Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/511

This page needs to be proofread.


MONASTERIES


457


MONASTERIES


refound some "in perpetuity" under a new charter. In this way no fewer than fifty-two religious houses in various parts of England gained a temporary respite from extinction. The cost, however, was consider- able, not alone to the religious, but to their friends. The property was again confiscated and the religious were finally swept away, before they had been able to repay the sums borrowed in order to purchase this very slen- der favour at the hands of the royal legal possessor. In hard cash the treasurer of the Court of Augmenta- tion acknowledges to have received, as merely "part payment of the various sums of money, due to the king for fines or compositions for the toleration and continuance" of only thirty-three of these refoundcd monasteries, some £.5948 6s. 8d. or hardly less, prob- ably, than £60,000 of present-day money. Sir Thomas Pope, the treasurer of the Court of Augmen- tation, ingenuously adds that he has not counted the arrears due to the office under this head, "since all and each of the said monasteries, before the close of the account, have come into the King's hands by sur- render, or by the authority of Parliament have been added to the augmentation of the royal revenues". "For this reason, therefore," he adds, "the King has remitted all sums of money still due to him, as the residue of their fines for his royal toleration." The sums paid for the fresh foundations "in perpetuity", which in reality as the event showed meant only the respite of a couple of years or so, varied considerably. As a rule they represented about three times the an- nual revenue of the house; but sometimes, as in the case of St. Mary's, Winchester, which was fined £333 6s. 8d. for leave to continue, it was re-estabUshed with the loss of some of its richest possessions.

It is somewhat difficult to estimate correctly the number of religious houses which passed into the king's possession in virtue of the Act of Parliament of 1536. Stowe's estimate is generally deemed suffi- ciently near the mark, and hesays:"the number of the houses then suppressed was 376". In respect to the value of the property, Stowe's estimate would also ap- pear to be substantially correct when he gives £30,- 000, or some £300,000 of present-day money, as the yearly income derived from the confiscated lands. There can be no doubt, however, that subsequently the promises of large annual receipts from the old re- ligious estates proved illusory, and that, in spite of the rack-renting of the Crown farmers, the monastic acres furnished far less money for the royal purse than they had previously done under the thrifty manage- ment and personal supervision of their former owners.

As to the value of the spoils which came from the wrecked and dismantled houses, where the waste was everywhere so great, it is naturally difficult to appraise the value of the money, plate, and jewels which were sent in kind into the king's treasury, and the proceeds from the sales of the le.ad, bells, stock, furniture, and even the conventual buildings. It is, however, reason- ably certain that Lord Herbert, following Stowe, has placed the amount actually received at too high a figure. Not, of course, that these goods were not worth vastly more than the round £100,000, at which he esti- mates them; but nothing like that sum was actually received or acknowledged by Sir Thomas Pope, a,s treasurer of the Court, of Augmentation. Corrup- tion, without a doubt, existed everywhere, from the lowest attendant of the visiting commissioner to the highest court official. But allowing for the number- less ways in which the monastic possessions could be plundered in the process of transference to their new possessor, it may be not much beyond the mark to put these "Robin Hood's pennyworths", as Stowe calls them, at about £1,000,000 of present-day money.

Something must necessarily be said of the actual process which was followed by the Crown agents in dissolving these lesser monasteries. It was much the same in every case, and it was a somewhat long pro»


cess, since the work was not all done in a day. The rolls of accounts, sent into the Augmentation Office by the commissioners, show that it was frequently a matter of six to ten weeks before any house was finally dismantled and its inmates had all been turned out of doors. The chief commissioners paid two official visits to the scene of operations during the progress of the work. On the first they assembled the superior and his subjects in the Chapter House, announced to the community and its dependents their impending doom; called for and defaced the convent seal, the symbol of corporate existence, without which no busi- ness could be transacted; desecrated the church; took possession of the best plate and vestments "unto the King's use" ; measured the lead upon the roof and cal- culated its value when melted; counted the bells; and appraised the goods and chattels of the community. Then they passed on to the scene of their next opera- tions, leaving behind them certain subordinate offi- cers and workmen to carry out t he designed destruction by stripping the roofs and pulling down the gutters and rain pipes; melting the lead into pigs and fodders, throwing down the bells, breaking them with sledge- hammers and packing the metal into barrels ready for the visit of the speculator and his bid for the spoils. This was followed by the work of collecting the furni- ture and selling it, together with the window frames, shutters, and doors by public auction or private tender. When all this had been done, the commissioners re- turned to audit the accounts and to satisfy them- selves generally that the work of devastation had been accomplished to the king's contentment — that the nest had been destroyed and the birds scattered — that what had been a monument of architectural beauty in the past was now a "bare roofless choir, where late the sweet birds sang".

No sooner had the process of destruction begun simultaneously all over the country than the people began at last to realize that the benefits likely to ac- crue to them out of the plunder were most illusory. When this was understood, it was first proposed to present a petition to the king from the Lords and Commons, pointing out the evident damage which must be done to the country at large if the measure were carried out fully; and asking that the process of suppression should be at once stopped, and that the lesser houses, which had not yet been dissolved under the authority of the Act of 1536, should be allowed to stand. Nothing, of course, came of this attempt. Henry's appetite was but whetted by what had come to him, and he only hungered for more of the spoils of the Church and the poor. The action of the Parlia- ment in 1536 in permitting the first measure to be- come law made it in reality much more difficult for Henry to draw back; and in more senses than one it paved the way for the general dissolution. Here and there in the country active resistance to the work of destruction was organized, and in the case of Lincoln- shire, Yorkshire, and the North generally, the popu- lar rising of the "Pilgrimage of Grace" was caused in the main, or at least in great measure, by the desire of the people at large to save the religious houses from ruthless destruction. The failure of the insurrection of the "Pilgrimage of Grace" was celebrated by the execution of twelve abbots and, to use Henry's own words, by a wholesale "tying-up" of monks. By a new and ingenious process, appropriately called "Dis- solution by Attainder", an abbey was considered by the royal advisers to fall into the king's hands by the' supposed or constructive treason of its superior. In this way sever.al of the larger abbeys, with all their revenues and possessions, came into Henry's hands as a consequence of the "Pilgrimage of Grace".

The Parliament of 1.536, it will be remembered, had granted Henry the possession only of the liouses the annual value of which was less than £200. What hajipened in the three years that followed the passing