A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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3. THE ABBEY OF GLASTONBURY
Round few places in England has so much legend grown up as round the abbey of Glastonbury. The origin of this monastic settlement, which seems almost alone to have carried the traditions of the British church in unbroken sequence down to Saxon times, is lost in obscurity nor have we space here to discuss the many legends concerning it. Two British names are ascribed to Glastonbury, 'Ynyswytrin' and 'The Isle of Avalon,' (fn. 1) and under the former name it is referred to as one of the three 'perpetual choirs,' where the service of God was carried on unceasingly day and night. (fn. 2) The other two 'perpetual choirs' were Llan Iltud Vawr and Ambresbury, of which the latter appears to have been destroyed about 554 A.D.; (fn. 3) the settlement at Glastonbury may therefore be assigned to an earlier date than the middle of the 6th century. There is therefore little reason to doubt the tradition that Brent Knoll was given to the monks by King Arthur, (fn. 4) the victorious successor of Ambrosius, and the historic personage on whom were afterwards fathered the exploits of his legendary namesake. There appears, indeed, little doubt that this King Arthur and his queen were buried at Glastonbury, where their remains were afterwards found, as will be related below. The tradition that would carry the foundation of this monastery back to apostolic times, attributing it to St. Joseph of Arimathea and his companions, sent by St. Philip from Gaul, appears to be a comparatively late accretion, while the famous and beautiful legend of the Holy Grail is an exotic of still later date, coming, with much of the Arthurian legend, from France not earlier than the end of the 12th century. (fn. 5)
It is possible that in the legend of St. Collen (fn. 6) we have the elements of truth regarding the origin of Glastonbury. The saint is said to have settled during the 5th or 6th century at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, on the summit of which he met and conquered Gwyn ap Nûd, Prince of the Lower World, consecrating the site by building a chapel in honour of St. Michael. That this 'Isle of Avalon' should have been a sacred spot in Celtic times and should therefore have been selected as the settling place of one or more of the early Christian hermit missionaries, whose disciples gradually formed themselves into a semi-monastic establishment, is quite within the bounds of possibility.
Among the documents which the Glastonbury monks showed to William of Malmesbury was a charter which was then almost illegible from age and of which the characters were archaic and difficult to read. The charter was dated 601, (fn. 7) and was a grant by a king of Damnonia at the request of Abbot Worgret of the isle of Yneswytrin to the monastery there. The king's name was illegible, but he has been identified with Gwrgan Varvtrwch who in his earlier days had been a lieutenant of Arthur, (fn. 8) the victor in 520 of the battle of 'Mons Badonicus,' and who perhaps succeeded him in his rule over Damnonia and Cornwall. Malmesbury then tells us of two other Celtic abbots, Lodemund and Bregoret, and states that Bregoret was succeeded by Berthwald. Now Berthwald is clearly the Beorwald who was abbot about 705, and the three Celtic abbots were probably those who ruled at Glastonbury during the first half of the 7th century. It is moreover clear that to Malmesbury and the Glastonbury monks this charter was the one item of a documentary character which they possessed and which belonged to Celtic times. It was a link which seemed to suggest a continuous life for the monastery from the days of its Celtic foundation to the days of its vigorous existence as an English house of Benedictine monks. And however impossible this may seem when we contemplate the ruthless shock of the heathen Saxon invasion history supports the belief. (fn. 9) For it has already been pointed out (fn. 10) that the Saxons probably did not obtain possession of this district until after the battle of Bradford in 652, by which date they were Christians or at least were men who would not destroy a Christian sanctuary. King Ine is said to have taken and buried at Glastonbury the body of St. Indractus, (fn. 11) an Irish pilgrim making his way across England from Gaul to Ireland, who had fallen a victim to the lawless violence of some of King Ine's courtiers. He had turned aside to visit Glastonbury, and this he would hardly have done had Glastonbury lain desolate and deserted, but it is possible that it had already been refounded by Ine.
The earliest historical notice of the monastery of Glastonbury comes to us from the life of St. Boniface, written by his disciple St. Willibald towards the middle of the 8th century. It refers to the mission of St. Boniface to Ghent and the sanction given by Ine King of the West Saxons. Among those who brought St. Boniface (fn. 12) to King Ine the name occurs of Beorwald, who guided and ruled the monastery which in 'the language of the ancients is called Glæstingaburg.' The incident referred to here took place in the first decade of the 8th century, and therefore it is more than probable, as will appear shortly, that Beorwald was the first of the long subsequent list of English abbots.
Our next reference comes from one of the versions of the Old English Chronicle, and belongs to the early years of the 10th century. (fn. 13) In a note made by the original scribe in the Parker MSS. A. we read of Ine 'and he getimbrade thæt menster æt Glæstingaburg.' Our fullest information, however, is derived from William of Malmesbury. In his Gesta Regum he tells us under the reign of King Ine (fn. 14) that the monastery of Glastonbury, where was buried the body of St. Indractus, was nobly restored at the cost of the monarch. Five years later in 1125 appeared the 'History of the Deeds of the English Bishops,' and under the life of St. Aldhelm, (fn. 15) Malmesbury tells us that on the advice of St. Aldhelm King Ine founded anew the monastery of Glaston.
It is evident therefore that King Ine was definitely recognized as the founder of the English monastery at Glastonbury, and that Ine's restoration belongs to the period when St. Aldhelm had most time to consider the needs of Somerset and the West. It is probable therefore that Ine's refoundation took place when St. Aldhelm was Bishop of Sherborne (705–9), and that Beorwald began his work as abbot in the first decade of the 8th century. (fn. 16) Certainly he was abbot here between 705 and 712, and the murder of Indractus had probably occurred not very many years before.
Glastonbury therefore as an English monastery was founded by King Ine, and Beorwald was its first abbot. It seems at once to have entered into possession of the isle of Glastonbury, and Ine confirmed to the monks the estate of Brent, the 'Mons Ranarum' (fn. 17) which there is no reason to doubt had been given to them originally by King Arthur. In addition the monastery was soon endowed with lands at Sowy, Pilton, Doulting, Pennard, Polden, Leigh-onMendip, Meare, Beckery, Godney and Nyland.
We have one glimpse of the unrecorded quiet life of the place at the very beginning of its existence as an English monastery. Forthere was the successor of St. Aldhelm as Bishop of Sherborne and died in 737, (fn. 18) and Berhtwald or Brihtwald was his contemporary as Archbishop of Canterbury 693–731. How it had come to pass we can only conjecture, but Beorwald the first English abbot of Glastonbury had a Kentish slave girl in his household whom he refused to give up though the archbishop had apparently written already on her behalf. So Brihtwald wrote to Forthere, the bishop who had the oversight of Glastonbury, and begged him to urge Beorwald to allow his slave girl to be redeemed. The girl's uncle Eoppa carried the letter, and was prepared to pay the price of thirty solidi so that Beorwald should not lose by the surrender. The kinsman's name is English, and it seems as if in the incident we get a reminiscence of the days when King Ine harried Kent on account of the murder of Mul.
Our next glimpse of the convent comes to us in the life of St. Dunstan, and what we learn from it seems to suggest that Glastonbury had been ravaged by the Danish invaders and was only nominally a monastery when Dunstan as abbot restored to it new life and good discipline. Dunstan was born near or at Glastonbury, and was in some way connected with the family of King Athelstan. His education (fn. 19) was undertaken by some Irish pilgrims who had settled down at Glastonbury near the supposed burial-place of St. Patrick the younger. As a youth he was delicate and imaginative, (fn. 20) and a story is recorded how that in the delirium of some fever he escaped and climbed up to the roof of the monastic church and was found inside asleep and convalescent. The condition of the abbey was to him a matter of constant thought and regret, and he dreamed of larger buildings and many reforms. Dunstan is said to have become a monk under the influences (fn. 21) of Bishop Elfheah of Winchester, and through his friendship with the lady Æthelfleda, who had a house at Glastonbury, he became intimate with King Edmund (fn. 22) who probably in 946 made him Abbot of Glastonbury. His general work as a reformer and his subsequent advancement to the see of Worcester do not concern the history of Glastonbury. But his later work was certainly begun when he was Abbot of Glastonbury. He restored the Benedictine monastic system and is said to have built and strengthened a boundary wall round the monastic buildings to cut off the more effectually the conventual life from the gaze of the world. His biographer, the Saxon priest 'B,' says that there were two churches at Glastonbury, one the earlier, dedicated to the honour of the Virgin Mary, and the other a stone oratory attached to it and dedicated in honour of St. Peter. There seems however to be some confusion. When Ine renewed the life of the abbey he seems to have built to the east of the old church a larger one dedicated to the honour of St. Peter and St. Paul. There were also two more oratories, one of St. Mary, said to have been erected by St. David, and another to the north-east erected (fn. 23) by the fictitious British pilgrims from the north. What is clear is that the old church was the westernmost and Ine's church was easternmost, and William of Malmesbury (fn. 24) regarded Ine's church as the latest. If we imagine Glastonbury as Iona, Bangor or Clonmacnoise, it consisted of a series of beehive cells surrounded by an earthen rampart, the churches being larger and oblong, while the cells were circular and much smaller. Dunstan's reforms were probably in stone, and it seems probable also that he rebuilt on a larger scale the church of King Ine and inclosed in his new building the two small oratories which were to the west of it.
The work of St. Dunstan while Abbot of Glastonbury (946–57), was continued by King Edgar, whose memory was held dear by the monks. (fn. 25) He repaired and rebuilt the churches and cherished and raised up the monks. Dunstan as archbishop frequently visited the monastery and continued to direct the reforms, laying aside the pomp of a bishop and living as a brother among his brethren. To Dunstan and King Edgar were due an organ for the church, (fn. 26) a precious pall and a belfry with bells near the refectory.
For the high altar Edgar (fn. 27) gave a precious cross of silver gilt, of which a story was often told in later times. (fn. 28) After the fire, from which it had been rescued, it was placed close by the holy water stoup near the entrance of the church. As the monks went in and out they never failed to bow in reverence towards it. There was, however, a monk Ailsi who passed by it on his way to the altar without obeying the rule of the house in this bow. After a time, however, struck by compunction he paused as he passed, and this time he bowed his head. But to his horror he heard a voice from the cross exclaim 'Now too late, Ailsi, now too late, Ailsi,' and the shock was too much for him. He immediately expired.
Under Dunstan Glastonbury was not only re-created as a Benedictine house, but came under the patronage of the English kings. Edred made the sanctuary his treasury, and the increase of its endowments during the 10th century shows how popular it had become. In his life of Dunstan William of Malmesbury says that which probably is literally true (fn. 29) that Dunstan enlarged Glastonbury with monks and new buildings and additional estates. Three English monarchs were buried here in this century: (fn. 30) Edmund I in 946, Edgar in 975 and Edmund Ironside in November 1016. The first Edmund (fn. 31) died and was buried before the reforms of St. Dunstan could have been carried out, and the church which the abbot built was doubtless erected over his tomb.
One more reference to Glastonbury comes to us before the Norman Conquest. Cnut had returned from Rome full of schemes for reform, (fn. 32) and in 1032 he came with Archbishop Æthelnoth of Canterbury to pray at the tomb of Edmund. And ere he left the abbey he gave to the shrine a costly pall and confirmed to the monks all the privileges and immunities from taxation which they had already begun to claim.
William of Malmesbury has however no word of praise for the last two English abbots. He couples Ægelnoth (1053–78) with his predecessor Ægelward II as men who had squandered the estates of the monastery as well as some of its internal treasures. The rule of both, he says, (fn. 33) was harmful to the church, and from that time the affairs of Glastonbury went from bad to worse. It is certain that King William laid a heavy hand on the estates of the monastery—'quamplures ex suis commilitionibus ex Glastoniæ feudavit possessionibus.' (fn. 34) Malmesbury does not tell us of the losses but only the fact that afterwards the Conqueror relented somewhat towards this old English monastery, and gave back the estates of Podimore, Milton, Fullbrook, Berrow, Burrington, Lympsham, Blackford and Wootton. (fn. 35) The information comes to us however from the Domesday Survey of 1086. (fn. 36) Ægelnoth's evil deed was the grant of seven hides of land at Batcombe to his mother Ælfilla. Brompton Ralph had gone since the Conquest to William de Mohun or Moion the sheriff, Wheathill to Serlo de Burceio, and Kingston to Robert of Mortain. Maurice, Bishop of London was in possession of the church of St. Andrew at Ilchester, (fn. 37) and the king held Lodreford in Butleigh and Stone in East Pennard, estates that had T.R.E. belonged to the abbey. Limington had been bought by the father of Roger de Courcelle, and Camerton had been exchanged with the sheriff for Tintinhull.
The Survey (fn. 38) shows the manors of Glastonbury practically forming one huge estate in the centre of the county, stretching from Mells in the north-east to the right bank of the Parrett in the south-west. It comprised an eighth of the whole land of the county and amounted to 442 hides, and a tenth of the population of Somerset was reckoned as belonging to it.
Little is known of the Conqueror's first march into Somerset, but his action towards Abbot Ægelnoth shows how anxious he was to remove any chance of resistance in the county. (fn. 39) When he returned to Normandy in 1067 he took Ægelnoth with him, and thus he remained in exile until 1078 when at the Council of London he was formally deposed from his abbotship. (fn. 40)
He was succeeded by Thurstin, a monk of Caen, and though Malmesbury (fn. 41) writes as if he was not appointed until 1082, it seems certain from the events of 1083, which demanded time for the progress made in the new buildings, that Thurstin must at any rate have acted as abbot soon after the deposition of his predecessor. He seems also to have carried on his predecessor's policy for promoting the independence of his Order. (fn. 42)
He was a great builder, and seems to have set to work to rebuild the church which St. Dunstan (fn. 43) had erected in place of the three oratories east of the old chapel of St. Mary. He desired also to introduce into the monastery the improvements in ecclesiastical music which William Abbot of Fécamp had promoted. To this the monks seem to have greatly objected, and there was something very like rebellion in the abbey. (fn. 44) So Thurstin endeavoured to coerce them by calling in the aid of some Norman soldiers, the followers probably of the sheriff of the county, William de Mohun. The monks fled for refuge to the church and strove to barricade themselves within. Their efforts however were futile, the soldiers made their way in upon them as they fled for refuge round the altar, and that they might the better spy them out the soldiers mounted to the upper floor of the new church which was then being built, and thence shot their arrows at the cowering monks. One was pierced with a spear, one killed with an arrow even as he clung to the altar, and fourteen others were seriously injured.
Of course, such a catastrophe could not be kept secret, and when William the Conqueror (fn. 45) heard of it he ordered Thurstin to be sent back to his former monastery at Caen, and the ringleaders of the disobedient monks he distributed among the monasteries of England.
It is not very clear when Thurstin's exile began. It was probably early in 1084 if not in the autumn of 1083. Malmesbury (fn. 46) tells us also as a tradition that when William Rufus in 1087 succeeded his father, Thurstin, with the aid of his parents and after payment of a fine of £500, was allowed to return. He lived on crushed and wretched until 1101.
Malmesbury however weighs his character and metes out praise to him, bidding us remember not his rash indiscretion but his zeal and good work for the abbey itself. It was during his exile that the Survey (fn. 47) was made which resulted in the Domesday Record, and it is clear that Thurstin had been a good steward of the endowments. The property was enhanced in value under his abbotship.
Thurstin was succeeded in 1101 (fn. 48) by Herlewin, another monk of Caen, whom Henry I appointed as abbot. At first he seems to have been regarded by the monks as parsimonious, but afterwards, when he had realized the greatness of the endowments, he came to be considered as extravagant. The church which Thurstin had begun seemed to him to be too small, so he pulled it down and built a new one. He enlarged also the chambers of the monks, and is said to have received without the payment of any bonus any priests who desired to adopt the vocation of a monk. He was certainly a great benefactor to the monastery, for he managed to get back many estates which were in danger of being permanently alienated from the abbey, being held only on the tenure of military service, (fn. 49) Cranmore, Lympsham, Middlezoy and Pucklechurch being especially mentioned. Herlewin was followed by Seffrid, a monk of Seez, (fn. 50) who held office only for six years and in 1126 became Bishop of Chichester, and then in Henry of Blois Glastonbury obtained as its abbot one of the most influential ecclesiastics of the age. A grandson of Henry I (fn. 51) he was the brother of Theobald, Count of Blois, and became in 1129 Bishop of Winchester, which office he held while still retaining until 1171 the abbotship of Glastonbury. It was during his period of office that William of Malmesbury (fn. 52) was invited to undertake the history of the Antiquities of Glastonbury, and when his work was accomplished he dedicated his book to the enlightened and influential abbot and bishop. Malmesbury closes his narrative with a very brief note of praise for the learning of his patron and his great dislike of flattery. The history of Malmesbury was continued by Adam of Domerham, a Glastonbury monk. He gives us Abbot Henry's (fn. 53) own memoir of his deeds, the impression formed by his first visit to the monastery, his struggle to regain estates that were passing away, and his efforts to improve the monastic buildings. He says that he found the monastery in a serious state owing to the action of some of his predecessors. The buildings were ruinous, the monks in need of the necessaries of life, and the church deprived of many estates that belonged to it. There was a certain soldier, (fn. 54) Odo by name, who had married a near relation of Abbot Seffrid. This man had been made butler to the abbey and had been endowed with three manors. When called upon to produce his title deeds Odo displayed others that were forged and had been altered for his advantage. His crime however was discovered, and Odo confessed and Abbot Henry allowed him for life a small rent-charge on the manor of Ashbury in Berkshire, and on his early death continued it to his son Roger for his life also.
In his memoir he mentions how he recovered the whole, or portions, of the manors of Mells, (fn. 55) Brent Marsh, Moorlinch, Uffculme, Syston, Camerton, Ashcott, Andersea and Damerham, and he assigned the church of Pucklechurch to the office of the sacrist of the old church, the chapel of St. Mary which was called 'ealde churiche.' Henry however was remembered (fn. 56) for his important work in rebuilding the monastic chambers. He erected a certain regal palace which was called the castle and in addition he built the bell tower, chapter-house, cloister, lavatory, refectory, dormitory, infirmary with its chapel, a remarkably fine entrance gate-house of squared stones, a great brewing house and stables for many horses.
His influence availed to procure a papal privilegium from Pope Innocent II in 1136 (fn. 57) confirming to the abbey the estates that had been given, and among them the manor of Uffculme which had lately been recovered. Another privilegium from Pope Lucius II in 1144 (fn. 58) recapitulates the estates that had been recovered, and again confirms the monks in their possessions, and a bull of Alexander III in 1168 (fn. 59) reiterates this papal confirmation, so that no further loss should be incurred through the lawlessness or dishonesty of powerful neighbours. Henry of Blois died in 1171 (fn. 60) and was succeeded in the abbotship by Robert, prior of Winchester, a man whom Adam of Domerham classes with Henry of Blois, as a pair of bright stars which had illumined with their splendour the abbey of Glastonbury. Robert comes before us in reference to another attempt made by the bishop of the diocese to subject the monks to episcopal supervision. Bishop Reginald of Bath (1174–91), took an active part in the restoration of the church of Wells to cathedral rank. The churches of the Glastonbury Twelve Hides, i.e. of the territory that formed the original endowment of the abbey, had claimed exemption from archidiaconal inspection because of the privileges which the monks asserted had been granted to the abbey by King Ine. The Twelve Hides had certainly been omitted in the great Survey (fn. 61) of 1086 as never having paid geld, being, no doubt, exempt for some peculiar sanctity belonging to them. Bishop Reginald however induced Abbot Robert to place these churches, St. John's Glastonbury, Meare, Street, Butleigh, Shapwick, Moorlinch and Middlezoy under a special officer, the abbot's archdeacon, (fn. 62) and to compensate the Archdeacon of Wells in the surrender of his claim to them the church of South Brent was assigned by the monastery for the augmentation of his income.
In addition Bishop Reginald (fn. 63) induced Abbot Robert to give the church of Pilton to form the prebend of a canon's stall in St. Andrew's church at Wells and to accept the office of a canon of Wells for himself and his successors so that the Abbots of Glastonbury should become ex officio canons of Wells and so members of the bishop's chapter and his sworn subordinates. The monks when they realized what had occurred refused to consent to this arrangement, and the monastery was compelled to surrender the church of Pilton for the permanent increase of the endowment of Wells in order to cancel this arrangement. Abbot Robert died on 29 April 1184 (fn. 64) and the abbey was placed by Henry II in the custody of Peter de March, a Cluniac monk and brother to the Bishop of Albenga, a man whose influence at the time was very great at Rome. Peter endeavoured to insinuate himself into the esteem of the monks in order that he might be elected abbot, but for some reason, and probably chiefly because he was a Cluniac, they met his advances with scorn. He shut up the abbot's lodging known as the castle and on the monks objecting to this irregularity he is said to have compassed the death of several of them.
On 25 May 1184, (fn. 65) however, a calamity occurred which put an end to Peter's stewardship, and the monks' resentment. All the monastic buildings, except the bell tower which Abbot Henry of Blois had erected, together with the great church of Abbot Herlewin and the old chapel of the Virgin Mary on the west of it, were burnt to the ground. All the treasures, relics, books and ornaments of the church perished, and what seemed a yet greater loss, the tombs of the many saints and great heroes who had been buried there were reduced to ashes. One chamber with its oratory alone escaped, probably because it was apart from the domestic buildings of the monks, and thither the terrified monks fled for refuge. The story of the calamity as told by Adam de Domerham ends in a spirit of resignation and confidence. There was a silver lining to the cloud. Peter de March (fn. 66) died in the following spring. As this catastrophe had taken place when the affairs of the monastery were in the king's hands, Henry II felt a certain responsibility and set over the convent his chamberlain Ralph Fitz Stephen. (fn. 67) He increased the allowance for the maintenance of each monk and began at once with squared stones and much ornament to rebuild the ancient chapel of St. Mary. He then restored all the monastic offices and zealously and generously set about the erection of the great church to the east.
As far as possible (fn. 68) the cost of these new buildings was defrayed by the endowments of the abbey, and what was still wanting Henry II gave out of the revenues of the Crown. Ralph Fitz Stephen had planned out a good portion of the great church when the death of Henry II on 6 July 1189 brought the work of restoration to a temporary end. Richard I had no interest in the effort and was engaged in the Crusades. One church, however, had been completed. The work of rebuilding the old church of our Lady at the west had been carried on with remarkable activity, and whether or not it was actually completed, this beautiful specimen of late Norman architectureon, the site of the old historic chapel to which so many legends had already begun to cling, was consecrated by Bishop Reginald of Bath on St. Barnabas Day, 11 June 1186. (fn. 69) An addition to the chapter in which Adam de Domerham gives us this information is evidently an afterthought to safeguard the assertion of the monks that they were still in possession of the relics and remains of those ancient heroes of the past of whose tombs they were so proud. He says that the remains of Edmund Ironside and of St. Dunstan were found, (fn. 70) and this statement is perhaps true concerning the former but certainly not of the latter.
The death of Henry II in 1189 was soon followed by the appointment of Henry de Sully Prior of Bermondsey as Abbot of Glastonbury. His abbotship is memorable for the grant in 1191 (fn. 71) by Pope Celestine III to the Abbots of Glastonbury for the time being of the right to wear the mitre, ring and other ornaments of the episcopal order and also for the part which he took in bringing about a long and bitter quarrel between the monks and the bishop of the diocese.
It has been already related how in 1192 when Savaric succeeded to the bishopric of Bath he contrived also to obtain the abbacy of Glastonbury. The wearisome tale of appeals and counter appeals to Rome need not here be repeated. The election of William Pica as abbot in 1198 (fn. 72) came to nothing, and with the succession of King John in 1199 Savaric's position became unassailable. He was enthroned as abbot on Whitsunday 1199, (fn. 73) when a form of submission was signed by the three priors, precentor, succentor, chamberlain, almoner and forty-two other monks.
In June 1200 the former election of William Pica (fn. 74) was quashed, and Innocent issued a bull definitely uniting the see of Bath with the abbey of Glastonbury; and in that same summer Pica (fn. 75) and some of his companions unexpectedly died at Rome, the monks at Glastonbury being convinced that they were poisoned. Savaric seemed to have completely succeeded. The pope gave him a mandate to enforce the obedience of the monks and issued an ordinance (fn. 76) which should regulate the duties of the obedientiaries and the manner of their appointment.
The details of this ordinance formed the basis of all future discussions for a settlement of the controversy. The commission appointed by Innocent III assembled at St. Albans on 8 September 1202 and the result of their deliberations was confirmed on 23 September. By this the revenues of the abbey were divided on an estimate of sixty monks. The bishop, as abbot, was to have ten manors and the patronage of the churches on those manors, with the abbot's house in the precincts at Glastonbury and the house at Meare. The manors proposed to be assigned to him were those of Pucklechurch, Winscombe, Badbury in Wilts, Ashbury, Buckland, Lyme, Blackford, East Brent, Berrow and Cranmore.
In the late autumn of 1205 Savaric died, and Jocelin of Wells was consecrated Bishop of Bath and Glastonbury on 12 May 1206. Already in November 1205 (fn. 77) King John had written to Pope Innocent and to some of the cardinals and had recommended a restoration of the conditions that prevailed under Bishop Reginald, and very soon after letters were directed towards the same end to Pope Innocent (fn. 78) from the earls and barons of England, and the canons and monks (fn. 79) of Bath, Wells, Cerne, Muchelney, Sarum, Abbotsbury and Norwich. Nor was Jocelin averse to some terms of agreement.
In March 1207 (fn. 80) the pope wrote to the monks that they were at perfect liberty to present their claims, but in 1208 the papal interdict had fallen on England, and not until 1213 could the controversy be taken up again. In January 1215 Jocelin received from King John the patronship of the abbey. (fn. 81) It was the first step towards a separation, for if he was not to be abbot yet he would have an opportunity of making his influence felt when the time came to elect one. Meanwhile the monks drew up a series of criticisms or charges against Bishop Jocelin as their abbot, (fn. 82) to most of which Jocelin formally replied.
Matters dragged on for several years, but at last Honorius III commissioned Pandulf the Bishop of Norwich and Richard le Poor Bishop of Sarum to adjudicate. (fn. 83) Pandulf instructed Simon Abbot of Reading to act for him and during the autumn of 1218 these two commissioners sat at Shaftesbury and worked out the terms of the final peace.
On 13 February 1219 (fn. 84) William Vigor and Michael de Ambresbury, monks of Glastonbury, set out for Rome carrying with them the final decision of the commissioners, and in May 1219 (fn. 85) Honorius III formally confirmed the agreement. Then to show that he intended it to be final, he renewed the privileges, granted by Celestine III in 1191 (fn. 86) to Henry de Sully, to the new abbot to wear the mitre and ring and other insignia of the episcopal order.
The peace of Shaftesbury (fn. 87) dissolved at once the union between the abbey and the bishop of the diocese. He ceased to be the Abbot of Glastonbury. His right of visitation in the monastery was however definitely recognized and this was a distinct advance on the position of Bishop Giso. The see was to be permanently endowed with the manors of Winscombe, Pucklechurch, Blackford and Cranmore and the advowsons of the churches of Ashbury, Camerton, Christian Malford, Kington and Buckland. The other manors and patronage which Jocelin as abbot had enjoyed he was to hand back to the monastery, and he was to confirm the pensions which had already been attached to the churches of which he was now to have the absolute patronage.
The monks had gained their end but certainly paid dearly for it. They proceeded at once to elect an abbot, and after a period of twenty-six years at last they had in Brother William an abbot from among their own community, (fn. 88) and on 12 June 1219 (fn. 89) he was solemnly blessed as abbot by Bishop Jocelin.
Abbot William died on 18 September 1223 and Bishop Jocelin as patron seems to have put pressure upon them to elect Robert the Prior of Bath. The monks could not agree and they delegated their rights (fn. 90) to David the Abbot of St. Augustine's, Bristol, Giles Prior of the Carthusian house at Witham and William de Bardenay Archdeacon of Wells, but seem to have expressed a desire not to have Prior Robert. Bishop Jocelin however was behind the delegates as he had been behind the monks, and when these three seemed to hesitate Jocelin provided Robert as the Abbot of Glastonbury.
The work of Abbot Robert was certainly hindered by his unpopularity. The monks did not wish for him and only most unwillingly obeyed him. It was not therefore a time for any great building scheme. He added various pittances to improve the food of the monks (fn. 91) and he increased the allowance made to the sacrist of the chapel of St. Mary. This was now the only place of worship for the monks. The debt of the monastery called for serious effort, and Abbot Robert was already too old to undertake it, and in 1234 retired (fn. 92) from office and returned to Bath. The grateful monks made him an allowance for life of £60 a year.
Then the new life of the monastery began. (fn. 93) Michael de Ambresbury who, with his colleague and future abbot William, had gone in 1219 to Rome carrying the consent of the monks to the Peace of Shaftesbury, was the unanimous choice of the monks, and on St. Mark's day, 25 April 1234 Bishop Jocelin in London solemnly blessed him as abbot.
He began his work cautiously. There were the manors to recover if possible from the patron. (fn. 94) There was the large debt on the monastery to wipe out. With the latter he was most successful. With the former he availed nothing. Certain offices in the monastery seem to have become almost hereditary. One William possessed the office of gate porter and another Walter had enjoyed the office (fn. 95) of steward. Both these men he bought out and directed the profits of their office to the general interests of the abbey. Work was going on in the great church, and, if Leland's (fn. 96) remark that Ambresbury was buried in the north transept does not refer to some later translation, it is clear that at least the north transept was far enough advanced in 1253 to allow of his burial there. Towards the end of his tenure of the abbotship Bishop Button, who had been consecrated Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1248, firmly enforced his rights as patron (fn. 97) and the prospect of another controversy created the desire for retirement. At the end of 1252 he gave up (fn. 98) the post he had held so well and was allowed as his private apartments within the abbey a chamber which Thomas the prior had built, with the hall and chapel attached and the cellar under both, the garden adjacent to it and the manor house at Meare as a place of retirement. His successor Roger de Ford (fn. 99) was elected after scrutiny in which he was almost defeated by a brother monk Robert de Petherton, and was confirmed as abbot by Bishop Button at Wells on 9 March 1253. For six months Michael de Ambresbury enjoyed his rest, dying at Michaelmas next after his resignation.
Bishop Button in 1253 levied scutage on all the tenants of the abbey and as its overlord answered to the king for the abbot and all his dependants. Abbot Roger strenuously resisted this and his action was approved by the Crown. Soon after, however, when the cost of this litigation (fn. 100) was added to the debt of the monastery, Roger became intensely unpopular to the monks. The great majority of them desired to depose him and for that purpose in 1255 invited the bishop to hold a visitation. He had already (fn. 101) visited the monastery in that year and to come again, as Roger pleaded, was decidedly irregular. After service and sermon in the monastic chapel Bishop Button took his seat in the chapter-house and having heard the complaints of the monks formally deposed Roger de Ford from being abbot. Roger thereupon went out and bade his servants arm themselves and drive out the officials of the bishop, and while he collected his papers and valuables out of his private chamber the bishop dined with the monks in the refectory. Roger immediately after appealed to the king and left the abbey. The next day the monks requested licence to elect and chose Robert de Petherton as abbot. Then came the servants of the justiciar (fn. 102) and by royal authority reinstated Roger, and though the bishop excommunicated him the archbishop supported the king in his action. Then both parties appealed to Rome and after nearly five years, in 1259, the pope ordered Roger to be reinstated and provision to be made for Robert de Petherton from the manors of Christian Malford and Kington.
The appeals of Abbot Roger and his monks had increased the debt of the monastery and Robert's first work was to try and pay this off. His controversy with the bishop Walter Giffard (fn. 103) concerning the patronship ended in 1266 in a compromise. (fn. 104) The bishops do not seem to have given up (fn. 105) all their claim to the manors and advowsons which in 1202 had been assigned to Bishop Savaric. Bishop Giffard however and Abbot Petherton agreed that in future the bishop should have the manors of Pucklechurch, Winscombe, Blackford and Cranmore and the advowsons of Ashbury in Berkshire, Christian Malford and Kington in Wiltshire and Buckland in Dorsetshire and one knight's fee in Camerton and should give up all claims to the manors of Ashbury, Badbury, Kington, Christian Malford, Buckland and Meare.
On 31 March 1274 Abbot Petherton (fn. 106) died, and immediately the monastery was seized by the bailiffs of the bishop and soon after by the escheator of the Crown. (fn. 107) It was a definite issue between the Crown and the bishop and the monastery could stand aside and wait the issue.
Robert of Petherton had soon after the accession of Edward I in 1272 informed King Edward of the opinion (fn. 108) of the abbey on the question of the patronship, and just before his death the monks had received a royal mandate forbidding them in case of a vacancy of the abbotship to receive a licence to elect from any one but the king. When therefore rumour had reached Wells that Abbot Petherton was dead (fn. 109) the seneschal and the bailiff of the bishop and the Dean of Wells came over to make inquiries. The king however issued his congé d'élire and John de Taunton was elected abbot. The bishop naturally appealed and the archbishop quashed the election but provided John de Taunton to that post. Meanwhile on 23 August 1274 (fn. 110) Edward I decided that he was the patron and that Bishop Button was not. Button died in the autumn of that year and was succeeded in 1275 by Robert Burnell, a great lawyer and statesman and a personal friend of the king. In May 1275 (fn. 111) the conflicting claims were finally settled, the claims of the bishop first of all to certain manors of the abbey endowment, and secondly the matter of the patronship. He received for himself and the see the manors of Pucklechurch, Blackford, Winscombe and Cranmore and the advowsons of Christian Malford and Kington in Wiltshire, Ashbury in Berkshire and Buckland in Dorset. Then to compensate the bishop for his surrender of the patronship the Crown granted to him a yearly payment of £53 out of the revenues of the royal barton at Bath and the royal manor of Congresbury. Finally to compensate himself for this arrangement with the bishop Edward levied on the monks a fine of 1,000 marks. (fn. 112)
In 1278 Edward and Queen Eleanor kept Easter at Glastonbury. (fn. 113) They arrived on Thursday in Holy Week and were followed the next day by Archbishop Kilwardby. On Easter Monday (fn. 114) the king proposed to hold an assize, but this seemed to be an infraction of the rights of the monastery, so the assize was held at Street and the privilege of the abbey was respected. That week the remains of King Arthur and his queen were exposed to view for the benefit of the royal party and were afterwards solemnly placed in wooden chests and deposited in the presbytery behind the high altar. Abbot Taunton was a great builder and it is not improbable that this disinterment of the remains of King Arthur was connected with the work on the great church. His zeal for letters is shown by his large benefaction of books and by the library which he compiled for the monastery. He built the court at Middlezoy, lodgings for the abbot at Ashbury, Domerham, Buckland, and Westonzoyland, a new entrance gate for the monastery and several granges on the abbey lands. (fn. 115) His gifts to the monastic church seem to show that several altars were already being used and that the great church was in steady progress. In the autumn of 1290, (fn. 116) though ill himself, he attended the funeral of Queen Eleanor the mother of Edward I at Amesbury and died at Damerham on Michaelmas day 1291. His successor John of Kent received the royal assent to his election 22 October 1291. (fn. 117)
Abbot Kent's gifts to the monastery were chiefly ornaments and vestments for Divine service and seem to tell of yet further advance in the building. He was buried in the north choir aisle, a fact which shows how great had been the progress in the erection of the church. His successor Geoffrey Fromond's abbotship marks an epoch in the annals of the monastery. The church was so far advanced that it was now dedicated. (fn. 118) We know nothing of the details nor can we tell the actual date. He was abbot from 1303 to 1322, and during that time the dedication took place. No mention is made of the event in the register of Bishop Drokensford, the earliest extant of the registers of the bishops of the see, and so we may limit the date as being between 1303 and 1309 when Bishop Drokensford began his episcopate. Fromond was succeeded by Walter de Taunton whose two months' term of office was distinguished by the building of the great choir screen and rood-loft or pulpit with a great rood above it. (fn. 119)
Adam de Sodbury was elected abbot on 5 February 1323 (fn. 120) and solemnly blessed as such on 6 March. To him was due the vaulting of the nave of the church and its adornment with splendid pictures. (fn. 121) He gave also a great statue of the Virgin Mary and enriched her altar with a large tabernacle. (fn. 122) He also caused to be constructed for the church a large clock enriched with processions and various scenes and an organ of great size and he gave eleven bells to the monastery, of which six were placed in the church tower and five in the bell tower, a statement which suggests somewhere in the monastery a detached campanile. On St. Thomas' day 1331 Abbot Sodbury welcomed at Glastonbury King Edward III and his consort Queen Philippa, and the royal party after a stay of three days went on to Wells and there kept Christmas.
The register of Bishop Drokensford gives us evidence of the bishop's authority and the monks' dislike of it. In Lent 1311 he had issued notice of his intention to visit Glastonbury (fn. 123) and did visit the seven churches of the abbot's jurisdiction. In all cases the abbot replied to his queries and nothing of importance occurred. In the abbey itself however he was met by a conspiracy of silence which baffled his efforts, and he announced that owing to the illicit oaths of secrecy (fn. 124) made to defeat correction the truth could not be detected and he warned them that all such devices were unlawful. He annulled and recalled all such oaths and pronounced excommunication on all who joined in them. Yet for all that his visitation was barren of results.
There had been for some time a considerable controversy between the abbey and the Dean and canons of Wells concerning the boundaries of their estates on the moors, and Prior Breynton had proved a firm defender of the rights of the monastery. In 1334 (fn. 125) therefore on the death of Sodbury he was elected by the monks as abbot. His work and his gifts, which latter, as coming out of his revenues as abbot, prove the increasing wealth of the foundation, were on a very considerable scale. He began the private chapel for the abbot and left marble and glass for its completion. To the abbot's camera he attached another long chamber and changed a noxious hollow into a fish pond which he inclosed with a wall for the private use of the abbot. At Oxford (fn. 126) he built four honest chambers for the use of Glastonbury monks studying at the University and he gave them also 20s. wherewith they might purchase a processional cross.
Breynton was succeeded by Walter de Monyngton (fn. 127) who was confirmed as abbot by Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury on 7 November 1342. He is said to have admitted sixty-four monks into the abbey and their names are written down in a copy of his Secretum now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.
In 1342 (fn. 128) the inner life of the abbey was disturbed by a conflict between a monk, Thomas Everard, and one of the monastic chaplains. Everard had drawn blood and so had incurred excommunication. He was not aware however of the consequence of his action and continued to minister as if under no such sentence. So when he learnt his condition he appealed to Avignon, and from the Papal Curia Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury received instruction to inquire, and in February 1343 the monk was absolved. In 1345 (fn. 129) Glastonbury was called upon to receive a monk of Eynsham, John de Noux, who had taken too leading a part in a struggle between rival candidates for the abbacy of Eynsham to allow of his remaining in the same monastery.
In March 1349 (fn. 130) Bishop Ralph again visited the monastery and on this occasion he admonished Walter de Monyngton to be more approachable to the monks and to allow them better food. The charities of the monastery he ordered to be fully maintained, and for the services in the chapel of the Virgin Mary the full number of chaplains were to be employed.
In 1363 (fn. 131) the see of Wells was vacant through the death of Bishop Ralph and the canons of Wells elected Monyngton as their bishop. The monks of Bath however would not accept it, and the canons of Wells, to mark their disapproval of the monks, pronounced excommunication against them, and Archbishop Simon Langham had to be called in to absolve them. During Monyngton's term of office Glastonbury and the rest of Somerset was visited 1348–9 by the Great Pestilence. We have no record of the mortality, but the number of novices accepted by the abbot suggests that it had been considerable. In the earlier part of the century there had been some eighty or more monks at Glastonbury and we know from the list prepared for the clerical subsidy of 1377 (fn. 132) that there were then only forty-five. Certainly here monasticism never recovered the blow which the pestilence inflicted on it.
In 1375 (fn. 133) John Chinnock was elected abbot of Glastonbury, and he held office for the long period of forty-five years. The story of his abbotship is told somewhat briefly by John of Glastonbury and it is certain that much happened in the monastery which was never recorded. It may have been a case of a contested election when the defeated candidate bore illwill to his successful rival. On 20 June 1380 (fn. 134) order was issued by the Crown for the arrest and delivery to the Abbot and convent of Glastonbury of Thomas Coffeyn a monk of Glastonbury who had absented himself from his convent without leave and intended to cross the sea to the king's prejudice. On 19 September 1381 (fn. 135) an order was issued to arrest Thomas Coffeyn as an apostate monk, and on 20 September 1381 his letters of protection were formally revoked.
The abbot appears to have been inefficient or perhaps incapacitated by ill-health. In 1385 Bishop John Harewell of Bath and Wells visited the abbey and confirmed an arrangement made by the convent for some appropriations of the churches of the Twelve Hides and other estates of the monastery to the support of the monks and also defined once more the arrangement by which these churches should be visited by an archdeacon appointed by the abbot. (fn. 136)
Soon after the abbey was visited by William Courtenay Archbishop of Canterbury, (fn. 137) and these appropriations were again confirmed.
It does not seem however as if the object of both these visitations was merely the confirmation of these pensions and appropriations. The convent seems to have been passing through some internal crisis.
In 1386 (fn. 138) the abbot was excused further attendance at Parliament on account of his age. Again on 28 January 1387 (fn. 139) the arrest of Thomas Coffeyn was ordered by the Crown because he had brought to England various papal bulls annulling the election of the present abbot.
On 29 June 1389 (fn. 140) the temporalities of the monastery were in the king's hands. The abbot seems to have resigned and yet there is no record of it. In 1395 (fn. 141) however he is again described in the Crown documents as Abbot of Glastonbury, and in 1397 obtained a papal indult as an old man expecting his demise to choose his own confessor. (fn. 142)
Then on 17 July 1398 (fn. 143) the Dean of Wells and others were ordered to see to the transfer to Glastonbury of Thomas Lemyngton a monk of Winchester who desired to enter the monastery on account of its "stricter regular life."
In 1397 (fn. 144) John Tabeler, a monk of Glastonbury, was promoted to the office of a papal chaplain, and on 5 January 1399 (fn. 145) Richard Houndsworth, another monk, being aged and weak, and desiring to remain in the abbey, obtained a papal licence to hold the office of chamberlain for his life and not be forcibly removed from it.
In 1400 (fn. 146) John Chinnock and the monastery obtained from Henry IV the confirmation of several charters and privileges, so that it is clear that Abbot Chinnock was still nominally the head of the monastery. In 1407 however during the vacancy before the consecration of Bishop Bubwith Archbishop Arundel was called in to visit the monastery. (fn. 147) He found that the discipline was very defective, for the abbot was too old and feeble to carry out his duties. Yet he lived on to 1420.
Then, living on for three years in the abbotship of Nicholas Frome, we find Thomas Coffeyn Prior of Glastonbury preparing for his approaching end and gaining a papal indult (fn. 148) to choose his own confessor.
Nicholas Frome was elected abbot in 1420. In 1424 he obtained a papal indult (fn. 149) which sanctioned the promotion to Holy Orders of forty monks of the house, a step which would leave very few lay monks remaining in the abbey. He is said to have completed the chapter-house and to have built the misericord house, the great camera of the abbot, the camera of the bishop, and to have erected an embattled wall (fn. 150) He died on 24 April 1456 and was succeeded first of all by Walter More, who only lived for seventeen weeks, and then by John Selwood, the unanimous choice of the monks. (fn. 151)
In 1472 Bishop Stillington issued a commission to John, Bishop of Rochester, to visit Glastonbury, in consequence of the neglect of the abbot. (fn. 152)
In 1489 Innocent VIII in a bull directed to Archbishop Morton of Canterbury (fn. 153) drew attention to the censures that were being cast on the lives of the clergy and the moral and spiritual condition of the monasteries. The archbishop was on that account given special legatine authority to visit and if necessary to correct the monasteries of England. In 1490 he came to Glastonbury and made a searching inquiry into everything. He found that on the whole the lives of the monks were without blame. Abbot Selwood was found faithful to the great responsibilities of his important office.
Once more before the dissolution of the monastery we find the bishop of the diocese exerting his authority. On the death of Abbot Selwood (fn. 154) the monks obtained licence from Henry VII to elect an abbot and their choice fell on John Wasyn. They had not however notified their action to Bishop Fox, nor had they asked his consent to proceed to an election. He therefore with the consent of the Crown quashed the election and nominated on 12 November 1493 Richard Beere or Bere, and on 20 January 1494 Beere was enthroned at Glastonbury.
The chroniclers of Glastonbury, William of Malmesbury and his continuators, testify to the pride of the monks in the memory of St. Dunstan, and it is clear that they believed that they possessed considerable relics if not the remains of his body.
In the early years of the 16th century a controversy broke out between the prior and monks of Christchurch, Canterbury, and the abbot and monks (fn. 155) of Glastonbury concerning the relics of St. Dunstan. Both convents claimed to be in possession of them and a scrutiny was made by order of Archbishop Warham on 22 April 1508, which, while it placed the question in a clearer light, did not bring the monks of Glastonbury to acknowledge their mistake. William of Malmesbury (fn. 156) relates that in the year 1012 Edmund Ironside came to Glastonbury and told the monks how that Canterbury had been consumed by fire and that the church had been destroyed by the Danes. The monks were much grieved at this news, for they remembered how that their former abbot St. Dunstan, as archbishop, had been buried there. So they obtained the sanction of King Edmund and sent forth Abbot Beohtred and four monks to Canterbury and the place they found to be all desolate and forsaken. They soon however discovered the grave of St. Dunstan, and having opened it they recognized the remains from a ring on one of the fingers. These remains they took up and carried to Glastonbury and with joy placed them carefully in a new tomb. In 1120 (fn. 157) Eadmer of Canterbury wrote to the monks of Glastonbury to know by what authority they claimed to have the bones of St. Dunstan. He said that as a boy he had distinct recollections of being present at the opening of St. Dunstan's grave by order of Archbishop Lanfranc and he remembered that he saw the body of the saint within the tomb. He wondered also why up to 1066 the monks of Glastonbury had made a pilgrimage to Canterbury to pray at the tomb of St. Dunstan and why when Abbot Ægelnoth the deprived abbot of Glastonbury was received at Canterbury he for years kept silent and never revealed that the bones of St. Dunstan were not there but at Glastonbury.
Glastonbury nevertheless clung to the assertion that St. Dunstan's bones were buried in their church, and when Abbot Beere had made a new shrine and placed the relics of their great abbot in their new home the prior of Canterbury and Archbishop Warham felt bound to protest and make a fresh inquiry into the matter. At Canterbury Prior Goldston found the bones, and on opening the inner leaden coffin they discovered a tablet with the inscription—'hic requiescit sanctus Dunstanus archiepiscopus.' Then Archbishop Warham (fn. 158) wrote to Abbot Beere, but he was too unwell to go to Canterbury to see for himself, and the monks would not be convinced. So the controversy slumbered on until in 1539 the Dissolution closed it.
Abbot Beere was also a great builder. He erected the church of St. Benignus (fn. 159) to the west of the abbey for the use of the poor who were attracted by the alms of the monastery, and at Northwood and Sharpham close by he built two sumptuous houses for the abbot. The abbot's lodgings in the abbey were also enlarged by a new wing called the king's lodging in the gallery, and in London new accommodation was provided for himself and the monks who had to go there. New buildings were erected for the secular priests who served in the chapels of the great church and for the chaplains known as clerks of our Lady. In the church itself he vaulted the space under the central tower and because the piers of the tower were showing signs of collapse he inserted on the north and south transept sides St. Andrew's arches such as already existed in Wells. The eastern part of the church was also in danger, and Leland tells us that Abbot Beere 'archid on bothe sides the Est Parte of the Chirch that began to cast owt.' In the north transept he made the chapel known asour Lady de Loretta in memory of his embassy to Italy, and to the east of the choir (fn. 160) he began and Abbot Whyting finished the chapel known as the Edgar Chapel. He founded also the almshouse for poor women to the north-west of the monastery and gave them a chapel for their private use. He founded also a chapel of the Holy Sepulchre on the south side of the nave. He died 20 January 1524 and was buried in the nave.
On the death of Beere the convent, which consisted of forty-seven monks, (fn. 161) deliberated 11–16 February 1525, and were unable to come to a decision and finally asked Cardinal Wolsey to nominate an abbot for them. Wolsey chose Richard Whyting, and since the monks accepted him he was solemnly blessed as abbot on 8 March 1525 by William Gilbert, Abbot of Bruton and bishop suffragan to John Clerk the Bishop of Bath and Wells. Richard Whyting was the son of a Glastonbury tenant at Wrington, and was brought up at the monastic school at Glastonbury with a view to his becoming a monk and a priest. He took his degree of M.A. at Cambridge 1483 and was ordained priest 1501. Whyting must have been nearly sixty years of age when he was appointed to rule this great religious foundation, and all his wisdom and caution were needed for the dark future before him.
On 3 November 1534 the Act of Supremacy was passed and attached to it was another act which declared it to be high treason to deny this royal claim. On 19 September (fn. 162) Whyting had subscribed to this act. The document is signed also by fifty-one monks, but many of the signatures are by the same hand and some have clearly been added. The general visitation of the monastic houses began in September 1535, but it is certain that Dr. Layton was active in Somerset some two or three months before that date. On 25 August 1535 he arrived at Glastonbury and after a careful examination he seems to have recognized that the task before him to discover immorality or general wrongdoing was a difficult one. He wrote to Cromwell immediately to say that there was nothing notable at Glastonbury (fn. 163)—'the brethren be so strait kept that they cannot offend: but fain they would if they might, as they confess, and so the fault is not with them.' Abbot Whyting now clearly saw that evil times were coming. On 26 August 1535 he sent as a present to Cromwell a deed of gift of the advowson of West Monkton (fn. 164) 'which of trewthe is the firste that hathe been graunted oute of this monasterye as farre as I can finde knowledge.'
On 9 September he sent (fn. 165) also to Cromwell the grant of the corrody under the convent seal which Sir Thomas More had enjoyed and £5 of arrears due to Sir Thomas More and £5 due from the corrody up to Michaelmas next.
Dr. Layton had meanwhile laid down certain injunctions which restricted the movements of the abbot. He desired as much as possible to keep the monks apart from the abbot, and on 26 October (fn. 166) Whyting wrote to Cromwell begging some relaxation of these orders, as subversive of the discipline of the abbey. He had already induced his friend Sir John Fitzjames (fn. 167) on 2 September to write on his behalf. It does not however appear that they were ever removed.
Yet Dr. Layton had been so much impressed with the character of Whyting that he wrote to the king in his praise and had consequently brought down on himself the displeasure of Cromwell. He wrote from Reading on 16 September (fn. 168) a humble letter of apology, promising to be more circumspect next time and acknowledging that now he perceived that the abbot (fn. 169) neither then nor now knew God or his prince or any other part of a good Christian man's religion.
On 28 March 1537 the abbot wrote to Cromwell regretting he could not give Mr. Maurice Berkeley (fn. 170) the mastership of the game on his parks at Northwood and Sharpham, for already at Cromwell's request he had given the reversion of it to Mr. John Wadham.
On 28 October however he wrote again to Cromwell and offered him the park at Northwood for Maurice Berkeley, and on 26 January 1538 he offered Cromwell the game in his park at Sturminster Newton, and the advowson of Nettleton in Wiltshire, regretting at the same time that he could not give him Batcombe since Dr.Tregonwell had already got it for a friend. (fn. 171)
The Act of April 1539 had given into the king's hands such monasteries as should voluntarily be surrendered or should be forfeit through attainder of treason. Whyting had not been to Convocation this year, having excused himself by reason of age and ill-health.
After March 1539 Glastonbury was the only monastery left standing in Somerset. The commissioners had found Whyting such that they could not hope to force him into a surrender and had evidently reported so to Cromwell, for he decided to proceed against him in Somerset.
During the summer various agents of Cromwell had been to Glastonbury, and already in anticipation of the end they had begun to collect and forward to Cromwell many of the valuables of the monasteries. On 2 May Pollard, Tregonwell and Petre (fn. 172) sent up to the Treasury from the west of England 493 ounces of gold, 16,000 ounces of gilt plate, and 28,700 ounces of parcel gilt and silver plate. On Friday 19 September 1539 Layton, Pollard and Moyle arrived at Glastonbury, and as they were not expected they learnt that Whyting was at his lodging at Sharpham about two miles off. They went therefore to Sharpham to question him, bidding him 'to call to his remembrance that which he had forgotten and so declare the truth.' His answers they took down in writing and made him append his signature to their manuscript, and with this document Whyting was sent up to the Tower of London to be examined if necessary by Cromwell himself.
Then began the wholesale spoliation of the monastery. The servants of the abbot were discharged and a search was made for valuables. £300 in cash was soon found, and they wrote to Cromwell immediately after to say, 'we have found a fair chalice of gold and divers other parcels of plate which the abbot had hid secretly from all such commissioners as have been there in time past whereby we think he ought to make his hand by this untruth to his King's Majesty.'
Again on 28 September they wrote to Cromwell that they had found money and plate hidden in secret places in the monastery, preparatory to being sent out of the country. They had also found in the abbot's library a book containing arguments against the divorce of Queen Katherine, and a life of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, and now they include in that which they are determined to prove to be treason two monks who were the treasurers of the church.
Again on 2 October they wrote to say that they had come to know of 'divers and sundry treasons committed' by the abbot, of which the certainty 'shall appear unto your lordship in a book herein inclosed with the accusers' names put to the same which we think to be very high and rank treasons.' This document however no longer exists and was probably destroyed at the time. Meanwhile Pollard sent up 24 October (fn. 173) another harvest of valuables from Glastonbury, 71 ounces of gold with precious stones, 7,214 ounces of gilt plate and 6,387 ounces of silver. He described them as the possessions of attainted persons.
What was happening in London with Whyting is not very clear. He had been subjected to examination and apparently had not com mitted himself. Cromwell in his 'Remembrances' (fn. 174) says—'Item. Certain persons to be sent to the Tower for the further examination of the abbot of Glaston.' And again—'Item Councillors to give evidence against the abbot of Glaston, Richard Pollard, Lewis Forstell and Thomas Moyle. Item. To see that the evidence is well sorted and the indictments well drawn against the said abbot and his accomplices. Item. The abbot of Glaston to be tryed at Glaston and also executed there with his complycys.'
So he was condemned, on evidence which was never made public, on a charge of treason in that he and two monks in charge of the treasury at Glastonbury had feloniously concealed from the king some of the treasures of the abbey. Then in Wells preparation was being made for the reception of the condemned, and while in London it seems to have been given out that they were being sent for trial to Somerset, in Somerset itself it was known that they came as already condemned. John Lord Russell had already been busy collecting a jury which should accept without any scruples the evidence that was sent to them. Among the jurymen were John Sydenham, Thomas Horner and Nicholas Fitzjames and 'my brother Paulet' for whom was destined the surveyorship of the monastic estates. Whyting and his fellow monks John Thorne and Roger James reached Wells on Friday November 14. The inquiry had already begun, and Pollard, who managed the case, had brought together various tenants and dependants on whom he could rely to say just what was needed. But there was no real trial at Wells. The jury accepted what had been done elsewhere, and on Saturday 15 November Whyting and his companions were delivered over to Pollard for execution. From Wells they were carried to Glastonbury and hanged on the summit of St. Michael's Tor, and as usual afterwards Whyting's head was cut off and stuck on the gateway of the abbey and his body, divided into four parts, was distributed to Bridgwater, Ilchester, Wells and Bath.
That same autumn Cromwell (fn. 175) notes the value of that which had come into the king's hands—the plate of Glastonbury 11,000 ounces and over, besides golden, the furniture of the house at Glastonbury, in ready money from Glastonbury £1,100 and over, the rich copes from Glastonbury, the whole year's revenues from Glastonbury, the sums due to Glastonbury £2,000 and above.
The Valor Ecclesiasticus which had been drawn up in 1535 gives us a clear idea of the enormous influence and wealth of this monastery. It is returned as worth £3,301 7s. 4d. The manors which it possessed will be found stated in the list of the endowments; £140 16s. 8d. was to be distributed yearly in alms to the poor on the foundation, as the monks had induced themselves to believe, of King Arthur and King Lucius, the first Christian kings of Britain, and Kings Kenwalch, Kentwine, Edgar, Æthelwulf, Æthelbald, Æthelred, Henry VII, and other kings as well as Queen Guinevere and other princes.
Twenty-five names of Glastonbury monks appear in Cardinal Pole's pension list of 1553. (fn. 176)
On 21 November 1556 (fn. 177) four survivors of the monastery who had found a refuge at Westminster petitioned the queen for a restoration of the abbey of Glastonbury. They asked for no endowment and offered to pay rent for the lands they needed if only they might have a grant of the site and buildings. Queen Mary was certainly in favour of the project—it would be a great honour to the memory of Joseph of Arimathea who lay there—but similar applications from the monks of other monasteries created a delay and the queen died before any real step could be taken. The monks' names were John Phagan, John Nott, William Adelwold and William Kentwyne. (fn. 178) Of these all but Nott had signed the Act of Supremacy.
That the effort to bring about the restoration of the abbey in Queen Mary's reign was regarded as serious is shown by the will of Sir Thomas Shackell, priest, rector of Hinton St. George, made 17 July 1557, where he leaves 40s. 'to the edefyenge of the Abbye of Glastonbury yf it be not payed in my lyfetyme.'
The learning of the monastery must chiefly be tested by the zeal the monks displayed for the creation of a library and for the transcription of books. No great theologian or historian can be claimed as entirely its own by Glastonbury, though Abbot Dunstan was among the first scholars of his age and Abbot Beere was a friend of the New Learning. Of course at first, if any record is made, it would be of books for the service of the church, and perhaps the earliest notice is that of the Evangelistarium given by King Ine (fn. 179) which was richly ornamented and lettered in gold. William of Malmesbury, (fn. 180) when writing of the many gifts made by King Edmund to the monastery, refers to the books he gave. Soon after it is recorded, that Abbot Brihtwold or Brihtwin, first Bishop of Wilton, gave two Evangelistaria to the abbey, (fn. 181) and this concludes our knowledge of the books of the old English monastery. Under the Normans however we begin a series of records which tell of literary activity and intelligence. Henry de Blois was abbot from 1125 to 1171 (fn. 182) and gave more than forty books 'librario,' to the monastic collection, and these included both Service Books and books of other kinds.
Henry de Blois encouraged also the transcription, of books, and Adam de Domerham (fn. 183) gives us the list of books copied in the monastery during his tenure of office. The superintendence of the work was confided to the prior, and Priors Martin and William were in office when Henry was abbot. Under Martin's care there was copied, besides a complete Bible and numerous theological works, Pliny's Natural History, Lives of the Caesars, the Gesta Anglorum, Gesta Britonum, Gesta Franconum, a book of the abbots of Clairvaux, a book on physiognomy and geology, and the work of Peter Alfonsius in one volume, and a volume on Rhetoric, and Quintilian, show that the more secular aspects of learning were not neglected.
In the second volume of Hearne's edition of John of Glastonbury's Chronicle (fn. 184) he inserts a list of books the property of the monks of Glastonbury in the year 1247. The list is remarkably long and occupies twenty pages. It is taken from a MS. in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, and reveals to us the wealth of the library. The studies of the monks were certainly of a very general kind, and while theological works of course predominate, there are many books on Monasticism, of general Church History, on medicine and language, and Aristotle and Plato are represented by the Timæus and the Logic. They had also two copies of Virgil and a portion of Cicero. The same MS. (fn. 185) gives us a list of books, eight in number, given by Richard de Culmton, and through William Brito, the precentor of Glastonbury, the library of the monastery was enriched by the legacy or gift of more than twenty books of Geoffrey of Bath and Brother Laurence.
A little later in the century further additions were made through the zeal of Abbot John of Taunton. After his death the books which he had purchased or caused to be transcribed were brought into the chapter house (fn. 186) and formally entered into the library register. They were twenty-five in number.
The 14th century however witnessed an equal zeal on the part of the abbots for the promotion of learning and a similar flow of books to the great collection the monks already had. In 1322 (fn. 187) William of Taunton left his books to the monastery, and in 1333 (fn. 188) Abbot Adam de Sodbury enriched the abbey in a similar way.
Abbot John de Breynton's benefactions were of another kind. (fn. 189) He built a lodging for Glastonbury monks at Oxford that so those who were studious in his household might the better increase their knowledge of laws and theology. For the 15th century we have little or no information, but the condition of the abbey at the end proves the diligence and learning of its abbots. Richard Beere was one of the foremost scholars of England, the friend of Erasmus, a Greek scholar whom Erasmus consulted in his Greek Testament and on other critical work.
When John Leland visited (fn. 190) Glastonbury in his antiquarian commission about 1538, he mentions with admiration the library in which he tells us there were more than 400 books. His list however is very small and gives us no clue to the value of the spoils. There are two or three Glastonbury MSS. now in the British Museum and some in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge.
William of Malmesbury (fn. 191) towards the end of his Antiquities tells us of seven Glastonbury monks who had risen to be Archbishops of Canterbury. The first however cannot be accepted since he was archbishop before the restoration of Glastonbury by King Ine. He has clearly been confused with Beorwald the first English abbot. The others were Athelm 914, St. Dunstan 960, Ethelgar 988, Sigeric or Siric 990, Æphege, 1005 and Æthelnoth 1020. He gives us also a list of Glastonbury monks who had risen to be bishops, and both lists testify to the learning and character to which the monastery attained.
At the time of the Conquest the monks suffered the loss of some of their estates, but these were afterwards recovered and even William the Conqueror made reparation for what he had robbed them of. The possessions of the abbey amounted to the huge extent of 818 hides. The 'twelve hides' consisting of the site, precincts and immediate demesne of the abbey was regarded as an ungeldable and unhidated liberty of which the islands of Meare, Panborough, and Edgarley formed part. As far as these estates lay in Somerset the details of the endowment will be found in the account of the Survey. (fn. 192)
In Wiltshire the property of the abbey was returned as amounting to 258 hides which consisted of the manors etc. of Damerham, Hanindone, Longbridge and Monkton Deverill, Christian Malford, Badbury in Chisledon, Mildenhall, Winterbourne Monkton and Winterbourne in Idmiston, Nettleton, Grittleton, Kington Langley, Idmiston and Steeple Langford. In Dorset there were fifty-eight hides at Sturminster Newton, Buckland Newton and Buckland Abbas, Woodyates, Pentridge and Lyme.
Soon after the expedition of Henry II to Ireland in 1171, the monastery became possessed of some Irish estates out of which they formed a distinct but dependent priory. Philip of Worcester (fn. 193) the Constable of Ireland gave the monks the vill and church of Kilcummin near Killarney and a hundred carucates of land and built there for them a college or priory in honour of St. Philip and St. James and also of St. Armin. A certain monk James was chosen and sent there as the first prior.
About the same time William de Burgh gave to Richard, a monk of Glastonbury, the vill of Ardimur, with the church and many adjacent hamlets and their chapels. He endowed this project with further mills and fisheries for the purpose of building a house or priory in honour of God and the Virgin Mary. The priory came to be known as Ocunild and Richard was sent out as its first prior.
The total revenues therefore of the abbey at the end of the 13th century (fn. 194) amounted to the large sum of £1,406 1s. 8d., of which over £1,355 was derived from the temporalities, the largest item being £515 8s. 8d. for the 'Twelve Hides.'
Four years before the monastery was dissolved we have the estimate of its revenues from the Valor Ecclesiasticus (fn. 195) of 1535. They are returned as worth £3,311 7s. 4d. yearly, which sum is nearly equal to that of the yearly revenues of all the other conventual houses in Somerset.
On the attainder of Abbot Whyting and the surrender of the abbey to the Crown in 1539 these possessions were again assessed on a survey made by Richard Pollard and Thomas Moyle. (fn. 196) This assessment raises the value of the rental to £4,085 6s. 8d. and gives us a good deal of information concerning the woods, fisheries and swanneries which was not recorded in the earlier survey.
Abbots of Glastonbury (fn. 197)
Worgret, occurs 601
Beorwald (fn. 198)
Walthun, 762 (fn. 199)
Striwerd, alias Stithherd, 991 (fn. 201)
Ealthun, 992 (fn. 202)
Ælfric, 927 ?
Ælfward alias Ægelward, 962
Cuthred (fn. 200)
Brichtwin, 1017 (fn. 203)
Ægelward II, 1027–53 (fn. 204)
Seal (fn. 205): 13th century; circular, 3½ in. in diameter. Obverse: In the centre, under a carved canopy, the Blessed Virgin with the Child on her left arm and a branch of the Holy Thorn in her right hand; on the plinth below * S. MARIA. On either side in smaller niches St. Catherine and St. Margaret with their names below. In base, three carved arches, with a church under the centre arch and a bird under each of the others.
Reverse: Three niches, in which St. Dunstan between St. Patrick and St. Benignus with names below. In base three carved niches: in the centre St. Dunstan taking the Devil by the nose with a pair of pincers; on the right three fishes; the subject on the left is uncertain.