The History of Tewkesbury

By James Bennett

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2015



IT cannot but be matter of surprise, as well to those who are sensibly alive to the blessings we owe to the Reformation, as to those who consider that the interests of religion were weakened by that event, that the rapacity and injustice exhibited by Henry the eighth in the destruction of the monastic institutions, and the tyrannous behaviour of his inquisitorial commissioners, should not have called forth a more determined opposition from those who appeared to be the immediate objects of royal displeasure. The abbots and priors seem in some cases to have viewed almost with indifference this bold proceeding, and frequently surrendered their houses and revenues without a murmur; but this apparent apathy, it is reasonable to conclude, could only have been occasioned by promises of future advancement if they acquiesced in the king's demand, and by threats of vengeance in case of refusal. The instance of Wakeman, abbot of Tewkesbury, who obtained a mitre for his subserviency to the ruling powers, serves to confirm this opinion; and it is remarkable that though twenty abbots were present in the house of peers on the passing of the act, in 1539, which confirmed all resignations of religious houses already made or to be made, not one of them protested against it. As the king, in some instances, made gifts of the revenues of the convents to his favourites, or sold them on easy terms, the nobility and gentry were without difficulty reconciled to the measure; and the lower classes of his subjects offered no resistance to it, as they were led to believe that the abbey lands would produce sufficient to defray the whole expenses of government, and that taxes would no longer be


necessary; stories also, attributing to the monks the most scandalous excesses, and to the nuns vicious and debauched lives, were invented and actively propagated; and the reliques of the monkish orders, which had long been objects of popular veneration, were exposed to the vulgar gaze, and their alleged miraculous properties openly derided.[170]

Camden asserts, that there were suppressed, at different times, six hundred and forty-five monasteries, ninety colleges, two thousand three hundred and seventy-four chantries or free chapels, and one hundred and ten hospitals.

It has been calculated that the monks were proprietors of fourteen parts out of twenty of the whole kingdom; and that out of the six parts which were left for the king, lords and commons, there were four numerous orders of mendicants to be maintained, against whom no gate could be shut, and to whom no provision could be denied.


The monastery of Tewkesbury was the last of the religious houses in the county of Gloucester which surrendered to the commissioners of the arbitrary and avaricious monarch; and from an ancient manuscript, containing an account of the suppression and demolition of this abbey, which is preserved in the Augmentation Office, the following particulars were extracted by Bishop Burnet, and inserted in his History of the Reformation. This record thus commences:-

"The Certificate of Robert Southwell, esquire, William Petre, Edward Kairne, and John London, doctors of law; John Ap-Rice, John Kingsman, Richard Paulet and William Bernars, esquires, commissioners assigned by the king's majesty to take the surrenders of divers monasteries, by force of his grace's commission to them, six, five, four, or three of them, in that behalf directed, bearing date at his highness's palace at Westminster, the seventh day of November, in the thirty-first year of the reign of our most dread Sovereign Lord Henry the eighth, by the grace of God, King of England and of France, Defender of the Faith, Lord of Ireland, and in earth immediately under Christ supreme head of the Church of England, of all and singular their proceedings, as well in and of these monasteries by his majesty appointed to be altered, as of others to be dissolved, according to the tenour, purport, and effect of his grace's said commission; with instructions to them likewise delivered, as hereafter ensueth".

The surrender[171] was made, under the convent seal, on the 9th of January, 1539.


The clear yearly value of all the possessions belonging to this monastery, as well spiritual as temporal, over and besides £.136. 8s. 1d. in fees, annuities and custodies, granted to divers persons by letters patent under the convent seal, for the term of their lives, was[172]£.1595156
The following pensions were assigned by the commissioners to the abbot and other members of the monastery:[173] 
 To John Wich, late abbot£.266134 
 John Beoly, late prior1600 
 J. Bromesgrove, late prior of Deerhurst1368 
 Robert Circester, prior of St. James1368 
 Wm. Didcote, prior of Cranbourn1000 
 Robert Cheltenham, B.D.1000 
 Two monks, £.8 each1600 
 One monk700 
 Twenty-seven monks, £.6. 13s. 4d. each18000 
Remains clear[174]£.1063810


The records and evidences belonging to the monastery were directed to be left in the treasury there, under the custody of John Whittington, knight; but the keys were delivered to Richard Paulet, receiver.[175]

The houses and buildings assigned to remain undefaced were also committed to the custody of John Whittington, knight, and were as follow: the lodging called the Newark, leading from the gate to the late abbot's lodging, with the buttery, pantry, cellar, kitchen, larder, and pastry adjoining; the late abbot's lodging, the hostelry, the great gate entering into the court, with the lodging over the same; the abbot's stable, bakehouse, brewhouse, and slaughter-house, the almonry, barn, dairy-house, the great barn next to the Avon, the malting-house, with the garners in the same, the ox-house in the barton, the barton-gate, and the lodging over the same.

The following portions of the monastery were deemed to be superfluous: the church, with the chapels, cloisters, chapter-house, misericord, the two dormitories, the infirmary, with the chapels and lodgings within the same; the wark-hay, with another house adjoining; the convent kitchen, the library,[176]


the old hostelry, the chamberer's lodging, the new hall, the old parlour adjoining to the abbot's lodging; the cellarer's lodging, the poultry-house, the garner, the almonry, and all other houses and lodgings not above reserved; and these were also committed to Sir John Whittington's custody.

The leads remaining upon the choir, aisles and chapels annexed, the cloister, chapter-house, frater, St. Michael's chapel, halls, infirmary, and gate-house, were estimated to be one hundred and eighty fodder.

The bells remaining in the steeple were eight poise, by estimation fourteen thousand six hundred pounds weight.[177]

The jewels reserved for the use of his majesty were - two mitres garnished with gilt, rugged pearls, and counterfeit stones.

The silver plate reserved for the king consisted of three hundred and twenty-nine ounces, silver gilt; six hundred and five ounces, silver parcel gilt; and four hundred and ninety-seven ounces, silver white.

The following ornaments[178] were reserved for the king's use: one cope of silver tissue, with one chesible, and one tunicle of the same; one cope of gold tissue, with one chesible, and two tunicles of the same.


The amount of all the ornaments, goods and chattels, belonging to the monastery, which were sold by the commissioners (as in a particular book of sales more at large appears) was£.19480
From which sum the following payments were made:- 
 To thirty-eight late religious persons of the said monastery, of the kings reward£.80134 
 To one hundred and forty-four late servants of the monastery, for their wages and liveries75100 
 To divers persons for victuals and necessaries supplied for the use of the monastery; with £.10 paid to the abbot, in full payment of £.124. 5s. 4d. by him to be paid to certain creditors of the said monastery, by covenants made with the commissioners18120 
Remaining clear £.19128

After reciting a number of small debts, owing to and by the monastery, this record of the commissioners concludes with the following account of ecclesiastical livings in the gift of the abbot:-

GloucestershireFour parsonages and ten vicarages.
WorcestershireTwo parsonages and two vicarages.
WarwickshireTwo parsonages.
BristolFive parsonages and one vicarage.
WiltshireTwo vicarages.
OxfordshireOne parsonage and two vicarages.
DorsetshireFour parsonages and two vicarages.
SomersetshireThree parsonages.
DevonshireOne vicarage.
CornwallTwo vicarages.
Glamorgan, &c.Five vicarages.

Total, twenty-one parsonages and twenty-seven vicarages.


The lands and possessions of the monastery were, shortly after the dissolution, granted to various persons.

King Henry the eighth, in the thirty-sixth year of his reign, in consideration of the several sums of £.2280. 19s. 3d. and £.591. 13s. granted to Thomas Stroud, Walter Erle and James Pagett, gentlemen, the site of the abbey of Tewkesbury, with the buildings, gardens, orchards, &c. within its precinct; and also various other messuages, lands, fisheries, liberties, &c. to be held of the king by the twentieth part of a knight's fee, paying £.1. 11s. 0¼d. annually. This property for many generations continued part of the possessions of the Earls of Essex; but the present earl, in the year 1824, disposed of the principal portion of it by auction, and it is now vested in a number of proprietors.

The Earls of Essex were also proprietors of other considerable estates, in Tewkesbury, Walton Cardiff, Ashchurch, Tredington, Fiddington and Cheltenham, which had been the property of the abbey of Tewkesbury.

A messuage, in the tenure of John Jefferys, was granted to Richard Andrews and Thomas Hisley; and one hundred and sixty-four messuages to John Pollard and Arthur Barte, 36 Hen. VIII. - A messuage, lands and tenements, were granted to John Bellow, 37 Hen. VIII. - Tenements, called Amner's Orchard, and other lands in Tewkesbury, and tithes of SulMead and Dole-Meadow, and tithes in Swelle, were granted to Daniel and Alexander Perte, 7 Edw. VI. - Four acres in the Oxleys, lands in Barton-street, and at Brockhampton near Tewkesbury, were granted to Christopher Hatton, 18 Eliz. Other lands in Tewkesbury were granted to Richard Robson, 6 Eliz. - The tithes of Brithwood, in Tewkesbury, were granted to John Fernham, 22 Eliz. - Lands called Hannocks, &c. and two mills on the Avon, were granted to Edw. Haslewood and Edw. Tomlinson, 23 Eliz. - Parcels of meadow in Amesham and Rushmead, in Tewkesbury, were granted to Geo. Salter and John Williams, in trust for Sir Baptist Hickes, 7 Jas. I.[179]


A fishery in the Severn, parcel of the abbey, was leased to Richard Brush, 30 Hen. VIII. at fifteen shillings per annum; and lands called Water-drawing, near the abbey mill, and Le Piller and the Mill Ham were let to John Hereford, esq. for sixteen shillings the clear yearly value.[180]

In the "Account of the Crown's Minister or Receiver of the dissolved Monastery of Tewkesbury", 33 Hen. VIII. now in the Augmentation Office, among various other entries, are the following:- "Five shillings for a chamber in Tewkesbury, lying and being within the church-yard of the same town, demised to Thomas Parker and his assigns, &c. - Also three shillings and four-pence for another chamber there demised to Hugh Whittington and John Hickes and their assigns, &c. Also, two other chambers there together, situate near the belfrey, with a small garden adjoining, demised at a rent of eight-pence to Thomas Witherston and Richard Pulton and their assigns, &c."

The pension allowed to the abbot of Tewkesbury would be of itself a sufficient proof of the great riches of the monastery, as those pensions were generally apportioned to the worth of the house; though they were sometimes increased in consequence of no irregularities or vices being discovered by the visitors, and perhaps more frequently where the king's mandate was quietly submitted to. Few abbots received so large a pension as four hundred marks; though the abbot of St. Edmundsbury, on account of the virtuous conduct of himself and his house, and in order to induce him to surrender the immense riches appertaining to that celebrated monastery, had a pension of five hundred marks yearly assigned to him. These pensions were allowed during life, or until the parties could obtain benefices or preferment in the church: that of the abbot of Tewkesbury soon ceased, for, two years afterwards, he was appointed bishop of Gloucester; but a considerable number of the monks were alive and unbeneficed in 1553, and subsisted on their pensions. Willis[181] gives the following


list of those pensioners: Robert Cirecester, £.13. 6s. 8d.; Phill. Cardiff, £.8.; Tho. Newport, £.7.; John Welneforde, Richard Wimbole, Tho. Twining, William Stremish, Robert Aston, John Gates, Tho. Bristow, John Hertland, Tho. Thornborough, Hen. Worcester, Richard Cheltenham, Thomas Stanwey, and John Aston, each £.6. 13s. 4d.[182]

It seems that most of the buildings which were at first designed by the commissioners to remain uninjured, were afterwards by some means destroyed: Willis, in his History of Mitred Abbeys, says, they were burnt down by the visitors, in consequence of the opposition they met with from the monks; but as there appears to be no ground for supposing that any remarkable hostility was evinced towards the commissioners by the abbot or monks, it is more probable that they were destroyed by an accidental fire during the demolition of those parts which were deemed superfluous.


[170] Of all the impostures which were said to have been brought to light by the demolition of the religious houses, few exceeded that practised at Hayles abbey, near Winchcomb, which proved for many ages a source of immense revenue to the monks of that richly-endowed monastery. Here was shewn, as the monks affirmed, a portion of the blood of our blessed Saviour, brought from Jerusalem, in 1270, by Edmund Earl of Cornwall, son of the illustrious founder of the abbey; and it is easy to imagine the veneration with which such a sacred treasure was regarded in a superstitious age. This precious relique had, it was reported, the wonderful property of being wholly invisible to any one in a state of wickedness, but shewed itself instantly to those who by good works had obtained absolution. At the suppression of the monastery, the cheat was detected and divulged. Two of the monks, who were made acquainted with the secret, put into a phial, one side of which consisted of thin and transparent chrystal and the other of thick and opaque, the blood of some animal, which they renewed occasionally, and when any rich and devout pilgrim arrived, they failed not to shew him the dark side of the phial, until he had paid for as many masses and given as large alms as they thought fit to exact; when, finding his money, or patience, or faith, nearly exhausted, they imperceptibly turned the phial, and made the penitent sinner happy by a sight of the precious treasure! The story is thus related by Hume and others; and however absurd and unworthy of credit are some of the tales which were propagated respecting the monks, it cannot be doubted that a most wicked imposture was practised by them at Hayles; for Pinson, one of the earliest English typographers, printed, in quarto, "A Little Treatise of divers Miracles, shewed for the portion of Christ's blood in Hayles abbey; in meetre: how it was brought thither - the Pardons granted by the Popes and Reliques there". - See Herbert's Ames.
[171] The preamble to the resignation of monasteries was generally to the following effect:- "That the abbot and brothers, upon full deliberation, certain knowledge, of their own proper motion, for certain just and reasonable causes, especially moving them in their souls and consciences, did freely, and of their own accord, give and grant their houses to the king". Many of those surrenders were accompanied by a confession of the errors and vices prevalent in religious houses. In the Augmentation Office is preserved the confession of the prior and monks of St. Andrew's, Northampton, "in which, with the most aggravating expressions that could be devised, they acknowledged their past ill life, for which the pit of hell was ready to swallow them up. They confessed that they had neglected the worship of God, lived in idleness, gluttony and sensuality, with many other woeful expressions to that purpose". - Burnet's Reformation.
[172] Speed and Dugdale state the yearly amount of the possessions of Tewkesbury monastery to have been £.1598. 1s. 3d.; but the roll in the Augmentation Office makes it no more than £.1566. 10s. 1¾. Monasteries were generally much richer than they appeared to be from the rent-roll of their estates; for instead of raising the rents, as the value of land increased, great fines were exacted from the tenants upon the renewal of leases. The real income of religious houses has therefore generally been reckoned at double the amount of their stated rental; and if to this be added the difference in the value of money betwixt that period and the present, it may be inferred that the annual revenue of the abbot and convent of Tewkesbury was equivalent to little less than £.40,000 in the present day. For an account of the possessions of the monastery, at the time of its dissolution, see Appendix, No.11.
[173] See Appendix, No.12.
[174] Thus the crown came into the immediate possession of nearly two thirds of the revenues of this monastery, with a reversion of the remaining third upon the death of the pensioners, exclusive of personal effects, and the patronage of forty-eight livings.
[175] It is much to be lamented, that a greater portion of the records belonging to this monastery has not been preserved: there are some interesting documents in the British Museum and in the Augmentation Office, but it is to be feared that most part of the records which were placed by the commissioners in the custody of Whittington and Paulet, have been entirely lost.
[176] Bale, who was made bishop of Ossory by Edward the sixth, and was obliged to fly to Holland, on the accession of Queen Mary, for his opposition to popery, and who will therefore hardly be suspected of exaggerating the account of the destruction of the monastic libraries at the Reformation, says, "That a great nombre of them whych purchased those superstycyouse mansyons [the monasteries] reserved of the lybrary bokes, some to scoure their candlestycks, and some to rubbe their bootes, some they sold to the grossers and sopesellers, and some they sent over see to the bookebynders, not in small nombre, but at tymes whole shyppes full, to the wonderinge of foren nacyons. Yea, the universities of this realme are not all clere in this detestable fact". He adds, "I know a merchantman, whych shall at this tyme be namelesse, that boughte the contentes of two noble lybrares for forty shillings pryce, a shame it is to be spoken. This stuffe hath he occupyed in the stede of graye paper by the space of more than these ten years, and yet he had store ynough for as many years to come; a prodigyouse example is this, and to be abhorred of all men, who love their nacyon as they should do". - Dugdale's Monast. Abridg.
[177] Burnet appears here to have fallen into two inaccuracies: the papers in the Augmentation Office state the lead to have been only eighty fodder, and the weight of the bells to have been fourteen thousand two hundred pounds.
[178] By ornaments, we are to understand articles for the use of the church, as plate, images, crucifixes, ampuls, candlesticks, basins, biers, vestments, pixes, crosiers, mitres, chests of relics, philatories. tabernacles, chalices, censers, chrismatories, copes, chesibles, altar cloths, serta or garlands, buckles, &c.
[179] Atkyns's Gloucestershire.
[180] MS. Harl.
[181] Mitred Abbeys.
[182] See Appendix, No.13.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in October 2015.

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