James Wayland Joyce.

England's sacred synods : a constitutional history of the convocations of the clergy, from the earliest records of Christianity in Britain to the date of the promulgation of the present Book of common prayer; including a list of all councils, ecclesiastical as well as civil, held in England, in whic online

. (page 48 of 83)
Online LibraryJames Wayland JoyceEngland's sacred synods : a constitutional history of the convocations of the clergy, from the earliest records of Christianity in Britain to the date of the promulgation of the present Book of common prayer; including a list of all councils, ecclesiastical as well as civil, held in England, in whic → online text (page 48 of 83)
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turned into barns and pigeon-houses, was no agreeable spec-
tacle •=."

Shortly after the lesser abbeys had received this
treatment, the spoil thence derived whetted the
king''s appetite for more substantial provision.
It was therefore considered a prudent management, in order
to the suppression of the greater abbeys, to lessen the reputa-
tion of the religious by charges of imposture and superstition.
That such charges had some foundation is not unlikely ;
but that they were exaggerated is tolerably clear ; and that
the object with which those charges were prosecuted is in-
defensible is very certain. The possessions of the greater
abbeys now were the objects of desire, and in proportion as
the reputation of their inhabitants could be shaken, the king
hoped that his plans with regard to them would proceed with
an easier motion.

The abuse of offerings at the shrines of the saints was also
much inveighed against. It is not denied that abuses on
these points existed ; but, as Bishop Godwin observes *, " the
king was strongly disposed to promote a reformation that
would turn the penny and furnish the exchequer." To this
end the shrine of a Becket^ at Canterbury was dismantled,
and his bones burnt on the occasion. Two large chests full
of gold and jewels, each so iieavy as to require eight men to
move them, were carried away for K. Henry's use ; and a stone
of exceeding worth, which had been offered by K. Louis VII.
of France, was set in a ring for the decoration of the royal
thumb. Our monarch perhaps thought that, in appropriating
to himself these votive offerings of a former age, he might
supply their places with somewhat more useful and less ex-
pensive. Dionysius robbed the statue of Jupiter of its golden
mantle, and replaced it with one of wool, suggesting as his
reason that the original covering was too warm for summer,
too cold for winter.

The city of Canterbury was not only remarkable for the
pillage of a Beckefs shrine at this period, but the rich
monastery of S. Augustine ^ was seized, the monks were driven
out, part of their estates appropriated to the king, and the rest
given away among his courtiers.

" Ausi omnes immane nefas, ausoque potitiK."




The sacrilege, however, of that age has been repaired by
the Christian* munificence of this. That spot has been
generously restored to pious uses ; and within those precincts
are now trained future heralds of Chrisfs gospel, whose feet,
beautiful upon the mountains, shall carry thenceforth to dis-
tant lands not only messages of peace but lessons of justice.
„, ^^^ By the beginning ^ of the year 1539 almost all

Ihe abbeycom- •' o o ./ ^

mission suipris- the rcligious houses had fallen into the hands of

ingly increased. ., rr<^ t . n • • • j. j

the crown. The list of comnnssioners appomted
to visit them, in addition to those already mentioned, affords a
formidable array of names. They were as follow : — Robert ', earl
of Sussex, Sir John Saint Olere, Sir William Pirton, Sir Henry
Farrington, knights, and Richard Devereux, formerly a friar,
Anthony Fitzherbert, afterwards a justice of the Common
Pleas, William Leyland, John Williams, Thomas Mildmay,
— Jobson, Richard Cromwell, William Parr, Henry Polstead,
John Anthony, John Grevil, Simon Mountfort, Thomas Holt,
Roger Wigston, Robert Burgoin, Richard Pollard, Philip
Parys, John Smith, Edward Carne, Richard Gv/ent, William
Berners, John Arnold, Richard Pawlet, George J Gilford,
Edmund Knightly, John Lane, and Thomas ^ Bedyll, It has
been suggested by Sir William Dugdale ', that the destruction
of the religious houses was no original thought of K. Henry
VIII., but that he was urged to proceed in that business by
ambitious persons, who foresaw great advantages to them-
selves. And if titles and wealth may be so considered, without
regard to the means by which they are obtained, his majesty's
advisers may, at least, be reckoned long-sighted, and share
the commendation bestowed on the unjust steward. At any
rate these gentlemen who were placed in the commission
proved themselves remarkably ingenious managers, and suited
their performances to the occasion.

The greater re- Pcrsuasion and promises™ of pensions, charges
ligious houses fall, of obstiuacy " and incompliance", accusations of
treachery, together with inflictions "^ of severer usage, were
the batteries brought to bear in succession upon the religious,
and wereP played upon them with unwearying constancy.
These attacks went far towards driving them to a capitula-
tion. And that the booty might be secured to the invaders,
* The name of A. J. B. Hope will always be associated with this institution.

A.D. 1346.
K. Henry


h Coll. V. 1.

J Coll. V. 2.
k Coll. V. 3.

> See Col,
V. 3.

m Coll. V.
7. & Hume,
chap. xxxi.
n Ibid.
» Coll. V. 8.
00 Coll. V. 8.

P Hume,
chap. xxxi.


A. D. 1546.

Robert Hol-

q~Cdi. V.


"• Coll. V.




« Hmni
chap. X

' See pream-
ble 31 Hen.
VIII. c.l. J.
" Coll. V.

V See Coll.
V. 12. 13.

»■ See
Works, vol.
ii. p. .531.
E.I. Lond.

" Coll. V.

the commissioners took ^ the convent seals from some houses,

and "thus"" their communication and provision were in a great

manner cut off/" " By this means the paying their debts and

supplying their occasions wore oftentimes impracticable, and

thus the garrison was reduced at last and starved into a sur-

: I'ender," The cruelties, moreover, wliich were practised on the

'fallen were extreme. The abbots of Colchester, Keading, and

Glastonbury, who had shewn some constancy in defending

the rights and revenues of their houses, perished cruelly * by

I the hands of the executioner.

I Notwithstanding the force brought to bear in tliis enter-
prise, the whole matter ' was managed so as to make a shew
before the world as though no rough usage had been applied.
i It was pretended that the king had been, as it were, "courted**
i to accept the monasteries."'"' To this end forms of surren-
der ^ appear to have been dictated, for those instruments,
I in some instances, certainly exhibit smarter strokes of self-
i accusation than persons are wont to apply for their own cor-
j rection, and so bear internal evidence of having been pre-
i scribed by the commissioners. And as the proceedings in this
business had been singularly indefensible, it was considered
desirable to have'' them confirmed by acts' of parliament, of
which 27 Hen. VIII. c. 28, and 31 Hen. YIII. c. 13, are
notable examples.

In order to obtain further countenance for the wholesale
alienation of property which had taken place, and was to be
continued, the nobility " were promised large shares in the
spoils."'"' Free gifts, easy purchases, and advantageous exchanges
were the baits held out ; and as these lay somewhat temptingly
upon the surface of things, remarkable success by such gentle
arts was ensured. Thus a large portion of the abbey lands
was granted to the nol)ility and laity by the advice of the
visitor, Cromwell, who told the king that such a division of
that property was the only way to "clinch the business'',
and make the settlement irrevocable."" It certainly was
a business requiring the exercise of some extraordinary
ingenuity for its settlement, as the abbeys suppressed in
England and Wales^ were in all 645, to which must be

Hen. VIII. r. 24 .37 Hen.

' 27 Hen. VIII. <
VIII. c. 4, I Ed. VI.

28 31 Hen. VIII. c. 13, 32
;. 14.— Vid. Stat, at Large.



to the nation by
these manage-

added 110 hospitals, 2374 chantries and free chapels, and
90 colleges^.

The whole yearly revenue of these establishments is com-
puted to have been^ 161,100?.^; and, besides this, the sums
realized by the stock upon the farms, timber, lead, and other
materials, furniture and plate, church ornaments, jewels, and
bells, must have amounted to an almost incalculable sum.
To take one instance : the visitors seized and carried off
from the monastery of S. Edmundsbury five thousand marks
of gold and silver, besides jewels of great value, " all "= which,""
saith the Lord Herbert, "being by some called rapine and
sacrilege, I will no way excuse." Nor should we omit to
observe that, considering all the circumstances connected
with these valuations, the revenues of the lands upon modern
computations and according to present management would
probably rise nearly twentyfold.
Advantages lost The property which thus changed hands was
vast in amount ; but that some solid advantages
accrued to the nation while it remained in the
possession of its original proprietors may be fairly deduced
upon reasonable consideration. That the re-distribution of it
placed a larger balance to the public account is not so clear.

1 . In the first place, in every convent one '^ or more persons
were appointed for the education of the young, who received
instructions in grammar and music without charges to their
parents, so that the inhabitants of the neighbourhood of these
institutions were relieved of an important item in domestic
expenditure. In the nunneries, also, there were afforded op-
portunities for the weaker sex to obtain instruction in reading
and working, and also to make some improvement in Latin; and.
among tliera, that established ^ at Godstow, in Oxfordshire,
obtained a general and very high reputation for the education
of gentlewomen in such sort as befitted their condition.

2. To the abbeys we are indebted, moreover, for most of
our historians. From the time of the Venerable Bede down-
wards many of our writers, upon subjects connected both with
Church and State, found in them such retirement and leisure
as gave opportunity for the production of the most valuable
monuments of learning, and the most solid proofs of laborious
I'esearch. And thus to our scholars those institutions supplied i

A. D. 1546.
K. Heniy

^ Hume,
chap. x.xxi.
ad an. 1538.
^ Ibid,
b Lord Her-

e Coll. V.
■29. & Hume,
rhap. .x.x.xi.
ad an. 1538.




A. D. 1546.




Robert Hol-


f Hume,
chap. xxxi.
ad an. 1538.
e Coll. V.

h Coll. V.

chap. xx.\i.
ad an. 1538.

J Coll. V.

k Coll.

1 Coll. V. 30.

Jacob's Law
Diet. &
Coin, book
II. c. iii. p.
40. Coll. V.

materials suitable to their employment. Among the posses-
sions of the abbeys, also, were laid up the most learned records
of antiquity; for printing being comparatively a late invention,
the bulk of learning was then contained in manuscripts, of which
the most considerable were lodged in those establishments.

3. In more substantial regards the nation was not with-
out benefit from those institutions. Their hospitality was
remarkable. The gentry ^ who travelled s found in them both
lodging and entertainment ; and the gifts of charity bestowed
by religious houses provided also support for the aged and
impotent folk of their respective neighbourhoods. It was not
until after the dissolution of the monasteries that parliament
was obliged to interfere, and authorize compulsory assessments
on the parishes for the relief of the poor ; and this is a burden
upon the country before unknown, but which has averaged of
late years as much as 5,000,000?. per annum.

4. Further, it is admitted on all hands that the religious
were the kindest of landlords: "their reserved'* rents were
low \ and their fines easy ; and sometimes the product of the
farms, without paying money, discharged the tenants in a
great measure." Thus the cost of the necessaries of life was
to many families proportionably light, and the country at large
derived a corresponding advantage.

5. Another assistance to the public which the abbeys
afforded was, that those who held lands by knight's service J
were bound to provide such a number of soldiers for the
common defence as corresponded to the obligations attached
respectively to the estates; and this was a great relief to
the heirs of founders and benefactors, as the complement of
men required at their musters was made up in a measure by
the supplies contributed by such abbeys as had had knighfs
fees settled upon them. Moreover, when'' the religious houses
held lands by knight's service, they were subject to a contri-
bution towards the dower of the lord's ' eldest daughter, and
also towards defraying the charges entailed whenever the dis-
tinction of knighthood was conferred on the founder's eldest

6. And lastly, the religious houses lay under the obligation
of coi-rodies ", by which founders had the right of quartering
upon them " a certain number of poor servants." So that many




worn out and indigent men had the privilege of a place of
retreat in their old age, where they might spend their last
days on earth in tranquillity and comfort, and, we may hope,
in due preparation for heaven. And thus such persons were
not compelled to sacrifice all independent self-respect by
pleading for a begrudged pittance out of compulsory poor-
rates, after having consumed their powers of youth and manly
strength in the discharge of faithful services.

Now when K. Henry VIII. and his courtiers, supported

by the array of parliamentary force, dissolved the abbeys, all

these public benefits were extinguished, as a matter of course.

„ - ,. , However much individuals may have been

Profane disposal ^ •' ^ ^

of consecrated pro- enriched by these managements, it is by no
means clear that the nation at large can reason-
ably feel a high regard to the memory of those who were
employed in them, or persuade itself that public interests were
thus promoted. Very large amounts of property, by which
it is hard to conceive that no public good was done, seem
to have passed into private hands upon the most slender
considerations. The king himself went strange lengths in
applying Church property to common, not to say profane uses,
and in making from it disproportionably large acknowledg-
ments for small favours. He took leave once to make the
grant of a religious house to a person who had provided him
with a dish of puddings ^ suitable to his palate ; and on
another occasion a large portion of the priory lands of the
knights of S. John of Jerusalem were conferred on some
noblemen and gentlemen who diverted his majesty at a tilting
match °. The abbey property, too, supplied him with the means
of risking high stakes upon games of chance ; an application
of pious gifts dedicated to God which does not carry with it
any remarkable air of devotion. Many thousands a year of con-
secrated property were played p away ; and as an instance that
no small amounts were staked upon single throws, it may
be remarked that "Jesus' bells, hanging in a steeple not
far from S. PauFs, London," and renowned both for their
metal and tone, were lost to Sir Miles Partridge by one cast i
of the royal dice. This gentleman, by the way, was more
fortunate in his gambling than in his political speculations, for
engaging shortly after in some hazardous venture of the latter

A.D. 1546.
K. Henry

n Coll. V.

32. & Hume,
chap. xxxi.
ad an. 1538.

" Coll.

P Coll. V.

T Coll. V.




"• Coll.

The king's coro-
nation oath.

character, he lost his head on Tower Hill by the hands of the

" Pcriculosae plenum opus alese r."

When speaking of this sacrilegious disposition of Jesus'
bells, Collier takes occasion to set alongside of it the king's
coronation oath from a copy taken by Selden from the Cot-
ton Library, and interlined with K. Henry VIIL's own hand-
writing ; from which circumstance it may be supposed, what-
ever inferences to the contrary may be suggested by his pro-
ceedings, that his majesty was not unacquainted with its con-
tents. There among other provisions we find the following : —
" The" king .shall swear that he shall keep and
maintain the lawful right and the liberties of old
time, granted by the righteous Christian kings of England to
the holy Church of England, not prejudicial to his jurisdiction
and dignity royal "...." and he shall endeavour himself to
keep unity in his clergy and temporal subjects ; he shall,
according to his conscience in all his judgments, minister
equity, and right, and ju,stice, and shewing where is to be
shewed mercy "...." and the evil laws and customs wholly
to put out, and stedfast and stable peace to the people of his
realm keep, and cause to be kept, to his power, in that which
honour and equity do require."

It may perchance be said that the transfer of tlic properties

of the religious was not the act of the king, but of the imperial

legislature, and that enactments were obtained from time to

[ time in that behalf. Now granting for a moment (though the

' fact is by no means admitted) that the religious received no

rugged usage at the king's hands before his proceedings were

i warranted by statute, yet it may be questioned whether, if large

' bodies of the king's temporal subjects had thus been ejected

I from their estates even by parliament, such proceedings

I would not have been thought a surprising instance of rigour

j and an unwarrantable exercise of power. If the property of

men guiltless of felony or treason had thus passed to the

I crowm, whatever might have been the legality of the forms,

I the deprived parties would hardly have been reconciled to

I .such usage. And though the soundest arguments against the

force of laws will not prevail, they yet may have some success

against the character for justice of those who make them.




Moreover, I hope it is no improper disregard to our legisla-
ture to say, that while statutes have been enacted in this
country which are not unexceptionable \ there is a higher
tribunal than ever sat at Westminster, whither, as we are
taught, there is an appeal in the last resort, if not in this world,
at least in the next.

Treasures of Among some of those substantial benefits to
learning sacrificed the Community wliicli appear to have been cut

by tiie pillage t , • V i !• •

of the religious Oil by the dissolution of the religious houses,
those treasures of learning contained in their
libraries, which were sacrificed to the avarice or ignorance
of the pillagers, have supplied a reasonable subject for doleful
complaints. Those who received grants or made easy pur-
chases of the abbey property had higher regard to money
than learning, and consequently disposed of the rich stores of
books in a miserable way. They appear to have been thrown
into the bargain as of slender consideration, and the new
owners " proved ^ a very ill protection for learning and anti-
quity." When the covers were rich they were pulled off
and sold for a consideration : the books themselves were
either cast out or converted into waste paper. So these
prodigals, while they filled their bellies with the husks, were
so undistinguishingly ignorant as to throw the kernels away.
Many noble manuscripts and rich monuments of learning were
thus destroyed — a disgrace to that age, an irreparable loss to
^ , ^ , , . John Bale * the centurist, who was no friend

John Bale s evi- .... - .

dence on this sub- to monastic institutions, expressed himself with
^^'^^' just indignation against such barbarous pro-

ceedings, and in course of time made a tragical relation of
the matter to K. Edward VI. " Covetousness "," said he,
" was at that time so busy about private commodity, that public
wealth in that most necessary respect was not any where re-
garded. A number of them which purchased those supersti-
tious mansions reserved of those library books some to serve
their jakes, some to scour their candlesticks, and some to rub
their boots, and some they sold to the grocers and soap
sellers, and some they sent over sea to the bookbinders,
not in small numbers, but at times whole ships full. Yea, the

^ ov Tovs KparovvTag xP^ Kpaniv a {.iri ^jOfwj'.— Eurip. Hec. 282.

A.D. 1546.
K. Henry

» Coll. V.

t Coll.

Coll. V.



A.D. 1546.




Robert Hol-


V Coll. Eccl.

Hist. V. 2,

ex Cleop. E.

iv. 209.

Cott. Lib.

w Ibid. 210.

" Ibid. 214.

y Ibid. 294.

» Coll. V.

3, 4. 6.

» Coll. V. 3.

"Coll. V. 4.

c Coll. V. 3.

d Coll. V. 3.

universities of this realm are not all clear in this detestable
fact ; but cursed is the belly which seeketh to be fed with such
ungodly gains, and so deeply shameth his natural country. I
know a merchantman (who shall at this time be nameless)
that bought the contents of two noble libraries for forty
shillings price, a shame it is to be spoken. This stuff hath he
occupied instead of grey paper by the space of more than
these ten years, and yet he hath store enough for as many
years to come. A prodigious example is this, and to be
abhorred of all men which love their nation as they should do.
Yea, what can bring our realm to more shame and rebuke,
than to have it noised abroad that we are despisers of learn-
ing. I judge this to be true, and utter it with heaviness, that
neither the Britons under the Romans and Saxons, nor the
English people under the Danes and Normans, had ever such
damage of their learned monuments as we have seen in our
time. Our posterity may well curse this wicked fact, this
unreasonable .spoil of England's most noble antiquities."

A defence of tbc In defence of the destruction of so many
rdigiolis" houses ancicut institutions dedicated originally to the
untenable. scrvicc of God and the relief of the needy it has

often been urged that vast abuses had crept into them ; that
not only had devotion there languished, but that the habits
of the inmates were lax and their lives immoral. These are
heavy charges ; but that such narratives have been swelled
beyond truth and due proportion seems highly probable, if
not certain, even from the returns made by the visitors them-
selves. It is upon their own evidence sufficiently plain that
many of the religious houses deserved exception from such
sweeping charges, and that their reputation was fair. For
instance, the commissioners'" letters in behalf' of the priory
of Catesby, of the nunnery ^ of Pollsworth in Warwickshire,
of the priory of AVoolstrop ^ in Northamptonshire, of the
abbey ^ of Ramsey, as well as other communications ^ upon
record, shew that some, at any rate, of these institutions were
governed " by unexceptionable " persons ;" that the imnates
were "remarkable'' for a regular life;" their "revenues
managed to advantage '^ ;" and their reputation great for
"hospitality '^ and relieving the poor." So that the quality of
that mercy must be somewhat strained, whioh shewed no



consideration for the good while applying correction to the
bad. " By the evidence of records," says® CoUier, "there
were many more righteous monasteries in England than
righteous men in Sodom. However this overbalance of
merit could not divert the calamity, nor preserve them from
ruin. Thus we see how much the mercies of God are greater
than those of men ! Justice below is sometimes blind upon
mysterious motives, strikes without destruction, and sweeps
away the innocent with the guilty."

Even if all the religious houses were of ill repute, which
is not admitted (for no unprejudiced person who takes pains
to investigate the subject, or even to balance probabilities, can
believe it), even then it is somewhat unintelligible why those
costly fabrics and extensive revenues, with their valuable pro-
perty, originally devoted to God's glory and the public good,
should have been sacrificed for the enrichment of private indi-
viduals, rather than restored to the original objects of their
endowment. If the " rust had been rubbed off and the metal
left behind," if abuses had been rectified and the revenues left
intact, if superstition had been cleared away and religion raised
to the primitive standard, if ungodliness and ill-behaviour had
been removed and faith and morals mended, then such manage-
ments would have borne upon the face a brighter character
of sincerity, carried with them an appearance of purer devo-
tion, and evinced more certainly a laudable desire for true

Online LibraryJames Wayland JoyceEngland's sacred synods : a constitutional history of the convocations of the clergy, from the earliest records of Christianity in Britain to the date of the promulgation of the present Book of common prayer; including a list of all councils, ecclesiastical as well as civil, held in England, in whic → online text (page 48 of 83)