The Origins of the Dissolution of the Monasteries

by R. W. Hoyle
The Origins of the Dissolution of the Monasteries
R. W. Hoyle
The Historical Journal
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The Historical Jounzal; 38, 2 (1gg5), pp. 275-305 Copyright 01995 Cambridge University Press

C:nzaerszt3, of Centla1 Lancashzle

ABSTRACT. The dissolution of the monasteries is one of the most familiar incidents in Tudor histoiy. The genesis of the dissolution is hoale~,er ill-documented. Here it is traced back to the suppl-essions of smaller /louses authorized in 1528. It is shown hoal a partial dissolution could be construed as a desirable and necessav rejorm alithout challenging either the basis of rnonasticisrn or the doctrine ofpurgatov. A prebiouslq' unnoticedpetition is published to cast light on the anti-clerical agitation of 1529. It is suggested that there mas an atternpt to secure a dissolution forjiillaiillcial reasons in I534 and it alas the failure of this which forced the crown to adopt a iillerc8 strateu to achieae a pal-tial dissolution. This was the collection of damaging ecidence of monastic corrz~ptio~~

during the bisitations of 1535 The display of this nzaterial to the Commons in 1536persuaded them to accept apartial dissolution in the guise of a reform of monasticisnz. It is suggested that there alas no 'public' demand for a dissolution in the 1530s except in the art$icial cil-cuntstances of 1536, and that the shape of the dissolution rc8as detel-mined ly the inabilig of go~,ernnzent to secure the support of parliament

for a dissolution justtjed onjnancial grounds.

Of the various reforms imposed on the English church in the 153os, the

dissolution of the monasteries is perhaps the most familiar. The romantic

image of monks and nuns being evicted from their convents, the despoiling of

buildings and books and the suppression of a centuries-old tradition of

monastic worship remains capable of evoking the sympathy of a laity who in

other circumstances would find little to commend in monasticism. In its long-

term consequences it may not have been the most significant reform of the


for the relations between the Church of England and the state are still, from time to time, politically sensitive. The question which this paper wishes to pose is not one of consequences, but of origins. As Dr Haigh has recently pointed out, the disendolvment of the church was not a 'popular slogan' in the century before 152g.l Indeed, there appears to have been little discussion of such matters in the 1520s or early 1530s. And yet the whole range of religious orders was swept away and their lands seized by the crown in fewer than five years between 1536 and 1540. And whilst the bishops escaped with their lands, the seizure of their temporalities was advocated by a number of corn

    I owe to Dr Isobel Harvey the invitation which prompted me to write this paper. David Smith of the Gloucestershire Record Office gave me access at short notice to the Berkeley >IS printed below. Drafts of this paper were read (to its considerable adlrantage) by Drs G. Mr. Bernard, S. J.Gunn; G. L. Harriss, D. K.J.>IacCulloch and Joan Thirsk.
    Haigh; 'The English Reformation: a premature birth; a difficult labour and a sickly child'; Historical Joztrnal, XXXIII (Iggo), 452.

276 R. W. HOYLE

mentators2 As an unknown writer of c. 1532 remarked, these were years in which 'as the spirituality and the temporality be not, as it is thought, at such perfect love, friendship and amity as appertaineth, the temporality to scan the possessions of the spirituality, thinking verily that they may have acquired a great deal more than reason would require, the spirituality again supposing all such matter and language rather to spring and proceed of malice than for any zeal of the commonwealth. '3

In the conventional historiography the statute dissolving the smaller religious houses appears fully formed out of the last session of the Reformation Parliament in 1536, but can it be discovered when Henry VIII (or his government) first determined on a dissolution, and for what reasons? In this paper it will be suggested that the notion of reforming religious houses through the suppression of smaller and less-well-endowed houses was being voiced in company with the idea of diverting clerical wealth to either new religious or even secular ends from before 1529, that the disendowment was actually very hard to achieve, and that these difficulties determined the form which the dissolution took in 1536-40. \Yhilst it is not possible either to tell a continuous story, or to argue for continuity of purpose on the part of government, or to name those responsible for the invention and implementation of policy, it is possible to identify the circulation within government of an idea awaiting its time.

M:hen we speak of monasteries, we span a range of institutions from a \Vestminster or a Fountains through to dozens of small houses who possessed only a handful of monks, tiny incomes and the most modest buildings. Of course, many had been under-endowed in comparison with the aspirations of their founders. In an age when rents had fallen from their medieval peak, we must assume that a good number were poor and down at heel, with little to commend them to contemporary society. It is hard to see a f~lture for the poorer English monasteries; at a time of static rents there can be little doubt that mid-Tudor inflation would, in time, have destroyed them. Overall, one gets the impression that monks no longer contributed much in the way of spiritual leadership to the world in which they lived.4 Monasteries were purgatorial institutions; they served to offer prayers and masses for their founders and benefactors and their families.

Moreover, the monastery as a purgatorial institution was out of fashion. In the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, no one had the money with which to establish a monastery on the classic high medieval lines. For those who wished a permanent memorial to themselves and their ancestors, there were

F. Heal, Ofprelates arzd prirzces: a stu& of the econonzic arid social positiori of tile Tzldor episcopate (Cambridge, 1980), pp 102-7. British Library (hereafter B.L.), Cotton MS Cleo. E IV; fo. 2121.. ('411 quotations from original sources in this paper have been modernized.)

" For this view see, for instance, C. Harper-Bill, 'Dean Colet's convocation sernlon and the pre- reformation church in England ', Histoy, LXXIII <I988), I 94-7.

cheaper options, including colleges and aln~shouses. The monastery had also become outmoded for another reason. The normal late medieval practice was for masses and prayers for the souls of the departed to be said not in perpetuity but over a fixed period, at the end of which the provision would lapse (although one particular form of service, the anniversary, could be held in perpet~ity).~

As Harper-Bill has pointed out, the religious houses proved unwilling or unable to tap this demand for intercessionary prayer.G If all that man could do for the souls of the departed could be achieved within the space of a few years, the corporate religious house, praying for the souls of long-dead founders and their extinct families, was truly anachronistic, and doubts about its purpose could be entertained without challenging belief in purgatory itself.

This is not to say that monasteries lacked a social role. Monks were certainly a familiar sight within society. As major landowners they could be nothing else; the management of estates involved a traffic of monks and tenants to and from the estates, the need for which could not be stemmed by the employment of lay officials. The links between estates and convent were doubtless f~~rther strengthened by the recruitment of the monks themselves from amongst the sons of tenants.

Laid upon all monastic houses was the responsibility to offer hospitality to those who required it. Dr Heal has shown how the monastic obligation to provide food and lodging to travellers, as well as alms and doles to the poor, was still honoured in the early sixteenth century although the provision ranged from the modest to the ostentatious. The dissolution commissioners of 1536 noticed that some houses had a particular reputation for assisting the poor and travellers. Bishop Latimer of Worcester (of all people) was moved to write on behalf of the Benedictines of Great Malvern in 1537, stressing the prior's commitment to hospitality. This obligation to aid was an element in favour of the monasteries, but also a weakness, for it took the laity into the heart of the community and acted as a distraction from its real purpose.7 But it was not an obligation placed on religious communities alone, but a general one shared by all landowners.

Nonetheless, the monastic obligation to provide aid and hospitality was taken seriously by contemporaries to the point where it became one of the few justifications which might be offered for the continuation of monasteries. Amongst the charges laid against Wolsey in the autumn of 1529 was the allegation that the capacity of the religious to offer hospitality was decayed because of the exactions placed on them by Wolsey. The drama 'Godly Queen Hester', which was written about this time, offers an apologia for monastic houses in terms of their utility as the suppliers of hospitality. In the most recent discussion of the play, Dr Walker has pointed out how 'the failure to provide charity was only rarely cited against houses, [but] their charitable function

C. Burgess, '"By quick and by dead": wills and pious provision in late medieval Bristol', E[nglish] H[istorical] R[euiew], CII (I 987) ; R. K.Swanson, Chzirch and socieQ iu late rnediezral England (Oxford, 1989), pp. 296-8. Harper-Bill, 'Dean Colet's con\rocation sermon'; p. 197

' F. Heal, HospitaliQ in earb modern E~~gland

(Oxford; ~ggo), pp. "8-33.


2 78

was cited in their favour by their apologists'.The most striking instance of the importance attached to monastic hospitality comes from a tract of 1537, sometimes attributed (on no very strong grounds) to one Thomas Gyb~on.~ (This is the proposal for the establishment of a court of 'Centeners' at Coventry which was noticed by Professor Stone some years ago.) Reflecting that in the first parliamentary session of I 536 the king was granted all religious houses worth less than i(;200, the writer describes how

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 the experience which we have had by those houses that already be suppressed showeth plainly unto us that a great hurt and decay is thereby become and hereafter shall come to this your realm and great impolrerishing of many your poor obedient subjects for lack of hospitality and good householding that was wont in them [the religious houses] to be kept to the great relief of the poor people of all the countries adjoining to the said monasteries beside the maintenance of many servants, husbandmen and labourers that daily were kept on the said religious houses.

Gybson then advocated an act that all lessees of a monastery's lands should be enforced to dwell on the site of the house and keep hospitality so that the land might be tilled as before, labourers and servants employed and the poor people of the county adjoining relieved. Similar duties were to be imposed on all grantees of former monastic lands, the writer urging that a penalty of £10 a month be levied on all lessees or grantees who failed to keep these provi~ions.'~

LVithin a few years, monkish hospitality was looked back upon with nostalgia. LVhere Sir Francis Bigod had regarded the impropriation of parochial benefices by monastic houses as a form of theft, Henry Brinklow, less than a decade later, stressed the advantages brought about by monastic impropriation in hospitality and charity and compared it favourably with the demerits of the lay possession of rectories."

Further evidence of the worth of monasteries to the laity may be found in Professor Cross's examination of some 5,000 wills drawn from Yorkshire and dating from 1520 to 1540 From this sample she draws conclusions which are broadly favourable to the monasteries; that the 'religious communities still played a positive part in northern life', that 'in many very practical ways monasteries and friaries alike both provided succour to the living and offered "spiritual comfort to man's soul "'.I2

Greg Walker, Plays ofPersuasion. Drania a~zdpolitics at the court ofHeriy VIII (Cambridge, 1gg I); ch. 4. "or the possible identity of Gybson, G. R. Elton, Studies i12 Tridoi and Stiiartpolitics andgocerrrnzent (4 vols., Cambridge, 1974-92 1, 11, 72-3. lo BL, Cotton >IS Cleo. E IV, fos. 214-20; printed by L. Stone, 'The political programme of Thomas Cromwell', B[ulletin oJ the] I[nstitzite oA H[istoricag R[esea~ch], xx~v(~gj~), j (the

I 1-1

quotation from p. I 2). l1 For Bigod see below, p. 281.J. M. Cowper jed.1, Heny Brinkloic's complaynt oJRodeyck .Mars, Early English Text Society, extra ser. XXII (1874), 32-4. l2 C. Cross; 'Monasticism and society in the diocese of York, I j2~15qo',Tra~~sactio~zs

ofthe Rgal Historical Sociep, 5th ser. XXXVIII (I 9881, I 44-5.


In a qualitative sense this is so, but the quantitative evidence on which these conclusions are based is strikingly at variance with Professor Cross's findings. Of the 5,000 wills dating between 1520 and 1540, only an eighth left a monetary bequest to a monastic house. If the years of dissolution themselves are excluded, a slightly higher proportion (a sixth) left money.13 This is far from impressive; higher proportions left money to friaries (a quarter and a third respectively). Moreover, the ends for which money was left to monastic houses need to be carefully considered. \Yhilst Cross provides no breakdown of the figures, some testators made bequests for the singing of masses and trentals on their behalf, functions which in other counties might be performed by stipendiary priests.l"hose higher-status individuals who asked for the singing of elaborate services or even sought burial within the monastic enclosure may be considered to be monastophiles who, had they lived, might have become corrodians; but their interest is conferred by their novelty, not typicality. A high proportion of bequests were for forgotten tithes. Indeed, many of the functions that Cross describes the monasteries performing were common to all landowners.

But an analysis such as this might seem to be rather missing the point. As we have already observed, the range of institutions subsumed under the general heading of religious houses was truly enormous. That some within this range fulfilled a purpose is beyond dispute, but even those persuaded of the social and religious utility of monasteries in the early sixteenth century might reasonably have asked how many amongst them did not. In the discussion and implementation of reform in the later 1520s and early 1530s we can distinguish three tests which at differing moments were applied to religious houses to determine whether they should survive. The first is one of religious utility: did the house have a founder (in the sense of an acknowledged descendant of the original founder) or not, for if the founder's family was extinct, then the house was redundant. Secondly we have a moral test, whether the quality of life, discipline and practice within the house was adequate, and thirdly, a test of size, whether the house was big enough to be sustained. None of these tests challenged the ideal of monasticism; they looked to its improvement.

Of course, it may be argued that the dissolution as it took place owed less to a consciousness of the need for reform and more to the recent precedents of the German and Swiss reformations and the recognition that the monasteries were easy prey for an avaricious king." However cynical we might be about

l3 These figures are broadly in line with those found by Scarisbrick (although he draws on a much smaller sample), The Reformation and the English people (Oxford, 198q), p. 6; the figures provided by Bowker for three archdeaconries in the diocese of Lincoln tend to be smaller still. No one in 50 Buckinghamshire wills gave money to either religious houses or friars. M. Bowker, The Herlricinn ReJormation. The diocese of Lirlcoln under Johrl Longland; 15zr-rgq7 (Cambridge, I 98I), p. 48 (table 3).

'"he use of beneficed priests in this way was expressly outlawed by the 1529 statute we will

have cause to consider later.

'' For a convenient summary see Kno~vles, The Religious Orders in England, III, The Tudor age

(Cambridge, 1959); ch. 13 280 R.W. HOYLE

the motives which lay behind royal policy, in its public pronouncements through to the completion of the dissolution of the smaller houses, the government placed great stress on the need for reform and on the continuity of policy over the previous century and more. Reform, as we shall see, is stressed in the preamble to the 1536 statute.16 It also appears in the justification of his actions which Henry addressed to the Lincolnshire rebels in October 1536 The dissolution had been undertaken by authority of parliament. No houses had been suppressed 'where God was well served ', only those 'where most vice, mischief and abomination of living was used'. The suppression had not reduced hospitality, for all those dissolved had been small and had spent 'the substance of the goods of their house in nourishing of vice and abominable living'.17 But reform is barely mentioned in the letter which Henry wrote to the Pilgrims of Grace only a short period later. Here the act of 1536 was placed in a line which began with the suppression of houses by Edward I11 and Henry 1', continued by Henry 1'1, the king's own grandmother, the countess of Richmond and latterly by such figures as M:olsey, Archbishop M'arham, Bishops Fox of M:inchester, Fisher of Rochester and Longland of Lincoln. This list however throws together two quite different sorts of precedent. Edward 111 and Henry 1'had suppressed houses for their own profit where Henry VI, the countess of Richmond and the suppressions of Henry's own lifetime had been made for the support of new

colleges. The case Henry wished to make to the Yorkshire Pilgrims was that he had every right to dissolve houses 'towards our extreme charges done and daily sustained for their [his subjects'] defence against foreign enemies'. He grounded his actions on prerogative and precedent rather than the 1536 statute. It is only when Henry asks whether the Commons would prefer the monks to have the profits of their monasteries 'for the support and maintenance of abominable life' that the question of reform is raised.''

Hence, it was quite reasonable for the cause of monastic reform, and so the 1536statute, to be espoused by individuals who were neither anti-clerical nor of a reformed persuasion. Indeed, one is impressed by the awareness amongst senior figures in the Catholic hierarchy of the need for reform. There were, however, several views amongst them as to what reform might entail. One, advocated by such individuals as Colet and IVolsey, looked to the more rigorous application of the founder's rule and an enforced retreat from worldliness, reform through discipline. Wolsey was a tough disciplinarian; he made no

l6 Statute nj Henry VIII c. 28, printed more accessibly in J.Youings, The dissolutzon of the monasteries (~gj~),

pp. 155-9, It also appears in the draft commission of aid given to the dissolution commissioners cited below, n. 84. " Letters and Papers, foreign and donzestic, dthe reign dHet~y VIII. ed.J. 5. Brewer et al., 2 I vols. 1862-1910 (hereafter LP), XI no. 780 (2); printed in State Papers duri~~g

the reigrl of Heq VIII (I I vols., London, 1830-j~), I, 463-6; also hI. H. and R. Dodds, The Pilgrimage ofGlace, 15367 and the Exeter Conspirag, 1538 (2 vols., Cambridge, 191 51, I, 136-7,

Is Auswere made the Kynges hghnes to the petitiotls of tile rebelles iu Ib~kshire '(1536, rep' .Amsterdam, I g 7 7).

friends among the older orders by it.'' Bishop Longland of Lincoln preached to the monks of Westminster on the ideal monastic life, acknowledging (in terms which from another's mouth would be judged anti-clerical) that many fell short of it.20 Another commentator, Thomas Starkey, in his Dialogue between Pole and Lupset (written around 1529-32) looked towards a reform of monasteries, not their dissolution, and thought this might be achieved by excluding youths and admitting only 'such men as by fervent love of religion [were] moved therto, fleeing the dangers and snares of the world'."

The notion that reform could be best effected by depriving the religious of some or all of their lands was held by Sir Francis Bigod in his innocently named Treatise on Impropriations of Benejices (? 1535).Bigod was committed to the establishment ofa preaching ministry. He came close to denying purgatory by querying its lack of scriptural authority. No lover of monks, he hated their idleness and sloth and looked to the confiscation of their impropriated benefices to support his cadre of preaching priests. If this reduced the monks to poverty, then he was all for it, for poverty was their profession. But nowhere did he call for the suppression of monastic houses: 'take from them their improper impropriations with other superfluities and within a while peradventure they may be good men. And if not that, yet I am sure that outwardly they shall not be a quarter part so ill as they be now'.22 Even Henry VIII could lean to the view that it would serve God's purpose to deprive the clergy of their temporal wealth.23 This point of view possessed a close cousinage with the vituperation of a polemicist like Fish, who in turn may be counted a mere recycler of Lollard rhet~ric.'~

Another route to reform was prompted by the recognition that smaller houses were often a discredit and that their endowments could be better employed in serving more appropriate and contemporary ends. The practice of dissolving houses with the sanction of papal bulls to recycle their endowments had impeccable precedents (which, as we saw, Henry VIII claimed for himself), and in the early sixteenth century it was practised by such

l9 Harper-Bill, 'Dean Colet's convocation sermon', pp. 194-6; P. Gwyn, The King's Cardinal. The rzse and fall of Cardinal Wolsg (~ggo),ch. 8; and see G. IValker, 'Cardinal IVolsey and the satirists: the case of Godb Queen Hester reopened', in S. J.Gunn and P. G. Lindley (eds.), Cardinal U'olsv. Church, state and art (Cambridge, ~gg~),

pp. 248-50. 20 Longland had in his charge a small minority of persistently unsatisfactory houses. Bowker, Henrician Reyormation, pp. 7, 17-28, 108-9.

Thomas Starkey, A dialogue between Pole and Lupset, ed. T. F. Mayer, Camden Soc., 4th ser. XXXVII (1989); 103-4, and see the similar point in his Exhortation to unity and obedience (1536; repr. Amsterdam, 1g73!, fos. 7517-76'. The admission of those aged under 24 was forbidden by the 1535 injunctions ~(Knowles; Religious Orders, 111, 2 j 7) ; for an example of coerced profession at twelve, Bowker, Hemician Reformation, p. 2 I.

22 For Bigod see .4. G. Dickens, Lollards andprotestants in the diocese oJYork, rjo~rjj8(1g5g), ch.

3. The treatise on irnpropriations of benejces is to be found most con1reniently in A. G. Dickens (ed.), Tudor treatises, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Records Series, cxxv ( 1959!, 4 1-58. 23 Calendar State Papers Spanish, IV (i! 152~30,pp. 788-800. For other instances of reform by deprivation being advocated, see below, pp. 284-286, and n. 64.

24 Anne Hudson, Thepremature Reformation. U3cl@te texts and Lollard histov (Oxford, 19881, pp. 501-2.

282 R.W. HOYLE

varied figures as Cardinal IVolsey and John Fisher, bishop of Rochester, in the foundations of their colleges in Cambridge and Oxf~rd.~'

Wolsey was contemplating taking this a stage further at the very end of his career as the king's chief minister. In Kovember I 528 he secured a bull empowering him, in conjunction with Cardinal Campeggio, to suppress houses with fewer than 12 monks or nuns and unite them with larger monasteries. (It is not clear whether this meant the transfer of religious alone or the merger of their landed endowments.) Then in the following May, Wolsey and Campeggio received papal permission to convert abbacies into bishoprics and create new dioceses, to suppress houses worth 6,000 ducats and transfer their assets to the royal colleges at M'indsor and Cambridge, and to unite monasteries that were unable to support as many as twelve members. The authority had therefore been received to undertake a wholesale reform of the church in which the suppression and unification of religious houses or their conversion into the seats of bishoprics formed an integral part.z6 These plans were simply a casualty of the divorce; if they had been put into effect, our view of the late medieval church would be substantially different.

In these early suppressions the test of size was employed. The houses to be dissolved were invariably small. So too was the test of whether the house still had a founder. It may be argued that as the right of a founder was a form of property, to dissolve houses with a founder was to invite opposition and claims for compensation. If, however, no founder could be discovered or the rights had passed to the crown by inheritance or escheat, such coinplications could be avoided. But in this event a test of redundancy could also be applied. If the founder's family was extinct, the house's purpose had been lost. The same applied to chantries: in I 536 York, which we might think of as a conservative town, had a statute to dissolve chantries and annex their lands to the corporation. The chantries selected were those where the founder had no living de~cendant.~'

The same test of redundancy can be seen in another instance. It has previously been overlooked that in 1527-8 Henry VIII planned to seize the estates of the English branch of the order of St John of Jerusalem. After the fall and siege of Rhodes (I 522-3), when the order could be seen to have failed in its purpose, Henry devised a plan to divert the English order to the defence of Calais. On the death of the English Grand Prior, Thomas Docwra, in I 527, his successor, William Weston, was barred from entering the office. Protests found Henry so determined on his plan that the elderly Grand Master of the

25 For these early dissolutions see Knowles. Religioiis Olders. 111, 157-64. For Wolsey's foundations, J.Newman, 'Cardinal Wolsey's collegiate foundations', in Gunn and Lindley (eds.), Cardinal U'olsv, p. 249. Wolsey's dissolutions were complained of in the articles moved against him after his fall, LP IV (iii), 60 7 5,art. I g.

26 LP IV (ii), no. 4921; (iii) no. 5607, discussed by Gwyn, The King's Cardinal, pp. 464-9 See also LP IV (ii) no. qgzo for a discussion of Wolsey's request.

27 See A. G. Dickens, 'A municipal dissolution of chantries in Yol.k, 1536', in his R@rmation studies (London, 19821, also R. W. Hoyle, 'The crisis in York's municipal finances in the 1530s' (forthcoming).

order, L'Isle Adam, was obliged to travel from Nice to visit Henry personally to persuade him of the order's continuing vitality and utility. This he did successfully, and no more was heard of the plan to use the knights to defend Calais, but the signs are that the idea was intended seriously. These events reflect Henry's lack of regard for the sanctity of religious property which was no longer being usefully deployed.28

There was in the later I 520s a reform programme within the church which


owed nothing to Lutheranism or foreign example. We may not unreasonably see the statute of I 536 as bringing to fruition an element within that programme. But by then the beneficiary of reform had ceased to be the church itself, but the king, and the driving force behind reform had become the laity rather than the clergy.

Even having identified this appetite for reform, it must be conceded that what happened in the eleven or so years following 1529 was wholly unpredictable and unwelcome to the majority of reformers. In the first parliamentary session of 1536 a statute was secured which permitted the suppression of all monastic houses worth less than L2oo per annum. The lands were to pass to the king, the monks and nuns were either to transfer to other houses or to have faculties to become seculars. Only the heads of houses were to have pensions. The dissolutions under this statute had mostly been achieved by the early summer of 1537, having been delayed by the rebellions of late 1536." From towards the end of that year, and particularly from mid-1538, the government began to bully houses, one at a time, using travelling commissioners, to surrender their lands and goods into the king's hands and to his use. On this occasion, all the inmates of a house were granted pensions. The last surrender, of Waltham Abbey in Essex, was taken on 23 March 1540. The legal validity of induced surrenders was always liable to doubt; in the parliament of 1539 the crown secured a statute guaranteeing its title to lands surrendered into its hands. In that same session the king obtained statutory authority to use the lands of some houses as the endowments of new bishoprics, and six were founded in the years immediately following, thus bringing to fruition a further element of the plans of 1528-g.30

It is worthy of remark that monasticism, the co-residence of communities of priests performing the rites of the church under the rule and discipline of a monastic order, was never made illegal; it was merely deprived of sustenance by disendowment.

We have then two quite distinct phases; the statutory abolition of the smaller houses in 1536-7, and the surrender of the larger houses without parliamentary sanction mostly in I 538-9. This conceals the sheer untidiness of

IVeston was allowed to enter the Grand Priorship on payment of L4,ooo. Sir Edwin King

and Sir Harry Lake, The Knights of St John in the British realm (London, 19671, pp. 98-102,

29 For dissolution dates see S. M.Jack, 'Dissolution dates for the monasteries dissolved under

the act of 1536', BIHR XLIII (~gjo).

30 J. J. Scarisbrick, 'Henry VIII and the dissolution of the secular colleges', in C. Cross, D.

Loades and J. J. Scarisbrick (eds.), Law and gouernlnent undel. the Tudors (Cambridge, 19881, pp.


284 R.W. HOYLE

the dissolution; less than half the 453 monasteries due to be dissolved under the 1536 statute were dissolved by the powers conferred there, the remainder surviving to be surrendered in the following years. A small number of houses surrendered in I 536 were re-established, and Henry VIII actually made a number of new foundations in 1537 which lasted only a matter of months.31 The advice which Henry offered James V and the earl of Arran in 1542-3, in which the dissolution is made to seem a well-ordered scheme, cynically exploiting the nobility and bishops, is, at the very least, a dishonest account of a muddled process.32

It would be quite wrong to assume that the dissolution of the larger houses inevitably followed on from the surrender of the smaller. iVrs Jack has suggested that the use of ad hoc commissions to take the surrenders of the larger houses arose from the experience of the first stage of dissolution, which was clumsy and slow.33 AS a judgement on the administrative procedures, this may be so; but the real reason may lie in the parliamentary history of the 153os, and it is to this that we turn.

The story of the dissolution must be traced back to at least 1529. It has long been recognized that the parliament of November 1529, held after the failure of the king's strategy to secure his divorce and the subsequent fall of Wolsey, was the occasion of an 'anticlerical' agitation.34 The evidence for this has always been somewhat slight, depending largely upon a single petition, the account of Edward Hall and the statutes themselves. The common feature of this legislation was that it struck at the income and economic activities of the clergy; the taking of fees for probate and mortuaries, the keeping of farms and tan houses by clerics, non-residence and pluralism. It is now possible to offer evidence to show that this was the barest fraction of what was advocated in some quarters. There survives at Berkeley Castle a roll of two petitions from the common^.^^ The first is a copy of the well-known petition of 1410 to Henry IV which called for a partial clerical disend~wment.~~

The second is a longer

G. W. 0.Woodward, 'The exemption from suppression of certain Yorkshire priories', EHR LXXVI (1961);E. M. Hallam[-Smith], 'Henry VIII's monastic refoundations of I 536-7 and the course of the dissolution', BIHR LI (1978j There is some doubt about the number of houses dissolved in 1536-7: see below, p. 298.

32 Knowles, Religious Orders, 111, 204-5; see also below, p. 296.

33 S. Jack, 'The last days of the smaller monasteries in England', J[oiirnal oJ E[cclesiastica~ H[istory], xxr (1970), 124.

34 S. E. Lehmberg, The Rejiormation Parliamertt 15236 (Cambridge, 19701, ch. 5. The most recent account of the parliament's religious legislation is R. N. Swanson, 'Problems of the priesthood in pre-reformation England ', EHR, cv (I ggo), 860-9 (although his discussion is necessarily inconclusive).

35 Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, Select Roll 153. The original may be inspected through the Gloucestershire Record Office (who also have a microfilm). For the text of the manuscript see the appendix.

36 It is printed in A. R. Myers (ed.), English historical docitments, 1327-1485 (19691, pp 668-70, in A. Hudson (ed.), Selections from English Wyclz@te zcritk~gs (Cambridge, 19781, pp. 135-7, with commentary, pp. 203-7, and partly in Youings, Dissolittion, p. 135 The fullest discussion is Hudson, Premature Refornzation, pp. I 14-1 5, 339-40.

and undated petition which, on internal evidence, must be of I 5~9.~'

The association of the 1410 petition with one from more than a century later is not merely a matter of antiquarianism. The title of the second describes it as a gloss on the first, and later Henry VIII is expressly called upon to take up the works which Henry IV and Henry VI 'intended to do' (line I 30).38

That said, the 1jzg petition never directly addresses the earlier document. It is drafted as a bill, for it includes two enacting clauses, but it is less a proposal for legislation than a rant against the clerical estate. It finally peters out into a list of points to be investigated. Henry VII had legislated against the incontinency of priests, but matters had become much worse (11.63-71).~Yhe clergy are accused in turn of all seven deadly sins, particular emphasis being placed on their lechery. On the way, comment is made on the quality of their clothing (pride), their simony (envy) and the murders they committed (wrath). It was claimed that the clergy owned a half of the realm and they took a quarter of the country's profits in oblations, probates and mortuaries. Where clerics had once been satisfied with a benefice or two, they now sought a dozen or more, purchased land and held leases of land from the temporality (covetousness). They were lazy, with few showing a good example in preaching and teaching (sloth). They were, in addition, gluttons and lechers

(11. 71-98).

The petition exceeds even Simon Fish in its vituperation against the clergy (although it appears to owe little or nothing to the Supplication). It offers the broad justification that the punishment of these vices would return the clerical estate to its original condition, 'for perfection and to be mirrors to us lay people to follow the precept of our saviour Jesus Christ and to do his commandments as true Christian men ought to do' (11. 65-7). The acquisition of property had taken the priesthood from this state of grace. The disendowment of the church was therefore necessary to achieve the restoration of true priestly values, but at a later point the petition altered direction and called upon the king to resume part of the temporal property of the church to provide his nobility with the wherewithal to resist the Turk (this being the year in which the Ottomans reached Vienna) (11. I 03-8). It then proposes the annexation to the crown of all ecclesiastical jurisdictions and the power to punish clerics for a space of seven years to see if the clergy might in that time be better ordered by the lay power (11. 108-18). If successful, the subjugation of the clergy to the discipline of the laity was to continue in perpetuity, so the clergy 'may have a holy and perfect life as they did before they had this abundance of lands without measure and your grace shall greatly augment your high honour and increase your royal power and have the infinite prayer of all Christian people' (11. I I 6-1 8). Two further measures against the clergy

37 A list of papers left over from the 1529 session includes as one of its items a copy of the 1410 petition, a curious thing to find in this context unless it is a copy of the manuscript under discussion. LP IV (iii) no. 6043 (3) (which I owe to Dr Bernard).

38 Henry VI's appearance in this context may seem peculiar, but Henry VIII, in his letter to the Yorkshire rebels, remembered his dissolution of monasteries towards the establishment of King's College, Cambridge, but stressed that he kept some lands for himself.

39 Statute I Henry VII c. 4.

286 R.W. HOYLE

were then advocated: the examination of all lands granted to the church by mortmain licence, and a provision that all donors of lands to the church (or their heirs) might be allowed to reclaim them if they were not being devoted to the advancement of the donor's intentions (11. I 32-41). Finally, benefices which were not charged with the care of souls or which might be served by a deputy were to be reserved for the sons of nobles or gentlemen under the penalty of a fine (11. I 42-5).

The 1529 petition picked up the notion of disendowment pressed in the 1410 petition, where the creation of a new nobility was advocated, and linked this to the twin objectives of reforming the clergy and undertaking a crusade. There is little or nothing here which would have been unfamiliar to an early- fifteenth-century Lollard. Only the smallest part of these proposals passed into law and it might be asked whether the document before us was ever placed before either the Commons or the Lords. In the absence of the journals of both houses, it is impossible to claim conclusively that these proposals were pressed forward.40 We have, however, the evidence of the statutes themselves, for the abuses which were legislated against in 1529 are those complained of in the petition. (Hence it cannot be of later date than this session.) Some confirmatory evidence may be gathered from the early Elizabethan life of the bishop of Rochester, John Fisher, which was formerly attributed to one Richard Hall. This writer is quite specific in his claim that bills other than those which passed into law were moved in the Commons, 'complaining of [the clergy's] idleness, their great wealth and abuse in spending of their revenues'. Fisher's biographer then puts into his subject's mouth a speech which contains echoes of the Commons petition. 'For they say that bishops and their associates, abbots, priests and other of the clergy are vicious, ravenous, insatiable, idle, cruel and so forth. What, are all of this sort? Or is there any of these abuses that the clergy seek not to extirpate and destroy?' The biographer may record a recollection of a speech by Fisher against the petition or something like it.41

The larger significance of this petition is that a group of people were willing to advocate both the disendowment of the church and the transfer of

40 Chapuys, though, retailed rumours that the king would raise large sums of money through the sale of church lands. Calendar State Papers Spanish, IV (i),15230,p. 36 7 : later in the same letter he speaks of the king's intention to bring forward a measure 'to bleed the clergy' (p. 3 71). In his letter to the Lincolnshire rebels in I 536, Henry rehearsed complaints by the Commons 'in times past that most of the goods, lands and possessions of the realm were in spiritual men's hands': this may be an oblique reference to I jng. LP XI 780 (n), printed State Papels, I, 465 and Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, I, I 38.

41 'The L+ oJFisherl, trans. by R. Bayne, Early English Text Soc., extra ser. CXVII (~gn~), 68-9. The 'Life' appears not to have received a modern critical discussion, but Scarisbrick takes it seriously; J.J.Scarisbrick, 'Fisher, Henry VIII and the Reformation crisis' in B. Bradshaw and

E. Duffy eds., Humanism, r&m andR&rmation. The career ofBishop John Fisher (Cambridge, I g8g), p. 158A similar outburst is noted by E. Hall, Tjze union of two noble and illustre famelies of Ln1icastre and 2'orke (ed. H. Ellis, 18ogj, p. 766. Fisher's outburst(s?j have never received the attention they deserved. Forty years ago Elton pointed out that 'no one ever seems to have wondered why Fisher of all men should have let himself go in this fashion' (Elton, Studies, 11, 120). Now we know.

ecclesiastical jurisdictions to the crown and laity in the name of church reform.42 Where might such a proposal have originated? Given the petition's concern with jurisdiction, one obvious candidate would be the common lawyers. If we accept that before 1529 the principle that the common law had a supremacy over ecclesiastical law was widely held, it may be that the proposals advanced here were less self-interested or sectional than capable of attracting the subscription of a large proportion of the laity." The attack on the church then may not necessarily arise from a legal quarter. Indeed, the poor drafting, even incoherence, of the document might be sufficient to persuade some that no lawyer had a hand in it. Whilst the petition might be highly disingenuous, it is in its own terms not about securing judicial supremacy over the church, nor about the divorce, but about the lay aspiration to return the clergy to a native, untarnished state.

Several pieces of evidence can be offered which suggest that the petition arises from within court circles. The first is the emphasis on the nobility; the prosperity of the church was tied to the 'decay of the nobility' (1. 58); the nobility had been made 'bare and their hearts discouraged for lack of that [which] should maintain them to do your grace honour' (11. 101-2) ;they were to receive clerical estates to enable them to fight the Great Turk (11. 103-8) and their sons were to have dispensations to hold benefices without cure of souls (11. 142-j).~~

The sectional interest may therefore be a noble one. (It might also be seen in the proposal for the retrieval of lands from the monasteries, 11. I 37-41 .)

Secondly, some of the themes of the petition are anticipated in an aide memoire drawn up by Thomas Lord Darcy in July I j29.46 There is a danger that because his papers survive (where those of other actors do not), too great an importance might be attributed to Darcy. Nor is it clear whether he was acting independently in the summer of I j29, gathering like-minded people about him, or whether he was (in Guy's phrase) an amanuensis to more weighty figures such as the dukes of Norfolk and S~ffolk.~~

Which ever, some of the headings in the memorandum bear on the petiti~n.~'

Darcy looked for the more vigorous punishment of offenders against spiritual law. He asked that all knights' fees, baronies and earldoms be viewed to discover how many of them were in spiritual hands. This proposal sees ecclesiastical landholding as a military resource and reads like a throwback to

''On one occasion the petition slips into the first person singular, 1. 81.
43 J.H. Baker, The Reports gSir John Spelman (Selden Soc. XCIII-IV, 19781, 11, 64-70; J.Guy in

A. Fox and J.A. Guy, Reassessing the Henrician age (Oxford, 1986), pp. 165-8; compare C. Haigh, 'Anticlericalism in the English Reformation', in Haigh (ed.), The English Reformation recisited (Cambridge, 1987), p. 65 (who views the common lawyers' motive as being a search for fees).

" Dr MacCulloch has pointed out to me instances of gentlemen securing benefices without cure of souls in the 1530 for themselves, for instance Cromwell, dean of Wells from 1537. 45 LP IV (iii) no. 5749, printed by J.A. Guy, 71~epublic career oJSir Tlh~rnas Adore (Hassocks, 19801, app. 2. 46 Guy, :\/lore, p. 107.

''Ives has recently shown how some of Darcy's criticisms of Wolsey drawn up in July are carried forwards into the Lords' petition of I December. E. \.V. Ives, 'The fall of\.Volseyl, in Gunn and Lindley (eds.), Cardinal U'olsty, pp. 297-8.

288 R.W. HOYLE

the 1410 petition (where it is said that the church held 15 earldoms, I jo knights and 6,200 esquires). Darcy's proposal of an investigation of the lands held by spiritual men, 'by what titles and for what purposes and whether it may be followed or no', directly anticipates the demand of the petition that monastic houses should show who had given them land, to what end, and whether that intention was honoured. The next clause in Darcy's memorandum, that it should be 'better and much more merit.. .for the king's grace to proceed and determine all reformations of spiritual and temporal [matters] within this realm' is in tune with the whole tenor of the petition, although an underdeveloped proposal. The clauses against exacted clerical fees, including the cost of probate, may again be related to the claims of profiteering made in the petition.

The element within Darcy's memorandum which the petition does not adopt is its attack on the actions of Wolsey as legate and on the papal power to make legates to serve in England. It may be surmised that the petition makes no mention of Wolsey or his legatine powers because these issues were ventilated in a parallel document from the same stable, the petition against the cardinal which circulated from midsummer and was presented to the Commons (in a revised form) on I December. Nonetheless, it is striking how many of the issues in Darcy's paper are carried forward into the Berkeley petition and there developed further. This is not to claim it as Darcy's own work, for it seems unlikely that he could have stomached a general attack on the monasteries. Darcy's clause 'that it be tried whether the putting down of all the abbeys be lawful or good or no, for great things hang thereupon' is ambiguous, but it is most likely that Darcy was eager to challenge Wolsey's dissolutions. His draft articles against the cardinal touch on the matter several times.48 But Darcy may have welcomed the disendowment of houses so that they might return to the pure state in which their founders left them.

Thirdly, others have detected a loose aristocratic coalition in the summer of 1529, based on a detestation of the cardinal and his works and a frustration over the revocation of the divorce to Rome, A 'Lutheran' work in English, calling on the king to disendow the clergy and return the church to its primitive propertyless form, was circulating in the court in early April. This may be taken to be Fish, A Supplicatzon for the Beggars.49 Both the French and imperial ambassadors had wind by the early autumn that an expropriation of clerical property was being canvassed. The leading figure in this was apparently the duke of Suffolk, perhaps with the duke of Norfolk. And for a period towards the end of 1529 they had perhaps had Henry's ear.'' (Or Henry might have been inviting them to enunciate in public what he thought

48 LP IV (iii) no. 5749, pp. 2550-2, passim.

49 LP IV (iii) no. 5416 (letter of Cardinal Campeggio, 3 April), discussed by German Marc'hardour in F. Manley and others (eds.), The complete zcorks of St. Thomas ,I)fo~e, VII (New Haven, 1990), pp. lxvii-ix.

50 Guy, More, pp. 109-10 Gunn has reservations about Suffolk's alleged role: S.J. Gunn, Charles Brandon, duke oJ Suffolk, 1484-1545 (Oxford, I 9881, p. 103.

in private. We cannot, finally, tell.) This, then, seems to be the circle from which the petition emerged, a noble coalition which was inherently unstable because its members took different views of the king's divorce. Thus, there seem to be no grounds for supposing that the Commons were the originators of the anticlerical proposals of 1529; rather, they were actors in a drama written for them. If this may be accepted then we have further reason to reduce 'anticlericalism' from a movement to a moment.51

Why nothing came of these larger proposals is hard to explain. Most likely the whole programme was judged to be unattainable. Indeed, it may merely have been a polemic designed to enrage the clergy, from which a programme of attainable legislation could be boiled down. Certainly the passage of the anti-clerical legislation was hard fought. The omnibus bill against pluralism and the economic activities of the clergy was wrecked by the insertion of amendments which greatly diminished the force of the original bill. Hall suggests that Henry VIII aided the passage of the legislation as a concession to the Commons for their agreement to accept the cancellation of the forced loans of 1522-3 and he later convened a conference of the Lords and Commons, although whether as an honest broker it is impossible to say.52

It is possible that a further manoeuvre proved abortive. The same biography of Fisher reports that in this same session there was an attempt to secure a dissolution of the smaller religious houses (those of L200 in lands and under), adding that this matter was pressed forward in convocation (not the Commons) by the king's councillors (and in his name). A body within convocation was minded to concede this in the hope of protecting the remainder. This drew forth from Fisher a speech in opposition, in which he argued that if the small abbeys were granted to the king towards his charges over the divorce, the remainder would soon follow.j3 There is no independent evidence of such a project being moved in this year, and yet, as Fisher's biographer appears to have reliable evidence on other proceedings in this session, it is difficult to discount him on this. \Ye must allow for the possibility that the biographer has it right.

A disendowment of the church, both bishoprics and religious houses, undertaken in the name of reform in 1529, must remain as great a 'might- have-been' as Wolsey's new bishoprics. It might be doubted whether it could ever have been. And yet the fact that it did not happen is surely to

51 I do not see the drafts against ecclesiastical jurisdiction which were adapted to for111 the Supplication of the Ordinaries arising from the petition. Elton has offered cogent reasons to persuade us that the earliest of these (his petitions A-C, described in Stzidies, 11, 121-7) date from 15" and I see no reason to doubt their force. But the drafts are at striking variance with the petition described here. An alternative explanation for them may be offered. IVe know that the City of London sought the opinions of the City companies as to the legislatioll it should advance in the 1529 session. The Mercers (and perhaps others) urged some action agaimst the ordinaries. If this proposal was adopted by the City, might we assume that the drafts were drawn up by its counsel, including (perhaps) Cromwell? If this conjecture is accepted, the drafts are not government drafts at all (although they were, of course, drawn in a sitnilar form).

52 Lehmberg, Rej&rnatiort Parliament, ch. 5 and Guy, .Wore, pp. I 12-15 discuss the session. Hall,

The union.. . of Lancastle aud Yolke, pp. 7667. 53 'The life of Fisl~er', pp. 71-2.

290 R. W. HOYLE underestimate its significance. The sight of senior and central figures canvassing such proposals must surely have broken a spell over the church. Once the possibility had been aired, the church could no longer be thought of as being outside the reach of the laity.'"We may also notice that by 1540 a large part of the objectives of the 1529 petition had been achieved, for the crown had assumed jurisdiction over the church, and much of its lands had been resumed to the advantage of the nobility.

No one would deny that the politics of the early I 530s were dominated by the divorce and the Boleyn marriage. It is less often noticed that in the same years royal finances were in a parlous state and that a number of steps were taken to raise income, either by extraordinary means or by extending the range of sources from which the government drew taxation. Although it cannot be proved conclusively that the attack on the church was undertaken for financial reasons, the fines and compositions which the church paid were an enormous aid to the crown at a time when its coffers were apparently bare and it was reliant on the French pension.j5 Fisher's biographer states that the dissolution urged on the clergy in I 529 was towards the costs of the divorce.56 A proposal, perhaps of 1532, which advocated joining the First Fruits of benefices to the revenues of the crown, noted the royal need for money to defend the realm against invasion and to provide liberality and munificence, but also commented on the decay of revenue.j7

The church was heavily milked in these years, but what came to pass may only have been a tithe of what was intended. It was rumoured before the first parliamentary session of 1534 (which sat from 15 January to 30 March) that the church was to be stripped of its endowments in that session.58 There survives a list of legislation to be proposed in this session which reveals acute nervousness over the possibility of invasion and looked not merely to the taxation of the church but the confiscation of ecclesiastical property to finance defence. One proposal was for a conditional act which would divert annates and all other payments from the realm to the pope into the king's coffers if the king was interdicted or excommunicated. Two additional proposals are worth quoting in full :

54 The suggestion that mortmain licences should be examined (and perhaps revoked) may explain why such licences disappear in the early 1530s. Kreider has suggested that the granting of licences was deliberately stopped, but one might equally ask who would want to obtain one when their validity and purpose had been challenged. A. Kreider, English chantries. The road to dissolution (Cambridge, Mass., 1979), pp 8~5.

55 D. Starkey, 'Court and government', in C. Coleman and D. Starkey (eds.), Rez:ol~ction reassessed (1g86), p. 44. Dr Bernard has questioned the belief that the crown was hard up at this time. Whilst his argument is not (in my view) conclusive, it does reveal the very narrow basis of our understanding of the financial situation in those years. G. I'V.Bernard, 'The pardon of the clergy reconsidered ', JEH, XXXVII (I 9861, 259-62. 56 'The life of Fisher', p. 71.

57 BL, Cotton MS Cleo. E IV, fo. 2121. #\also cited above, p. 276)

LP VII, nos 14, 24, 144.

[6] Item, an act that if any bishop, dean, abbot, abbess or any other head or ruler of any body politic within this realm or within the king's dolninions comit or do any high treason and be there of convict, that then they shall forfeit all the lands and tenements temporal to the king's highness which they had in the right of their churches, dignities or houses. And the king's highness to have those to dispose of for the defence of the realm.

[7] An act that if any war be attempted by the pope's occasion against the king or this realm, that then immediately after the war intilnate[d], the king's highness to levy and have for his defence and the realm the moiety of all the temporal lands in the church so long as the war shall stand and endure.59

There is no evidence that these proposals were ever put before the Commons (although the proposal for the attainder of the lands of houses whose heads were convicted of treason found its place in the treason act of the following session).60 Their significance is to show how government thought of coping with what we might term the worst-case scenario.

The proposals drawn during the late summer or early autumn of 1534, the 'Things to be moved for the kings highness for an increase and augmentation of his most royal estate and for the defence of the realm, and necessary to be provided for taking away the excess which is the great cause of the abuses in the church,'jl were far more radical in intent; they were not conditional precisely because the worst fears of government had come to pass with the outbreak of Kildare's rebellion in June. For although Fitzgerald's intention may have been to escalate an orthodox power struggle within and over the government of the Pale, he appealed for wider support by declaring himself for the pope, and against the royal supremacy and the Boleyn marriage. The English fear -and Irish ambition -was that the revolt would become inter- nationalized, with the Geraldines receiving support from Charles \'. Contacts were established between the two sides, but despite his ambassador's urgings, Charles was happy for the Fitzgeralds to wage war as best they could, so diverting Henry from the European theatre. But he was unwilling to take any steps which might incite the English against him at a time when he was campaigning against the T~rk.~"his could not be known at the time.

The 'Things to be moved.. . ' is not a new discovery; it has, for instance, been printed twice since the war and is noticed in all the standard accounts.63 It recommends a series of reforms, all to be achieved by statute, which were to augment the royal revenue. It envisaged the confiscation ofepiscopal estates save for sufficient to pay the archbishop of Canterbury a stipend of 2,000 marks and York and other bishops 1,000 marks. The residue of their estates

j9 BL Cotton MS Titus B I, fo. 161r, printed in abstract, LP VI,no. 1381 (3). For the dating, see Lehmberg, Reforlnation Parliament, p. ~gon. 60 Ibid. p. 204.

It will be observed that the title of the manuscript links the 'increase and augmentation' of the royal estate with the 'taking away of the excess which is the great cause of the abuses within the church', a clear throwback to the cleansing notions of 1529.

62 Steven G. Ellis, Tudor Ireland, ~IOWIZ,

colnrnur~i(y and the co~gict oj'"culti~res, 147e1603 {London, 19851, esp. p. 125; L. McCorristine, The fezjolt of Silkell Thohornas, a cl~aile~ige

to Henv b'III
(Dublin, 1987) 63

Stone, 'Political progran~me', pp. 9-1 I ; Youings, Dissollitio~i,app. j.

*g2 R.W. HOYLE was to be made over to the king and his heirs 'for the defence of his realm and the maintenance of his estate'.~he land of monasteries which had fewer than 13 religious, no matter what their revenue, was to be confiscated. It is not clear what was to happen to their monks. Larger houses were to lose their lands except for sufficient to pay an allowance of &6.13s.4d. for each monk in orders and £5 for each novice. Nuns were to have &5 each. The head of each house was to have as much again as the whole convent, from which he was to maintain hospitality and fund repairs. The surplus lands of each house were to go to the king. The king was also to have half the dividends paid to cathedral prebendaries and a third of the profits of archdeaconries. The estates of the priory of St John ofJerusalem were to be confiscated, but the prior was to have 1,000marks for life. After his death the lands were to come to the king to be employed towards the war against the Turk, but this was then amended to war against the Irish. All ecclesiastical jurisdictions were to be resumed into the king's hands with the exception of courts baron and leet.6" The 'Things to be moved.. . ' is a detailed programme for legislation, but all the ideas it contained needed working out at much greater length before legislation could be drafted. Of course the proposals for disendowment were never put into effect; the secular clergy kept their lands. Was this a proposal which originated within government or was it merely, as one recent author has recently suggested, the work of a freelance who 'had some contact with Cromwell and was amplifying proposals that he knew had already received some consideration in official circles? '65 A confident case can be made that this document originates within government. It is not a freelance effort submitted by someone with an axe to grind or who saw the formulation of such proposals as a way into royal service; its very sophistication and multi-faceted character argues against such a judgement. Moreover, the thesis that it originates within government is strengthened by the fact that it contains within it the bones of two statutes which were enacted in the second 1534 session, the grant of First Fruits and Tenths and the lay subsidy. A revision of its clause concerning the stipends of bishops is in the hand of Thomas M'riothesley, Cromwell's clerk and later earl of So~thampton.~~

This is not conclusive evidence that the clauses concerning the disendowment of bishoprics and monastic houses were placed before parliament when it reconvened on 3 November, nor can utterly conclusive evidence be found. But Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, had wind of the proposals and wrote on 28 November to Charles V,

6"nterestingly, a similar proposal for turning the religious and bishops into annuitants on stipends appears in the 'Gybson' proposals of 1537. Havillg argued the conventional line that the failings of the church arose from 'the superabundance of riches and temporal possessions', 'Gybson' then proposed that all bishops or arcl~bishops ordained in the future should have 1,000 marks annually. The religious were to be confined to their convents to a life of contemplation, study and manual labour, receiving a stipend ofqos. per monk and j marks for each prior or abbot whilst their lands were placed in the hands of an Ilereditary lay warden, who was to allow the convent 1,000 marks annually for hospitality and other necessary provisions. Stone, 'Political programme', pp. I 3-1 j. 65 Heal, Of pielates and princes, p. 104.

66 LP ~II,no. I 356, Elton, Studies, 11, 76 n. 2.


The king, who, as head of the church in his kingdom, was intending to take back into his hands all church property, and distribute only a frugal sustenance to ministers of the church, is for the present satisfied to leave the churchmen in possession of their property, provided they will contribute to him a yearly rent of Lgo,ooo, and grant him the first fruits on all benefices. It is true he has always taken by apostolic privilege the revenues of vacant bishoprics, but now he claims the whole revenue, not only of the bishoprics but of all other benefices, which amounts to an inestimable sum. Since the king was determined to bleed the churchmen, he has done much better to do it thus than to take all their goods, to avoid the murmur and hatred, not only of the clergy but of the people, especially of those who have endowed churches, or of their successors; moreover, it would have been necessary to stop the mouths of many people, to give the greater part of those goods to gentlemen and others.67

This account of what Henry had proposed is very similar to the suggestions of the 'Things to be moved. ..'; that all church property should be resumed by the king, that only a 'frugal sustenance' should be left to the ministers of the church. English kings had indeed claimed the revenues of bishoprics during vacancies; now Henry had asked for the whole revenue of bishoprics. Chapuys understood that he had been willing to trade the demand for disendowment for the perpetual taxation of First Fruits and Tenths and puts a favourable gloss on this, seeing advantages in taxation over confiscation. Most regrettably, he never mentions the forum in which these proposals were floated, nor explains why the king changed his mind. The fact that parliament was sitting surely indicates that it was in one or other chamber; that it involved a retreat (for the grant of First Fruits and Tenths was not a substitute for confiscatioll but another part of the package outlined in 'Things to be moved.. .') suggests that the larger proposal failed to command support.

The other source for what might have happened is Sir Edward Coke. In the Institutes, Coke discussed the need to have the purpose of legislation written into a statute as a safeguard against misdirection and illustrated this with a proposal for a dissolution. The context in which Coke offered this illustration suggests that he believed that what he had before him was a proposal made in tandem with the statute of 1536. In fact the outline he gives must date from the winter session of 1534 In it the king sought to have the lands of monasteries, nunneries and friaries (but not, it appears, bishoprics) in return for undertakings that the confiscated lands would not be granted to private persons, but would be used to support a standing army. The king would then relieve the nation of taxation in perpetuity.

Again, this is not a new discovery. When Stone brought Coke's illustration to our notice some forty years ago, Elton dismissed it, suggesting that what Coke saw was a private project and that the proposals themselves were out of character with the policy of government in the 1530s That there is little subsequent discussion of a standing army may indicate no more than it was deemed to be politically impossible to bring about once proposals had

67 LP VII, no. 1482 (i), and see also his account in {ii) {of jDecember). R. W. HOYLE


been placed before parliament and rejected.'j8 It is difficult to make any definitive statement without sight of whatever it was Coke had before him; someone may yet recognize it.

The evidence suggests that a proposal for clerical disendowment was placed before one or other house of parliament in 1534, and rejected or withdrawn. If this is correct, 1534 may have seen the abandonment of proposals to confiscate episcopal lands; but the problem of the crown's financial weakness did not go away, nor did the events of this session of the Reformation parliament make the confiscation of ecclesiastical estates any less the solution to the problem. The determination to dissolve led to an examination of other roads to the same end.

One possibility which was investigated during late 1535 was for the crown to resume those houses of which it was founder and which had failed in 'numbers and duty', so combining the three tests of redundancy, size and commitment. Cromwell was assured by counsel's opinion that the king might do this and that the lands might be worth as much as ,C;qo,ooo. This was in effect a development of the proposal in the 1529 petition (and indeed Darcy's own notes) that the ends to which lands had been granted and their present use should be investigated. The legal procedures for such a piecemeal confiscation were well understood and had been utilized by Wolsey, but they were also procedurally laborious and it is hard to see that such an approach could have satisfied the crown's financial requirements.'j9 A variant on this was suggested by Thomas Starkey writing after the passage of the first dissolution statute. Here he developed the suggestion that the king as the supreme authority had a right to breach men's wills if their original intention was not being fulfilled. Where a monastery had fallen into decay and no longer satisfied the founder's intentions, the king had the right to revoke the founder's grant."

The strategy which came to be adopted involved a recourse to parliament and made use of the findings of the two sets of commissioners who had traversed England during 1535. The first were employed to make a survey of ecclesiastical wealth, the Valor Ecclesiasticus; this was required to calculate the clergy's tax liability under the statute of First Fruits and Tenths, but came to serve other ends as well. The other was a series of visitations of monastic houses authorized by Cromwell as vice-gerent in spirituals. The decision to undertake this visitation was made early in 1535, but it was not commenced until midsummer, nor finished until the spring of 1536." The aim of the visitation was partly disciplinary; the commissioners were to investigate the quality of monastic life and enforce injunctions for its reform. Some of these were

Stone, 'Political programme', 7; Elton, Studies, 11, 72-7. I am not persuaded that a standing

army was meant; were these to be garrisons for Henry's new fortifications?

68 Knowles, Religious Orders, 111, 291; Youings, Dissolution, pp. 40-1.

70 T. F. Mayer, Thomas Starkcy and the commonweal. Humanistpolitics and religion in the reign 6Hen;ry

VIII (Cambridge, 1g8g), p. 241. 71 Knowles, Religious Orders, 111, 221-3 is the fullest account of the methods employed.

certainly unpalatable. But they may also be seen as just the sort of code which the layman who wrote the 1529 petition, or Sir Francis Bigod, might have thought reasonable and unexceptional. The religious were not to leave the convent, nor admit women there. Sloth was to be cured by a compulsory hour of scriptural reading. They were reminded that the ritual life of the convent was but a preliminary to an interior spirituality. No one under twenty-four was to be professed. In a more sinister fashion, discipline was to be maintained by encouraging the religious to inform upon each other. Here was monastic discipline instituted and imposed by the laity.7The proposals of 1529had been given practical effect. And this we might suppose could have been the end of the story but for the continued imperative of finance.

Some historians have argued that the visitation was designed to soften up the monks, to make their lives so intolerable that dissolution would be the more gladly received. The visitors' meddling with the headships of houses might be read as an attempt to weaken monastic resolve by promoting pliable and subservient individual^.^^ This is perhaps to read too much into their actions. Given that they worked extremely quickly, it is hard to see that the intention to reform or undermine was a serious one. On the contrary, their purpose seems to have been to gather the most salacious and outrageous allegations of monastic ill-discipline, immorality and s~perstition.'~ Their methods were corrupt, their comperta worthless. Knowles, in his careful examination of the evidence, wrote how 'they [the visitation returns] cannot be accepted as reliable evidence of what at first they seem to assert, viz, the universal depravity of more than half the religious ho~ses'.'~ At least one contemporary discovered this but too late; in a letter to Cromwell, Norfolk referred to the 'polling and bribery' used by Drs Leigh and Layton in their visitation of the North and clearly believed that Cromwell was to some degree culpable.76 It may certainly be shown how houses condemned by the visitors of 1535 were found to be in good heart and of virtuous living by the commissioners sent to survey them in advance of their closure in 1536.'~

The parliamentary session of 1536convened on q February: by 3 March it was rumoured in London that the smaller religious houses were to be dissolved, and so they The bill was probably introduced into the Lords on 6 March; its first reading in the Commons may have been the occasion when the king appeared in person to commend a bill to M.P.s.7"rom the

'%nowles, Religious Orders, 111, 275-7.

73 Ibid. p. 278 and Youings, Dissolutior~,pp. 38-9 summarize.

'"t appears that the visitors sent to Oxford and Cambridge in the autumn of I 535 were not instructed to search out moral lapses. This perhaps gives some idea of the government's intention towards the colleges. F. D. Logan, 'The first royal visitation of the English universities, 1535', EHR, CVI ($991). '5 Knowles, Religioi~s Orders, III. 302-3.

'6 R. PI'. Hoyle, 'Thomas Masters' narrative of the Pilgrimage of Grace'. .;\'brtheiil Histov~. XXI (1985), 78 (letter of 24 hlarch 1537). . . " Knowles, Religious Orders, III, 308-9: his app. ~IIIshows the grosser instances of such discrepancies. LP x, no. 406. 79 The evidence for this point is uncertain and turns on a single unspecific letter; Lehmberg. ReJoiination Parliament, p. 227 : Knowles, Religious Oiders, III, 292 11. I.

296 R. W. HOYLE muddled recollection of Hugh Latimer, it appears that the bill was accompanied by a determined attempt to blacken the reputation of the monks, 'for when their enormities were first read in the parliament house, they were so great and abominable that there was nothing but "down with them"'.80 It is reasonable to suppose that this effect was produced by a selective reading of the visitation materials gathered in the previous months; a later and unknown writer, who made no claim to be an eyewitness, explained how

[Cromwell] caused visitations to be made of all the religious houses touching their conversations, whereupon was returned the book called the Black Book, expressing of every such house the vile lives and abominable facts, in murders of their brethren, in sodomies, in whoredoms, in destroying of chiidren, in forging of deeds and other infinite horrors of life, in so much as dividing of all the religious persons into three parts, two of these parts at the least were sodomites; and this appeared in writing with the names of the parties and their facts. This was showed in parliament and the villainies made known and abhorred.'l

There is no contemporary account of the visitation material being shown to either house of parliament, nor has the 'Black Book' ever been identified. But the evidence, once again circumstantial, does suggest that Latimer and the anonymous writer had the story about right. Their accounts are very similar to that offered by Henry himself to the Scottish Regent, Arran, in 1543:

it shall be first necessary that the governor shall send substantial and faithful commissioners, as it were to put a good order in the same, and to provide that they may live the more honestly without wasting of such things as they have in their possession...Which commissioners must have secret commission most secretly and groundly to examine all the religious of their conversation and behaviour in their livings, whereby ifit be well handled, he shall get knowledge of all their abomination^.^^

The preamble of the suppression statute itself speaks of the Supreme Head's knowledge of the intolerable conditions in the smaller monasteries 'as well as by the [aclcompts of his late visitations as by sundry credible information'. The balance of evidence is that parliament was presented with an expos6 of the immorality discovered by the visitation and was persuaded of the need to institute a reform.

The statute which emerged from this session touched the smaller monasteries only. Its preamble portrayed houses with less than 12 members as riddled with vice and immorality, stressed that their estates were wasted by ill-management and argued that despite 200 years of visitations, conditions had got worse, not

The very limited evidence for the passage of the bill is retailed in Lehmberg, Reji~nzatio~z Pallianzent, pp. 223-8. The unattributed chronicle of the reformation published by Professor Loades claims that Cromwell advised against proceeding by statute but the king wa? persuaded to do so by Audeley and Rich; it was they who drafted the dissolution statute and the statute establishing Augmentations. This writer also understood that the visitation materials were opened to the Con~mons. But it is not clear what evidence the writer drew upon. 'A chronicle and defence of the English Reformation', in D. Loades (ed.), Thepapers of George Pl9att esq., Camden Soc. 4th ser. v (1968),I jg-Go.

'l T. \I\1rigIlt, Three chaptels ~Jiettels relatir~g to the siippression of monasteiies, Camden Soc., old ser. xxvr (18431, 114. " Quoted in Knowles, Religiozis O~ders. 111, 204.

better. It conceded that religion was 'right well kept and observed' in the larger houses of the realm. The way to reform was to suppress the smaller houses and transfer their members to the larger houses, 'where they may be compelled to live religiously for reformation of their lives'. Given that the numbers of religious doubtless fluctuated, the act gave all houses with less than £200 in income from lands, tithes etc, to the king, the valuations being taken from the Valor. Only the heads of houses were to be pensioned; the monks themselves were either to become seculars or transfer to another house.83

The whole statute is devised as the solution to a persistent problem of incurable depravity in smaller ho~ses.~"othing in it could be read as a general attack on monasticism. On one reading it might be seen as a revival of the plans which received papal sanction in 1529 for a selective dissolution of smaller houses. It makes no mention of what we might take to be its real purpose, the augmentation of the king's estate. In this it is quite different from the preamble to the act which granted First Fruits and Tenths to the crown in 1534, in which the need to assist the king was particularly stressed.85 Nor is such a purpose indicated in the statute erecting the Court of Augmentations which followed the dissolution statute through parliament.

But this parliamentary manoeuvre, successful as it was, contained two fatal flaws. The first was that it conceded, indeed made a virtue of the satisfactory standards of the richer, greater monasteries. This made it hard to argue in the future that the remainder of the monasteries should be dissolved because of their spiritual and moral inadequacy. The statute admitted too much to gain too little and barred future developments. The second, simply, was that it could not be maintained that every house with fewer than I 2 members or less than L2oo in income was corrupt. To make such a universal claim invited every member of parliament with knowledge of a smaller house to deny it by citing his own experience. It was therefore an integral part of the statute that the king was authorized to license by letters patent the continuation of houses which came within the compass of the act. Nowhere is it stated how that power should be used. But it was an essential escape, for it allowed everyone familiar with a virtuous smaller monastery to argue for its continuation: it served to allow members to vote without conscience for the dissolution of houses with which they were not familiar (and which might truly be depraved) whilst saving those which they knew from experience were satisfactory. That this placed the government's actions in the very best of lights may be seen in the

s3 Statute 27 Henry VIII c. 28, conveniently abstracted in Youings, Dissoli~tio~z

of the mo~iasteries, PP. 155-9, \I\'Ilat the government wanted people to believe may further be seen from the preamble to a draft commission of aid for the commissioners. 'Forasmuch as for the extirpation and avoiding of sin used as commonly as detestably within the most part of the petty monasteries of this our realm and the increase and augmentation of good religion which with an inward zeal we desire. it has been thought to us and the [elstates of our realm.. . expedient and necessary to dissolve and suppress so many of the same petty monasteries.. . as a means also to cause the great houses to have more vigilant respect and regard to their professions than they have had of many years used and accustomed ...'. Public Record Office, E36/ I 16. fo, jor-v. Statute 26 Henry VIII,c. 3.

298 R. W. HOYLE way the clause was exploited for propaganda in Henry VIII's letter to the Lincolnshire rebels.86 The number of houses reprieved under this clause is uncertain. Knowles thought 70 or 80 or a quarter of those liable to fall, of which not all received letters patent guaranteeing their future. Mrs Jack suggests only half the 453 houses liable to be dissolved fell at this time. The matter clearly awaits resol~tion.'~In fact the exemptions authorized by the clause were sold for sums of about a year's income but sometimes much more. A policy of demanding very high sums may have been a deliberate move to put the purchase of a patent out of reach of many applicants. The licences were a source of income, but the inclusion of this very necessary clause meant that the crown was unable to maximize its income from the dissolution because it was bound to make concessions to some of the houses and the laity who petitioned on their behalf.*' The abbot of Wormesley (Herefordshire) agreed to pay &~,ooofor the continuation of his house and wrote to the earl of Shrewsbury seeking his aid to pay off the fine. In the event it was never paid, the house surrendering the following year, and this seems to have been a common outcome.*" How the decision was taken to maintain a house in existence is highly obscure. As the commissioners sent out to survey the smaller houses after the enactment of the 1536 statute were instructed to report on the moral state of each house, it is not impossible that a genuine attempt was made to distinguish between the good and the bad.g0 A letter to Shrewsbury from his London agent in February 1537 shows that the earl's counsel had spoken on his behalf to the Chancellor of Augmentations for the continuance of Flanesford (Herefordshire) where some of his ancestors were interred. One of them had also appeared before a formal sitting of the court. Augmentations were unsympathetic but had granted a month's reprieve, 'and further in no wise I could obtain, for so much as the king's grace has given sentence over it so that any suit to put it out of their books would not serve, for if I should so move it, I think it would do rather hurt than harm'.g1 In the absence of Augmentation's own order books, it seems impossible to proceed beyond this. Is there no case to be made for saying that the 1536 statute was a genuine effort at reform in which the advantage that dissolution brought the crown was but a secondary consideration? Such a conclusion would be remarkable in the light of the evidence for the prehistory of the dissolution where we see

Dodds, Pilgiimage dG'iace, I, 137.

"Jack; 'Dissolution dates', p. 161 : Knowles, Religious Oideis, 111, 315-16.

Knowles, Religious Orders, 111, 31 5-19,

Lambeth Palace Library, Talbot MS P, fos. 211-v {noticed in LP XII (i) no. 334) : Youings, Dissolution, p. 220 {account of sums due but unpaid at the moment houses surrendered). Knowles, Religious Orders, 111, 305. Lambeth Palace Library, Talbot MS P, fo. 37 (poorly abstracted in LP XII {i) no. 352). Mrs

Jack offers no date for the dissolution, 'Dissolution dates', p. 172. The earl bought the house in

the following year and had a licence to convert the church into a chantry to pray for the soul of

the king and the earl. LP XIII (i) no. 1309 { 12).

the government fixing on disendowment of the church as a whole as the means to revive its finances. We may also see the ambitions of government without the cloak of reform if we look at directly contemporary events in Ireland. Here the session of the Irish parliament which convened in September 1536 had placed before it a dissolution bill. This had a difficult passage because of the perennial antagonism between the Anglo-Irish inhabitants of the Pale and the English expatriate community and did not pass into law until October 1537. It contains within it no reformist justification, nor did it follow on any visitation to ascertain the true state of the Irish monasteries. Instead, it opens with a bald notice that the eight monasteries to be dissolved were granted to the king, and it contains no provision for the transfer of monks to another house in the name of enforcing a greater dis~ipline.~~

It may be helpful to recapitulate the thesis being advanced. There was, in less troubled times, much sympathy within the church for the notion that monasteries should be reformed by closing smaller and unsatisfactory houses, transferring their inmates to larger houses and directing the endowments of defunct houses to more desirable ends. MTolsey was about to embark on a programme of this sort at the time of his fall. The 1529 parliament probably saw an attempt to secure a confiscation of the lands of both the religious houses and the bishops. This mas almost certainly the central plank of an 'anticlerical' attack on the church which looked to disendojvment as a means of separating the clergy from the world and returning them to a more holy and primitive condition. And this remained an ideal to which many could subscribe. No one. however, can be found advocating the comprehensive dissolution which jvas completed in 1540.Indeed, Starkey's letter to Henry VIII of 1536shows how removed from the reformers' aspirations was the first dissolution statute." By 1534 a confiscation of ecclesiastical lands was seen as necessary to augment the income of the crown and provide for the more adequate defence of the realm. A proposal to disendow both bishops and monks was placed before parliament in late 1534 and rejected. In March 1536 parliament was presented with evidence of the depravity of the smaller houses and agreed to their dissolution, the religious transferring to larger houses, with a proviso for the continuation of the more satisfactory smaller houses. In this way something of the financial needs of 1534mas dressed up in the reformist guise of I 529. Lip service was still being paid to the ideal of reform as late as 1539 when the statute to create bishoprics -an obvious sop to those unhappy with the parallel general dissolution statute -spoke of the 'slouthful and ungodly

92 For the text of the statute, The statutes at largepassed in theparliaments held in Dublin, 131e1786 (Dublin, I 786), I, I 27-32 and see B. Bradshaw, The dissolution of the religious orders in Ireland under Henry VIII (Cambridge, 1974), chs. 2-4.

93 S.J. Herrtage. England in the rezgn of Henry the Ezghth, Early English Text Soc., extra ser. XXXII ( 1888).1i~~-lix.

30° R.W. HOYLE

life' which had been used by the religious, and the benefits which would accrue from their conversion 'to better use'.94

But the failure in I 534 showed how unpersuasive was the crown's claim to the lands of the church on grounds of financial expediency, and the statute of I 536, by conceding that the larger houses were satisfactory, closed the door on their confiscation by statute. Otherwise the only way to achieve the ambitions of 1534 was to proceed without statutory authority, to persuade houses one by one to surrender up their property in a private contract made between each house and the king's roving commissioners." The first house to meet its end in this fashion was Furness in April 1537.'~ In 1539 parliament was invited to consent to these 'voluntary' surrenders of houses which it would most certainly never have agreed to legislate out of existence. It was faced with a

fait accompli, as may be seen if the preamble to the second dissolution statute is read; like the Irish statute of 1537, it offers no justification whatsoever for the surrenders, it neither alleges the corruption of the monastic life nor the need to augment the king's revenues. This was an outcome which few desired; few felt sufficient animosity to monastic houses to seek their wholesale disappearance.

A parallel might be drawn with the treatment of episcopal estates. A few individuals still floated plans for episcopal disendowment, but the moment had clearly passed when such a radical notion could be contemplated. The dissolution of the monasteries gave the king a new freedom in that he had a much larger landed estate with which to play and from I 536 (Cranmer and Bishop Rugge of Norwich being the first victims), episcopal estates were remodelled by exchanges with the crown. Even these early exchanges were as much for the benefit of government officials and courtiers as the crown. They were rarely, if ever, to the advantage of the bishop. A statutory disendowment was obviously judged to be out of reach, and in its place the crown chose to profit by bullying bishops, one by one, to enter into 'voluntary' agreements to part with the more desirable parts of their estates for a pottage of smaller manors (and in the ~gqos, spirit~alities).~~

The argument turns on a reading of some obscure and ill-documented corners of parliamentary history. It assumes a parliament, particularly a Commons, which was truculent and unwilling to accept unconditionally the demands placed upon it. Would the Reformation parliament have rejected the proposals contained in the 'Things to be moved for the king's highness'? Quite possibly. In its 1532 session it refused the proposals on uses and only accepted the bill for the conditional restraint on annates when Henry insisted on a division (the conditional element having itself been inserted to ease the passage of the bill through the Lords). It seems likely that in the same session the

31 Henry VIII c. 9. Dr Harriss has suggested to me that the Commons may have acceded

to the statute at a moment when royal expenditure was very high, and so traded monasteries

against a demand for additional subsidies.

'' Houses unamenable to pressure could have their lands seized by the indictment of their heads for treason. 96 Knowles, Reli~iousOrdeis, 111, 332-3.

'' The authoritative study is Heal, Of p~dates and princes, ch. 5.

Commons refused to grant a subsidy." The history of the dissolution, as I ha~e outlined it here, comes to look like the chequered history of another piece of Henrician legislation with financial implications, the Statute of Uses. Here too the early proposals were rejected by parliament. Again, the pace was forced by extra-parliamentary means, in this case the securing of a favourable judgement in Dacre's case." Moreover, the reluctance with which parliament interfered in the endowments of the church can be seen at a later date when the Commons accepted the first chantries act only on a division (1545) and voted do~vn the second statute (I j47), forcing its reintroduction in an amended form.loO There is nothing inherently improbable about a major and radical proposal for the reconstruction of crown finance failing in parliament in the 1530s.

The problem is essentially one of sources. For Elizabeth, James 1 and Charles I we have the luxury of the official journals, pri~ ate diaries and even correspondence by and amongst members. For Henry's reign the sources are sparse -no journals, no diaries, virtually no correspondence. Indeed, the prime source for the history of the Reformation parliament is probably its statutes. The consequence of this disparity is that the later monarchs often seem poor parliamentary managers, opposed in the Commons or Lords from time to time (even if that opposition was sometimes engineered in the council). If such things happened in Henry VIII's reign, we cannot know. Instead, a concentration on the legislation which was secured can too easily lead the historian to regard the statute which passed as being that which was sought. This paper suggests that the dissolution which emerged in 1536 was not that which was sought earlier, and that parliament was as much a restraint on government ambitions as the tool to secure a rapid and effective confiscation. This analysis cannot be stated with utter confidence but it does make sense of much that was obscure. The Commons, perhaps both chambers, had to be manoeuvred into granting the lands of religious houses to the king. For contemporaries, such manipulation might have appeared frightening, even tyrannous; but what surely disturbed them more was the ready recourse to extra-parliamentary, even unconstitutional methods, to secure that which parliament would not give.


The manuscript printed below is a paper roll of seven sheets, stitched chancery fashion (foot to head). It consists of two texts, a copy of the 1410 petition to Henry IV (lines 1-52) and, after a line's space, the text printed below (lines 53-147) The clerk wrote his text with between lines (with the exception of

98 Lehmberg, ReJornzation Parliament, pp. 133-4, 137-8, 254-5

" See E. W. Ives, 'The genesis of the Statute of Uses', EHR LXXXII (1967).Professor Guy has now shown that the desire to profit from uses call be traced back to 1526.J.A. Guy, Cti1istopl~er St German oil Ciiancey and Statute, Selden Soc. supp. ser. vr (198j), 78-9.

loo Kreider, En~li.rii ciiantries, pp. I 68, 193-9.

302 R.W. HOYLE

the headings, which are single spaced) and with a I" margin on the left-hand side. On the right he wrote to the edge of the paper, which has now frayed with the loss of some text. The head of the manuscript is decayed with the consequence that the 1410petition is not perfectly preserved. Other than this, the manuscript is clean and legible throughout.

The text of the 1410 petition is not printed anew. It is headed 'A bill put to Kinge Henry the [c. three words missing] Englond in the parliament hollden [c. three words missing] .' The text conforms closely to that printed by Hudson, English Wyclzfite writings except for the omission of the short preamble there (her lines 1-31 and the significant excision of the words 'ne they [the clergy] helpe nat the pore comens with here lordeshippes as that trewe sekulers lordes shulden' (Hudson, lines 86-7), a sentiment at variance with the tone of the second petition.

In the text which follows, the text has been divided into paragraphs, and punctuation and line numbers have been inserted. Material in square brackets at the end of lines is conjectural; small sections where I have felt unable to guess at the reading are marked with [...I.

The manuscript was first described in I. H. Jeayes, Descriptive catalogue of the charters and muniments.. .at Berkeley Castle (Bristol, 18921, p. 300, but has otherwise not been noticed by historians and is published here for the first time, with the kind permission of the Trustees of the Berkeley Castle muniments.

j3To our moste gracious soveraigne lorde kinge Henry the viijth 54by his subgietes and comons, protesting that the meanyng of "this by11 ys not to hurtte the servys of God nor no good devoute "man that intendith according to the intent of their foundacion.

"Moste gracyous soveraigne, your highnes may some thinge by your high prudens persayve by the Sscontentes and moving here of what is the dekay of the nobilitie of your realme where on 59dependith the honour of your noble magestie, for yf your grace were but oonly kinge of preestes and "relegyous men, your kingdome were of small power to resyte [sic] the greate enmys of All myghtie God 'land hit be cometh not a preest to be valiaunte or warlyke, but to be symple of chere and lowe [ ... ] 62hartt and to delyttea in fasting and prayer & solitary stody, to preache & teache the woord of God and 63to gyve good example by their paynfull and chase leving. And where moste gracious soveraigne '"lord, your moste prudent & gracyous father of famous memory, hering & persayving the evil1 order 650f preestes that were furste foundyd & ordayned for perfeccion and to be myrrours to us laye people 66howe to folow the presepte of our savyour J[es]hu Cryste & to doo his commaundmentes as trew cristen men "oughte to doo, whiche thay dyd not, but usyd a cleane contrarye waye; uppon consideracon whereof, an acte was made for incontynency of preestes the furste parliament holden by his highnes, the furste "yere of his reigne, in whiche acte it was ordayned in the ende & ces, thay shuld be commytted to thandes '"[ofl thair ordenary, thinking at that tyme that their incontynent leving shuld be amended by th[at], "whiche approveth all contrary, for yf it were yll at that tyme. it is nowe moche worse & all vyseW2and synne

a 1.e. delight. 1.e. vice

ys pryncipally found in them. Furste in pryde, no man so prowd and wers then they be '3as it hath byne to your grace and all your realme openly apparaunte. And wheare serteine actes '"ath byne made for reformacon of apparell, it is evidently knowen thay have usyd lately suche '"apparel1 as hath byne nevir seen to fore & ces. And rnor somptuous thay have byne in every manner of 76thinge then evir was any of the temporaltie. For envie, it hath approved righte well their "envy and symony, for it is knowen righte well how oon of them hath laboured to geate the promuco[n] "of the other and to suppres oon a nother. For wrothe, ther hathe not byne so many heynows and 'gshamefull murders & felonyes doon in many yeres as hath byn doon in late yeres by preestes. For 80covetes, who hath approved them selff so inordynatly covetyse as thay have doon, for wheare it is 81well knowen and proff I nowc to be made that mor then the halff partt of the realme is in ther "handes besyde oblacyons, probate of teastmentes, selling of penance, with selling & scorssing of soules and other s3suche profutes that amounteth nere to a quarter rnor of the profutes of the realme, their insacvable s4appetites hath byne suche that they cannot be thear with contentyd but be purchasers of londs & woll s5have temporal1 fermes and other profuttes that temporall men shuld have by reason of temporal1 s60ffysys & jurisdicons not convenyent for spiritual1 men & ces. And wheare in tyme past a preest cowd [be] "contentid with a benyfice or two, now a dosen or xvj benyfys ys to letull to satisfie thair appetites & [one or two words lost] sshave so many tot quotes & pluralities that they be ever come with benyfes so abundantly that they cannot do sgthat [which] pertayneth to good curattes, whereby groweth many greate inconvenyence & decays & desolacons of th[is] 'Orealme to petifull to be understond. For slouthe, who hath byne mor slouthfull or rnor necligent & idell tha[n] 91tl~ay have byne in doinge of good actes, in shewing- of good examples, in preaching & teaching the worde [of] "God, in well spending of their v wittes, in fullfilling the workes of mercy, none so sloufull nor so necligent as [they] "have byn. In glotony, who is there to be found so voloptuouse or so delycate of their mouthes or so g"etull kepars of abstynency as they be as it is evidently knowen in some poyntes mor then is requesit [to] "be rehearsyd. In lechery, who is thear knowen mor lecher than preestes hath byne knowen of late 96dayes or who is theare that shall here a temporal1 man tell so bawdy a tale or speake of lechery "oppenly withowte shame then preestes and for keping of mens wyffes or mens servaunts or doughters contrary to the 98coma~~ndment

of Allmyghtie God rnor then preestes.

But now of late, moste gracyous soveraigne, they ha[ve] "byne dandelydd & made wantones as some delicate fathers make wanton their chyldern & gevith the[m] lootheir own appetytes & tull they fall to greate inconvenyence & so be your religious men made wanton, lolnoble men made bare & their harttes discoragyd for lak of that [which] shuld maynteyne them to doo y[our] lo2grace honour & your realme, whiche is in the handes of this personries afore rehearsyd & nloche more [your] 1°"race is not privy unto.

Wherfore it may please your highnes by the advise of your nobilitie of your [realme] lo4to reasounee parte of the temporauntys into your handes for a tyme as it is thoughte your grace may in [c. two words lost] losof the power of the greate Turk that so far invadithe the kirstyntie religyen whiche muste be s[ome] lo6tyme provyded for. And your noble men muste have wheare with to provyde for so highe a enter pryse 1°'to resite so greate a enmy, whiche can neX7ur be doon in a rnor gracyous tume for all your

1.e. know. Pampered, petted. '1.e. resume


pore lo8subgiettes wold rejoyse therof and that every man may have his porcyon after his honour.

In consideracon logwherof, it is to be thoughte by your excellent highnes & by your good & gracyous lordes ofyour realme llOsprytuall and temporal1 that thies thinges must nedes be refourmed; wherefor be it inacted [by] "'the kinges highnes & by the lordes sprituall and temporal1 & by the comons of this present ~[arliament] 112assembled & by auctoritie of the same that all jurdicons & ponyshmentes of sprituall persons so oqending] 'l3as is aforesayd be in the handes of the kinges highnes or of his dewkes, erles & barones & all the ""judges & justes of pease as temporal1 men doing temporal1 actes for the space ofvij yere & yf so [then?] l15that it be approved that Alln~yghtie God be better served in the space of vij yere then it hath byn [in] '16tymes past, then this acte to endure for evir & ces, And then they may leve a holie & a perfyte lyff as ll'thay dyd befor thay had this abundaunce of londes withoute mesuer & your grace shall greatly augement llSyour highe honour & increase your royal1 power & have the infenyte prayer of all good cristen people & ces.

llgh.Ioste gracious soveraigne lord, the appetyte & conseyte of man in amyttyng or disamytting, in alow[ing or] 120disalowing the good pretens of every creature is as it is applyed & taken, wherfor, it may lyke y[our] lZ1highnes that this pretens may be applyed according to the good meanyng therof whiche is co[ ...I '''the inhaunsing of your high honour & your nobilitie & the good men of your realme & reformyng the [ill?] lZ3disposed persones that applieth them self to doo contrary to their furste ordynance and [c. three words lost] 12%s to be regardyd what erysyes and what wronge opynyons hath byne usyd amonge preestes & men lZ50f the churche, that all realmes cristined hath had incombrauns by reason therof & ponyshlnent [hath] lZ6byne shewed uppon them for their incontynent leving, whiche is to be accomptid the hand of lZ7Allmyghtie God & a reformacion ys had in many realmes wherby your grace may have good presydence. lz8Wherfor most excellent highe and myghtie prynce to whome God hath sent all giftes of grace & victorie & fame 129most abundauntly & now tranquylitie & peas with all cristen realmes, wherfor now is best tyme to have 130in remembrauns the actes that your noble progenytours Kinge Henry the iiijth and King Henry the vjth intentyd l3'to doo, wherwithall your pore commons shalbe rejoysed, your grace greatly inryched & your nobilitie avaunsyd.

13'Be it inacted by the kinge our soveraigne lord & by the lordes sprituall & temporal1 & by the commons in this 133parliament assembled that all actes made in tymes past agaynef mortmayne londes stond in full 134power and effecte & all [specyall inserted] lycence that hath byne grauntyd by our soveraigne lord the kinge that now is 13'or any of his noble progenytors syne the furste acte made the xxvij yere of King Edward the iijd [sic] [may be examyned inserted]" 13'nota in Magna Carta capi'" xxxvjh & ces. Ther is many thinges to be consyderd in this pointe that 137muste be debated & ces.

And allso that all religious persons what so ever thay [c. two words lost] hath a [c. two words lost] 13'of londes or tenementes gevyn unto them for an intent and the same

* 1.e. against.

The reference is to the Ordinatio de Libertatibus Perquirendis of 27 Edward I (Statutes ofthe Realm, I, I~I),which provides for the issue of writs out of Chancery for the holding of inquisitions for religious houses who wished to amortize land.

The reference here is to the confim~ation of hlagna Carta issued by Edward I in 1297 (Statutes of the Realm, I, I 14-19), where cl. 36 forbids grants of land to religious houses which were then regranted to the grantee to be held of the house, and certain other forms of grants.

religious housys cannot [c, one word lost] 13'shew who gave them the londes and for what intent it was gevyn them & that the same int[ent] 140be trewly and dewly perfourmed accordingly & ces, then the same londes & tenementes to be restored l4'to the furste doner or to his heires uppon the furste request made unto them on payne of doble the value.

'"'And allso be it further in acted that who so evir gyve any sprituall promesycon, which pronlosyon 1431~ath no cure nor charge of soule or that may be convenyently served by a debutie and dothe present to 1"4any suche promosyon any other then a noble mans sonne or a jentulmans sonne, to forfaite 1"5unto our soveraigne lord the kinge x yeres profuttes of any suche promosyon & ces.

146M[emorandu]m, to inquere where upon the wlytte of ad quod dampum was devised and what ""parliament & ces.'

The writ nd qziod dainnu~n was sued out by religious bodies, etc. wishing to have a licence to buy lands contrary to the Statute of hlortmain, upon which an inquest would be held by the escheator of the county. For the procedure see S. Raban, .Morinzn~il legzslntio1l niid the En~lisii chzirciz, 1.27,5-rjoo (Cambridge, 1g8z), esp. pp. 4-1.

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