Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/512

This page needs to be proofread.




of the Act was briefly this: the king was ill satisfied with the actual results of what he had thought would prove a veritable gold mine. Personally, perhaps, he had not gained as nuu'h as he had hoped for from the dissolutions which had taken place. The properly of the monks somehow seemed curscil by its origin; it passed from his control by a t housand-and-one chan- nels, and he was soon thirsting for a greater i)rize, which, as the event showed, he was equally unable to guard for his own uses. By his instnirlions, visitors were once more set in motion against the larger ab- beys, in which, according to the Act of 1530, reUgion was "right well kept and obser\ed ". Not having received anj' mandate from Parliament to authorize the exten- sion of their proceedings, the royal agents, eager to win a place in his favour, were l)u.-i\- U]) and down the country, cajoling, coercing, commanding, and threat- ening the members of the religious houses in order to force them to give up their monasteries unto the Iving's Majesty. As Dr. Gairdner puts it: "by vari- ous arts and means the heads of these establishments were induced to surrender, and occasionally when an abbot was found, as in the case of Woburn, to have committed treason in the sense of the recent statutes, the house (by a stretch of the tyrannical laws) was forfeited to the king by his attainder. But attain- ders were certainly the exception, surrenders being the general rule".

The autumn of 1537 saw the beginning of the fall of the friaries in England. For some reason, jjossibly because of their poverty, they had not been brought under the Act of 1536. For a year after the "Pil- grimage of Grace" few dissolutions of houses, other than those which came to the king by the attainder of their superiors, are recorded. AS'ith the feast of St. Michael, 1537, however, besides the convents of friars the work of securing, by some means or other, the sur- render of the greater houses went on rapidly. The in- structions given to the royal agents are clear. They were, by all methods known to them, to get the re- ligious "willingly to consent and agree" to their own extinction. It was only when they found "any of the Baid heads and convents, so appointed to be dissolved, 60 wilful and obstinate that they would in no wise" agree to sign and seal their own death-warrant, that the commissioners were authorized by Henry's in- structions to "take possession of the house" and prop- erty by force. And, whilst thus engaged, the royal agents were ordered to declare that the king had no design whatsoever upon the monastic property or sys- tem as such, or any desire to secure the total suppres- sion of the religious houses. They were instructed at all costs to put a stop to such rumours, which were naturally rife all over the country at this time. This they did; and the unscrupulous Dr. Laj'ton declared that he had told the people everywhere that "in this they utterly slandered the King their natural lord". He bade them not to believe such reports; and he ' ' commanded t he abbots and priors to set in the stocks ' ' such as related such untrue things. It was, however, as may be imagined, hard enough to suppress the ru- mour whilst the actual thing was going on. In 1538 and 1539 some 1.50 mona.steries of men appear to have signed away their corporate existence and their property, and by a formal deed handed over all rights to the king.

When the work had progressed sufficiently the new Parliament, which met in .4pril, 1.539, after observing that divers abbots and others had yielded up their houses to the king, "without constraint, coercion, or compulsion", confirmed these surrenders and vested all monastic property thus obtained in the Crown. Finally, in the autumn of year. Henry's triumph over the mon.ostic orders was completed by the hor- rible deaths for constnictive treason of the three great Abbots of Glastonbur>', Colchester, and Read- ing. And so, as one writer has said, "before the win-

ter of 1540 had set in, the hist of the abbeys had been added to the ruins with which the land was strewn from one end to the other".

It isdillicult, of course, to estimate the exact number of religious and religious houses suppressed at this time in England. Put ting all sources of information together, it seems that the monks and rigulnr cancms expelled from the greater monasteries were about ;52()() in num- ber; the friars, ISOO; and the nuns, 151)0. If to these should be added the number of those affected by the first .\ct of Parliament, it is probably not far from the truth to say that the number of religious men and women expelled from their homes by the suppression were, in round numbers, about SOOO. Besides these, of course, there were probably more than ten times that number of people turned adrift who were their dependents, or otherwise obtained a living in their service.

If it is difficult to determine, with any certainty, the number of the religious in monastic England at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, it is still more so to give any accurate estimate of the property involved. Speed calculated the annual value of the entire property, which passed into Henry's hands at some £171,312 4s. 354d. Other valuations have placed it at a higher figure, so that a modern calcula- tion of the annual value at £200,000, or some £2,000,- 000 of present-day money, is probably not excessive. Hence, as a rough calculation, it may be taken that at the fall of the monasteries an income of about two mil- lion pounds sterling a year, of the present money value, was taken from the Church and the poor and transferred to the royal purse.

It may, however, be at once stated that Henry evi- dently never derived anything like such a sum from the transaction. The capital value was so dimin- ished by gratuitous grants, sales of lands at nominal values, and in numerous other ways, that in fact, for the eleven years from 1536 to 1547, the Augmentation Office accounts show that the king only drew an average yearly income of £37,000, or £370,000 of present-day money, from property whiuh, in the hands of the monks, had probably produced five times the amount. As far as can be gathered from the ac- counts still extant, the total receipts of the king from the monastic confiscations from April, 1536, to Mich- aelmas, 1547, was about thirteen million and a half of present-day money, to which must be added about a million sterUng, the melting value of the monastic plate. Of this sum, leaving out of calculation the plate and jewels, not quite three millions were spent by the king personally; £600,000 was spent upon the royal palaces, and nearly half a million on the house- hold of the Prince of Wales. More than five millions sterling are accounted for under the head of war ex- penses, and nearly £700,000 were .spent on coast de- fence. Pensions to religious persons account for £330,000; and one curious item of £6000 is entered as spent "to secure the surrender of the Abbey of Abing- don."

Gasquet, Henry VIII and the English Monasteries (London, 1899) ; Idem. Overlooked Testimonies to the Charaeter o/ the English Monasteries in Dublin Review (April, 1S94) ; Dixon, History of the Church of Enaland. I, II; Gairdner, The Church in the Sixteenth Century (London, 1902) ; Idem, Calendar of State Papers of Henry VIII. vols, for lS27-iO and Introductions: Idem, LoUardy and the Reformation in England (London, 1908); Letters relating to the Suppression of the Monasteries, ed Wright (Camden Society, London. 1843); Archbold, The Somerset Religious Houses in Cambridge Historical Essays, no. 6 (1892); Mannino, Hmry VIII and the English Monasteries in Dublin Rraew (April. 1888); Idem. Henry VIII and the Supvression of the Greater Mon- asteries in Dublin Review (April. 1889) ; .Spence, The Passing of the Monk in Quarterly Review (July, 1895) : Cobbett. History of the Reformation, ed. Gasquet (London. 1896); Jessopp, Before the Great Pillage (London, 1901); Wakeman, Introduction to the Church History of England (London, 189B. 1898) ; Spelman, The History and Fate of Sacrilege (London, 1698, 184S, 1853).

Francis Aidan Gasqoet.

Monastery, Canonical Erection of a. — A re- ligious house (monastery or convent) is a fixed resi-