The Augustinian connection

We were in Vienna, Austria, for a few days last autumn, and on the Sunday morning we went to High Mass at the Augustinerkirche, which was once the parish church of the Habsburgs. The church is noted for its excellent music, and the service was accompanied by a full choir and orchestra performing in the gallery above us. However, as far as I was concerned, the most notable feature of the church was that it was served by a community of Augustinian canons. In fact, although my schoolboy German couldn’t make sense of everything that was going on, I got the impression that a new canon was being admitted to the order during the Mass that we were privileged to attend.

High Mass at the Augustinerkirche, Vienna (via augustiner.at)

High Mass at the Augustinerkirche, Vienna (via augustiner.at)

I found all of this particularly meaningful because of my recent discovery that a surprising number of my ancestors were members of the Augustinian order. I’ve written before about Bartholomew Fowle, the last prior of the Augustinian house of St Mary Overy in Southwark, who had previously been a canon of Leeds Priory in Kent. Bartholomew is said by some sources to have been the brother of my 13 x great grandfather Gabriel Fowle of Southover, who was master of the Free Grammar School at Lewes, Sussex. In my last post I mentioned Thomas Lucke, who was a canon at Michelham Priory until its suppression in 1537. Thomas was the brother of Richard Lucke whose daughter Alice would marry Magnus Fowle, son of Gabriel. Magnus and Alice were my 12 x great grandparents.

I’ve also discovered a third Augustinian connection. Gabriel Fowle was the son of Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst, on the Sussex-Kent border. There is substantial evidence that Nicholas was connected, probably by marriage, to the Pattendens, another yeoman family from the same area. Nicholas’ will of 1522 was witnessed by Walter Pattenden, son of William Pattenden of Benenden. It seems likely that Nicholas was himself the son of William Fowle, who died in 1487. William’s will was witnessed by James Pattenden, who made his own will a year later, in which he made bequests to a certain Thomas Pattenden, prior of Combwell, who also witnessed the will.

Former priory of Combwell, Kent (via theweald.org)

Former priory of Combwell, Kent (via theweald.org)

Combwell was another Augustinian foundation, about five miles from Lamberhurst, and Thomas Pattenden was its prior from about 1480 until his death in 1513. In his last year, the priory was subject to a visitation by William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury. The account in the Victoria County History does not reflect very well on Thomas:

Archbishop Warham made a visitation of the priory in 1512. Thomas Pattenden had been prior for thirty-two years, and there were six other canons, who stated in their evidence that the infirmary was in great need of repairs and nobody attended to the sick, who had to lie in the dormitory. They had not enough food and drink or clothing, the prior never rendered any accounts, and there was no teacher of grammar. The manors of Benenden and Thornham needed great repairs. John Lanny said that the prior and convent laid him under a debt of £40 in an obligation without any condition to two outsiders, now remaining in the hands of the minister of Mottenden, and arranged that the house should not be indebted by this. The prior said that the obligation was cancelled, and was ordered to show it to the archbishop; and he was also ordered to make a proper account and inventory, to make sufficient repairs to the infirmary before All Saints and to correct the other points mentioned.

I suppose that, before the Reformation, most English families had at least one member who belonged to a religious order. But the frequency of my ancestors’ connections with the Augustinians is quite striking and suggests a close relationship with the order. Founded in the eleventh century, the Augustinian Canons Regular live together in community and their main purpose is to undertake the public ministry of liturgy and sacraments. There seem to have been a remarkable number of such communities in Kent and Sussex in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and I would be interested to hear,  from anyone who is familiar with the history of the order, whether this was typical of England as a whole.

I’m not sure whether the connection between the Fowle, Lucke and Pattenden families and the Augustinians means that my ancestors were particularly pious. However, there is some evidence that their attachment to the Catholic faith remained strong, even after the English Church split from Rome. In writing about Bartholomew Fowle, I noted that he continued to serve as a priest after the suppression of Southwark Priory by Thomas Cromwell’s agents in 1539, and that five years later he was still being asked to say prayers for the soul of the wife of a former lord mayor of London. When my 13 x great grandfather Gabriel Fowle made his will in 1554, he asked for ‘x preistes yf they can be gott to celebrate & say masse for my sowlle & all crysten sowles, & to be honestly recompensed by my executor’ and bequeathed ‘my wrytten masse book’ to his parish church in Southover. Admittedly, this was during the reign of Queen Mary, when Catholicism was briefly restored in England, but it suggests that Gabriel kept faith with the old religion through the difficult days of Henry’s and Edward’s reigns.

Gatehouse, Michelham Priory

Gatehouse, Michelham Priory

Thomas Lucke had composed his own will three years earlier, when Edward VI was still on the throne. We know from visitation records that Thomas was serving as precentor at Michelham in 1521. He was one of eight canons, in addition to the prior, Thomas Holberne. Michelham was suppressed on 1st October 1537, becoming the first religious house to be given to his notorious agent Thomas Cromwell by Henry VIII. Following the priory’s enforced closure, the canons each received a pension of £13.13.4. The prior lived on near Eastbourne, receiving a pension of £20, until his death in 1545. Apparently most of the other canons went to Sussex parishes and were allowed to keep the beds on which they had slept.

Thomas was transferred to the nearby parish of Litlington, where he was serving as curate in 1551, the year in which he made his will. The will, as well as supplying us with a useful catalogue of local names, is notable for its traditionally Catholic preamble:

Ffyrst I comytt my soule into the hands of almyghtie god, wth the intercessyon of the blessed virgyn marye mother of god and all the holy companye of heaven.

These words, written four years into the reign of Edward VI and two years after the Catholic mass had been banned in England, suggest that Thomas continued to adhere to the old religion even after his enforced departure from Michelham and his appointment to a parish in the (now protestant) English church. As Robert Whiting explains, bequeathing one’s soul to the Virgin Mary and the saints remained common throughout the middle years of the 16th century, despite the dramatic changes under Henry and Edward, and the practice only began to decline during the reign of Elizabeth. Tim Cooper points out that preambles of this kind were popular not only with the laity but also among clergy who wished to signal their continuing attachment to the traditional faith. Robert Brooke of Litlington, one of the witnesses to Thomas Lucke’s will, included a similar bequest – ‘to our Lady Saynt Mary and to all the holy company of heaven’ – in his own will six years later.

There is evidence that Thomas was not the only member of the Lucke family to maintain his allegiance to the Catholic faith after the schism between England and Rome. John Lucke of Mayfield, who was almost certainly a relative of Thomas, and may well have been his brother, made his own will two years earlier, in 1549. Like Thomas, John Lucke begins by committing his soul ‘to Almightie god our lady saynt Mary and all the glorious company of heaven’. But he goes further than Thomas in his explicit Catholicism, following the medieval practice of donating money for the maintenance of ‘lights’ for the altars of local churches:

Item I give to the high aultir ther for my tithes & oblacions forgotten or withholden lyd. Item I bequeath to the light of the withsaid church lcyd. Item to our mother church of seynt ayngell of Southemallinge vyd.

As Caroline Litzenberger notes, bequests of this kind provide us with vital evidence of continuing popular adherence to the traditional faith. Indeed, some historians maintain that most of the population remained Catholic in their sympathies until Elizabeth’s reign. Towards the end of his will, having left money to his unmarried daughter Christian, John Lucke appends the following proviso:

Item if the saide Cristian happen to dye before she be married then the said fyve poundes to be bestowed in this manner five nobles to apriest to praye for my soule her soule and all xten soules and other five nobles to the church of maughfield aforesaid. 

Paying to have Masses said for one’s soul after death was a defiantly Catholic practice. John Lucke’s bequest suggests either that he knew his parish priest was enough of a traditionalist to carry out his request, or that he was confident, despite Edward’s protestant reforms, of a return to Catholic practice.

Parish church, Litlington, Sussex

Parish church, Litlington, Sussex, where Thomas Lucke served as curate after the suppression of Michelham Priory

The wills of Thomas and John Lucke suggest that the Lucke family remained Catholic in its religious sympathies, at least during the middle years of the century. This may help us to understand how my 12 x great grandparents Alice Lucke and Magnus Fowle came together. I’ve already mentioned the explicitly Catholic will of Magnus’ father Gabriel. I’ve also written written before about the likelihood that Magnus was himself at the very least a church papist – a covert Catholic, outwardly conforming to the newly-protestant Church of England – living as he did during the reign of Elizabeth I, with its increasing persecution of those who remained faithful to England’s traditional religion. Evidence of Magnus Fowle’s true allegiance can be found in the bequest of twenty shillings in his own will of 1595 to Eleanor Ashburnham, a member of a notable family of Sussex recusants (Eleanor had been fined £40 for recusancy three years earlier). Moreoever, it appears that Magnus’ bequest of his own soul to the Trinity – ‘to Almightie god, the father, the sonne, and the holie ghoste, Three persones and one god’ – was a neutral form of words often used by Catholics and ‘church papists’ to signify their allegiance to the traditional faith, while avoiding both an accusation of recusancy and the florid Calvinist-influenced language of the reformers.

This evidence from my family history research goes some way to confirming the claim, made by a number of historians, that the population of England remained mostly Catholic until at least the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign.

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