus given by parliament with the monasteries 
of Glastonbury, Reading and Colchester, from which no 
surrender could be obtained, " were, against every principle 
of received law, held to fall by the attainder of their abbots 
for high treason." 1 

The very existence of the clause is, moreover, evidence 
that by this time Crumwell knew that among the superiors 
of the few monasteries yet standing there were men with 
whom, if the king was not to be baulked of his intent, the 
last conclusions would have to be tried. To him the neces- 
sity would have been paramount, by every means in his 
power, to sweep away what he rightly regarded as the 
strongholds of the papal power in the country, and to get 
rid of these "spies of the pope." 2 Such unnatural enemies 
of their prince and gracious lord would fittingly be singled 
out first, that their fate might serve as a warning to other 
intending evil-doers. Perhaps, too, Whiting's repute for 
blamelessness of life, the discipline which he was known to 
maintain in his monastery and his great territorial influence 
may all have gone to point him out as an eminently proper 
subject to proceed against, as showing that where the crime 
of resistance to the king's will was concerned there could be 
no such thing as an extenuating circumstance, no considera- 
tion which could mitigate the penalty. 

In the story of what follows we are continually hampered 
by the singularly defective nature of the various records 
relating to the closing years of Crumwell's administration. 
This holds good in particular with regard to the three 
Benedictine abbots who suffered in 1539. We are, there- 
fore, frequently left to supply links by conjectures, but con- 
jectures in which, from the broad facts of the case, and such 
documentary evidence as remains, there is sufficient assur- 
ance of being in the main correct. 

1 Hallam, Constit. Hist., i. 72. R. O. Crum. Corn, xv. No. 7. 

37 2 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

It was in the autumn that final steps began to be taken 
in regard to the monastery of Glastonbury and its venerable 
abbot. Among CrumweH's "remembrances" of things to 
do, or to speak to the king about, still extant in his own 
handwriting, occurs the following about the beginning of 
September this year: "Item. For proceeding against the 
abbots of Reading, Glaston and the other in their countries." l 
From this it is clear that some time between the passing of 
the act in April, and September, these abbots must have 
been sounded, and it had been found that compliance was 
not to be expected. 2 By the sixteenth of this latter month 
Crumwell's design had been communicated to his familiar 
Layton, and had elicited from him a reply in which he 
abjectly asks pardon for having praised the abbot at the 
time of the visitation. "The abbot of Glastonbury," he 
adds, " appeareth neither then nor now to have known God, 
nor his prince nor any part of a good Christian man's 
religion." 3 Three days later, on Friday, September 19, the 
royal commissioners, Layton, Pollard and Moyle, suddenly 
arrived at Glastonbury about ten o'clock in the morning. 
The abbot had not been warned of their intended visit, and 
was then at his grange of Sharpham, about a mile from the 
monastery. Thither they hurried "without delay," and 
after telling him their purpose, at once examined him " upon 
certain articles, and for that his answer was not then to our 
purpose, we advised him to call to his remembrance that 
which he had forgotten, and so declare the truth." 4 They 
at once took him back to the abbey, and when night came 

1 Brit. Mus. Cott. MS. Titus, B. i. f. 4463. 

2 At this time Glastonbury, in common with other churches in England, 
was relieved of what it pleased the king to consider "superfluous plate." 
Pollard, Tregonwell and Petre on May 2nd, 1539, handed to Sir John Williams, 
the keeper of the royal treasure-house, 493 ounces of gold, 16,000 ounces of 
gilt plate, and 28,700 ounces of parcel gilt and silver plate taken from the 
monasteries in the west of England. In this amount was included the super- 
fluous plate of Glastonbury. Besides this weight of gold and silver there was 
placed in the treasury "two collets of gold wherein standeth two coarse 
emeralds ; a cross of silver gilt, garnished with a great coarse emerald two 
' balaces ' and two sapphires lacking a knob at one of the ends of the same 
cross ; a superaltar garnished with silver gilt and part gold called the great 
sapphire of Glastonbury ; a great piece of unicorn's horn, a piece of mother of 
pearl like a shell, eight branches of coral " (Monastic Treasures, Abbotsford 
Club, p. 24). 

8 The whole of this account is from the letter of the commissioners to 
Crumwell, in Wright, p. 255. 
4 Wright, p. 255. 

The Three Benedictine Abbots 373 

on proceeded to search his papers, and ransack his apart- 
ments "for letters and books, and found in his study, 
secretly laid, as well a written book of arguments against 
the divorce of the king's majesty and the lady dowager, 
which we take to be a great matter, as also divers pardons, 
copies of bulls, and the counterfeit life of Thomas Becket in 
print; but we could not find any letter that was material" 

Furnished with these pieces of evidence as to the 
tendency of Whiting's opinions, the inquisitors proceeded 
further to examine him concerning the " articles we received 
from your lordship " (Crumwell). In his answers appeared, 
as they considered, "his cankered and traitorous mind 
against the king's majesty and his succession." To these 
replies he signed his name, " and so with as fair words as " 
they could, " being but a very weak man and sickly," they 
forthwith sent him up to London to the Tower, that Crum- 
well might examine him again. 

A week later, on September 28, l they again write to 
Crumwell that they " have daily found and tried out both 
money and plate," hidden in secret places in the abbey, and 
conveyed for safety to the country. They could not tell 
him how much they had so far discovered, but it was 
sufficient, they thought, to have " begun a new abbey," and 
they conclude by asking what the king will have done in 
respect to the two monks who were the treasurers of the 
church, and the two lay clerks of the sacristy, who were 
chiefly to be held responsible for the hidden plate. 

Again on the 2nd of October the inquisitors write to 
their master to say that they have come to the knowledge 
of "divers and sundry treasons" committed by abbot 
Whiting, "the certainty whereof shall appear unto your 
lordship in a book herein enclosed, with the accusers' 
names put to the same, which we think to be very high 
and rank treasons." The original letter, preserved in the 
Record Office, clearly shows by the creases in the soiled 
yellow paper that some small book or folded papers have 
been enclosed. Whatever it was, it is no longer forthcom- 
ing, and, as far as can be ascertained, is lost or destroyed. 
Just at the critical moment we are deprived, therefore, of 
the most interesting source of information. In view, how- 

1 Wright, p. 257. 

374 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

ever, of the common sufferings of these abbots, who were 
dealt with together, their common cause, the common fate 
which befell them, and the common reason assigned by 
contemporary writers for their death viz., their attainder 
"of high treason for denying the king to be supreme head 
of the Church," as Hall, the contemporary London lawyer, 
phrases it, there can be little doubt that these depositions 
were much of the same nature as those made against Thomas 
Marshall, abbot of Colchester, to which subsequent reference 
will be made. It is quite certain that with abbot Whiting 
in the Tower and with Crumwell's commissioners engaged 
in "dispatching" the monks "with as much celerity" as 
possible, Glastonbury was already regarded as part of the 
royal possessions. Even before any condemnation whatso- 
ever the matter is taken as settled, and on October 24th, 
1 5 39, Pollard handed over to the royal treasurer the riches 
still left at the abbey as among the possessions of " attainted 
persons and places." l 

Whilst Layton and his fellows were rummaging at 
Glastonbury, abbot Whiting was safely lodged in the Tower 
of London. There he was subjected to searching examina- 
tions. A note in Crumwell's own hand, entered in his 
" remembrances," says : " Item. Certain persons to be sent 
to the Tower for the further examination of the abbot of 
Glaston." z 

It is more than strange that the ordinary procedure was 
in this case never carried out. According to all law, 
Whiting and the abbots of Reading and Colchester should 
have been arraigned for treason before parliament, as they 
were members of the House of Peers, but no such " bill of 
attainder " was ever presented, and in fact the execution had 
taken place before the parliament came together. 8 

1 Monastic Treasures, (Abbotsford Club), p. 38. These consisted of 71 
ozs. of gold with stones, 7214 ozs. of gilt plate, and 6387 ozs. of silver. 

2 Brit. Mus. Cott. MS. Titus, B. i. f. 441 a. 

3 According to Wriothesley's Chronicle, they were arraigned in the 
"Counter." "Also in this month [November] the abbates of Glastonburie, 
Reding and Colchester were arrayned in the Counter." Mr. Gairdner 
(Calendar, xiv. (ii), preface, p. xxxii) says : The "account or 'book' of his 
treasons unfortunately seems to be lost, and the nature of the charges on 
which Abbot Whiting was condemned can only be a matter of speculation. 
The book found in his study against the king's divorce and the printed life of 
Becket had been, of course, the justification of his committal to the Tower. But 
at first it was supposed that he was to be tried in Parliament, which had been 

The Three Benedictine Abbots 375 

The truth is, that Whiting and the other abbots were 
condemned to death as the result of the secret inquisitions 
in the Tower. Crumwell, acting as "prosecutor, judge and 
jury," l had arranged for their execution before they left their 
prison. What happened in the case of Whiting at Wells, 
and of Cook at Reading, was a ghastly mockery of justice, 
enacted merely to cover the illegal and iniquitous proceed- 
ings which had practically condemned them untried. This 
Crumwell has written down with his own hand. He notes 
in his "remembrances:" 

" Item. Councillors to give evidence against the abbot of 
Glaston, Richard Pollard, Lewis Forstell and Thomas Moyle. 
Item. To see that the evidence be well sorted and the indict- 
ments well drawn against the said abbots and their accom- 
plices. Item. How the king's learned counsel shall be with 
me all this day, 2 for the full conclusion of the indictments." 

prorogued in June to 3rd November. It was known, however, to the French 
ambassador, on the 25th October, that there would be a further prorogation 
till after the arrival of Anne of Cleves in fact, till the I4th January and the 
trial of the abbot, as he very naturally presumed, would not take place till then. 
The King and Cromwell, however, had more summary proceedings in view." 

1 Froude, Hist., iii. p. 432. 

8 In curious agreement with the care of Crumwell in devoting the whole of 
one of his precious days to the final settlement of the indictment against the 
abbots, is the solicitude of his panegyrist Burnet (from whom, be it said, in fact 
though unwittingly, even Catholics have derived their ideas of so many men 
and events of the Reformation period) to " discover the impudence of Sanders " 
in his relation in the matter of the abbots' suffering for denying the king's 
supremacy, and to prove that they did not. It would take up too much space 
here to expose the mingled " impudence " and fraud of his own account of the 
matter. It may suffice to quote Collier on this point : " What the particulars 
were (of the abbots' attainder) our learned Church historian (Burnet) confesses 
' he can't tell ; for the record of their attainders is lost.' But, as he goes on, 
' some of our own writers (Hall, Grafton) deserve a severe censure, who write 
it was for denying, &c., the king's supremacy. Whereas if they had not under- 
taken to write the history without any information at all, they must have seen 
that the whole clergy, and especially the abbots, had over and over again ac- 
knowledged the king's supremacy.' But how does it appear our historians are 
mistaken ? Has this gentleman seen the abbot of Colchester's indictment or 
perused his record of attainder ? He confesses no. How then is his censure 
made good? He offers no argument beyond conjecture. He concludes the 
abbot of Colchester had formerly acknowledged the king's supremacy, and 
from thence infers he could not suffer now for denying it. But do not people's 
opinions alter sometimes, and conscience and courage improve? Did not 
bishop Fisher and cardinal Pool, at least as this author represents them, ac- 
knowledge the king's supremacy at first ? and yet 'tis certain they afterwards 
showed themselves of another mind to a very remarkable degree. . . . Farther, 
does not himself tell us that many of the Carthusians were executed for their 
open denying the king's supremacy [which it may be added they had pre- 
viously admitted], and why then might not some of the abbots have the same 

37 6 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

And then, to sum up all : 

" Item. The abbot of Glaston to be tried at Glaston, and 
also executed there." x 

But amidst these cares Crumwell never forgot the king's 
business, the " great matter," the end which this iniquity was 
to compass. With the prize now fairly within his grasp, he 
notes : 

"The plate of Glastonbury, 11,000 ounces and over, 
besides golden. The furniture of the house of Glaston. In 
ready money from Glaston, ^noo and over. The rich 
copes from Glaston. The whole year's revenue of Glaston. 
The debts of Glaston, ^2000 and above." * 

The circumstances of Whiting's last journey homeward 
must now be told. In face of documentary evidence of 
unquestionable authenticity it is impossible to credit many 
of the oft-repeated statements in the second and subsequent 
editions of Sander's Schism? They seem to be of a tradi- 
tionary character, to embody the gossip of the country- 
side current half a century later ; in some points running 
near enough to the truth, in others partaking of legend ; such 
as the sensational scene, wanting alike in sense and proba- 
bility, in the hall of the palace on the abbot's arrival at 
Wells; the assembly prepared to receive him, his pro- 
ceeding to take the place of honour among the first, the 
unexpected summons to stand down and answer to the charge 
of treason, the old man's wondering inquiry what this meant, 
the whispered assurance that it was all a matter of form to 

belief and fortitude with others of their fraternity?" Eccl. Hist., ii. 173. 
Hence, counter to Burnet's method of making abbot Whiting suffer for 
"burglary" and imaginary treasonable connection with the Pilgrimage of 
Grace, Collier asserts " neither bribery nor terror nor any other dishonourable 
motives could prevail " with the abbots of Colchester, Reading and Glaston- 
bury. " To reach them, therefore, another way, the oath of supremacy was 
offered them, and upon their refusal they were condemned for high treason " 
(p. 164). A letter written to Bullinger early in 1 540 says : " The two abbots of 
Glastonbury and Reading have been condemned for treason and quartered, 
and each of them is now rotting on a gibbet near his abbey gate " (Ortg, Letters, 
Parker Soc., 627). A second letter from Oxford at this same time {Ibid., 614) 
says the three abbots were executed because they " had secreted property and 
conspired to restore popery." 

1 Brit. Mus. Cott. MS. Titus B. i. f. 441. 2 Ibid., f. 446 a. 

3 The original edition of Sander simply says that the three abbots and the 
two priests, Rugg and Onion, " ob negatam Henrici pontificiam potestatem 
martyrii coronam adepti sunt." In the second and later editions this is cut 
out, another reason is assigned for their death, and an obviously legendary 
narrative about Whiting is inserted in the text. 

The Three Benedictine Abbots 377 

strike terror into whom or wherefore the story does not 

If it is hard to believe that Henry and Crumwell could 
amuse themselves by ordering the enactment of such a farce, 
it is more difficult still to conceive of Whiting as the un- 
suspecting victim of it. As we have seen under Crumwell's 
hand, his fate was already settled before he left the Tower. 
In the interrogatories, preliminary but decisive, he had there 
undergone, the abbot had come face to face with the bare 
duty imposed on him by conscience at last. He must him- 
self have known to what end the way through the Tower 
had, from the time of More and Fisher to his own hour, led 
those who had no other satisfaction to give the king than 
that which he could offer. It is not impossible, however, 
that hopes may have been held out to him that in his extreme 
old age and weakness of body he might be spared extremities ; 
this supposition seems to be countenanced by the account 
given below. Is the suggestion too horrible that Henry may 
have remembered Wolsey's l end, and have reflected that the 
death of the abbot in similar circumstances, before the last 
penalty was paid to his law, would render useless the pains 
taken to make a terrible example ? 

Some two months after the venerable abbot had been 
conveyed to London, he was brought back on his homeward 
journey. He reached Wells on November 14, where there 
awaited him (Russell is warranty for the fact) " as worshipful 
a jury as was charged here these many years. And there 
was never seen in these parts so great an appearance as 
were here at this present time, and never better willing to 
serve the king." 2 Besides the care taken over the indict- 
ments, every caution had been evidently adopted to make 
all secure on the spot. The duty of the jury at Wells was 
marked out in their charge; they might refuse to take the 
part assigned to them at their peril. No words are wasted 
over the sentence. Russell, in his report to Crumwell, does 
not so much as even mention it : " The abbot of Glastonbury 
was arraigned, and the next day put to execution, with 

1 Wolsey died in the end of fright. Dr. Brewer writes : " His despondency 
and waning health anticipated the sword of the executioner, and disappointed 
the malice of his enemies" (Introd. Cat. Letters and Papers, vol. iv. p. 613). 

2 Russell to Crumwell, Wright, p. 260. The similarity of the language 
here used by Russell and that of Norfolk about the northern jury should be 

37 8 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

two other of his monks, for the robbing of Glastonbury 
church." x 

On this "next day" (November 15, 1539) the aged abbot 
was taken in his horse-litter to Glastonbury. 2 In his case 
there was no mercy, no pity. The venerable man, who in 
a long life had passed through obedience and through 
honours alike blameless, now bowed under the weight of 
eighty years, was tied on a hurdle like a common felon and 
dragged to the top of Tor hill, where, with John Thorn and 
Roger James, two of his monks, he was handed over to the 

Even here he was not allowed to die in peace. With the 
ghastly apparatus around the gallows, the boiling cauldron, 
the butcher's knife Pollard pestered him yet once more 
with " divers articles and interrogatories ; " but " he could 
accuse no man but himself of any offence against the king's 
highness, nor he would confess no more gold nor silver, nor 
any other thing more than he did before your lordship in 
the Tower." Then " he asked God mercy and the king for 
his great offences towards his highness. And thereupon 
took his death very patiently and his head and body (are) 
bestowed in like manner as I certified your lordship in my 
last letter." 8 

" One quarter standeth at Wells," writes Russell on the 
following day, November 16, 1539, "another at Bath, and 
at Ilchester and Bridgewater the rest ; and his head upon 
the abbey gate at Glaston " an example, as a scribbler in 
Henry's service has put it, "of the rewards and ends of 
traitors, whereby subjects and servants might learn to know 
their faithful obedience unto their most dread sovereign lord 
the king's highness."* 

The history of the fall of Reading abbey and the execu- 

1 Hearne, the antiquary, stated of Whiting that " to reach him the oath 
was offered to him at Wells," and that refusing it, he had the "courage to 
maintain his conscience and run the last extremity " (Hist, of Glast. , p. 50). 
These are the words of Collier, ii. p. 164. The "offering " the oath at Wells 
is probably a misunderstanding on the part of Hearne. 

2 The editor of Sander, consistent throughout, writes : " Glasconiam di- 
missus est, nihil minus tamen cogitans quam tarn celerem sibi vitae exitum." 
A priest approaches to hear his confession ; he prays to be spared for a day 
or two to prepare for death, and to be allowed to say good-bye to his monks ; 
he sheds tears, &c. The authentic report of Pollard is here followed in pre- 
ference to his narrative. 

8 Wright, p. 261. 4 Ibid., p. 260. 

The Three Benedictine Abbots 379 

tion of Hugh Cook or Faringdon, the abbot, is in its main 
features but a repetition of the story of Glastonbury and 
abbot Whiting. If we may credit the account of his origin 
given by a contemporary, abbot Cook appears to have been 
born in humble circumstances. He thus apostrophises the 
abbot after his fall : " Ah Hugh Cook, Hugh Cook ! nay 
Hugh Scullion rather I may him call that would be so un- 
thankful to so merciful a prince, so unkind to so loving a 
king and so traitorous to so true an emperor. The king's 
highness of his charity took Hugh Cook out of his cankerous 
cloister and made him, being at that time the most vilest, 
the most untowardest and the most miserablest monk that 
was in the monastery of Reading, born to nought else but 
to an old pair of beggarly boots, and made him, I say ruler 
and governor of three thousand marks by the year." x But 
the testimony of the writer on a point of fact such as this 
cannot be rated high. 

It is probable that abbot Cook belonged to that class 
from which the English monastic houses were so largely 
recruited, " the devouter and younger children of our nobility 
and gentry, who here had their education and livelihood." 2 
His election to the office of abbot took place in 1520, and 
although Grafton and Hall in their chronicles, and some 
other writers of the Reformation, give him the character of 
an illiterate person, "the contrary will appear to such as 
will consult his Epistles to the University of Oxford remain- 
ing in the register of that university, or shall have an oppor- 
tunity of perusing a book entitled The art or craft of 
Rhetorick, written by Leonard Cox, schoolmaster of Reading. 
'Twas printed in the year 1524, and is dedicated by the 

1 Calendar, xiv. (ii), No. 613. This long harangue seems to have been 
prepared for delivery or publication soon after the execution of the three 
abbots. Its purport is first to justify their condemnation on the ground that 
by their loyalty to the Holy See they had been guilty of treason, and secondly 
to bring them and their fellow-sufferers by all means into contempt. As it is 
the chief document about the abbots, and in particular about the abbot of 
Reading, which is known to exist, considerable use is here made of it. It is 
clearly the composition of some tool of Crumwell, probably of some anti- 
papal preacher. 

2 Bodleian MS. Wood, B. vi. Woodhope's "Book of Obits." It has 
been considered doubtful whether the name of the last abbot of Reading was 
Cook or Faringdon. He is sometimes called by one, sometimes by the other 
name. In the entry of his conviction for treason upon the Controlment Roll, 
usually very exact, he is called only by the name of " Cooke." 

380 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

author to this abbot. . . . He speaks very worthily and 
honourably of Faringdon on account of his learning." l 

According to the writer of the contemporary document 
before quoted, abbot Cook " could not abide " the preachers 
of the new-fangled doctrines then in vogue, and " called 
them heretics and knaves of the new learning." He was 
also "ever a great student and setter forth of St. Benet's, 
St. Francis', St. Dominic's and St. Augustine's rules, and 
said they were rules right holy and of great perfectness." 
In fact, "these doughty deacons," as the writer calls the 
abbots and their companions, " thought it both heresy and 
treason to God to leave matins unsaid, to speak loud in the 
cloisters and to eat eggs on the Friday." 2 

On the question of the royal supremacy abbot Cook was 
equally clear. "He thought to shoot at the king's supremacy," 
as the contemporary witness has put it, and he was appar- 
ently charged with saying " that he would pray for the pope's 
holiness as long as he lived and would once a week say 
mass for him, trusting that by such good prayers the pope 
should rise again and have the king's highness with all the 
whole realm in subjection as he hath had in time past. And 
upon a ban voyage would call him pope as long as he lived." 3 

It would appear, however, probable that abbot Cook did 
not refuse to take the oath of royal supremacy, 4 although 

1 Browne Willis, Mitred Abbeys, i. 161. For Leonard Cox consult Diet, 
of National Biography, xii. 136. Among the abbots, priests, monks and nuns 
whose names appear on the roll of the Palmers' Guild of Ludlow is that of 
" Hugh Farington, monk, now abbot of Reading." Shrewsbury Archceological 
Soc., vii. p. 97. 2 Calendar, xiv. (ii), No. 613. 

3 Ibid. After a page of abuse, the writer continues : " I cannot tell how 
this prayer will be allowed among St. Benet's rules, but this I am certain and 
sure of, that it standeth flatly against our Master, Christ's, rule. . . . What 
other thing should the abbat pray for here (as methinketh), but even first and 
foremost for the high dishonouring of Almighty God, for the confusion of our 
most dread sovereign lord, king Henry VIIL, with his royal successors, and 
also for the utter destruction of this most noble realm of England. Well, I 
say no more, but I pray God heartily that the mass be not abused in the like 
sort of a great many more in England which bear as fair faces under their 
black cowls and bald crowns as ever did the abbat of Reading, or any of the 
other traitors. I wiss neither the abbat of Reading, the abbat of Glassenbury, 
nor the prior [sic] of Colchester, Dr. Holyman, nor Roger London, John 
Rugg, nor Bachelor Giles, blind Moore, nor Master Manchester, the warden 
of the friars ; no, nor yet John Oynyon, the abbat's chief councillor, was able 
to prove with all their sophistical arguments that the mass was ordained for 
any such intent or purpose as the abbat of Reading used it." 

4 No actual record exists of this oath, as in the case of Glastonbury, 
Colchester, &c. 

The Three Benedictine Abbots 381 

there can be little doubt that in so doing he did not intend 
to separate himself from the traditional teaching of the 
Catholic Church on the question of papal authority. " I fear 
me," writes the authority so often quoted, " Hugh Cook was 
master Cook to a great many of that blackguard (I mean 
black monks), and taught them to dress such gross dishes 
as he was always wont to dress, that is to say, treason; 
but let them all take heed." l 

At the time of the great northern rising, the abbey of 
Reading, together with those of Glastonbury and Colchester, 
is found on the list of contributors to the king's expenses 
in defeating the rebel forces, Reading itself appears to 
have had some communication with Robert Aske, for copies 
of a letter written by him, and apparently also his proclama- 
tion, were circulated in the town. Amongst others who 
were supposed to be privy to the intentions of the insurgent 
chief was John Eynon, a priest of the church of St. Giles', 
Reading, and a special friend of abbot Cook. Three years 
later this priest was executed with the abbot, but at the 
time it is clear that there was no suggestion of any complicity 
on the part of Cook, as he presided at the examinations held 
in December, 1536, as to this matter. 2 

The first sign of any serious trouble appears about the 
close of 1537. The king's proceedings, which were dis- 
tasteful to the nation at large, naturally gave rise to much 
criticism and murmuring. Every overt expression of dis- 
approbation was eagerly watched for and diligently inquired 
into by the royal officials. The numerous records of 
examinations as to words spoken in conversation or in 
sermons are evidence of the extreme care taken by the 
government to crush out the first sparks of popular dis- 

1 Calendar, xiv. (ii), No. 613. The following bears on the same point : 
" But like as of late by God's purveyance a great part of their religious hoods 
be already meetly well ripped from their crafty coats, even so I hope the residue 
of the like religion shall in like sort not long remain unripped, for truly so long 
as they be let run at riot thus still in religion they think verily that they may 
play the traitors by authority. . . . But now his grace seeth well enough that 
all was not gold that glistered, neither all his true subjects that called him lord 
and master, namely, of Balaam's asses, with the bald crowns. But I would now 
heartily wish that as many as be of that traitorous religion {i.e., order] that 
those abbats were of, at the next [assizes ?] have their bald crowns as well 
shaven as theirs were." This testimony to the steadfastness of the Benedictines 
to the Holy See fully corroborates Collier's statement given above. 

2 Calendar, xi. 1231. 

382 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

content. Rumours as to the king's bad health, or, still 
more, reports as to his death, were construed into indica- 
tions of a treasonable disposition. In December, 1537, a 
report that Henry was dead reached Reading, and abbot 
Cook wrote to some of his neighbours to tell them what 
was said. This act, so natural in itself, was laid to his 
charge, and Henry acquired a cheap reputation for magna- 
nimity and clemency by pardoning " his own abbot " for what, 
at the very worst, at all times save during this reign of 
terror, would have been but a trifling act of indiscretion. 1 

Circumstances had brought abbot Cook into communi- 
cation with both the abbots whose fate was subsequently 
linked with his own. In the triennial general chapters of 
the Benedictines, in parliament, in convocation, they had 
frequently met; and when the more active measures of 
persecution devised by Crumwell made personal intercourse 
impossible, a trusty agent was found in the person of a 
blind harper named Moore, whose affliction and musical 
skill had even brought him under the kindly notice of the 
king. This staunch friend of the papal party, whose blind- 
ness rendered his mission unsuspected, apparently travelled 
about from one abbey to another, encouraging the imprisoned 
monks, bearing letters from house to house, and, doubtless, 
finding a safe way of sending off to Rome the letters which 
they had written to the pope and cardinals. 

" But now amongst them all let us talk a word or two of 
William Moor, the blind harper. Who would have thought 
that he would have consented or concealed any treason 
against the king's majesty ? or who could have thought 
that he had had any power thereto ? Who can muse or 
marvel enough to see a blind man for lack of sight to grope 
after treason ? Oh ! Moor, Moor, hadst thou so great a 
delight and desire to play the traitor? Is this the mark 
that blind men trust to hit perchance ? Hast thou not 

1 Calendar, xiv. (ii), No. 613. This paper thus treats the incident: 
" For think ye that the abbat of Reading deserved any less than to be hanged, 
what time as he wrote letters of the king's death unto divers gentlemen in 
Berkshire, considering in what a queasy case the realm stood in at that same 
season? For the insurrection that was in the north country was scarcely 
yet thoroughly quieted ; thus began he to stir the coals a novo and to make 
a fresh roasting fire, and did enough, if God had not stretched forth his 
helping hand, to set the realm in as great an uproar as ever it was, and yet 
the king's majesty, of his royal clemency, forgave him. This had been enough 
to have made this traitor a true man if there had been any grace in him." 

The Three Benedictine Abbots 383 

heard how the blind eateth many a fly ? Couldst not 
thou beware and have kept thy mouth close together for 
fear of gnats ? Hath God endued thee with the excel- 
lency of harping and with other good qualities to put unto 
such a vile use ? Couldst thou have passed the time with 
none other song but with the harping upon the string of 
treason ? Couldst thou not have considered that the king's 
grace called thee from the wallet and the staff to the state 
of a gentleman ? Wast thou also learned, and couldst 
thou not consider that the end of treason is eternal damna- 
tion ? Couldst thou not be contented truly to serve thy 
sovereign lord king Henry VIII., whom thou before a 
great many oughtest and wast most bound truly to serve ? 
Couldst not thou at least for all the benefits received at 
his grace's hand, bear towards him thy good will ? Hadst 
thou nought else to do but to become a traitorous messenger 
between abbat and abbat ? Had not the traitorous abbats 
picked out a pretty mad messenger of such a blind buzzard 
as thou art ? Could I blazon thine arms sufficiently although 
I would say more than I have said? Could a man paint 
thee out in thy colours any otherwise than traitors ought 
to be painted ? Shall I call thee William Moor, the blind 
harper? Nay, verily, thou shalt be called William Moor, 
the blind traitor. Now, surely, in my judgment, God did a 
gracious deed what time He put out both thine eyes, for 
what a traitor by all likelihood wouldst thou have been if 
God had lent thee thy sight, seeing thou wast so willing to 
grope blindfolded after treason ! When thou becamest a 
traitorous messenger between the traitorous abbats, and 
when thou tookest in hand to lead traitors in the trade of 
treason, then was verified the sentence of our Master, Christ, 
which sayeth, When the blind lead the blind both shall fall 
into the ditch. Thou wast blind in thine eyes, and they 
were blind in their consciences. Wherefore ye be all fallen 
into the ditch, that is to say, into the high displeasure of 
God and the king. I wiss, Moor, thou wrestest thine harp- 
strings clean out of tune and settest thine harp a note too 
high when thou thoughtest to set the bawdy bishop of Rome 
above the king's majesty." l 

1 Calendar, p. 25. " William Moore " appears in a list of prisoners in the 
Tower, 2Oth November, 1539 (Brit. Mus. Cott. MS. Titus, B. i. f. 133). The 
list, as far as Reading names are concerned, runs : " Roger London, monk 

384 Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries 

Abbot Cook, like Whiting of Glastonbury, underwent 
examination and practical condemnation in the Tower before 
being sent down to his " country to be tried and executed." 
What was the head and chief of his offence we may take 
from the testimony of the same hostile witness so freely 
invoked in this chapter. 

"It will make many beware to put their fingers in the 
fire any more," he says, "either for the honour of Peter 
and Paul or for the right of the Roman Church. No, not 
for the pardon of the . . . pope himself, though he would 
grant more pardon than all the popes that ever were have 
granted. I think, verily, our mother, holy Church of Rome, 
hath not so great a jewel of her own darling Reynold Poole 
as she should have had of these abbats if they could have 
conveyed all things cleanly. Could not our English abbats 
be contented with English forked caps but must look after 
Romish cardinal hats also ? Could they not be contented 
with the plain fashion of England but must counterfeit the 
crafty cardinality of Reynold Poole? Surely they should 
have worn their cardinal hats with as much shame as that 
papistical traitor, Reynold Poole. . . . Could not our popish 
abbats beware of Reynold Poole, of that bottomless whirl- 
pool, I say, which is never satiate of treason ? " 

From such scanty evidence as may be gathered from 
these passages, one or two things are made clear. First, 
that the abbots of Glastonbury, Reading and Colchester 
were singled out for execution because of their loyalty to 
the Holy See and their influence with their brethren; 
secondly, that the venerable Hugh Cook was conspicuous 
for his devotion to the vicar of Christ, and, spite of Henry's 
favour and spite of his threats, would never in his heart 
accept the king's supremacy, but week by week would offer 
the holy sacrifice on behalf of the bishop of Rome, and call 
him pope till his dying day. 

of Reading ; Peter Lawrence, who was warden of (the) Grey friars, Reading ; 
Gyles Coventry, who was a friar of the same house ; George Constantine ; 
Richard Manchester ; William Moor, the blind harper." In one of Crum- 
well's "remembrances" at this time we have " Item to proceed against the 
abbots of Reading, Glaston, Rugg, Bachyler, London, the Grey friars and 
Heron " (R. O. State Papers, Dom., 1539, TTT)- Perhaps Moor is the same 
person mentioned by Stowe (ed. 1614, p. 582): "The I of July (1540) a 
Welchman, a minstrel, was hanged and quartered for singing of songs which 
were interpreted to be prophecying against the king." 

The Three Benedictine Abbots 385 

When carried down to Reading for the mockery of 
justice called a trial, the abbot did not waver in his deter- 
mination. " When these traitors were arraigned at the bar, 
although they had confessed before and written it with their 
own hands that they had committed high treason against 
the king's majesty, yet they found all the means they could 
to go about to try themselves true men, which was impos- 
sible to bring to pass." 

On November I5th, the same day upon which abbot 
Whiting suffered at Glastonbury, 1 the abbot of Reading and 
two priests were brought out to suffer the death of traitors. 
Abbot Cook, standing in the space before the gateway of 
his abbey, spoke to the people, who, in great numbers, had 
gathered to witness the strange spectacle of the execution of 
a lord abbot of the great and powerful monastery of Reading. 
He told them of the cause for which he and his companions 
were to die, not fearing openly to profess that which Henry's 
laws made it treason to hold fidelity to the see of Rome, 
which he declared was but the common faith of those who 
had the best right to know what was the true teaching of 
the English Church. "The abbot of Reading," says the old 
authority, " at the day of his death, lamenting the miserable 
end that he was come unto, confessed before a great sight of 
people, and said that he might thank these four privy traitors 
before named of his sore fall, as who should say that those 
three bishops and the vicar of Croydon had committed no 
less treason than he had done. Now, good Lord for his 
Passion, who would have thought that these four holy 
men would have wrought in their lifetime such detestable 
treason?" And later on, speaking of the three abbots: 
" God caused, I say, not only their treason to be disclosed 
and come abroad in such a wonderful sort as never was 
heard of, which were too long to recite at this time, but also 
dead men's treason that long lay hidden under the ground ; 
that is to say, the treason of the old bishop of Canterbury 
[Warham], the treason of the old bishop of St. Asaph 

1 Some give November I4th as the date of the execution. Browne-Willis 
says : " Hugh Faringdon, opposing the surrender of this abbey at the dissolu- 
tion, an. 1539, and also refusing to attest the king's supremacy, became 
attainted of high treason," and was executed "at Reading, November 14, 1539, 
at which time two of his monks, Rugg and Onion, suffered with him." Vide 
also Monastjcon, vol. iv. ; Holinshed (ed. 1586), iii. p. 948. Some authorities 
make abbot Whiting's execution the I4th (Brit. Mus. Add. MS., 27,402, f. 47). 

2 B 

386 Henry VIIL and the English Monasteries 

[Standish], the treason of the old vicar of Croydon, and the 
treason of the old bishop of London [Stokesley], which four 
traitors had concealed as much treason by their live's time 
as any of these traitors that were put to death. There was 
never a barrel better herring to choose [among] them all, as 
it right well appeared by the abbat of Reading's confession 
made at the day of [execution], who I daresay accused none 
of them for malice nor hatred. For the abbot as heartily 
loved those holy fathers as ever he loved any men in his 

The abbot's " chief counsellor," John Eynon or Oynyon, 1 
who had been particularly vehement in his protestations 
of innocence, also spoke, admitting his so-called treason, 
begging the prayers of the bystanders for his soul, and 
craving the king's forgiveness if in aught he had offended.' 
This over, the sentence of hanging with its barbarous ac- 
cessories was carried out upon abbot Cook and the two 
priests, John Eynon and John Rugg. 8 

1 The usual spelling of this name has been Onyon or Oynyon, but it really 
was Eynon. It is so spelt in the document already referred to (Calendar, xi. 
No. 1231), and also in the accurate entry of the conviction to be found on the 
Controlment Roll, 31 Hen. VIIL, m. 28 d. : "Recordum attinctionis, &c., 
Hugonis abbatis monasterii de Redyng in diet. com. Berks, alias dicti Hugonis 
Cooke, nuper de Redyng in eodem com. Berks, clerici ; Johannis Eynon nuper 
de Redyng in com. pred. clerici ; Johannis Rugge nuper de Redyng in com. 
Berks, clerici alias diet. Johannis Rugge nuper de Redyng capellani pro qui- 
busdam altis proditionibus unde eorum quilibet p. se. indict, fuit. T. et S." 

2 Of John Eynon the hostile witness writes that he not only denied the 
charge of treason, " but also stoutly and stubbornly withstood it even to the 
utmost, evermore finding great fault with justice, and oftentimes casting his 
arms abroad, said : 'Alas, is this justice to destroy a man guiltless? I take 
it between God and my soul that I am as clear in this matter as the child 
that was this night born.' Thus he prated and made a work as though he had 
not known what the matter had meant, thinking to have faced it out with a 
card of ten. And in this sort he held on even from the time of the arraignment 
till he came to the gallows. Marry then, when he saw none other way but one, 
his heart began somewhat to relent. Then both he and his companions, with 
their ropes about their necks, confessed before all the people that were present 
that they had committed high treason against the king's most noble person, but 
namely Oynyon, for he said that he had offended the king's grace in such sort 
of treason that it was not expedient to tell thereof. Wherefore he besought the 
people not only to pray unto God for him, but also desired them, or some of 
them at the least, to desire the king's grace of his merciful goodness to forgive 
his soul, for else he was sure, as he said, to be damned. And yet not an hour 
before a man that had heard him speak would have thought verily that he had 
been guiltless of treason." 

3 Eynon was, as before stated, a priest attached to the church of St Giles, 
Reading. John Rugg had formerly held a prebend at Chichester, but had 
apparently retired to Reading. In December, 1531 (Calendar, v.), Rugg 

The Three Benedictine Abbots 387 

The attainder of the abbot, according to the royal inter- 
pretation of the law, placed the abbey of Reading and its 
lands and possessions at Henry's disposal. In fact, as in 
the case of Glastonbury, on the removal of the abbot to the 
Tower in September, 1539, before either trial or condemna- 
tion, the pillage of the abbey had been commenced. As 
early as September 8th, Thomas Moyle wrote from Reading 
that he, " master Vachell and Mr. Dean of York " (Lay ton), 
had "been through the inventory of the plate, &c., at the 
residence" there. "In the house," he said, "there is a 
chamber hanged with three pieces of metely good tapestry. 
It will serve well for hanging a mean little chamber in the