Tag Archives: Dissolution of the Monasteries

To live and die in Charterhouse

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1101 of St Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian Order (of hermit-monks).

The Carthusian monastery, or “Chartrouse” in Charterhouse Square was built  in 1371 by Sir Walter (de) Manny, “a stranger born, lord of the town of Manny, in the diocese of Cambray, beyond the seas,  who for service done to  Edward III was made Knight of the Garter” (Stow).  In fact, the site was first consecrated as a burial ground for victims of the “Black Death” in 1348-9 (again as Stow put it, “A great pestilence … overspread all England, so wasting the people that scarce the tenth person of all sorts was left alive, and churchyards were not sufficient to receive the dead, but men were forced to choose out certain fields for burial”).

During the Reformation, between 1535-40, the Prior, John Houghton and six  Carthusian monks from the London Charterhouse were hanged, drawn and quartered for treason, for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the king as the head  of the church, most of them at Tyburn.  And in 1537, a further nine  monks died, or rather were allowed to die, of starvation, in gaol at Newgate.

After the associated Dissolution of the Monasteries, the site became a private residence, originally owned by Sir Edward North, the Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, from 1545; and then a charitable alms-house and school founded by a bequest by Thomas  Sutton, the one-time Master of the Ordnance in the Northern Parts and the richest man in England, from 1611  (the school relocated to Godalming in Surrey in 1872).

Remarkably, much still survives here from the Medieval to post-Medieval, Tudor to Stuart period, either in its original state, or restored thereto by Seely and Paget following damage sustained during an incendiary bombing raid in 1941.  Perhaps the most notable buildings, fragments of buildings or fitments are Sutton’s memorial in what is now the Chapel, but was once the Chapter House, dating to 1614; North’s Great Hall, dating at least in part to the 1540s; his Great Chamber, also dating at least in part to the 1540s, and one of the finest in all England, where Queen Elizabeth I more than once held court, at great cost to her host; Wash-House Court, dating back to the early 1530s, in the case of the brick buildings, and to an even  earlier part of the monastic period, in the case of the stone ones …

Monastic cell

… and the doorway to “Cell B”, in the Norfolk Cloister, complete with  its guichet or serving hatch, dating all the way back to the time of the original foundation of the monastery in 1371.

 

The History and Psychogeography of Blackfriars

Psychogeography was defined by its founder, the Frenchman Guy Debord, as “the study of the … effects of the geographical environment … on the emotions … of individuals”.

It can also be taken to be an exploration, often literally, on foot, of what it is about a place that evokes a sense of place.

In Blackfriars, that is history: inescapable; and inextricable from that of London as a whole.  History, or, as Peter Ackroyd put it, “chronological resonance”, or “time … moved or swayed by some unknown source of power”.

For it is here that London may be said to have begun, nearly two thousand years, or a hundred generations, ago.  Here, at the lowest point on the Thames at which it was fordable and bridgeable.  Here, on the comparatively high, dry and defensible ground around Ludgate Hill (and, a little to the east, Cornhill).  Here,  where the Romans  founded Londinium, on  the damp maritime frontier of their vast continental empire, with easy access to the sea, and the overseas dominions, and yet at the same time close to the hinterland and heart of England.

1 - Barge.jpg

Here, on the “lost” Thames tributary of the Fleet, where all those centuries ago a Roman barge sank with its fifty-ton cargo of Kentish building stone still aboard.  Here is why London is where it is.

2 - Royal Wardrobe.JPG

Blackfriars first came to be fully developed  in the Medieval period, when the first and later second Baynard’s Castles, and, in between, the  King’s Wardrobe,  were built here …

3 - Poulaine

… and when a fashion victim lost his winkle-picker shoe, or “poulaine”, here (that can now be seen in the Museum of London).   The first Baynard’s Castle was demolished after its Constable was found to have been complicit in a baronial conspiracy against King John in the early thirteenth century …

4  - Plaque.JPG

… and the land was given over to allow construction in 1278  of the Blackfriars Priory, one of the largest and most important monastic houses in the country.   In 1322,  a  large number – possibly  hundreds – of needy poor people were reportedly crushed to death in a rush to beg alms  at the priory gates.

5 - Provincial's lodgings.JPG

Remarkably, given its later history, precious fragments of the stonework fabric of the priory still survive, and can still be seen and touched.

6 - Legatine Court.jpg

Nothing remains, though, at least above  modern ground level, of the Parliament Hall, where, in 1529,  Henry VIII appeared before the Legatine Court to petition for the  annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, so as to enable him to marry Anne Boleyn.   The ultimate failure of the negotiations was to have far-reaching consequences for the church, and indeed for the entire country, of England, not the least of which was the Dissolution of the Monasteries, including that of the Blackfriars, which took place in 1538.

7 - Dissolution document.JPG

After the dissolution of the Blackfriars, at the beginning of what we now consider to be the post-Medieval period, its properties and lands were made use of as the King saw fit.

8 - Church Entry.jpg

The priory church came to be owned by his Master of the Revels, Thomas Cawarden, and part of it used as his Office.

9 - Playhouse Yard.JPG

A little later, in 1576, the Great Hall came to be adapted for use as the first Blackfriars Theatre; and, in 1600, the Parliament Hall, the scene of the aforementioned earlier real-life high drama, the second Blackfriars Theatre.  The second Theatre came to be owned by Shakespeare’s company, by then known as the “King’s Men”, in 1609, after the incumbent troupe of child-actors gave grave offence to the King, James I, during one of the performances they put on there in 1608.    Shakespeare evidently wrote some of his later plays, including “A Winter’s Tale”, “Cymbeline” and “The Tempest”, specifically for performance in the indoor arena of the “Second Blackfriars”, incorporating noticeably lengthier musical interludes, presumably designed to  keep the audience amused while the wicks on the lighting-candles were   trimmed midway through the performance.

10 - Gate-House.JPG

In 1613, according to the surviving Deed of Conveyance,  he bought for then princely sum of £140 a  “dwelling house or Tenement … within the Precinct, circuit and compasse of the late black Fryers London … ; part of which said Tenement is erected over a great gate …”, presumably as an investment.  What may once have been part of the cellar is preserved in what is now the public house known as the  “Cockpit”.

Essentially the entirety of Blackfriars, and indeed the greater part  of the City of London, was then burned down during the Great Fire of 1666 (the theatre by then already  having been closed down during the Civil War of 1642-51).

11 - Vestry Hall.JPG

The friendless church  of St Ann was never rebuilt, and the parish was united with that of St Andrew.

12 - Blitz

Most of what was rebuilt was burned down again during the Blitz of the Second World War, much of it during the so-called “Second Great Fire of London” on the night of 29th/30th December, 1940.

To walk in Blackfriars is to walk in history.  More than anything, it is to walk  in the footsteps of Medieval monks and lay persons; and   to inhabit, however briefly,  their spiritual as well as their physical world.

 

The Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-40)

Priory of St John

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-Gerent 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 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.

(**) Lest we forget, between 1535-40, the Prior (John Houghton) and six Carthusian monks from the London Charterhouse, two Priors from other Charterhouses, a Bridgettine monk from Syon Abbey, and a secular priest were hanged, drawn and quartered for treason, for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the king as the head  of the church, most of them at Tyburn.  And in 1537, a further nine monks from the London Charterhouse died, or rather were allowed to die, of starvation, in gaol at Newgate.

The lost monastic houses of London

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.

Bermondsey Abbey (chants, caught on the wind of a thousand years ago, can be heard here, still) - CopyBermondsey Abbey

Blackfriars Priory - CopyBlackfriars Priory

Charterhouse (monks once cloistered here, and offered up silent prayer, beside the plague pit) - CopyCharterhouse

Holy Trinity Priory - Copy   Holy Trinity Priory

Priory of St John - CopyPriory of St John

St Mary Spital - Copy       St Mary Spital

Whitefriars Priory - CopyWhitefriars Priory

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.

 

Austin Friars (and “Wolf Hall”)

 

Statue of Austin Friar

Statue of Austin Friar

The street of Austin Friars, off Old Broad Street,  takes its name from the Augustinian  Priory that once stood nearby.  The priory was originally built by Humphrey de Bohun, Constable of England, in around 1253, the priory church incorporating  the existing parish church of St Peter-le-Poer as a private chapel; and it was extended in 1354.  The priory was attacked during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, when 13 Flemings were dragged from its sanctuary and beheaded.  Many of the barons killed at the Battle of Barnet in the Wars of the Roses in 1471 were buried here.   Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Dutch priest, theologian and philosopher, the so-called “Prince of the Humanists”,  lodged here in 1513, complained about the quality of the wine on offer, and  left without settling his bill!  Miles Coverdale worked on his translation of the Bible here in 1529.  And Thomas Cromwell, the lawyer, banker and soldier, and sometime statesman, Vicar-General and Vice-Gerent in Spirituals to Henry VIII, lived here from the 1520s until his execution for treason and heresy  in 1540.

Surviving relics from Augustinian Priory under altar table of present Dutch Church

Surviving relics from Augustinian Priory under altar table of present Dutch Church

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538, most of the priory precinct came into the possession of Sir William Paulet, the First Marquess of Winchester, who built himself a substantial town-house there, which survived the Great Fire of 1666, but  was demolished in 1839.  (Cromwell’s house came into the possession of the Drapers’ Company in 1543, but was burned down in the Great Fire of 1666).

The former Augustinian Priory complex - as shown on the Copper-Plate Map of c1550 (1 - Church; 2 - Cloister; 3 - Cromwell's House; 4 - Gate-House)

The former Augustinian Priory complex – as shown on the Copper-Plate Map of c1550 (1 – Church; 2 – Cloister; 3 – Cromwell’s House; 4 – Gate-House)

In 1550, under Edward VI, part of the priory church was given over to the local Dutch Protestant community to serve as their church, “notwithstanding that they do not conform with the rites and ceremonies used in our Kingdom”; and the remaining part reverted to  being the parish church of St Peter-le-Poer.  The Dutch Church survived the Great Fire of 1666, but was destroyed  in another fire in 1862, rebuilt  in 1863, destroyed again in an air raid  in 1940, and rebuilt again in 1950-56.

The late nineteenth-century Dutch Church - as sketched by van Gogh in 1876

The late nineteenth-century Dutch Church – as sketched by van Gogh in 1876

The present Dutch Church

The present Dutch Church

St Peter-le-Poer was also  essentially undamaged in the Great Fire of 1666, although ash from the fire settled on an open prayer book in the church, and obscured the text.  However, it later fell into disrepair, and had to be repaired in 1716 and rebuilt, by Jesse Gibson, in 1788-92, only to be demolished in 1907-08, when the parish was merged with St Michael Cornhill.  Nothing now remains of the church at its former site, although the salvaged pulpit and font still survive, in St Peter-le-Poer in Friern Barnet.

Thomas Cromwell - as painted by Holbein in c1533

Thomas Cromwell, painted by Holbein in c1533 – a study in inscrutability

On a related note, Thomas Cromwell’s house in Austin Friars is the setting for a number of scenes in the historical novels “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up The Bodies” by Hilary Mantel.  The books have been adapted – by Mike Poulton –  into stage plays: utterly compelling pieces of narrative story-telling, clearing some of the sometimes confusing “scribble of mist” of the books, while retaining much of their evocative atmosphere. They have now also been adapted – by Peter Straughan – for television, with Mark Rylance playing Thomas Cromwell.

Statue of Austin Friar