Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Last Abbey Surrenders


Waltham Abbey in Essex, in its last foundation a house of Augustinian Canons, surrendered to the Crown on March 23, 1540. It was the last abbey to surrender in the Dissolution or Suppression of the Monasteries. Robert Fuller was the last abbot; he had officiated at Queen Jane Seymour's funeral in 1537. He received a generous pension but may have died soon after the surrender as his will was probated in November 1540. Waltham Abbey was refounded by Henry II as penance after the murder of St. Thomas a Becket; it had originally been founded as a church and college by Harold Godwinson and he was buried there after the Battle of Hastings. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn visited the Abbey and the abbot tried to maintain the house, bribing Cromwell. According to British History Online:

The net value of the abbey is given in the Valor as £900 4s. 3d., the gross value (fn. 73) being £1,079 2s. 1d. yearly. It was thus the richest house in Essex. But though the most important of the English Augustinian houses it was not quite the richest, being surpassed by Cirencester, Merton, Leicester and Plympton. No event of any importance occurred in connexion with the dissolution. The abbot appears to have paid the usual bribes to Cromwell, as much as £50 being received (fn. 74) from him in 1535. Waltham managed to outlast every other abbey in England, and it was not until 23 March, 1540, that it was formally surrendered (fn. 75) by Robert, abbot, Thomas Waryn, Robert Wodleff, Robert Reed, William Lelle, Thomas Hawkyns, George Sollys, Edmund Sander, Robert Parkar, Edward Story, Hugh Yonge, Humphrey Martyn, Miles Garrard, John Noris, John Sander, John Homstyd, Robert Hull and Edmund Freke. The last three of these were at Leighs and Martyn was at Dunmow in 1534, all, apparently, having been transferred to Waltham after the dissolution of their priories. On the day after the surrender pensions (fn. 76) were awarded; the abbot receiving the large amount of £200 yearly in lands and other possessions, and the prior, chaunter, sub-prior, sexton and other canons sums varying from £20 to £5 yearly. The abbot had a grant (fn. 77) for life accordingly, on 6 May, of the manors of Woodford, Theydon Bois, Netteswell, Passelow, Stanford le Hope, Wormingford, Stanway, Cullings and Arlesey, and the rectories and advowsons of the churches of Wormingford and Arlesey besides other lands which had belonged to St. Bartholomew's Priory.

In the original scheme (fn. 78) for the establishment of new bishoprics at the dissolution it was intended that Waltham should be raised to the position of a cathedral, but this was never done. Its possessions were dispersed after the surrender. The demesne lands of the monastery were leased (fn. 79) to Anthony Denny on 12 April, 1541, He was made keeper (fn. 80) of the site on 9 January, 1542; and on 28 June, 1547, this was granted (fn. 81) to him in fee.

An extensive inventory (fn. 82) was taken of the goods of the abbey. Most of the vestry stuff is marked as given to the parish church of Waltham and other poor churches round. The church and household plate was mostly reserved for the king, and Sir John Williams, master of the jewels, received 1,169 ounces to his use on 18 March, 1541; but part of the household plate was given to the abbot and part sold to Denny. Part of the goods were received by the abbot, Denny and others, and rewards of a year's wages were given to a large number of servants
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Anthony Denny did very well through the Court of Augmentations and Henry VIII's friendship, according to his Parliamentary biography:

Between 1535 and 1545 Denny became the most intimate of Henry VIII’s few friends. As keeper of Westminster palace and of the royal household there he acted as receiver and paymaster of the King’s personal spending money, much of which was kept in the jewel house in the palace. His own income from offices has been estimated at some £200 but royal grants of land were the chief source of his wealth; in his will he acknowledged that ‘by the princely liberality’ of Henry VIII he had gained ‘all that I leave or can leave to my posterity’. The most important of these grants were, in 1536, houses in Westminster known as Paradise, Purgatory and Hell, and Cheshunt priory with its lands in four counties; in 1538, Hertford priory; in 1540, Amwell manor, Hertfordshire and Waltham rectory, Essex; in 1542, Mettingham college, Suffolk, with six East Anglian manors; and in 1547, in the distribution of crown lands after Henry VIII’s death, the freehold reversions to most of Waltham abbey’s estates, with over 2,000 acres of land elsewhere. An exchange of lands with the King was confirmed by an Act (35 Hen. VIII, no. 23) in 1544. Denny also leased property from the crown and made extensive purchases in Essex and Hertfordshire from private individuals. At his death he owned about 20,000 acres in Essex and Hertfordshire alone, his annual income from land being probably as much as £750. With the possibility of raising considerable sums from his London customs office, and from a licence granted him in December 1546 to export wheat, beer and leather, he was undoubtedly a wealthy man.

The abbey church is now an Anglican parish and remains of the abbey, the gatehouse and bridge, are part of the English Heritage program.

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