July 3rd – On this day in 1322, hundreds of needy poor people were crushed to death in a rush to beg food and money at the gates of Blackfriars’ (Dominican) Priory.
The Blackfriars’ was one of a number of monastic houses established in London in the early Medieval period, which altogether included those of the mendicant friars not only of the Dominican order (the Black Friars) but also of the Carmelite and Franciscan orders (the White and Grey Friars, respectively); the hermit monks and nuns of the Benedictine, Cluniac and Carthusian orders; the monk- and nun- like regular and friar-like secular canons and canonesses of the Augustinan order(s); and the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. The monastic houses came to dominate not only the religious life, but also the philosophical and indeed even the physical life of the City, becoming wealthy and powerful in the process, and making many enemies as well as friends.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in 1536-40 essentially resulted in the appropriation by the Crown of all the monastic houses in England, Wales and Ireland, of which there were several hundred, and of all of their assets (monastic houses in Scotland were annexed by the Scottish King, James VI, in 1587). The smaller houses, with incomes of less than £200 per year, as evaluated by the Valor Ecclestiacus, were dissolved under The Act for the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries of 1536; the larger ones, by The Act for the Dissolution of the Greater Monasteries of 1539. After the Dissolution, the assets of the monastic houses were disbursed, under the auspices of Henry’s Vicar-General and Vice-Regent in Spirituals Thomas Cromwell, and his Court of Augmentations.
In London, the change in land ownership and usage is evident in the marked contrast between the map of 1520, from before the event, and the “Copper Plate” one of 1556-8, the “Agas” one of 1561-70, and the Braun and Hogenberg one of 1572 (*), from after the event. Many of the former monastic properties evidently became parish churches, hospitals, orphanages or schools, or combinations thereof, or Inns of Court, or play-houses, while others passed into private ownership. Of the former monks, nuns and priors, of whom there were several hundred city-wide, and several thousand country-wide, most went to work in the newly created parish churches, although a still substantial number were forced to seek out entirely new ways of life. All were at least offered more or less generous pensions, although none of their servants was.
(*) The Braun & Hogenberg map was published in 1572, but still shows “old” St Paul’s with the spire it lost in a lightning strike in 1561.