Suppression of monasteries

The Suppression of the Convents

At the apex of the new society stood Henry VIII., who, like Philip the Fair, had many of the qualities which make a great religious reformer in an economic age. In reaching an estimate of his nature, however, the opinions of Englishmen are of no great value, since they are usually distorted by prejudice. The best observers were the foreign ministers at his court, whose business was to collect information for their governments. At a time when there were no newspapers, these agents had to be accurate, and their despatches are trustworthy.

Charles de Marillac was born in 1510. He belonged to an old family, and had an unblemished reputation. He had no leaning against Protestants, for he was disgraced by the Guise party. He was thirty when in London as ambassador of Francis I. After having been a year in England, he wrote:—

“This prince seems to me subject among other vices to three, which certainly in a king may be called pests, of which the first is, that he is so avaricious and covetous, that all the riches of the world would not be sufficient to satisfy and content his ambition.... From this proceeds the second evil and pest, which is distrust and fear ... wherefore he ceaselessly embrews his hands in blood, feeling in his mind doubt of those about him, wishing to live without suspicion, which every day augments.... And in part from these two evils proceeds the last pest, which is levity and inconstancy; and partly also from the temper of the nation, by which they have perverted the rights of religion, of marriage, of honesty and honour, as if they were wax, the which alloy can change itself into whatever forms they wish.”[225]

Cruelty was one of Henry's most salient traits, and was, perhaps, the faculty by which he succeeded in imposing himself most strongly upon his contemporaries. He not only murdered his wives, his ministers, and his friends, but he pursued those who opposed him with a vindictiveness which appalled them. He was ingenious in devising torments.

Friar Forest, whose crime was the denial of the royal supremacy, he caused to be slowly roasted over a rood which he had fetched from Wales on purpose. They “hanged [him] in Smithfield in chains, upon a gallows quick, by the middle and arm-holes, and fire was made under him, and so was he consumed and burned to death.”[226] Henry relished the idea of the show so much, that Chapuys thought him disappointed at not being able to attend with his whole court.

His way of dealing with the Carthusians was equally characteristic. The Carthusians were in the Church what Darcy was in the State: men of the old imaginative type, of austere life and ascetic habits, in whom still glowed the fiery enthusiasm of Hildebrand. They could not accept Henry as God's viceregent upon earth. The three priors—Houghton, Webster, and Lawrence—were “ripped up in each other's presence, their arms torn off, their hearts cut out and rubbed upon their mouths and faces.”[227]

Three more were chained upright to posts, where they stood for fourteen days, “without the possibility of stirring for any purpose whatever, held fast by iron collars on their necks, arms, and thighs.”[228] Then they were hanged and disembowelled.

In 1537, ten were still resolute. They were chained in Newgate like the others, where, according to Stowe, nine “died ... with stink and miserably smothered.” The tenth, who survived, was hanged.

Had Henry been hampered, like Darcy, with scruples about honour, truth, or conscience, he too might have been undone. His power lay in his capacity for doing what was needful for success. He enticed Aske to London, and, when he held him, slew him. He pardoned Darcy, and then sent him to Tower Hill.

Lacking force to crush the rebels, Norfolk, in the royal name, pacified the people with pardon and promises of redress. They dispersed, thinking themselves safe. Henry ignored his pledges, risings followed; but, when the country had been tranquillized and his army was again in peaceful possession, he thus instructed the Duke:—

“Our pleasure is, that ... you shal, in any wise, cause suche dredfull execution to be doon upon a good nombre of thinhabitauntes of every towne, village, and hamlet, that have offended in this rebellion, aswell by the hanging of them uppe in trees, as by the quartering of them, and the setting of their heddes and quarters in every towne, greate and small, and in al suche other places, as they may be a ferefull spectacle to all other herafter, that wold practise any like mater: whiche We requyre you to doo, without pitie or respecte, according to our former letters; remembring that it shalbe moche better, that these traitours shulde perishe in their wilfull, unkynde, and traitorous folyes, thenne that so slendre punishment shuld be doon upon them, as the dredde thereof shuld not be a warning to others.”[229]

Norfolk was after Henry's pattern. The rebels were his friends—men with whom he had pledged himself to act shortly before. But he had chosen his side, he had made his bargain, and he earned his pay. He was never weary of boasting of his cruelty toward the defenceless yeomanry:—

“They shall be put to death in every town where they dwelt.... As many as chains of iron can be made for in this town and in the country shall be hanged in them; the rest in ropes. Iron is marvellous scarce.”

He tried his prisoners by court martial, for he dared not trust the juries. Many of the farmers declared they had been forced to join in the insurrection through threats of violence, and these might have been acquitted. “They say I came out for fear of my life, or for fear of burning my houses and destroying of my wife and children.”[230]But where Henry and Norfolk were concerned there were no acquittals.

In the same way Henry destroyed his ministers when he had done with them. Though Cromwell was sagacious, he was less crafty than Henry. Just before his fall the king made him Earl of Essex, and he lived in such complete ignorance of his fate that his disgrace fell like a thunder-bolt. Marillac has described how one day, in the council chamber, Cromwell was arrested without warning, and “moved with indignation, he plucked his hat from his head and threw it wrathfully upon the ground, saying to Norfolk and to the rest of the council assembled, that this was his reward for his services to the king, ... adding that since he was so treated, he renounced all hope, and all he asked of the king his master ... was not to let him languish....”

The Duke of Norfolk, having reproached him with all the villanies done by him, tore from him the Order of Saint George, which he wore about his neck; and the admiral, to show himself as much his enemy in adversity as he had been believed to be his friend in prosperity, undid his garter.[231]

From one point of view Henry's vanity was a weakness, for it laid him open to attack, and the diplomatic correspondence is filled with sneers like this of Castillon's: “Il n'oublye jamais sa grandeur et se taist de celle des autres.”[232] Probably nothing in English civilization has ever equalled the adulation he exacted from his courtiers, and especially from his bishops; yet even this vanity was a source of strength, for it made him insensible to ridicule which would have unnerved Saint Louis.

On very scanty evidence, he caused his wife to be arraigned for incest, and during the trial appeared in public so gaily dressed, and after her conviction danced before the Court in such open delight, that Chapuys himself was surprised:—

“There are still two English gentlemen detained on her account, and it is suspected that there will be many more, because the king has said he believed that more than 100 had to do with her. You never saw prince or man who made greater show of his horns or bore them more pleasantly.”[233]

His manners, like those of Cromwell and Norfolk, lacked the courtesy which distinguished men, even of his own generation, like Sir Thomas More. He was gluttonous and self-indulgent, and, toward the end of his life, so bloated as to be helpless. His habits were well understood at Court, and suitors tried to approach him in the afternoon, when he was tipsy. Marillac thought his gormandizing would kill him:—

“There has been little doubt about the king, not so much for the fever as for the trouble with the leg which he has had which trouble seizes him very often because he is very gross, and marvellously excessive in eating and drinking, so that you often find him of a different purpose and opinion in the morning from what you do after dinner.”[234]

On May 14, 1538, Castillon wrote:—

“Furthermore the king has had one of the fistulas on his legs closed, and since ten or twelve days the humors, which have no vent, have taken to stifling him, so much so, that he has been some of the time speechless, the face all black, and in great danger.”[235]

The most marked characteristic of the feudal aristocracy had been personal courage; but as centralization advanced and a paid police removed the necessity of self-defence, bravery ceased to be essential to success; Henry apparently was not courageous—certainly was not courageous in regard to disease. When most infatuated with Anne Boleyn, she fell ill of the sweating sickness; he fled at once, and wrote from a distance to beg her to fear nothing, as “few or no women ... have died of it.”[236] Marillac declared roundly that, in such matters, the king was “the most timid person one could know.”[237]

On the other hand, he was habitually so overbearing as to be brutal to the weak. Lambert was a poor sectary, of whom he determined to make an example. He therefore prepared a solemn function, at which he presided, assisted by the bishops and the other dignitaries of the realm. The accused, when brought before this tribunal, apparently showed some confusion, and Foxe has left a striking description of how Henry tried to heighten this terror. Henry was dressed “all in white,” probably emblematic of his purity as the head of the Church, and his “look, his cruel countenance, and his brows bent into severity, did not a little augment this terror; plainly declaring a mind full of indignation, far unworthy such a prince, especially in such a matter, and against so humble and obedient a subject.”[238]

Gifted with such qualities, Henry could not have failed to be a great religious reformer at the opening of a great economic age. More than five hundred years before, when society hung on the brink of dissolution, the Church sustained centralization by electing Hugh Capet king of France. A century later the armed pilgrimages to Palestine had accelerated the social movement, and consolidation again began. Generation by generation the rapidity of movement had increased, communication had been re-established between the East and West, the mariner's compass and gunpowder had been introduced into Europe, the attack had mastered the defence, and as the forms of competition slowly changed, capital accumulated, until, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, wealth reached the point where it could lay the foundation of the paid police, the crowning triumph of the monied class.

The Reformation was the victory of this class over the archaic type of man, and with the Reformation the old imaginative civilization passed away; but with all its power the monied intellect has certain weaknesses, and neither in ancient Rome nor modern England have capitalists been soldiers. The Tudor aristocracy was not a martial caste. Lacking physical force, this new nobility feared the ancient farming population, whom they slowly exterminated; and they feared them with reason, for from among the yeomanry Cromwell drew his Ironsides. Therefore one of the chief preoccupations of the Tudor nobility was to devise means to hold this dangerous element in check, and as it could not organize an army, it utilized the Church. The land-owners had other purposes for the priesthood than simply to rob it; they had also to enslave it, and Henry's title to greatness lies in his having attained both ends.

He not only plundered as no other man has plundered, but he succeeded in assuming the functions of God's high priest, and becoming Christ's vicar upon earth. Upon this point there can be no difference of opinion; not only are the formularies of the Church of England clear, but Anglicans themselves admit it. Macaulay was of Henry's communion; Macaulay is an historian whose opinion on such a point commands respect, and Macaulay has summed up the position of Henry VIII. as the head of the capitalistic hierarchy in these words:—

“What Henry and his favourite counsellors meant, at one time, by the supremacy, was certainly nothing less than the whole power of the keys. The king was to be the pope of his kingdom, the vicar of God, the expositor of Catholic verity, the channel of sacramental graces. He arrogated to himself the right of deciding dogmatically what was orthodox doctrine and what was heresy, of drawing up and imposing confessions of faith, and of giving religious instruction to his people.

“He proclaimed that all jurisdiction, spiritual as well as temporal, was derived from him alone, and that it was in his power to confer episcopal authority, and to take it away....

“According to this system, as expounded by Cranmer, the king was the spiritual as well as the temporal chief of the nation. In both capacities his Highness must have lieutenants. As he appointed civil officers to keep his seal, to collect his revenues, and to dispense justice in his name, so he appointed divines of various ranks to preach the gospel, and to administer the sacraments. It was unnecessary that there should be any imposition of hands. The king—such was the opinion of Cranmer given in the plainest words,—might, in virtue of authority derived from God, make a priest; and the priest so made needed no ordination whatever.”[239]

Under the Tudors commerce and industry were yet in their infancy. Great Britain still remained substantially agricultural, and capital primarily sought investment in land. The enclosure of the commons and the confiscations of the monastic estates, together formed a gigantic real estate speculation, with which faith had little to do, and which was possible only because force began to express itself through another type of intellect than that which had been able to defend its property during an imaginative age.

The commercial community always demanded cheap religion. Under Henry they inclined toward Zwingli, under Elizabeth toward Calvin, under Charles they were Presbyterian; the gentry, on the contrary, were by nature conservative, and favoured orthodoxy as far as their interest in Church plunder permitted them. Henry and Norfolk stood at the head of this class; Norfolk's conversion to Protestantism has been explained by Chapuys, and Henry remained a bigot to his death.

“Shortly before he died, when about to communicate, as he always did, under one kind, he rose up from his chair, and fell on his knees to adore the body of our Lord. The Zwinglians who were present said that his majesty, by reason of his bodily weakness, might make his communion sitting in his chair. The king's answer was, ‘If I could throw myself down, not only on the ground, but under the ground, I should not then think that I gave honour enough to the most Holy Sacrament.'”[240]

As to Norfolk, Chapuys has left his opinion in very plain words:—

“He [Norfolk] has a good deal changed his tune, for it was he alone [in] the Court who showed himself the best of Catholics, and who favoured most the authority of the pope; but he must act in this way not to lose his remaining influence, which apparently does not extend much further than Cromwell wishes.”[241]

To attain their end, the rising class, at whose head these two men stood, had to doubly despoil the Church in whose dogmas they believed. They confiscated her lands to enrich themselves, and they suppressed her revenues to buy the support of the traders. Finally, their lack of physical force suggested to them the expedient of seizing on the ecclesiastical organization and filling it with their servants, who should teach the people the religious duty of submission to an authority which distrusted an appeal to arms.

As Henry and Norfolk represented the landed magnates, so Cromwell represented the mercantile community; and when the alliance between these two monied interests had been perfected, by the appointment of Cromwell as secretary of state, some time previous to April, 1534, events moved with precision and rapidity. They crowned Anne Boleyn on June 1, 1533; in July the breach between the king and pope became irreparable; in November, 1534, Parliament declared Henry “Supreme Head” of the Church; and in the following winter the whole administration, both civil and ecclesiastical, was concentrated in Cromwell's hands. He acted with astonishing energy.

In the autumn of 1535 he set on foot a visitation, preparatory to the dissolution of the convents, and Parliament passed the bill for suppression the next February. Cromwell also, as vicar general, presided over the convocation of Canterbury, which made the first reformation of faith. This convocation met in June, 1536, only shortly before the Pilgrimage of Grace, and, under the fear of violence, Henry and the conservatives were reduced to silence. The evangelical influence for the moment held control, and the “Ten Articles,” the foundation of the “Thirty-nine Articles,” together with the “Institution of a Christian Man,” which were produced, were a great departure from orthodoxy.

In the fourth article, the dogma of the “Supper” was made broad enough to include Lutherans, and in the sixth, image worship was condemned. On the other hand, “Justification by Faith” began to assume the importance it must always hold in all really Protestant confessions. In one of his homilies Cranmer, at a later time, showed the comparative futility of good works:—

“A man must needs be nourished by good works; but first he must have faith. He that doeth good deeds, yet without faith, he hath no life. I can shew a man that by faith without works lived, and came to heaven: but without faith never man had life.”[242]

“Never had the Jews, in their most blindness, so many pilgrimages unto images ... as hath been used in our time.... Keeping in divers places, as it were marts or markets of merits; being full of their holy relics, images, shrines, and works of overflowing abundance ready to be sold.... Holy cowls, holy girdles, holy pardons, heads, holy shoes, holy rules, and all full of holiness.... Which were so esteemed and abused to the great prejudice of God's glory and commandments, that they were made most high and most holy things, whereby to attain to the everlasting life, or remission of sin.”[243]

The anti-sacerdotal movement under Henry VIII. culminated in 1536 and 1537, when the country rebelled, and the land-owners were in need of help from the towns. As long as the latter felt uncertain of their grip on Church lands, the radical mercantile interest was permitted to mould doctrine; but when Norfolk had triumphed in the north, and Aske and Darcy had been executed, a reaction set in. In November, 1538, Lambert was burned for denying transubstantiation, and in 1539 the chapter in the statute book [244] which followed that providing for the suppression of the mitred abbeys, re-established auricular confession, communion in one kind, private masses, and, in a word, strict orthodoxy, saving in the single tenet of the royal supremacy. To have conceded that would have endangered property. Twelve months later the landed magnates felt strong enough to discard the tradesmen; the alliance which had carried through the Reformation was dissolved, and Cromwell was beheaded.

Never did pope enforce the worship of the miracle more savagely than did Henry. By the act of the “Six Articles,” the denial of the miracle of the mass was punished by burning and forfeiture of goods, without the privilege of abjuration. Purity of faith could not have been the ideal of reformers.

Until quite recently, Protestants have accepted the tradition that the convents of England were suppressed by the revolt of a people, outraged by the disclosure of abominations perpetrated under the shelter of monasticism. Within a few years, the publication of the British archives has thrown a new and sombre light upon the Reformation. They seem to prove, beyond a doubt, that as Philip dealt with the Templars, so did Henry deal with all the religious orders of his realm.

In 1533 Henry's position was desperate. He confronted not only the pope and the emperor, but all that remained of the old feudal society, and all that survived of the decaying imaginative age. Nothing could resist this combination save the rising power of centralized capital, and Henry therefore had to become the mouthpiece of the men who gave expression to this force.

He needed money, and money in abundance, and Cromwell rose to a practical dictatorship because he was fittest to provide it. On all that relates to Essex, Foxe is an undoubted authority, and Foxe did not hesitate to attribute to Cromwell Henry's policy at this crisis:—

“For so it pleased Almighty God, by means of the said Lord Cromwell, to induce the king to suppress first the chantries, then the friars' houses and small monasteries, till, at length, all the abbeys in England, both great and less, were utterly overthrown and plucked up by the roots....

“Of how great laud and praise this man was worthy, and what courage and stoutness was in him, it may hereby evidently appear unto all men, that he alone, through the singular dexterity of his wit and counsel, brought to pass that, which, even unto this day no prince or king, throughout all Europe, dare or can bring to pass. For whereas Brittania alone, of all other nations, is and hath been, of her own proper nature, most superstitious; this Cromwell, being born of a common or base stock, through a divine method or policy of wit and reason received, suffered, deluded, brake off, and repressed, all the policies, trains, malice, and hatred of friars, monks, religious men, and priests, of which sort there was a great rabble in England.”[245]

Cromwell's strength lay in his superiority to those scruples of truth and honour which hamper feebler men. He did what circumstances demanded. His object, like Philip's, was to blacken his victims that he might destroy them, and, to gather the evidence, he chose instruments adapted to the work. To have used others would have demonstrated himself unfit. Mr. Gairdner has remarked in his preface to the tenth volume of the Calendar : “We have no reason indeed to think highly of the character of Cromwell's visitors.”[246] This opinion of Mr. Gairdner is supported by all the evidence extant. Thomas Legh, one of the commissioners, not only always took bribes, but, having been appointed master of Sherburn Hospital, administered it “to the utter disinheritance, decay and destruction of the ancient and godly foundation of the same house.”[247] Henry probably thought him dishonest, since he had his accounts investigated. Even Legh's colleague, Ap Rice, though venal himself, and in great fear of being murdered for his treachery, denounced him in set terms to Cromwell:—

“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.”[248]

The next day, however, Ap Rice, in alarm lest his frankness might lead to his assassination, wrote to beg his master to be cautious:—

“Forasmuch as the said Mr. Doctor is of such acquaintance and familiarity with many rufflers and serving men, ... I having commonly no great assistance with me when I go abroad, might take perchance irrevocable harm of him or his ere I were aware. Please keep secret what I have said.”[249]

Ap Rice himself had been in difficulty, and Legh had exposed him, for he admitted being “so abashed” at the accusation he could make no defence. He had, also, certainly done something which put him in the power of Cromwell, for he wrote: I know “from my own experience how deadly it is for any man to incur your displeasure, which I would not wish for my greatest enemy.”[250]

The testimony of such witnesses would be of doubtful value, even had they expressed themselves freely; but the government only tolerated one form of report. A good example of the discipline enforced is to be found in Layton's correspondence. He incautiously praised the Abbot of Glastonbury, and was reprimanded by Cromwell, for he wrote to excuse himself:—

“Whereas I understand by Mr. Pollard you much marvel why I would ... so greatly praise ... the abbot of Glaston.... So that my excessive and indiscrete praise ... must needs now redound to my great folly and untruth, and cannot ... but much diminish my credit towards his majesty, and even so to your lordship.... And although they be all false, feigned, flattering hypocritical knaves, as undoubtedly 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 ... and of your goodness to mitigate the king's highness majesty in the premisses.”[251]

The charges made by the visitors are of a kind notoriously difficult to prove, even with ample time, and with trained investigators. Cromwell's examination was carried on by men of small worth, and in hot haste; no opportunity was given for more than a cursory inspection of the premises and the inmates:—

“This day we leave Bath for Kensam, where we shall make an end by Tuesday, and then go on toward Maiden Bradley, within two miles of which is a charterhouse called Wittame, and Bruton Abbey seven miles, and Glastonbury seven miles.... If you tarry with the king eight days we shall dispatch all the houses above named.”[252]

The visitation began in August, 1535, and ended in February, 1536. During these six months, four or five men, often travelling together, undertook to examine one hundred and fifty-five houses scattered all over England. “To judge by the proportion in Yorkshire,” says Mr. Gairdner, “the visitors examined only about four out of ten.”[253] So far as can be ascertained, the evidence upon which the reports were based was generally of the flimsiest kind; either the scandal of some discontented monk or nun, or the tattle of servants. There was a striking instance of this at a nunnery in Chicksand, where Layton accused two nuns of incontinence, although “the two prioresses would not confess this, neither the parties, nor any of the nuns, but one old beldame.”[254]

When nothing could be elicited, the accused were deemed in a conspiracy. At Newark the house seemed well ordered, and nothing questionable appeared on the surface, therefore Layton charged the monks with being “confederyde,” but he added that he would object various horrible crimes against them, “which I have learnt from others. What I shall find I cannot tell.”[255]

Where silence was taken as confession, the nuns especially fared ill. Very generally they were too frightened, or too disgusted, to answer. Even if such evidence were uncontradicted, no great weight could attach to it, but it happens that there is much on the other side. Not to speak of the episcopal visitations, which were carried on as part of the discipline of the Church, Henry's own government subsequently appointed boards of commissioners composed of country gentlemen, and these boards, which made examinations at leisure in five counties, formed conclusions generally favourable to the ecclesiastics. Two examples will suffice to show the discrepancy between the views of the men whom Cromwell did, and did not control. At Geradon in Leicestershire, Cromwell's board reported a convent of White Cistercians, which contained five monks addicted to sodomy with ten boys.[256] The second board described the same corporation as “of good conversation, and God's service well maintained.”[257]

At Grace Dieu two nuns were charged with incontinence.[258] The country gentlemen found there only fifteen White Nuns of Saint Austin, “of good and virtuous conversation and living.”[259]

No one familiar with the development of police during the later Middle Ages, could have much doubt that, on the whole, the discipline of the convents would correspond pretty accurately with the prevailing tone of society, and that, although asceticism and enthusiasm might have declined since the twelfth century, subordination to authority would have increased with the advance of centralization. Rebellious monks, like those who tried to murder Abélard, would certainly have been rarer at the time of the Reformation than at the opening of the crusades.

The crime of the English monks, like the crime of the Templars, was defenceless wealth; and, like the Templars, they fared hardly in proportion to their devotion and their courage. The flexible and the corrupt, who betrayed their trust, received pensions or promotion; the Carthusians, against whose stern enthusiasm torments were powerless, perished as their predecessors had perished in the field of Saint Antoine.

The attack of Cromwell's hirelings resembled the onslaught of an invading army. The convents fared like conquered towns; the shrines were stripped and the booty heaped on carts, as at the sack of Constantinople. Churches were desecrated, windows broken, the roofs stripped of lead, the bells melted, the walls sold for quarries. Europe overflowed with vestments and altar ornaments, while the libraries were destroyed. Toward the end of 1539 Legh reached Durham, and the purification of the sanctuary of Saint Cuthbert may be taken as an example of the universal spoliation:—

“After the spoil of his ornaments and jewels, coming nearer to his sacred body, thinking to have found nothing but dust and bones, and finding the chest that he did lie in, very strongly bound with iron, then the goldsmith did take a great forge-hammer of a smith, and did break the said chest open.

“And when they had opened the chest, they found him lying whole, uncorrupt, with his face bare, and his beard as it had been a fortnight's growth, and all his vestments upon him, as he was accustomed to say mass withall, and his meet wand of gold lying beside him.

“Then, when the goldsmith did perceive that he had broken one of his legs, when he did break open the chest, he was very sorry for it and did cry, ‘Alas, I have broken one of his legs.'

“Then Dr. Henley [one of the commissioners] hearing him say so, did call upon him, and did bid him cast down his bones.”[260]

By the statute of 1536, only those convents were suppressed which were worth less than £200 a year, or which, within twelve months after the passage of the act, should be granted to the king by the abbot. This legislation spared the mitred abbeys, and as long as any conventual property remained undivided, the land-owners kept Cromwell in office, not feeling, perhaps, quite sure of their capacity to succeed alone.

In 1539 it had proved impossible to force the three great abbots of Glastonbury, Reading, and Colchester into a surrender to the Crown, and accordingly Cromwell devised an act to vest in Henry such conventual lands as should be forfeited through attainder. Then he indicted the abbots for treason, and thus sought to bring the estates they represented constructively within the statute. The fate of Abbot Whiting, whom Layton incautiously praised, will do for all. He was eighty when he died, and his martyrdom is unusually interesting, as it laid the fortune of the great house of Bedford, one of the most splendid of modern dukedoms.

The commissioners came unexpectedly, and found the old monk at a grange at Sharpham, about a mile from Glastonbury. On September 19 they apprehended him, searched his apartment, and finding nothing likely to be of service, sent him up to London for Cromwell to deal with, though he was “very weak and sickly.” Cromwell lodged him in the Tower, and examined him, apparently in a purely perfunctory fashion, for the government had decided on its policy. The secretary of state simply jotted down a memorandum to see “that the evidence be well sorted and the indictments well drawn,” and left the details of the murder to John Russell, a man thoroughly to be trusted. Cromwell's only anxiety was about the indictments, and he had “the king's learned counsel” with him “all day” discussing the matter. Finally they decided, between them, that it would be better to proceed at Glaston, and Whiting was sent to Somersetshire to be dealt with by the progenitor of a long line of opulent Whig landlords.

In superintending the trial, Russell showed an energy and judgment which won its reward. On the 14th of November, when the invalid reached Wells, he wrote that he had provided for him “as worshipful a jury as was ever charged here these many years. And there was never seen in these parts so great appearance as were here at this present time, and never better willing to serve the king.”[261] Russell wasted no time. He arranged for the trial one day and the execution the next. “The Abbot of Glastonbury was arraigned, and the next day put to execution with two other of his monks, for the robbing of Glastonbury church.”[262]

He had the old man bound on a hurdle and dragged to the top of Tor Hill, “but ... he would confess no more gold nor silver, nor any other thing more than he did before your Lordship in the Tower.... And thereupon took his death very patiently, and his head and body bestowed in like manner as I certified your lordship in my last letter.”[263] “One quarter standeth at Wells, another at Bath, and at Ilchester and Bridgewater the rest. And his head upon the abbey gate at Glaston.”[264]

On the 17th of the following April, Henry created Cromwell Earl of Essex, preparatory to slaughtering him. Within two months the new earl was arrested by his bitterest enemy, the Duke of Norfolk, the chief of the landed interest; on the 28th of July he lost his head on Tower Hill, and his colossal fortune fed the men who had divided the body of Whiting.


[225] Marillac au Connétable, Kaulek, 211.
[226] Acts and Monuments, v. 180.
[227] Cal. viii. No. 726.
[228] Sander, Lewis' trans., 119.
[229] State Papers, i. 538.
[230] Cal. xii. pt. i. No. 498.
[231] Kaulek, 193, 194.
[232] Ibid., 82.
[233] Cal. x. No. 909.
[234] Kaulek, 274; Sander, Lewis, 162, and note 2.
[235] Kaulek, 50.
[236] Lettres de Henri VIII à Anne Boleyn, Crapelet, Lettre 3.
[237] Kaulek, 199.
[238] Acts and Monuments, v. 229.
[239] History of England, chap. 1.
[240] Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism, Sander, trans. by Lewis, 161.
[241] Chapuys to Charles, Cal. vi. No. 1510, date Dec., 1533.
[242] The Homilies, Corrie, 49.
[243] The Homilies, Corrie, 56, 58.
[244] 31 Henry VIII., c. 14.
[245] Acts and Monuments, v. 368, 369.
[246] Cal. x. pref. xliii.
[247] See citations to the original authorities in Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries, Gasquet, i. 454, and note.
[248] Cal. ix. No. 622. In the Calendar  the letter is condensed. The extract is given in full in Gasquet, i. 261, 262.
[249] Ibid., No. 630. In full in Gasquet, i. 263.
[250] Ibid., No. 630.
[251] Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries, i. 439.
[252] Cal. ix. No. 42.
[253] Cal. x. pref. xlv. note.
[254] Ibid., ix. No. 1005.
[255] Ibid., ix. No. 1005.
[256] Cal. x. No. 364.
[257] Ibid., No. 1191.
[258] Ibid., No. 364.
[259] Ibid., No. 1191.
[260] Rites of Durham, Surtees Soc., 86.
[261] Wright, 260.
[262] Ellis, 1st Series, ii. 99.
[263] Wright, 261, 262.
[264] Ellis, 1st Series, ii. 99.