A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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HOUSES OF BENEDICTINE MONKS
1. THE ABBEY (fn. 1) OF COLCHESTER
The abbey of St. John the Baptist, Colchester, was founded towards the end of the eleventh century by Eudo, the son of Hubert de Ria, who was dapifer or sewer of William Rufus and lord of the town of Colchester. A detailed account of the foundation is given in a manuscript (fn. 2) in the Cottonian collection. Much of this appears to be fiction, but part may be accepted. It is said that Eudo determined to build a monastery at the place where a miracle had occurred at Colchester, and for this he obtained the help of Maurice, bishop of London. The building was marked out on 29 August, 1096, in the presence of the bishop, and workmen were appointed; but it was not until after Easter in the following year that the first stone was laid by Eudo himself. At the request of Eudo two monks were sent to the monastery by Gundulf, bishop of Rochester, and stipends were given to them; but they became discontented and returned home. Others were sent in their place, of whom one named Ralph pressed Eudo to assign regular possessions to them as being more suitable than dependence upon laymen. Eudo at last, at the beginning of the reign of Henry I, granted certain tithes and churches; but these were distant and small, and the expense of collection as great as the profit; so Ralph and his fellows sulkily departed. At this Eudo began to repent of his undertaking, but meeting with Stephen, abbot of York, he entrusted the work to him; and Stephen on his return home selected thirteen monks and sent them to Colchester. The building was now pressed on under the direction of a priest named William, a kinsman of Eudo, and no expense was spared. The monks lived regularly according to their order, and many of the neighbours bound themselves to the service of God. Not long afterwards one of the thirteen from York, Hugh by name, who is described as a man of great piety and religion but not of secular astuteness, was elected abbot, and consecrated by Bishop Maurice about the year 1104. The offices and lodgings of the monks were originally on the north side of the church towards the town, but on account of the noise the abbot removed them to the south; and a hill overhanging the church was removed and the cemetery levelled. Eudo and several of the neighbours granted lands, churches and other possessions, and after some claimants to the site had been satisfied the church was dedicated on 10 January. The number of the monks had grown to more than twenty, but only three remained of the original thirteen, viz., the abbot Hugh, Walter, and Osmond, afterwards prior; and soon Hugh, on account of some dispute with Eudo, resigned his charge into the king's hands and returned to York, being succeeded by Gilbert, a monk of Bec in Normandy.
The endowments of the abbey are set out in detail in the fine chartulary (fn. 3) in the possession of Lord Lucas. The charter of Eudo as given at the beginning is evidently spurious, though the grants mentioned in it are for the most part quite genuine and in agreement with the two large charters of Henry I. The first (fn. 4) of these (about 1104) confirms the grant by Eudo of the manors of Weeley and Pitsea, a fair of four days at the feast of St. John at Colchester, the churches of 'Turnecruft' (Leatherhead, Surrey) and St. Mary Woolchurch, London, and various lands and tithes, and also grants by other donors; and in addition grants that the abbey shall have the same liberties as Westminster. The second (fn. 5) (in 1119) confirms a longer list of possessions, the principal additions being the manor of Mundon and the church of 'Nieweseles' (Barkway, Herts.), and grants the liberties to the abbey in detail. A curious story is told in the chartulary about the granting of this charter. Abbot Gilbert after his election could find no muniments of importance, and consequently drew up a charter, which he sent by Osmund the prior across the sea to Eudo and Rose his wife that confirmation might be obtained from King Henry, who was then in Normandy. They supported the petition of the abbot to the king. A clerk, John of Bayeux, read the charter, but when he came to the passage where the customs were mentioned in their English form (mundbryce, etc.) he stopped, professing ignorance of their meaning. (fn. 6) The king took the charter, read it, and expounded the meaning, finally assenting to the confirmation. But, besides the strange statement as to the lack of earlier charters, it is suspicious that Eudo does not appear as a witnesss to this charter and it makes no mention of any request from him. A charter (fn. 7) of William II confirms grants made by Eudo to the abbey, mentioning the manors of Brightlingsea, Weeley and Hallingbury, and the churches of Lillechurch, St. Mary Woolchurch, and Leatherhead. But if this is genuine the grants must have been partially revoked, for neither Brightlingsea nor Hallingbury is mentioned in the charters of Henry I above. Brightlingsea is said in the history of the foundation to have been granted to the abbey by Eudo on his deathbed, and the grant was confirmed by a charter (fn. 8) of Henry I dated probably immediately afterwards (1119-20). Hallingbury was granted (fn. 9) by Eudo's widow after his death. The church of Lillechurch remained in the possession of the abbey until the reign of Stephen, when it was exchanged (fn. 10) for land in East Donyland. Henry I granted (fn. 11) free warren in various lands of the abbey. Henry II granted (fn. 12) the chapel of St. Helen at Colchester, and a fair of two days at the feast of the Invention of the Cross. A large number of further grants and confirmations of these and other kings are also recorded, as well as of various popes and bishops. The manor and church of Wickham Skeith (fn. 13) in Suffolk were granted early in the reign of Stephen by Robert de Sakeville, who became a monk in the abbey. It was originally intended that four monks should be maintained at the manor to pray for his soul, but his son Jordan agreed that instead the number of the monks in the abbey should be increased by four. Another important grant was that of the manor and church of Greensted (fn. 14) by William de St. Clare. The manor and advowson of the church of Little Bardfield (fn. 15) were granted by Clement de Rumburgh in 1351. The abbey also owned at one time or another the churches or advowsons, besides those given above, of Ardleigh, Boxted, Berechurch, Brightlingsea, St. Giles, St. Leonard, St. Nicholas and Holy Trinity in Colchester, East Donyland, Mundon, Pitsea, Takeley and Weeley in Essex, St. Stephen Walbrook in London, Walkern in Hertfordshire, Hamerton in Huntingdonshire, Aldeburgh and Hemingstone in Suffolk, and St. George, Norwich. The temporalities mentioned in the Taxation of 1291 amount to the value of £164 5s. 2½d. yearly; the chief items being £41 15s. 8½d. in Colchester, £18 8s. 2d. in Mundon, £12 16s. 8½d. in Wickham Skeith, £12 15s. 7¼d. in Weeley, £7 12s. 2d. in Pitsea and £6 18s. 7½d. in Brightlingsea.
Two separate possessions of the abbey call for special notice. A monk named Robert made a hermitage (fn. 16) at Writtle with the permission of Henry I. and of Stephen, who granted privileges to him, and later gave it to Abbot Hugh and the chapter of Colchester, receiving it back from them for life. In time it came again to the abbot and convent. Henry II confirmed them in possession and granted various privileges, including the right to gather nuts in the forest round, under the condition that two monks should dwell perpetually in the hermitage to pray for the safety of the king and the souls of dead kings. Bedemannesberg, as it was called, (fn. 17) thus became a cell of the abbey, though it appears to have been completely subject and without any corporate existence. Its priors are mentioned occasionally, one taking part in the election of the abbot in 1523. After the dissolution it was granted (fn. 18) on 18 August, 1542, to Robert Tyrwhitt in fee. The priory of Snape in Suffolk was also a cell of the abbey. In 1155 (fn. 19) William Martel and Albreda his wife and Geoffrey their son and heir granted (fn. 20) the manor of Snape and Aldeburgh to the abbot and convent under the agreement that these should place there a prior and monks, who should be under the obedience of the abbey and render to it a yearly pension of half a mark. The abbot was to visit the priory twice a year with twelve horses for a stay of four days, or oftener in cases of necessity. Abbot Adam and the convent granted (fn. 21) the church of Aldeburgh to the priory for ever in return for a yearly rent of ten marks, but the priory gave it back in 1300 because they found the charge too heavy. In the fourteenth century it appeared that the prior alone resided at the priory, and monks were only sent there temporarily from the abbey although its means were sufficient for several. In consequence of this the countess of Suffolk, patroness of the priory, complained to Pope Boniface IX, and on 10 January, 1400, he issued a bull (fn. 22) separating the priory from the abbey. But the king, the patron of the abbey, issued an order for the arrest of John Mersey, monk of St. John's, Colchester, whom the abbot had sent to the priory of Snape, a cell of the abbey, to govern it, but who had schemed to separate the priory from the abbey, and had obtained certain exemptions from the pope, and intended to go to Rome and obtain further bulls (fn. 23); so for some time the matter remained in dispute, and it was not until 22 Henry VI that it was settled by an agreement (fn. 24) that the earl of Suffolk, as patron, should nominate a Benedictine monk to the priory at each vacancy, and that the abbot and convent should present the nominee to the bishop of Norwich for institution, and should abandon all claim of visitation and spiritual jurisdiction, saving the pension of half a mark yearly.
One of the earliest notices that we have of the abbey is an account of a miracle. (fn. 25) During the period of Becket's exile a monk of Canterbury, Ralph by name, came to Colchester Abbey, where he was well received; returning to Canterbury when the archbishop came back, he was there at the time of the murder, and collected some of the martyr's blood in a glass vessel which he sealed with wax and sent to his late hosts at Colchester. There were only a very few drops at the bottom of the flask, consequently Ralph was much surprised to learn that when it reached Colchester it was quite full and even oozing through the wax. On the other hand, when the abbot washed the wax and gave some of this diluted relic to a neighbouring church the priest had the mortification of finding next morning that it had all vanished. Two or three 'miraculous' cures wrought on members of the household of the abbey by, apparently, the washings of the wax are narrated. (fn. 26)
Between the abbey and the town there appears to have been almost continuous strife; chiefly in connection with Greensted and Donyland, which were within the liberty of the borough. An agreement (fn. 27) was made in 1255 concerning the division of the warren there and also as to toll and gallows. Fifteen years later the king had to order (fn. 28) the abbot to desist from distraining the men of those suburbs, in infringement of the rights of the borough in matter of trespass of bread and ale and other matters. An extraordinary event (fn. 29) occurred in 1272: a riot had taken place between the men of the abbey and of the town at the Midsummer fair, and on the next day the coroner was shown a dead man on St. John's Field, said to have been killed by the townsmen; but when an inquest was taken it was found that no one had been killed, but that the monks had taken down a dead thief from their gallows and represented him as a murdered man. Agreements (fn. 30) were made with the town in 1348 about taxation and suit at the lawhundred court, and in 1353 about common in certain places. In 15 Richard II the Hilary leet presented (fn. 31) Abbot Geoffrey for that he, with twelve horsemen armed with haubergeons and other arms, rode from the abbey on the Saturday after the feast of St. Lawrence to the Balkerne Fields opposite Colkyngs Castle, to the disturbance of the public peace and so forth. In 4 Henry V Abbot Roger Best was presented (fn. 32) for appropriating a certain parcel of land of the king's way on which he built a stone tower for defence of the abbey. In 1429 and 1430 there was another outburst of strife, (fn. 33) again in connection with Greensted. The abbot complained to the council, and after narrating the real matter in dispute went on to accuse members of the commonalty of Lollardy. He also claimed arrears of £228 from the town. King Stephen had granted (fn. 34) to Abbot Hugh and the convent 20s. yearly from the tenth of the farm of the city for firing for the infirmary, and the abbot alleged (fn. 35) that this had been unpaid from 1199 to 1427. On the other hand the abbot was charged (fn. 36) with damages for the failure of himself and his predecessors for 130 years to find a chaplain to celebrate mass on three days in each week in St. Helen's chapel according to a judgment (fn. 37) given in the Exchequer against his predecessor in 1290.
Bishop Baldock visited (fn. 41) the abbey in 1310 and issued consequent injunctions on 30 June. He ordered silence in accordance with the rule of the blessed Benedict; infirm monks or those weak through bloodletting or requiring medical treatment to be in the infirmary so as to have fleshmeat; the monks to obtain clothes, shoes, and other necessaries from the proper quarter and not to buy anything; the Benedictine rule of abstinence from flesh in the refectory and elsewhere, save in the infirmary, to be observed. Further orders were issued respecting the temporalities of the monastery and the collection of the tithes in the archdeaconries of Colchester and Essex twice a year. The translation of monks from this abbey, where they had been professed, to the cell of Snape in the diocese of Norwich was not to be done save for great and evident cause, and then only with the consent of the majority of the chapter.
A dispute as to the right of the king to assign a corrody was settled in the King's Bench in favour of the abbey in 1340. (fn. 42) In the time of Abbot Robert de Grenested one Peter del Broch, also called De Sauveny, (fn. 43) was admitted to sustenance in the abbey for life at the mandate of Edward I, and after him Roger Filiol and John de Redynges (fn. 44) 1329 the king granted that in consideration of their poverty this pension should be discontinued when John died, but (fn. 45) on his death the king sent Thomas de Mussenden (fn. 46) to the abbot and convent for sustenance in 1338, which they declined to grant. The abbot was in consequence attached to answer for his disobedience. Counsel for the king argued that the abbey ought to be charged with the sustenance because it was of the king's advowson and because Peter, Roger and John had been admitted; but the abbot cited the charters of the abbey and said that the previous grants had been made of courtesy and not of right and should not be to his prejudice, and obtained judgment. (fn. 47)
Abbot Walter obtained leave of absence for a year on 20 October, 1312, whilst he endeavoured to devise means for relieving the great debt on the house. (fn. 48)
In 1338 the abbey was suffering from such depression that it obtained (fn. 49) exemption from the king from the payment of the wool collected for his use; and in 1363 a relaxation of penance was granted (fn. 50) to penitents who at certain times should visit the abbey church, which had suffered from flood, storm and fire. In 1346 the abbot got into trouble (fn. 51) over a French prisoner calling himself Berengar de Monte Alto, and said to be the archdeacon of Paris. The latter had been captured, very likely at Crecy, by some of the English army, who deserted and sold him in England for £50. He came into the hands of the abbot, and was afterwards sold again and removed to London, in direct defiance of the king's writ ordering his detention. In 1363 (fn. 52) the abbot complained to the pope that the canons of St. Botolph's with some of their men and other laymen to the number of two hundred had attacked Thomas Stuckele, a monk, and blockaded the abbey, and some of them had forcibly entered it and injured the abbot and convent. The cause of the riot is not stated, but it may very likely have arisen through a dispute about a pension out of the church of St. Peter, Colchester, which was settled (fn. 53) in 1364.
On 21 August, 1396, John Colschestre, or Pak, a monk of the abbey, was appointed (fn. 54) bishop of Orkney by the pope. On 25 February, 1399, the pope granted licence (fn. 55) for the abbot (who already had a papal indult to use the ring, pastoral staff and other insignia) to use also the pontifical mitre, and to give solemn benediction after mass and vespers, provided that no bishop or papal legate was present. On 15 March in the same year he granted (fn. 56) indulgences to penitents visiting the abbey at the Nativity of St. John the Baptist; further granting licence to the abbot, in consideration of the number of pilgrims likely to be attracted by this indulgence, to choose six priests secular or regular to hear confessions. (fn. 57)
In the autumn of 1403 the abbot joined the conspiracy (fn. 58) of the countess of Oxford and others for the restoration of Richard II, who was supposed to be still alive. When first sounded by the conspirators he was cautious, and dispatched a trusted messenger to Scotland to make inquiries, giving him a ring as a guarantee of good faith. The messenger on his return was arrested at Bury, but released on bail of the abbot, and brought word that Richard was alive. On this the abbot determined 'that with his goode and with his meyzt he wold refresch him to his power,' and also induced the abbot of Beeleigh to join him. But the expected arrival of Richard II and invasion by the French did not come about, and in the spring the plot was discovered and warrants were issued for the arrest of the conspirators. The abbey was sequestrated (fn. 59) on 21 March, 1404, no doubt on account of this business, and committed to the custody of the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of Lincoln; and on 16 May order (fn. 60) was given for the arrest of the abbot, who had fled. The whole matter was investigated by a commission in August; two Colchester monks, John Herst and William Denton, being also implicated. Pardon was granted (fn. 61) to the abbot on 1 November at the request of the queen, though he did not recover his forfeited goods, which were granted (fn. 62) to her at the same time. But in spite of this lesson the abbot and the same two monks and others were soon again in trouble for fresh treasons committed after Christmas. (fn. 63) On a certain day in Lent, 1405, he and John Herst were arrested (fn. 64) on certain articles of treason imagined against the king. The abbot was carried from his own chamber to the common hall of the town in a chair, because he was ill with a disease of the throat, by his own servant and the servant of the sheriff, and there he was imprisoned for five weeks, and afterwards taken to the castle of Nottingham. William Denton was also arrested on the same articles and taken successively at the mandate of Edward II. In to the prison of the town and bound with great iron chains. Abbot Geoffrey died shortly afterwards, and was succeeded by Roger Best, who was himself charged with treason at the end of 1409, though he was soon pardoned. (fn. 65)
The rule of Abbot Geoffrey appears to have been unfortunate in more ways than one. The bishop at a visitation of the abbey found waste and dilapidations through his negligence and misgovernment, and he at first submitted voluntarily to the bishop's correction and orders, but afterwards refused obedience, diminished the food and clothing of the prior and monks, and alienated the possessions of the house. The king then interfered, and on 17 December, 1392, ordered him to be arrested and brought into Chancery; and on 12 January, 1393, appointed a commission to settle the dispute. (fn. 66)
Bishop Clifford held an ordination (fn. 67) in the church of the abbey on 18 March, 1408, when thirty-five candidates were ordained. The priests included three monks of St. John's and two canons of St. Osyth's.
In October, 1454, Thomas Fuller of Halstead, weaver, fled (fn. 68) to the sanctuary of the abbey to avoid arrest for debt, and at the king's command the bailiffs of Colchester caused proclamation to be made each week for five successive weeks at the gate of the abbey that he should attend before the justices at Westminster. The result is not recorded. There had previously been disputes about the sanctuary, and on 13 May, 1453, its bounds had been formally defined by the king. (fn. 69)
The abbots of Colchester and Chertsey made a visitation of the abbey of St. Augustine at Canterbury in February, 1449. (fn. 70)
Political dissensions were rife in the abbey early in 1534. It is significant that the abbot, the sub-prior, and two (apparently) of the older monks were not among those who took the oath of fealty to the heirs of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. (fn. 71) One Thomas Tye, monk, writes (fn. 72) to Cromwell complaining of the slanderous reports of John Frances, sub-prior, against the king and council. Accordingly on 8 April we have 'The confession (fn. 73) of dompne Thomas Essex (apparently the same as Tye) upon a certain letter sent by him to my lord of Norfolk, accusing dompne John Fraunces of divers seditious and slanderous words against the king's highness and his most honourable council, taken, examined, and sworn by the reverend father in God, Thomas, abbot of the monastery of St. John Baptist beside Colchester, Sir John Sentclere, knight, Sir William Pyrton, knight, John Cristmes, esquire, and dompne John Milford, prior of the monastery.' Thomas Essex, decane of the monastery, twenty-five years old, says that on 21 January John Fraunces spoke of a new book containing nine articles put forth by the king and his council, saying that the putters forth of it are heretics, though before he said they were but schismatics, which he would prove on pain of losing his tongue. He said also in derision, when the king was beyond the sea last, that the queen followed him like a dog its master. John Flingant says the occasion of the words being spoken was that Thomas Clare wished he had a dispensation of his religion. Flyngant remarked that dispensations were hung up for sale in the apothecaries' shops in Rome, with a blank for the buyer's name. To this Fraunces answered that he had rather go to Walsingham on his bare feet than that Clare should go about any such business. William Westmynster, John Pepper, William Page, Thomas Clare and John Islipp gave evidence as to the above, and also that on 4 February Fraunces said that he could prove those who consented to the king's last marriage to be heretics. Fraunces explained the former part and denied the words about the queen, and apparently everything was settled satisfactorily, for the oath of supremacy was taken (fn. 74) on 7 July by Thomas, abbot, John Melford, prior, William Ros, Henry Bumstede, William Ryppnere, John Franceys, Thomas Clare, George Dedham, John Flyngant, William Page, John Pepper, Thomas Stow, Sylvester Hynygam, William Westmynster, Robert Reason, Thomas Essex and John Islyp.
The net value of the abbey is given in the Valor as £523 16s. 0¼d. yearly. In another place (fn. 75) the net value is said to be £523 17s. 0¼d. and the gross value £639 2s. 0¼d. The abbey was thus fourth in size in the county, and rich enough to escape the first dissolution.
The abbey procured the favour of Sir Thomas Audeley, the chancellor, by exchanges (fn. 76) of lands; and, when the fate of the greater monasteries was seen to be certain, an attempt was made to save Colchester and St. Osyth's in the form of secular colleges. Writing (fn. 77) to Cromwell from Berechurch on 8 September, 1538, Audeley says: 'Succh bruits hath runne sythens my last departyng from yr good lordship concerning the dissolution of the abbeys of Seynt John in Colchester and Seynt Osyes that I am bold to write to yr good lordship after myne own sute for the contynuance of the same ii places, not as they bee religious, but that it mought pleese the kynges majesty of his goodness to translate them into colleges after soche sorte and ordynance as shal seme most charitable to his highnes. For the which as I seyd to you afore his grace may have of eyther of them a m li that ys for bothe mm li and the gyft of the deans and prebendaries at his owne pleasure. The cause I move this ys fyrst I consider that Seynt Johns stondyth in his graces owne towne at Colchester wherein dwell many poor people which have daily relefe of the house; another cawse, bothe these houses be in the ende of the shire of Essex where litel hospitality shalbe kept yf these be dissolved for as Seynt Jones lakkyth water and Seynt Osyes stondith in the marshes not very holsom as yt fewe of reputation as I thinke will kepe contynual howses in any of them save it be a congregation as ther be now. There is also xxti howses gret and small dissolved in the shire of Essex all redy. These and many other consideracions movyth me to be a sutor for ther translations and yet I wyll not now mynde in any wise to move or speke in this matter otherwyse than shal stonde with the kynges plesure nor in good fayth I entend not to serve any particular advantage for they standyng yt hath plesed the kynges majesty to giff me leve to exchange lands and thyngs with eyther of the howses wherwith I am satisfied and right hertely thank his highness for the same. I beseech you, my good lord, if yr lordship shall thynke thys sute honest and reasonable to move this matter to the kyngs mageste and to sette it ernestly forward. Yr lordship knowyng bothe the howses as ye do can alegge more better considerations than I can imagyne or wryte. And thus I trobell you with my sutes oft tymes and can not recompens your often gentelnesses and paynes takyn for me, but with my poor harty good will whereof yor lordship shall be sure duryng my liffe. And besides that if ye can or may opteyn this sute for the translation of these ii howses yr lordship shal have for yr favor therein cc li besechyng you to travayle therein and to advertise me as soon as ye shal se tyme of the forwardnes or onforwardnes therof. And thus a bold sutor puttyng yr lordshipp in remembraunce of al myn olde sutes to use them at yr owne leysure I beseche or Lord to send yr lordshipp as godd helth and as wel to fare as I wold myself.'
But the scheme was not accepted, and on 6 November Cromwell ordered (fn. 78) Dr. Lee and William Cavendish to repair to and dissolve the two houses, assigning pensions to the persons there, according to the king's commission, and putting the Lord Chancellor and the Chancellor of Augmentations each in possession of one. The order was not actually carried out, and the abbey was still in existence in the next year; but it fell at last through the attainder of the abbot.
Suspicion had probably rested on him for some time, although he had paid the usual bribes (fn. 79) to Cromwell. The justices of gaol delivery at Colchester had dined with him in December, 1536, and reported (fn. 80) words spoken by his friends in favour of the northern insurrection. On 21 November, 1538, Sir John Seyncler writes (fn. 81) to Cromwell: 'Yesterday bying the xx daie of November I was with the abbot of Seynt John of Colchester, who axed of me what the abbot of Saynt Osis dyd as touchyng his howse, for the brewte whas the kyng would have yt. To the which I answered hym that he dyd lyke an honest man, for he sayth "I am the kynges subject and I and my house and all is the kynges wherefore if yt be the kynges pleasure I as a trewe subject shall obey withoute groge." To the which the abbot of Seynt John answered, "I will not saye (so), for the kyng shall never have my howse but agayne my will and agayne my hart, for I knowe by my lernyng that he cannot take yt by right and lawe; wherefore in my concyens I cannot be contente nor he shall never have yt with my hart and wyll." To the which I sayd, "Beware of suche lerning, for if ye holde suche lernyng as ye lernyd at Oxenforde when ye were yonge ye wil be hanged and ye are wordye: but I will advyse you to confirme yor self as a trewe subject or ells you shall hynder yor brethren and also yor self." My lorde I lyke not the man. I fere he hath a cankred harte for he whas accused but of late of traitorous words by one William Halle but he hade no witnesse.' After this it is not surprising that the abbot was attainted of treason, though this did not apparently come about until the middle of the next year.
The principal evidence against him was that of his servant Edmund Trowman and two personal friends. Trowman, examined (fn. 82) at Brentwood before Sir John Seyncler, John Ryther and Harry Polsted on 1 November, 1539, gave an account of plate, money and other things delivered to him by the abbot, and also of words spoken by the abbot at various times. He had heard him say at Colchester divers times within the last year that the king could not lawfully suppress any house of religion above the yearly value of 300 marks; that he himself would never surrender his house to the king, and would die sooner than forsake his living, and that he would to God that every abbot was of his mind concerning the surrender and suppression of their houses. He had never heard the abbot say anything against the king in the advancement of the bishop of Rome, nor that the bishop of Rome was the immediate successor of St. Peter. He had heard him say at Colchester within the last half year, 'Well, God will take vengeance at length for the putting down of these houses of religion,' and also that God was like to the butcher whose property is to suffer his cattle to be fat before that he will kill them, and so doth God suffer the people to grow in sin and unhappiness of this world and then He will pay them home. He had heard him say that two or three of the king's council had brought his grace to such a covetous mind that if all the water in Thames did flow gold and silver it were not able to quench his grace's thirst, but he could not remember of whom the words were spoken. He had heard him say soon after the deaths of Fisher and More that they died like good men, and it was pity of their deaths for they were great learned men and wise men. He had heard him say of the northern insurgents that they 'were good men, mokyll in the mothe, great cracars, and nothing worthe in their deades'; and 'I would to Christ that the rebels in the north country had the archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Privy Seal among them, and then I trust we should have a merry world again.'
Thomas Nuthake of Colchester, physician and mercer, examined (fn. 83) on 3 November, said that he became acquainted with the abbot in the year of his election. He had heard him say that the cause why the king forsook the bishop of Rome was to the intent that his majesty might be divorced from the Lady Dowager and wed Queen Anne, and therefore his grace refused to take the bishop of Rome for the supreme head of the church and made himself the supreme head. The first time he heard the abbot speak of these matters was five or six years ago, and the last time was three years ago come Christmas; on which occasion they were alone in the abbot's dining chamber, 'the servants being at latter dinner,' when the abbot chanced to speak of Queen Anne's death and said he hoped the other—meaning Queen Jane—would not come to the same pass. At the time the supremacy was treated in Parliament, the abbot said he could prove the bishop of Rome supreme head of the church, and that 'those who made the king supreme head were false heretics and cursed to God's own mouth, axing a vengeance of the archbishop of Canterbury, of the lord chancellor and of other the king's council, saying they were arch heretics and do go about to destroy the church and the law of God, rehearsing those words 'Ecce Domine lapides sanctuarii tui jacent in placeis,' meaning that God should take vengeance of such as destroyed abbeys. On hearing of the deaths of the bishop of Rochester and Sir Thomas More, the abbot said 'Nuthake, alas, what wretched tyrants and bloodsuckers be these that have put to death and martyred these blessed clerks and best learned men that were in this realm. They died martyrs and saints, in my conscience, for holding with our holy father the pope for the right of all holy church'; to which Nuthake answered, 'My lord, I pray you speak no more of that.' At the time of the insurrection in the north the abbot sent for Nuthake to sup with him, and he found him sitting at a gate at the hall of the monastery. He said, 'Nuthake, welcome. I send for you to tell unto you news which I have in writing. For a troth the northern men be up in a great number and will in no wise that abbeys shall be put down nor holy days to be taken away, and rather than they will suffer the new laws which are now in hand to go forward they will die forty thousand men.' He told him to beware what he said, and the abbot answered, 'Hold thy peace, fool, for my nay say shall be as good as thy say,' and said that the king, because he could not get what he wanted at Rome, had usurped the pope's dignity, and that those who held with the new acts against the bishop of Rome were accursed. After the commotion, when the commissioners were suppressing Louth and other abbeys whose heads were offenders, the abbot said to him in an orchard 'where the hawthorne groweth,' 'What a world is this. I hear say that all abbeys shall go down. These tyrants and bloodsuckers doth thrust out of their houses these good religious fathers against all right and law, but let them hang and draw as fast as they will I shall keep one, for I am sure of 1,200 marks in my purse, and therefore my friend hangs always at my girdle, and if the hardest come that shall defend me till these storms be overpast.' He said also the lord chancellor, privy seal and two or three of the bishops went about to make all England heretics or else set the realm by the ears, and he wished they were at Rome or with the rebels in the north.
Robert Rouse, mercer, of Colchester, examined (fn. 84) on 4 November, said that he had known the abbot since his election about six years ago last Midsummer; on which occasion he sent him a dish of 'baces' and a pottle of wine and dined with him; and left his company about two years ago because he reasoned against the king's supremacy and the Acts of Parliament for extinguishing the authority of the bishop of Rome. He gave evidence similar to that of Trowman and Nuthake as to words used by the abbot about the king's covetousness and tyranny. The last time he heard the abbot speak of such matters was immediately after the insurrection in the north. While walking in a gallery between the hall and garden before supper the abbot told him of the insurrection, of which he had not hitherto heard, saying 'The northern lads be up, and they begin to take piper in the nebe and say plainly that they will have no more abbeys suppressed in their country.' He said also that they were as true subjects as the king had, and desired nothing but that they might have the archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Privy Seal delivered to them, and he would God they had had them, for then we should have a merry world, for they were three archheretics.
The examination of the abbot himself made matters no better for him. The following are the interrogatories put to him, and his answers (fn. 85) :—
What he hath spoken at any time concerning the king's supremacy?
And concerning the bishop of Rome's usurped authority?
Item, that all the water in Thames would not slake the king's majesties covetousness?
That God would take vengeance for suppressing houses of religion?
What he hath spoken touching Sir Thomas More's death and bishop of Rochester and the monks of Sion with other?
What he hath spoken of the northern men in the time of commotion?
'As concerning the first and 2 interrogatories for as moche as I have reade in a pistle of Seint Jeronimi wer hee sayth that all bisshoppes have lyke autoryte but of "scismatis remedium" in thos parties "elegerunt Episcopum Romanum in summum": by the which sayyng I take and understand the Bischoppe of Rome hadd his suppremicye "jure humano" and afterwards usurpid moch more autoryte then ever was gyve to hym by any law. Wherfor now I affyrme that our most godly prince electid by the fre consent of all his hoole reawme hath good autoryte to be and is suppreme head of the same and this I have sayd as I am well rememberyd.
'As concernyng the 3 interrogatory I never sayd nor thought that yff all the water in the Temaes wer gold yett it wold not qwench or slake the coveytisse mynd of the kyng or his counsell nor any sentence lyke the sayme. I have sayde that the nature of coveytise is lyke to the dropysy, it is insaciable and never content, but I never referith the same saynge to the kyngges grace nor yet to his most honourable counsell.
'As concernyng the 4 interrogatory in suppressyng relygious houses I have said, as I remember and yff it be the wyll of God so to be it is well doon, yff not God well ponyssh at lengyth; and as towchyng my own house I take God my jugge yff the kynges visitours hadd cum to suppresse the same I would have gyve it uppe rather then to have the kynges displeasure, but I thowght sumwhat to stonde in it for that I wold my pensyon schold be the more.
'As concernynge the 5 interrogatory I have sayd that the bisshope of Rochester and Syr T. More wer grett lernyd men and with the grace of God they myght have contrition for ther. . .
'And as concernyng the 6 interrogatory I have sayd the northern men well speke moch with ther tonge but with the grace of God they schalbe vanqwysshith as the Cornysshemen were or else it wolbe wrong with us for whe schalbe spoylid in our howses. And heere is all that I have sayd as I do remember most mekely besechyng the kyngges most gracious magiste and his most honorable consell to be good to me for the love of God.
'per me Thomam Bech alias Marciall.'
The abbot was in the Tower of London on 20 November. (fn. 86) Soon afterwards he was sent down to Colchester to be tried by a commission (fn. 87) consisting of the earl of Essex, Sir Christopher Jenny, Sir Thomas Darcye, Sir Giles Capell, Sir John Seynclere and Sir William Pyrton; with a jury of sixteen to inquire and seventeen to try. In view of the evidence given above there can have been no possible doubt as to the result of the trial, but we only know that the abbot was found guilty and hanged (fn. 88) at Colchester on 1 December, 1539. Sir Christopher Jenny, writing (fn. 89) soon afterwards to Cromwell, says 'The prisoner after his judgment axed the kyngs highness, yr lordeshippes and my lord chauncellors forgiveness and knowlegid hymself in substaunce to be giltie accordynge to theffect of the indictmente and shewyd hym self to be very penytent, savynge he stoode somewhat in his own conceyte that the subpression of abbeys should not stonde with the lawes of God, and therby and by other circumstances I thought hym an evill man in myn own concyensand opinion yf ther had apperyd noo more but his own confesion.'
By this attainder the abbey and all its possessions came into the hands of the king. Pensions were, however, granted to the monks; John Fraunce receiving £6 13s. 4d., and William Ryppner £5 yearly in 1553. Sir Thomas Audeley endeavoured to get a grant of the site from the king, but failed; though he held it for a time at farm. On 20 August, 1546, it was leased (fn. 90) to Sir Thomas Darcy for twenty-six years, and the lease was afterwards sold by him to John Lucas. The reversion of the site was granted (fn. 91) on 22 June, 1547, to John Dudley, earl of Warwick, and later it came into the possession of John Lucas.
The plate of the abbey at the dissolution amounted (fn. 92) to 2,244¼ ounces besides 'two mytors garnished with silver and gilte, small seade perles and counterfeete stones or glasses, lackinge parte of the garnisshinge.'
The abbots of Colchester were mitred, with a seat in Parliament. The patronage of the abbey came to the crown on the death of Eudo, and consequently the Patent Rolls record their elections. (fn. 93) The following list is probably complete:— (fn. 94)
Abbots Of Colchester
Hugh of York, the first abbot, 1104. (fn. 95)
Gilbert de Lungrill, (fn. 96) circa 1104-1129.
William de Scuri, (fn. 97) circa 1129-1132.
Hugh de Haya, (fn. 98) circa 1132-1148.
Gilbert de Wicham, (fn. 99) circa 1148-1164.
Walter Walensis, (fn. 100) circa 1164-1179.
Osbert, (fn. 101) circa 1179-1195.
Walter de Huntingfeld, elected 1311. (fn. 112)
Thomas Moveron, elected 1353. (fn. 119)
The seal (fn. 150) of the abbey is circular, with a diameter of 3 inches. The obverse represents St. John the Baptist seated in a canopied niche, holding in his left hand the Agnus Dei on a plaque, and pointing to it with his right hand. In smaller canopied niches on the left and right are SS. Peter and Paul. In the base is a shield of the arms of the abbey—a cross within a bordure, over all an escarbuncle of eight staves fleury. Legend:—
SIGILLUM COMUNE MONASTERII SANCTI IOHIS BAPTISTE COLCESTRIE
The reverse represents St. John the Evangelist seated in a canopied niche, holding in the right hand a chalice with a dragon, and in the left hand a palm branch. In canopied niches on either side are angels. Outside these on either side is a penthouse, on which is an angel holding out a shield of arms; on the left those of France and England quartered, and on the right those of the abbey. In the base under an arch is an abbot kneeling, with figures in niches on each side. Legend:—
O MATRIS . . . ALNE IOHS CONSERBES OMES CCIB[UD] . . . ATQ . . . DS.