A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1910.
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THE RELIGIOUS HOUSES OF NOTTINGHAMSHIRE
Almost every variety of mediaeval religious foundation was represented within the comparatively small limits of the county of Nottingham.
Benedictine monks were found at the priory of Blyth, which, though under the supremacy of an abbey at Rouen up to the beginning of the 15th century, was to some extent controlled by the home diocesan after a fashion unknown in most alien priories. Benedictine nuns had a small priory at Wallingwells. Those reformed Benedictines known as Cluniacs and Cistercians were each represented on Nottinghamshire soil, the former by the important priory of Lenton and the latter by the abbey of Rufford. The stern-lived Carthusian monks had a house of some importance and of early foundation at Beauvale.
The Black or Austin Canons had five priories, at Felley, Newstead, Shelford, Thurgarton, and Worksop. The White or Premonstratensian Canons had one of their largest abbeys at Welbeck, as well as one of the only two English nunneries of the order at Broadholme. The Gilbertine Canons were also represented in the priory of Mattersey.
The Knights Hospitallers had a preceptory at Ossington, with other property which they had inherited from the dissolved Templars.
As to the Friars, this was one of the few counties lacking a house of Dominicans, who had, however, settled close to Nottinghamshire at Derby, Leicester, and Lincoln. Nottingham had settlements of Franciscan and Carmelite Friars, whilst Newark had a small convent of Observants (reformed Franciscans).
The colleges or collegiate churches of the county were six in number, namely the great minster of secular canons of early foundation at Southwell, and the five later aggregations of chantry priests, leading to some extent a common life at Clifton, Newark, Ruddington, Sibthorpe, and Tuxford.
The hospitals or almshouses of mediaeval foundation numbered thirteen, namely five at the county town and others at Bawtry, Blyth (2), Bradebusk, Lenton, Newark, Southwell, and Stoke. In Nottinghamshire, as elsewhere, the story of most of the old hospitals is a gloomy tale of the peculation by masters or wardens of funds intended mainly by the founders for God's service and the relief of the sick and poor, so that the grasping of their funds, planned by Henry VIII and carried out under Edward VI, did but little harm. In this county, however, the exceptionally large proportion of three of these hospitals, namely Bawtry, Newark, and Plumtree (Nottingham), survived the various storms and are now doing good work.
It will be found in the following accounts of the various religious houses that there is an exceptional amount of interest pertaining to the history of several of the monasteries.
Thus Blyth Priory, in addition to the difficult problems connected with its rule under the clashing authority of the Norman abbot and the Archbishop of York, is of interest through its influence upon the trade of Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire by reason of the tolls that it was empowered to impose on all merchandise passing through the place by road or water.
The great semi-foreign Cluniac priory of Lenton entirely overshadowed the county town in matters spiritual, in the same way that the priory of St. Andrew of the same order overshadowed Northampton.
The story of the Premonstratensian abbey of Welbeck, on the verge of the great forest district of Sherwood, includes various picturesque incidents, such as the attack on those in charge of the assize rolls of the king's justices, when being conveyed over bad roads from York to Nottingham, or the insistence of the visitor of 1456 on being met at Papplewick, many miles south of the abbey, lest he should lose his way in the forest. Welbeck, too, as is but seldom remembered, was exalted in 1512 by the joint action of both pope and king into the supreme place over all the houses of White Canons in England and Wales, who were no longer to be in any way subject to the great mother house of Prémontré.
The special position and privileges of such houses as the Austin priory of Newstead and the Cistercian abbey of Rufford, in the centre of Sherwood Forest, have already been discussed to some small extent. (fn. 1)
Various visitations of the Nottinghamshire religious houses subject to diocesan control, as well as those made by special visitors of exempt orders, such as those of Cluni and Prémontré, are set forth in the following accounts of particular monasteries. Nothing that tells of evil or careless living is shirked; but the smallness of the number of grave charges, as compared with the numbers of the inmates, and the frequency of visitations wherein no laxity was discovered, compel every honourable and competent judge to come to a distinctly favourable conclusion as to the life and work of the great majority of the 'religious' who dwelt in the monasteries of Nottinghamshire, as well as to the determination on the part of those in authority to deal sternly with careless or criminal living.
Nor should it be forgotten that every order, whether under diocesan control or not, had its own system of visitation. This comes to light in Nottinghamshire in connexion with the order of Austin Canons and Newstead Priory.
As to the Comperta, or abbreviated charges of Legh and Layton, Cromwell's notorious visitors of 1536, their outrageous accusations against the religious of this county are instantly confuted by a study of the subsequent pension lists. For instance, the charges against Abbot Doncaster of Rufford were perfectly appalling, and yet within a few months of this report being tendered the abbot received a pension of £25, which was, however, almost immediately voided by his appointment by the Crown to the rectory of Rotherham. Again, in the cases of the abbey of Welbeck and the priory of Worksop the visitors singled out four in each house as guilty of vile offences, and yet seven of these were pensioned and the eighth retained in a vicarage! If the Comperta were true, the action of the granters of pensions and preferments was worse than that of the accused.
As to the pensions, they seem as a rule to have been granted to the superiors only of the smaller religious houses which were dissolved in 1536-7. Thus the Prior of Blyth was the only one of that house who obtained any pension, and the like was the case with the Prioress of Broadholme. The Act of 1536, which was supposed to extinguish all those that had a less income than £200 a year, was made an engine in over fifty cases throughout England and Wales for the exacting of all that was possible out of the monasteries by encouraging the smaller houses to contract out of its provisions by big fines; for the Crown agents must have been well aware that all were really doomed. In three Nottinghamshire instances this policy was successfully achieved. Newstead paid to the Crown £233 6s. 8d., Beauvale £166 13s. 4d., and Wallingwells £66 13s. 4d. for this short-lived exemption from destruction.
Many members of the suppressed religious communities throughout England received no pensions, and such was certainly the case in Nottinghamshire. Moreover, when once a pension was granted, the amounts were subject to deductions on account of all subsidies granted to the king by Parliament. A tenth part was withheld for that cause in the first year after the general dissolution. Two years later a fourth part was abstracted from the pensions of 'all the late religious persons having £20 and upwards,' and when the half-year was due, on 25 March 1543, the religious only received one quarter of the annual payment. (fn. 2)
There was also a definite reduction of 4d. on each quarterly payment made by the officials of the Augmentation Office in London, or by the royal receivers of monastic properties appointed in different parts of the county. The expense, too, of journeys to obtain the money, either personally or by attorney, was considerable.
By the time that Edward VI came to the throne a great scandal in connexion with not a few of these pensions became apparent. Pressing necessity, or the cajoling of unprincipled speculators, had caused various of the disbanded religious to part with their pension, securing patents or certificates for small sums of ready money, 'supplanting them to their utter undoing.' To stop this evil an Act was passed in 3 Edward VI 'against the crafty and deceitful buying of pensions from the late monasteries.' (fn. 3) By this Act it was provided that all who had bought pension patents were to restore them within six months. The same statute, to check the notorious arrears, ordered all officials and receivers to pay all pensions on demand under a penalty of £5; and if they demanded more than the legal fee they were to forfeit ten times the amount taken.
To secure the due working of this Act and to check further pension scandals, commissions of inquiry were eventually appointed for each county. The majority of the reports of these commissioners are extant at the Public Record Office, but have been very rarely consulted. (fn. 4) The following is an abstract of the Nottinghamshire report as far as it affected those driven out of the monasteries.
Sir John Markham and William Meringe, Anthony Foster and William Bolles, esqs., were appointed in 1551 commissioners for Nottinghamshire, 'for the diligent inquisition of pensionaries, stipendiarie priests and others.' (fn. 5)
They met at Newark on 26 October. With regard to Thurgarton Priory they reported of Thomas Dethick, the penultimate prior, entitled to £30 a year, that 'of him we can her nothinge.' One of the canons, Robert Cant, to whom had been assigned a pension of £5, appeared and stated on oath that he had sold his patent to Richard and William Hopkin for £13 6s. 8d. on 18 June 1547; Richard Hopkin produced the patent, stating he was unpaid for a whole year. Richard Hopkin, late canon, himself held a pension of £6 13s. 4d.; he produced the patent, and was a year in arrears. Henry Gascoigne, late canon, entitled to £5 a year, appeared half a year in arrear. Of John Chapnaye, George Dawkin, John Robert, Humphrey Dethick, Robert Warrington, John Ayleworth, and John Biron, pensioners from £5 down to 40s., the commissioners could hear nothing.
As to Worksop, the late prior, Thomas Stokes, produced his patent entitling him to £50 a year; his pension was half a year in arrear. Robert Starkbone (£5 6s. 8d.) sold his patent, 21 April 1548, to John Castlin, bailiff of Worksop, for £10 13s. 4d.; and on 12 January 1551 the bailiff resold his bargain to William Bolles for £34; Bolles produced the patent, which was in arrear two years. James Windebanke (£4) sold his patent to Peter Tailor of Tuxford for £12 in 1542; George Oxlaye (£6), William Meth (£6), Alexander Bothe (£5 6s. 8d.), Edward Robinson (£5 6s. 8d.), Thomas Bedale (£5 6s. 8d.), Christopher Hasleyne (40s.), Richard Ashelaye (£6), and George Barnsley (£5 6s. 8d.), appeared and produced their patents, all of which were in arrear. Thomas Richardson (£5 6s. 8d.) had died in 1551, whilst of Richard Hernested (£4) the commissioners could hear nothing. Several others are named under pensions, holding patents for small sums, but they are more correctly lay annuitants.
The prior and four canons of Newstead produced their patents; of the remainder the report is 'we can here nothinge.' Of George Dalton, late Prior of Blyth, the single pensioner of that convent, nothing was known. The prior and five out of the eight pensioned monks of Beauvale showed their patents; the other three appear to have died or their whereabouts were not known.
Joan Angevin, late Prioress of Broadholme, the solitary pensioner of that house (£4 13s. 4d.), 'appeared by here attournaye Charles Angevin who beeinge swarne and examened shewed unto us her pattent unsold and saithe she is alive and is unpaid for ij yeyres at Michelmas A° E. sexti septo the cause whye it was not payd the first yeyr none did require it of the Recayver and the second yeyr ye Recayver said he had a restraine to the contrarie.'
Of the pensioned Abbot of Welbeck and three of his monks, the commissioners could hear nothing. Four of the monks appeared and showed their patents; all were in arrear for a year, James Cassey had (accidentally) burnt his patent. In the case of Thomas Holme (£2 13s. 4d.), Henry Bentley, the attorney of Brian Bailes, of Wakefield, showed the patent, which Holme had sold to William Drake, vicar of Market Rasen, for £10 in January 1540, 'which Drake solde his interest to Richard Pimond for £13 6s. 8d. whiche Pimond is dead, so yt ye said Brian Bailes hathe maried the said Pimond his wife and hathe the sayd pattent in the right of his wif unsold and is unpaid for one hole yeyr at Michaelmas A° xxxviij H. viii, and for one yeyr at Michaelmas A° E. sexti sexto for he colde not recayve it at the Recavyer his handes.'
Thomas Norman, late Prior of Mattersey, appeared through attorney and showed his patent. Margaret Goldsmith, late prioress of Wallingwells, appeared personally, producing her patent; Agnes Fines (40s.) of the same convent appeared by deputy, but of Alice Coventry and Ellen Pye (each 40s.) the commissioners could hear nothing.
When the return of pensions, &c., was made in 2 & 3 Philip and Mary it was found in addition to annuities and corrodies that the number of the ejected religious of Nottinghamshire to whom pensions were then being paid amounted to fifty-one—namely five canons of Thurgarton; fourteen canons of Worksop; the prior and six canons of Newstead; the prior and seven monks of Beauvale; the prioress of Broadholme; seven canons of Welbeck; the prior and four canons of Mattersey; and the prioress and three nuns of Wallingwells. (fn. 6)