What happened to the monks and friars who were expelled from their monasteries and other religious foundations when they were suppressed by Henry VIII?
Earlier this year I wrote about Bartholomew Fowle alias Lynsted, the last prior of St Mary Overy, Southwark, who I believe to have been one of my ancestors. Southwark was an Augustinian foundation and before joining it in 1509, Bartholomew had been a canon of Leeds Priory in Kent, where I believe the Fowle family originated. I’ve been trying to discover Bartholomew’s precise relationship to my Fowle ancestors: some sources claim that he was the brother of my 13 x great grandfather Gabriel Fowle, the master of the Free Grammar School in Lewes, Sussex, but I’ve yet to discover any reliable evidence of this.
We know that Bartholomew continued to serve as a priest after his expulsion from Southwark priory, if only because of a bequest in the will of Dame Joan Milbourne, the widow of a former Lord Mayor of London, which was a payment in return his prayers for her soul. This bequest, made in 1543, is evidence not only of the persistence of traditional religious practices, nearly a decade after the Act of Supremacy, but also of Bartholomew continuing to practice as a Catholic priest.
Last week I came across another clue in my quest for information about Bartholomew Fowle, one that throws a little more light on his life after the ‘surrender’ of St Mary Overy to Thomas Cromwell in 1539. The last will and testament of a certain William Fowle of Mitcham, Surrey, made in 1547, makes two bequests to ‘Sir Bartholomew Fowle, priest’. The first relates to ‘my …. gardeyn with thappurtenances at Camberwell’ and the second consists of ‘all suche money as Sir Edward Boughton knight and his sonne do owe unto me by their obligacon with condicion’. (Boughton was a landowner who owned property in Woolwich, on the banks of the Thames.) Once again, it’s clear that, eight years after the closure of Southwark priory, Bartholomew Fowle was still being described as a priest, and presumably one who was still living in the environs of London (Camberwell is about three mile from Southwark, and about eight miles from Mitcham).
Frustratingly, I’ve yet to discover whether Bartholomew held a formal clerical post after his dismissal from St Mary Overy. A record of the dispossessed clergy of Surrey provides information on what became of twelve canons of St Mary Overy (was that the total number?) after the Dissolution. We learn that Thomas Hendon became rector of Staplehurst in Kent in the years 1554 – 1559 (roughly the years of Mary’s reign), while a Thomas Kendall or Kensall was vicar of Carisbrooke on the Isle of Wight in 1543. The only information given about Bartholomew Fowle is the amount of his pension (£100) and the fact of his being given a house ‘in the Close’ (presumably in Southwark). Did the pension mean that he didn’t need to seek a regular clerical appointment, or was his failure to take up such a post a reflection of his dissatisfaction with the post-Reformation Church?
I recently discovered that Bartholomew Fowle isn’t the only Augustinian canon in my family tree. Gabriel Fowle’s son Magnus married Alice Lucke of Mayfield, Sussex, and they were my 12 x great grandparents. Some time in the 1550s they were involved in a legal dispute concerning the will of one Thomas Lucke, dated 1551. Thomas seems to have been Alice’s uncle (the brother of her father Richard Lucke of Mayfield) and at the time of his death he was curate of Lythington or Littlington in Sussex. A man named Thomas Lucke had been a priest at the nearby Michelham Priory, an Augustinian foundation until its suppression in 1537, when it had the dubious distinction of being the first monastic site to be awarded to Thomas Cromwell. Is it possible that this Thomas Lucke became a secular priest on his ejection from Michelham and turned up at Litlington, which after all was only about six miles away?
Interestingly, yet another – and rather more controverisal – former Augustinian turns up as a witness to the will of another of my Sussex ancestors. Christopher Maunser of Hightown, Wadhurst, was another of my 13 x great grandfathers: his great granddaughter Mary married Stephen Byne, the son Edward Byne and Alice Fowle, the latter being the daughter of Magnus and granddaughter of Gabriel. They were my 10 x great grandparents. Christopher Maunser made his will in 1545, bequeathing his soul ‘to almighty God, our lady Saint Mary and all the (glorious) company of heaven’, another indication that Catholic practices had by no means died out in the later years of Henry VIII’s reign (he died in 1547).
However, one of the witnesses to the will was a certain ‘Sir Thomas Hothe, preste’. The same man would also witness the will of John Wenbourne, who was probably the father-in-law of Christopher Maunser’s daughter Mildred, just over a year later. Despite my best efforts, I’d been unable to find any reference to Hoth in contemporary records, and there seems to be nothing about him in the clergy database. But then I came across a chapter by Paul Quinn on ‘Richard Woodman, Sussex Protestantism and the Construction of Marytrdom’ in Art, Literature and Religion in Early Modern Sussex: Culture and Conflict (Ashgate, 2014), in which he mentions a Thomas Hoth who was formerly the precentor of the Augustinian New Priory in Hastings, but who in 1533 was charged with ‘rejecting purgatory, tithes and payment on the four offering days, and of supporting clerical marriage, a vernacular translation of the New Testament, and justification by faith’. In other words, he was an early protestant radical. It’s possible that this Thomas Hoth went on to become an itinerant protestant preacher and that he may have radicalised a number of the Sussex martyrs who died during Queen Mary’s reign.
Quinn also suggests that Hoth may himself have suffered for his beliefs, perhaps being identical with the Thomas Ahoth who is listed in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. If my ancestor Christopher Maunser was one of those who responded to Hoth’s preaching, then his will provides fascinating evidence of how emerging protestant sympathies sat alongside continuing affiliation to Catholic practices, such as prayers to Mary and the saints.
Of course, it should be remembered that the whole business of the Reformation can be blamed on yet another renegade Augustinian friar: Martin Luther.