‘I send you supposed religious relics – God’s coat, Our Lady’s smock, part of God’s supper – and all this from the priory at Maiden Bradley. Here you will find a holy father who has 6 children. His sons are tall men who wait on hi, and he thanks God that he never meddled with married women, but only with maidens (the fairest that could be got). The Pope, considering this holy father’s weakness, has given him license to keep a whore’
Study sources G, H and I. How far do these sources suggest that the smaller monasteries were dissolved in 1536 because of their corruption?
Manifest sin, vicious, carnal and abominable living is being daily used and committed among the small Abbeys, priories and other religious houses. The governors of such religious houses spoil, destroy, consume and utterly waste their properties to the displeasure of almighty God. And although many continual visitations have been made for an honest and charitable reformation, yet their vicious living shamelessly increases, so that unless such small houses are suppressed there can be no reform of these matters.
(From a report by Richard Layton, one of Cromwell’s commissioners, on a visit he made to the priory of Maiden Bradley in 1535)
The said Aske says that he opposed the suppression of the monasteries because the abbeys in the North have great alms to poor men and laudably serve God. And by the suppression the service of God is greatly diminished. The church of God is damaged and pulled down, the ornaments and relics of the church are irreverently treated, and tombs of honourable and noble men are pulled down and sold. There is no hospitality now kept in those parts, nor places for travellers to stay, and the profites of the abbeys now go out of the area to the King
(From the Act of 1536, dissolving the Monasteries with an income of less than £200 a year)
(From the deposition of Robert Aske, leader of the Pilrimage of Grace, in 1536. His statements were taken before his execution in 1537)
All three sources provide evidence for and against the argument that the monasteries were dissolved as a result of their corruption. At face value source G takes the line of argument that the monasteries were corrupt and this is the cause of their dissolution because it suggests they were deceitful by claiming that they had religious relics. Source H supports the arguments of H because it argues the monasteries are sinful and vicious. Source I however argues that the monasteries are not corrupt and that their dissolution is a result of the financial benefits they gave to the King. The sources also need to be judged in relation to their provenance in order to fully address the extent to which they support or challenge the statement in question.
The argument that the monasteries were dissolved because of their corruption is asserted most strongly in source G where it suggests that they used their influential position to gain money from the religious relics they held. It argues in a rather damning tone that they had supposed items such as ‘God’s coat, Our Lady’s smock’ and ‘part of God’s supper’ thus implying corruption because deception was being used against ordinary worshippers. G also suggests that monks themselves were corrupt where it mentions the 6 children of the holy father who has been licensed by the Pope to have a ‘whore’ . The report seems to be reflecting Cromwell’s known dislike for ‘corrupt’ religion as he viewed it and is giving ammunition for the Valor Ecclesiasticus. Source H corroborates with source G where it states that monasteries are living in ‘manifest sin..abominable living’ which is on the increase. Thus it confirms the tones of source G in suggesting corruption was at the heart of royal motives for dissolution. However , despite the fact that at face value both sources appear to wholly support the idea of corruption, their weight as evidence is limited by their provenance, thus actually implying they may support the argument that the monasteries were dissolved for financial reasons. Source G is heavily influenced by Cromwell’s determination to dissolve the houses and is a product of his aggressive visitations which contributed to the Valor Ecclisiaticus. Given Cromwell’s known reformist and evangelical sympathies this report would have been instructed to identify supposed corruption to justify dissolution – perhaps therefore the motives under the surface were actually financial? In conjunction with this source H is a blatant example of Royal propaganda. It is legislative justification for the dissolution. If should be better understood as a mask or veneer, dressing up the dissolution with legal language which confirms corruption, when actually it is masking true motives of financial gain. Therefore the surface arguments of G and H are limited by their attributes thus reducing the extent to which they agree with the statement.
In contrast to G and H, source I appears to offer a different explanation for the motives. Ask’s deposition highlights crown greed and cruelty, driven by seemingly financial motives. It challenges the notions of corruption put forward by G and H where it mentions the ‘great alms’ given to the poor and the men who had ‘laudably’ served God. It highlights financial gain in terms of ‘profits’ for the King. Although source I does not directly reject the motives of a belief in corruption as it does not provide a royal perspective, it implicitly explicitly that the King and Cromwell were driven greed and anger. Perhaps Source I also provides a more useful account as Aske would be expressing his perspective under the knowledge that he was soon to lose his life, although he was clearly going to espouse this vehement view because of his position as the leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace and representative of the opposition to the dissolution of the monasteries and the Supremacy.
In conclusion although sources G and H explicitly agree with the concept of corruption, their attributes lean more towards the idea of financial motives thus reducing the extent to which they support the statement in question. Source I suggests the idea of ‘profits’ in direct contrast although it could still be used to suggest a belief in corruption on the crown’s part because of the way in which it explains how the ornaments and relics were irreverently treated – perhaps implying the King disapproved of their deceitfulness. I also needs to be understood in relation to it’s provenance which reduces the challenge it poses to G and H because of Aske’s commitment to a rebellion against the Supremacy.