Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Foundations of the Anglican Church LXI

Peterborough Abbey Church,
raised by Henry VIII to Cathedral
status for a new diocese the King
Well, let’s leave Pope Francis and his critics for awhile and travel back to Merry Old England and the adventures of Good King Hal.  Or maybe not such a good fellow.  Where we left off the saga was in the middle of the closing of the monasteries. Just to recap:  If you remember, in the 1520’s, before Henry’s break with Rome, Cardinal Wolsey had closed down a number of smaller religious religious houses, transferred their members to more successful communities, and appropriated the endowments and lands of those closed houses to establish Cardinal College (now Corpus Christi College) at Oxford and a grammar school in his native Ipswich.  This was not a new tactic—the Crown had, with permission of the Holy See, suppressed a number of failing monasteries in the 14th and 15th centuries and diverted their revenues to other projects.  Wolsey’s right-hand man and leading disciple, Thomas Cromwell, had noticed the profits of this strategy of the Cardinal and after Wolsey’s fall had suggested this strategy to his new master, Henry VIII, in order to replenish the royal funds.   Henry was a spend-aholic. He was taking England from a back-water feudal monarchy into one of the leading Nation States of Europe, competing with both the Empire and France.  Henry was building up the Royal Navy—a task which centuries later would pay off in spades.  He used funds copiously as bribes and rewards to expand his influence on the continent.  He was pushing England into international trade and exploration for new markets and new sources of raw materials.  He also was relying more and more on the gentry and the mercantile classes for civil service and had to find funds with which to pay them or lands which to ennoble them.  Henry was very much the one who laid the foundation for the great Empire England was to become in the 18th and 19th centuries.  And it cost money.  At the same time he was spending lavishly on himself and his succession of queens.  Henry was into building palaces.  Some he would seize (York Place which became Whitehall, and Wolsey’s Hampton Court along with the Hospital of Saint James which still retains its name today as St. James Palace.  In fact, the Royal entourage is still called “The Court of Saint James.”)  Others he bought and refurbished such as Beaulieu and Oatlands Place.  Some were existing royal residences he rebuilt, remodeled, or refurbished  such as Eltham Palace, Hatfield House, and Greenwich,   Still others he built from scratch such as Bridewell, Chelsea Manor, and Nonsuch Palace.  Henry was also given to magnificent spectacles such as his meeting with Francis I of France in 1520, known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold because of the extravagance of the two monarchs trying to outdo each other in display of wealth.  Henry regularly traveled in great state—often by a flotilla of royal barges on the Thames.  He loved clothes and armor and tournaments.  In fact, there was probably no European monarch so spendthrift until in the following century Louis XIV, the Sun King, ascended the throne of France.  All this extravagance, whether personal or political, had to be paid for and the English Crown was particularly poor.  The sentiment in England was that “The King should live off his own”—which meant that the King should use the revenues from his own lands to pay not only for his private expenses but even for the Army, the Navy, and other government projects.  The Crown could not impose new taxes without the consent of the House of Commons and the Commons believed, as I wrote, that the Crown should live off its own.  So where was Henry to get money?  The Church had money—more money than the Crown, much more money.  How was the Crown to get that money?   Cromwell remembered the trick of suppressing monasteries.  In 1536 he went after the small monasteries—some of which were quite wealthy in land and revenues, despite their small numbers.  Monks and nuns were given the choice of secularizing with a small cash settlement or of transferring to larger monasteries.  The following year Cromwell went after some of the larger monasteries and gave handsome settlements to those who voluntarily surrendered their property.  This time monks and nuns were not given the option of transferring to other monasteries (Cromwell had determined to pick the monastery tree fruitless) but were given the settlement of an annual pension, sufficient for the monks to live comfortably.  Abbots and priors were given pensions far more generous than that granted to ordinary monks, pensions that enabled them to live as gentlemen of means, and this assured their cooperation in closing down their houses.   (The nuns had a smaller pension that was not quite enough for them to do the same, though it was presumed they would return to their families where the allowance would be sufficient for their maintenance.)  Neither monks nor nuns were released from their vows and thus were not free to marry (though some, especially among the nuns, did).  They also were expected to retain their religious garb (though few did).  Monasteries that did not voluntarily surrender were visited by royal commissioners and shut down.  By 1539 there were still a considerable number of monasteries operating, but these were either in more remote corners of the kingdom or they were some of the great monastic houses with ties to the Crown.  But even these were to fall.    Before we get to that, however, we need to look at a particular type of monastery and how Henry dealt with them and these are the Cathedral priories.
The medieval Church of England had a particularly unique tradition in which several cathedrals did not have the usual dean and chapter of canons but a monastic community that followed the Rule of Saint Benedict and was governed by the Prior (the Abbot being, in theory, the Bishop.)  Canterbury, Winchester, Ely, Carlisle, Durham, Rochester, Norwich, and Worcester were all such arrangements.  (Carlisle was not a Benedictine foundation, but one of the Arrouaisian Canons who followed the Rule of Saint Augustine.)    Typically in such situations, the Prior was named as dean of the newly constituted chapter of secular canons that replaced the monks.     Thomas Goldwell was prior of the Benedictine monks at Canterbury—a large house of 69 monks.  He signed the assent to the royal supremacy in 1534 which acknowledged Henry as head of the Church.  Monastic life continued as normal until 1539 when the monastery was suppressed.   Goldwell was given an annual pension of £ 80 and named a prebendary (canon) of the Cathedral.  (1539 £ 80 equals about $60,000 in modern currency, but approximately five times that in actual buying power.)  Winchester Priory had 45 monks and the last prior, William Kingsmill, was appointed dean of the Cathedral.  Robert Steward had been prior of Ely since 1522.  Although he had supported the validity of the Royal Marriage to Katherine of Aragon, he soon switched sides to Henry and supported the Royal Supremacy as well as playing an active role in convincing monasteries to surrender to the King.  When his own monastery was suppressed in November 1539 he was given a handsome pension.  Two years later he was appointed first dean of the new Cathedral.  Hugh Whitehead was Prior of the monks at Durham from 1519.  Like the others, he acceded to Henry’s supremacy.  The monastic community was dissolved in 1540 and he was pensioned but then appointed first dean of the new secular chapter.   Under Edward VI he was imprisoned in the Tower of London along with his bishop, Cuthbert Tunstall, for refusing to go along with the Protestantization of the Church of England by Archbishop Cranmer.     
Henry was not only into dismantling the monasteries—he was also into building up the Church.  While his primary goal in suppressing the monasteries was to enrich the royal coffers, he not only provided for the monks and nuns out of the revenues of the suppressed houses, he also used the monastic endowments to establish a number of new dioceses to provide good pastoral oversight for the Church.  Most of these dioceses were founded on, and from the revenues of, suppressed monasteries.  Dioceses were founded at Bristol, Chester, Gloucester, Oxford, Peterborough and Westminster.   Henry also moved the See of Coventry to Lichfield.    Other than Lichfield, the new sees were all established in former Benedictine abbeys, except for Oxford which was originally established in the former Augustinian Osney Abbey and later (1545) transferred to Saint Frideswide’s Priory (Augustinian) which had been suppressed and then incorporated into Wolsey’s Cardinal College in 1525.  Peterborough Abbey was the site of the grave of Katherine of Aragon who had been buried there only five years before and so was saved from being destroyed or deconsecrated.  Henry was faced with an even greater conundrum in what to do with Westminster Abbey which had been the site of English coronations for almost five centuries.  Henry may have been willing to break continuity with the papacy, but not when it came to his Crown and its traditions.  He had a superstitious urgency to preserve any and all symbols of Royal legitimacy and Westminster Abbey was central to this.  Westminster Abbey was also the second wealthiest religious house in England.  The monastic community was suppressed in 1539 and in 1540 Henry took the city of Westminster and the county of Middlesex from the Diocese of London to create the Diocese of Westminster.  Thomas Thirlby, a churchman loyal to Henry was named bishop and William Benson (sometimes Boston), the former monastic prior, was named Dean of a chapter of 12 canons drawn mostly from the monks.  The idea of a Diocese of Westminster was only to preserve a reason for the Abbey Church to be preserved and was neither pastorally useful nor economically feasible.  The Diocese was suppressed in the reign of King Edward VI.  The Abbey was left impoverished of its revenues and almost destroyed by the greed of the Duke of Somerset, the uncle of King Edward VI and “Lord Protector of England” in the King’s minority.  The Church was restored to abbatial status during the reign of Mary and then under Elizabeth became a “royal peculiar”—directly under the Crown who appoints the dean and canons.  It remains that way today as a Collegiate Church (a church with a college of canons led by the dean) under the Crown.   

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