Dickinson 3

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J C Dickinson, The Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham, 1956  Chapters 1-3 (‘Historical’)

Chapter 1     Chapter 2
Chapter 3  The Last Days   Page 48  IN the last stages of its history, Walsingham swallowed up a few of the petty houses of the Austin canons whose strength was insufficient to maintain an effective existence.1  Fourteenth-century plagues and floods had evidently severely sapped the strength of the little house at Peterstone.  In 1440 the only religious left was the prior, then seventy-five years old, so a commission which included the prior of Walsingham was appointed to investigate the desirability of annexing it to Creake Abbey.2 But Creake itself was probably not too strong and in 1449 Peterstone was made a cell of Walsingham.3  Sixty years later, on 4 August 1509, with episcopal approval, Thomas, prior of Mountjoy, demised to the prior of Walsingham his house and lands for ten years subject to certain conditions for his own maintenance, including the provision of ‘mete and drink and a servant to wait uppon hym as a gentleman haught to have’.4  On Wolsey’s fall Mountjoy was seized by its patron as an escheat.5  Just before this happened—in 1528—Wolsey used his legatine powers to grant the priory of St Mary ad Fontes, Flitcham, which had fallen into decay, to Walsingham whose possessions it adjoined.  But as four resident canons were to be maintained for    1 On these see J. C. Dickinson, ‘Early Suppressions of English Houses of Austin Canons’ in Medieval Studies presented to Rose Graham, ed. V. Ruffer and A. J. Taylor (1950), 54-77. 2 C.P.R. VIII, 78. 3 J. C. Dickinson, loc. cit. 62; C.P.R. (1446-52), 297. 4 Cal. Anc. Deeds, III, 258 (A 6056). 5 F. Blomefield, History of Norfolk (1808), VIII, 231      Page 49  THE SIZE OF THE CONVENT the celebration of divine service, a yearly pension of 10s. was to be paid to the bishop and a daily mass to be said for Wolsey,1 it can have brought Walsingham little advantage.  It is much to be regretted that reports of the bishop’s visitations for the medieval monasteries of Norwich diocese are almost all lost, apart from those for the half century before the Dissolution.2  If there were any major disorders in the earlier centuries of the house’s history, one might have expected some echo of it in the royal and papal records, but, so far, the only serious trouble found is that concerning John Snoring, already noted.3  Certain general factors should be noted which made the situation of Walsingham, as of other religious houses, difficult. It is now almost certain that the Black Death and its after-effects had the catastrophic result of reducing the monastic population of medieval England by some two-fifths.4  At Walsingham this caused an immediate minor crisis which in 1364 led to the prior being allowed to dispense with four of his canons to be ordained priest provided they had completed their twenty-second year, in view of the shortage caused by the pestilence.5  But the big drop in numbers here, as elsewhere, does not    1 L. and P. IV (2), no. 5129. 2 Visitations of the Diocese of Norwich, 1492-1532, ed. A. Jessop (Camden Soc. 1888); the earlier visitations have evidently perished.  The very fine, surviving, medieval episcopal registers of Norwich deal almost entirely with other matters. 3 In 1327 Walter prior of Walsingham and others were accused of housebreaking but it is not known whether the charge was justified; C.P.R. (1327-30), 214. At the end of the century there was trouble with Thomas Houlot of Fornsete, a canon who apostatized after theft, see C. Pap. Reg. IV, 502; he is also described as ‘monk of Binham’, C.P.R. (1401-5), 386. 4 D. Knowles and R. Neville Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses of England and Wales (1953), 54-5, 364-5. 5 C. Pap. Reg. IV, 41.      Page 50 seem to have been permanent, and the last visitations show a reasonable number of brethren.  There were twenty canons in 13771 (which was perhaps almost as many as before the Black Death),2 seventeen in 1494, twenty-five in 1514, twenty-three in 15328 (including four canons from the late priory of Flitcham) and twenty-two in 1534.4  Owing to the absence of the Norwich episcopal visitations before the late fifteenth century, little can safely be said about the internal life of the priory before this date.  The over-luxuriance of the monastic revival in East Anglia after the Conquest had made life difficult for small houses in this area in later times, six of the Norfolk houses of the order being extinct before 1536.5  But Walsingham’s superior resources may well have helped to maintain a higher standard there and the cartulary list of canons6 certainly shows that, in the hundred and fifty years before the suppression, Walsingham supplied priors to several small neighbouring houses of the order.7  It is further worthy of note that the educational level of East Anglian monastic life was evidently well below what was desired.  The Norwich episcopal visitations edited by Jessop show a very remarkable number of monasteries lamenting the lack of a schoolmaster.8  Walsingham, as an exceptionally wealthy house, was normally able to afford to send some of its brighter    1 J. Cox Russell in Traditio, II (1944), 200, cited by Knowles and Hadcock, op cit. 157. 2 Ibid. 3 Norwich Visitations, 59, 113-22, 314. 4 Below, 59. 5 V.C.H. Norfolk, 11, passim; six of fourteen houses of Austin canons in Suffolk had similarly failed to survive. 6 Below, Appendix III. 7 Ibid. 8 Norwich Visitations, 19, 28, 59, 61, 77, 107, 125, 137-8, 165, 221.     top of page Page 51  EPISCOPAL VISITATIONS  members to the university,1  but this did not solve the educational problems of the mediocre many, and at the visitation of 1494 Brother Alan Aylesham reported that ‘the brethren have no schoolmaster in the house to teach them grammar’.2  This suggests that most of the brethren had little learning before entering the house, and the cartulary list of names shows that, in fact, an overwhelming proportion of them came from petty Norfolk villages where schools are unlikely to have been found.  This visitation of 14943 is the first of its kind concerning Walsingham that is known to have survived.  There appeared before the bishop the prior and sixteen canons.  No very serious delinquency is revealed, unless we accept the unsupported allegation of Brother William Norwich that the prior refused to have him ordained priest and imprisoned him for several weeks, which may or may not be so.  The other defects are few and of minor significance, tale-bearing, insolent servants, a prior prone to favouritism and brethren going outside the monastery without a companion.4  Nine years later, evidently in September 1503, died John Farewell5 who was prior at the time of the visitation.  His death led to a catastrophe in the history of the house which deserves considerable stress.  One William Lowthe with the aid of those notorious government officials, Empson and Dudley, made himself prior by what looks like doubtful means.  In July 1504 he received royal pardon for entering on temporalities without due    1 Ibid. 253, cf. Chapters of the Augustinian Canons (ed. H. E. Salter, Oxford, 1922), 99. 2 Norwich Visitations, 59. 3 Ibid. 57-60. 4 The bishop went on to order, inter alia, that accounts of the house should be kept by the cellarer and other officials regularly.  The Society of Antiquaries’ Account Roll of the cellarer of Walsingham for the year 1495-6 (above, 38) may well have been drawn up as a result of this. 5 C.P.R. (1494-1509), 332.      Page 52 acceptance,1 and in 1514, on the petition of the canons, the king cancelled the congé d’élire of 19 Henry VII which, according to the canons, ‘William Lowthe, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley on the death of Sir John Farewell unlawfully obtained, and upon which the said William Lowthe was elected prior’.2  The future showed only too clearly the disastrous effects of this elevation to the priorate of a man who was entirely unsuited for such responsibility.  The visitation of 14 July 15143 was a very full one doubtless because of disturbing signs of unrest.  The prior had clearly made most monstrous threats to the brethren against their making due revelations to the bishop, had appropriated revenues and property of the house including jewels from the chapel, and was accused of consorting with the wife of John Smith to whom he accorded various improper privileges.  That Prior Lowthe was mentally deranged is suggested by the accusation that he kept an old fool (‘senem fatuum ‘) whom he compelled to wear a surplice and to go in public procession, and ordered to be given Holy Communion, that he made a canon who called Smith’s wife a whore beg her pardon in the chapter house, that he struck a servant so violently that he died of the aftereffects, and that he threatened to build prisons for ten of the brethren.  Inevitably under such a superior the common life had sadly decayed. It was reported that there were dissensions among the brethren, that some were slack in performing divine service and three or four were leading    1 C.P.R. (1494-1509), 366. 2 L. and P. I (2), no. 3408 (28). The prior and convent claimed that they had the right of free election. 3 Norwich Visitations, 113-23.      Page 53  EPISCOPAL VISITATIONS a dissolute life drinking outside the monastery. The bishop evidently temporized.  Lowthe was allowed to continue as prior, though he was not to punish brethren without certain safeguards, notably the approval of the prior of West Acre, who was also to see that Lowthe tendered proper accounts of the priory’s finances; moreover two servants, one of them being John Smith (the other presumably his wife), were to be deported from Walsingham forthwith.  However, a month later (30 August 1514) the bishop issued further regulations’ and the next day secured the resignation of William Lowthe.   The canons of Walsingham were now enjoined to put away their previous divisions and bitterness; unnecessary conversation with seculars within the monastic precinct and archery outside it were forbidden, as was undue dallying in houses in the town.  Precautions were to be taken to lock the door of the treasury with two locks, one to be kept by the prior, the other by a senior brother chosen by the  convent; whilst the gold, silver, rings, jewels and other oblations at the chapel of Our Lady were to be enumerated and recorded weekly.  Thus ended perhaps the unhappiest era in the history of the priory and it is singularly unfortunate that it was during this period that Erasmus gathered at Walsingham materials for his remarks on the shrine which are so often quoted and so ill understood.  His famous account    1 Ibid. 147-8. 2 Ibid. 149.  It was probably the necessity of making adequate financial provision for the retired prior, as promised in the deed of resignation, that led to Lowthe being made prior of West Acre (Norwich Visitations,164-7); as might have been expected the results were none too happy (Ibid.). 3 For the text of the Colloquy I have used the Leipzig edition of 1829.  A translation with useful notes is given in J. G. Nichols, Pilgrimages to St Mary of Walsingham and St Thomas of Canterbury (London, 1875), and is utilized hereafter for most quotations from the Colloquy.      Page 54 has so often been accepted at its face value by those nurtured in the naive traditions of Victorian liberalism, that it is necessary to point out that it can only be accepted with considerable reservations.  As a critic Erasmus was neither well informed nor friendly.  His own sensitive nature had clearly suffered from the foolish attempt to make him take the religious habit as a boy, and, like many distinguished foreigners in Cambridge since, he found the English climate and diet inconducive to real peace of mind; whilst it should further be remembered that the Colloquy on Pilgrimage is one of four published in 1526 which constitute the high-water mark of his attacks on the popular religion of his day.1  His visit to Walsingham seems to have been of the briefest, his information about it acquired through an interpreter, and he was not immune from the contemporary readiness to confuse crudity and humour.  Certainly the more closely we examine his remarks on Walsingham the more obvious do their exaggeration and inaccuracy become.  Thus he places Walsingham ‘at the extreme coast of England to the Northwest [sic] at about three miles distance from the sea’,2 though it is a good five miles inland; he says that the priory ‘has scarcely any other resources than from the bounty of the Virgin’,3 though by this time half its annual income came from endowments as the Valor Ecclesiasticus plainly showed;4 whilst his claim that Walsingham ‘is    1 Cf. Preserved Smith, A Key to the Colloquies of Erasmus, 39: ‘If one considers the Colloquies with reference to the amount of liberal religious instruction and anti-clerical doctrine contained in them, it is noticeable that they rise to a crescendo towards the middle years and then drop off again in a diminuendo.  The high-water mark is certainly given by the edition of February 1526.  Nowhere else did Erasmus so belabor the most lucrative abuses and the most popular superstitions as in the four new dialogues therein contained.’ 2 Nichols, 11. 3 Idem, 12. 4 Below, 60.     top of page Page 55  ERASMUS ON WALSINGHAM the most frequented place throughout all England, nor could you easily find in that island a man who ventures to reckon on prosperity unless he yearly salutes her [Our Lady] with some small offering according to his abilit’1 - shows a most unclassical exaggeration.  There is plenty of evidence of somewhat superstitious practices in the Church of Erasmus’s day, but his account of Walsingham herein cannot command complete confidence, since in at least one major instance he seems guilty of deliberate misrepresentation.  He tells us that over ‘the two wells’ (which must be taken to be those mentioned in the Pynson ballad and still surviving) there was in his day a shed which was said to have been ‘suddenly and miraculously brought thither from a great distance’,2 and goes on to stress the stupidity of the guide and his failure to recognize the essentially modern nature of the building.  This is one of the few of Erasmus’s allegations which we can check by other evidence, and the result is not encouraging.  The rather earlier Pynson ballad shows that it is perfectly true that there then existed at Walsingham a tradition of a miraculous transportation.  But the edifice to which the ballad applies the tradition was not a modern shed moved as a whole ‘a great distance’, but the venerable chapel of Our Lady, then some four centuries old, which was said to have been moved, when in process of construction, a bare 200 feet.3  The two accounts cannot possibly be harmonized and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Erasmus, out of a donnish desire to tell a good story, had grossly twisted the facts.   He also gives a circumstantial account4 of how the priory had acquired a relic of the so-called Holy Milk of    1 Nichols, 11. 2 Idem, 28. 3 Below, 327. 4 Nichols, 25-7.      Page 56 Blessed Mary (lac sacrum beate Marie).  That this had originally come from the East, as he alleges, is likely enough; we find Barnwell Priory owning relics which its founder had acquired on the First Crusade,1 and Bridlington priory being given a reliquary from Jerusalem.2  But other details of its history as given by Erasmus have been shown to be inaccurate or unlikely, and it is at least possible that the inscription in the church from which Erasmus claims to have got them is misrepresented by him.3  Good reason has been given to show that the relic itself, described by Erasmus as ‘dried up— you would say it was ground chalk mixed with white of egg’,4 was not what a literal interpretation would make it out to be but was merely a scraping from the chalky ‘Grotto of Our Lady’s Milk’ in Bethlehem, a favourite medieval souvenir.5  How soon knowledge of the original nature of the relic tended to be generally forgotten and to what extent it was alive in Erasmus’s England are questions on which the writer does not feel qualified to draw any conclusions, though one may well feel that herein Erasmus has at least put the worst interpretation on the facts.  It is because one cannot feel sure that Erasmus has not embellished his account of Walsingham in a rather unfair way, that one regrets so much the absence of evidence regarding the other spectacular stories he tells.    1 Liber memorandorum ecclesie de Bernewelle (ed. J. W. Clark, 1907), 46-7. 2 Chartulary of Bridlington Priory (ed. W. T. Lancaster), 11. 3 E. Waterton, Pietas Mariana Britannica (1879), 198-9. 4 Nichols, 20. 5 Waterton, op. cit. 201-5.  A traveller writing in 1553-5 notes: ‘The pilgrims take pieces of the earth of this grotto for the use of women who have no milk. . . . Mothers who have no milk are in the habit of using fragments of rock and earth from this grotto’, A Spanish Franciscan’s Narrative of a Journey to the Holy Land (trans. H. C. Luke, London, 1927), pp. 69, 36; the editor notes that the practice still prevails (36 n.).      Page 57  ERASMUS ON WALSINGHAM Whether we believe his report that he was given a piece cut from a beam on which the Virgin Mother had been seen to rest’1 or not, must depend entirely on our estimate of his character and that of popular religion at this time.  Similarly, one cannot be certain whether or no Erasmus has touched up the story of the ‘Knight’s Door’.  This name was, and is, given to a small postern on the north side of the precinct wall.  According to the Colloquy it took this name from a knight on horseback who was closely pursued by his enemy and miraculously saved by commending his safety to the Virgin, so that ‘on a sudden the man and horse were together within the precincts of the church, and the pursuer fruitlessly storming without’.2  This much of the story is paralleled in Blomefield, whose account is partly taken from ‘an old MS.’3 which may be an independent source.  Under this door was ‘an iron grating allowing only a footman to pass’ and Erasmus asserts that this was put up after the escape ‘as it would not be proper that any horse should again tread the spot which the former horseman had consecrated to the Virgin’.  This may be so, but it is at least feasible that the grating was originally there to prevent its use by any but pedestrians (likely enough, since it was a conveniently placed exit for pilgrims after visiting the shrine) and that the alleged miraculous escape merely arose through someone on horseback having contrived to enter through it.  Again, it is difficult to feel any confidence in Erasmus’s jibe that the alleged relics of the True Cross would together make a shipload of timber,4 a remark perhaps not intended to be taken literally.    1 Nichols, 32. 2 Idem, 16. 3 F. Blomefield, History of Norfolk, ix, 280. 4 See the evidence cited by Waterton (op. cit. 206-9).     top of page Page 58   Of the brethren of the priory, as distinct from the cult there, Erasmus has little critical to say and that not of great importance. It is not easy to feel much amusement or concern at his somewhat snobbish references to the Walsingham canons’ ignorance of Greek1 (which they shared with all but the minutest fraction of contemporary western society), and their consequent failure to distinguish between Greek and Arabic in the case of his ode.2  Nor can it be regarded as surprising or grossly reprehensible if several of the brethren, as Erasmus asserts, contrived to catch a glimpse of the distinguished visitor.3  In any case Erasmus found fit to describe the convent as ‘highly spoken of; richer in piety than in revenue’.4  Between the time of Erasmus’s visit to Walsingham and the publication of his Colloquy on Pilgrimages, episcopal visitations were continuing, and give us valuable details on the conventual life at Walsingham.  In July 1520 it is clear that the situation had improved though it was still far from perfect.5  There were no grave scandals but the new prior was having difficulty in ruling a house divided against itself.  There was dissension among the brethren; some refused to consent to the sealing of proxies to excuse the prior from attending ‘the assembly of superiors summoned by the lord Cardinal’ (that is, the general chapter for Austin canons called by Wolsey in 1519) and the consistory court of Norwich, whilst a number of the brethren refused to accept the new statutes.  The refractory brethren were ordered to submit and ask pardon for their offence.  The next visitations came at what was apparently the    1 Nichols, 31-2. 2 Idem, 28. 3 Idem, 23, 2 9. 4 Idem, 12. 5 Norwich Visitations, 170-2. 6 Ibid. 252-3.      Page 59  THE LAST VISITATIONS normal six-year interval (August 1526) and showed that the situation had again improved.  Several brethren said that all was well and though others mentioned defects, none of these were of a serious nature.  There was the old complaint that the young brethren had no one to teach them.  It was said that the house had ceased to maintain a scholar at the university, whilst two brethren complained that the subprior was inclined to favouritism and severity.  In 1529 the prior of Coxford made various complaints against the bishop of Norwich and the prior of Walsingham, though it is not known to what extent they were justified.   At the visitation of 15322 Walsingham was pleasingly peaceful.  Most brethren said that all was well, the only dissenting voice being that of Brother William Race who maintained that the convent’s attendance at mattins was irregular.  There were at this time twenty-two brethren besides the prior, four of whom were novices and four ex-canons of Flitcham.  By now the first rumbles of the Reformation were beginning.  On 18 September 1534, Prior Richard Vowell and twenty-one canons signed a deed accepting King Henry VIII as ‘head of the English Church’ and rejecting the authority of the pope.3 In the following year was compiled the Valor Ecdesiasticus, the great valuation of the wealth of the English Church, which gives us most valuable details of Walsingham’s financial resources.  The gross general income of the priory was estimated at £707. 7s. 10⅛d. with a net value of    1 L. and P. IV (3), no. 5511; the charges suggest an attempt to suppress the priory of Coxford. 2 Norwich Visitations, 314-15. L. and P. VII, no. 1216 (27), printed in Arch. Journ. XIII (1856), 128-9.      Page 60 £652. 4s. 11⅝d.1  The lands owned by the priory were very extensive and almost all in Norfolk, the gross temporal income being £385. 0s. 0⅝d.  The spiritual revenues were derived from two sources.  The rectories of All Saints’ in Great Walsingham and of St Peter’s, and of All Saints’ in Little Walsingham totalled £59. 10s. 5d.  Much more valuable, more unusual and more interesting are the offerings at the shrine (oblaciones) which the Valor shows under three heads.  Those at the relic of the so-called ‘Holy Milk of the Blessed Mary the Virgin’ amounted annually to only 42s. 3d., those ‘in the chapel of St Laurence’ to £8. 9s. ½d. for the same period; but those ‘in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ totalled no less than £250. 1s.—more than the total income of many a medium-sized monastery.2  There were annual payments for the maintenance of lights and 12s. 6d. for twenty-five poor at Bedingham, whilst 106s. 8d. was paid yearly to a chaplain celebrating divine service in the chapel of  Our Lady for the souls of Edward I, Edward II, and John Uvedale, knight.3  A chaplain was also paid 106s. 8d. to celebrate for the souls of John Marshall and his wife Ellen (‘Alina ‘).  In Harl. MS. 791 are preserved some curious Articles of Enquiry.4  They are headed ‘Walsingham’ and consist of a series of very detailed questions regarding the value of the offerings at the shrine: whether these were inventoried or alienated or pledged; what relics were there and where these were exposed; whether miracles at the shrine were claimed and ‘wonte to be declared in pulpite heretofore’ and what proof there    1 Valor Ecclesiasticus (Rec. Com.), III, 385-8. 2 Ibid. III 386.  The offerings to the Holy Rood of Bromholm had now shrunk to a mere £5. 12s. 9d. 3 See above, 43 and Surrey Arch. Coll. III, 71. 4 Fos. 27r-28r; printed in Nichols, 209-12.   top of page   Page 61  THE WEALTH OF THE SHRINE was for such claims; what stories were told about the origin of the house and of the statue; ‘whether our Ladye’s milk be liquid or no’ and ‘what of the house where the bere skynne1 is and of the knyght’. These articles are unfortunately undated but it has long been recognized that they have been influenced by Erasmus’s account of Walsingham.  The inquiry here envisaged evidently preceded the attack on images launched by the royal injunctions of August 1536, for before this date we have evidence of some intention to rob the shrine.  As early as 25 July 1536, a letter from one of his agents to Thomas Cromwell reported that all the money, plate and jewels at Walsingham had been sequestered,2 a step probably contemplated before October 1535.3  It is difficult to see what justification there could be for this act at this stage.  The Act suppressing the smaller monasteries passed in February 1536 could not apply to Walsingham whose wealth put it high up among what the Act called ‘great solemn monasteries wherein thanks be to God, religion is well kept and observed’.  The letter adds the interesting note that ‘frome the Satreday night tyll the Sondaye next folowinge was ofred at their now beinge 133s. 4d.’ besides wax, and note that the visitors had found ‘a secrete prevye place within the howse, where no channon nor annye other of the howse dyd ever enter, as they saye’ and that among the implements there was ‘nothing there wantinge that shoulde belonge to the arte of multyplyeng’. This    1 The bearskin is mentioned by Erasmus. Waterton, op. cit. 319, shows it may have been used as a rug. 2 L. and P. XI, no. 165; printed in full in T. Wright, Letters relating to the Suppression of the Monasteries (Camden Soc. 1843), 138-9, and Nichols, 213-14 3 A letter of the prior to Cromwell of October 1535 shows that a valuation of oblations was then under way (L. and P. IX, no. 678).      Page 62 suggestion of false coining is in line with the behaviour of Cromwell’s servants but it is at least as likely that the workshop in question was used for the manufacture of the pilgrim tokens which are known to have been on sale at this time.1  It is worth noting in this connexion that a building for this purpose was found at Christchurch, Canterbury, England’s other major pilgrimage centre.  At this time Walsingham like other religious houses of the diocese of Norwich suffered from a visitation by royal officials ‘of doubtful character’2 concerned to provide propaganda material for the total dissolution of monastic life in England.  Their report, quite worthless as evidence, accused some canons of fleshly sins and the house of ‘much superstition in feigned relics and miracles’.3  In September 1536, Richard Vowell, the then prior of Walsingham, wrote to Cromwell an obscure letter about some mysterious domestic matter, saying that all his brethren ‘deny that they were privy either to the articles or to the letter sent to Cromwell in their name’ and adding that the bearer will deliver Cromwell’s ‘fee for the ensuing year’.4  That pilgrimages were still going on, however, is clear from the mention of a visit by Cornish soldiers at this time5 and from a curious report of trouble at the shrine.  On 3 June 1537, it was deposed that a priest    1 It is just conceivable that the priory had rented some room within its precinct to a townsman who was uttering false coin, as Henry Capron mercer of Little Walsingham had done a little before (L. and P. IV (3), g. 6418 [27]).  Prof. Dickins suggests the possibility that the place was being used for experiments in alchemy. 2 J. R. Tanner, Tudor Constitutional Documents, A.D. 1485-1603 (Cambridge, 1940), 58. 3 L. and P. X, p. 143. 4 Ibid. XI, 480; a list of fees monthly from monasteries about this time includes £4 from Walsingham, Ibid. XI, appendix no. 16. 5 Above, 46.      Page 63  THE NORFOLK RISING at Our Lady’s chapel ‘on Our Lady’s Even before Christmas’ had said to four men of Lincolnshire who came on pilgrimage to Walsingham that ‘if Norfolk and Suffolk would have risen when Lincolnshire and Yorkshire did, they had been able to have gone through the realm’.  This was a reference to the Pilgrimage of Grace, a rising recently inspired by the suppression of the smaller monasteries, but the accusation of disloyalty was clearly suspect as it came from a ‘soore and diseased beggar’ whose importunity at the chapel door had so irritated pilgrims that they invoked the aid of the priest.  The beggar attacked him with ‘froward and naughty words’ for which a constable finally put him in the stocks, after which he made his accusation against the priest.1  But there was bound to be much discontent at the dismantling of the monasteries now going on apace on every hand, not least in an area whose past was as inextricably involved with monasticism as Norfolk, and it is not surprising that a rising here was planned in which Walsingham was implicated.  In mid April 1537, one Ralph Rogerson meeting one George Gysburghe of Walsingham in the town had said to him, ‘You see how these abbeys go down and our living goeth away with them; for within a while Bynham shall be put down and also Walsingham and all other abbeys in that country’,2 and had suggested opposition.  The sequel was a plot to rebel, hatched under cover of a shooting match at Binham.3  Those involved seem to have been few and were largely local laity of no great influence, but their efforts were enough to jolt    1 L. and P. XII (2), no. 21. 2 Ibid. xi (1), 1056. George Gysburghe was later accused of saying ‘that he thought it very evil done the suppressing of so many religious houses where God was well served’ and of suggesting insurrection. 3 Ibid. XII (1), no. 1125.      Page 64 a somewhat nervy government.  Unhappily for the conspirators their plans were betrayed at an early stage by one John Galant of Letheringsett, a servant of Sir John Heydon who alleged that the conspirators ‘aimed at ‘raising the country’ and going to the aid of  ‘the Northern men’.1  Sir John, a member of a well-established local family, stood firm by the government, and on 26 April 1537 wrote hastily of ‘a great insurrection like to be among the King’s subjects about Walsyngham. . . . . Tonight or early in the morning I intend to be at Walsingham to apprehend some of these rebellious, and trust to hear from my lord how I shall act.’2  But three days later Richard Southwell wrote to Cromwell that Heydon had informed him ‘the conspirators do not pass 12 in numbers, all very beggars and there is no likelihood of any commotion’.3  The rebels were sought out and on 3 May Cromwell was informed that the subprior of Walsingham (Nicholas Mileham) was ‘infectyd’ and had been taken and examined.4  A week later, on 10 May 1537, Sir Roger Townsend and Richard Southwell acknowledged receipt of letters from the king and Cromwell, ordering the execution ‘without sparing’ of all offenders in the Walsingham conspiracy.5  In pursuance of this, the subprior and George Gisborough, evidently a layman of the town, were drawn, hanged, beheaded and quartered at Walsingham on 30 May 1537, nine of their confederates suffering similarly at other places in Norfolk.6   Prior Richard Vowell evidently hoped against hope that his house would survive, but if it had not been    1 L. and P. XII (1), no. 1045.  2 Ibid. no. 1046. 3 Ibid. no. 1063. 4 Ibid. no. 1125. 5 Ibid. no. 1171. 6 Ibid. no. 1300, where a list of those executed is given.     top of page Page 65  THE END OF THE SHRINE implicated in the abortive rising its wealth must have proved an irresistible temptation to the extravagant king, who by now had decided on the total suppression of monasteries in England.  A short lull, however, followed.  For some months after the executions little is known about the house till on 14 July 1538 we find the prior reporting to Cromwell that the royal commissioners had taken the image of Our Lady from the chapel ‘allso all suche golde and syllver with such other thynges as weare theare,1’ leaving in his keeping some silver.  He went on to urge the expenses that the priory would be liable to incur by being unable to observe certain compulsory ecclesiastical obligations under the new  conditions,2 and continued to urge, as he had evidently done before,3 ‘the translacion of our house into a college’.  On 18 July the image that for centuries had evoked so much piety reached London along with the statue of Our Lady of Ipswich and ‘’all the jewelles that hunge about them.4  Their fate was uncertain at this date.5  A month earlier Latimer had written to Cromwell urging the burning of certain famous statues of Our Lady, including that of Walsingham,6 and this course was decided on ‘because the people should use noe more idolatrye unto them.’7  They were destroyed at Chelsea probably before July was out.8    1 Ibid. XIII (1), no. 1376. 2 Possibly legal suits for not maintaining masses in the chapel. 3 Ibid. XIII (2) no. 86. 4 C. Wriothesley, A Chronicle of England (Camden Soc. 1875), I, 82. 5 Ibid. 6L. and P. XIII 1177. 7 Wriothesley, op. cit. I 82. 8 Ibid.  But E. Hall, Chronicle (1809), 826, says that this took place in September.  On 17 September 1538, Partridge wrote to Bullinger: ‘You have heard no doubt of the Lady of Walsingham and the breaking in pieces of the Holy idols.’  In January 1540 Cromwell was informed from Walsingham, ‘The said image is not well out of some of their heads’, an old woman having got into trouble because of this (L. and P. XV, no. 86).      Page 66  By this time Prior Vowell’s pathetic hopes that his house would avoid destruction had been blasted.   On 25 July, Sir Richard Gresham wrote to Cromwell acknowledging instructions ‘’that the king’s pleasure is that the priory of Walsingham shall be dissolved’ and informed him that he had notified the prior of this.1  On 4 August 1538 the end came.  In the priory chapter-house before the royal commissioner, Sir William Petre, the prior and his canons signed the deed surrendering their house with all its possessions to the king.2  On 12 August Richard Vowell, writing as ‘Prest’, asked Cromwell for various favours including the parsonage of Walsingham3 and also begged expeditious action to solve the financial needs of his brethren and himself.  Four days later Gresham wrote to Cromwell that the prior of Walsingham was ‘both impotent and lame’ and urged that he be given the parsonage, declaring him to be ‘very discreet, learned, of good name and can set forth the Word of God very well, whereof the town has great need’ .4 In the event he became vicar of South Creake and a good number of his brethren are known to have received pensions or benefices or both.5  On 7 November 1539, Thomas Sydney of Little Walsingham and his wife bought the building and site of the    1 L. and P. XIII (1), no. 1453.  2 Ibid. XIII (2), 31.  The text of the Close Roll copy is printed in Arch. Journ. XIII (1856), 129-31. The original deed has evidently not survived and this copy unfortunately does not give the signatures of the brethren, so we cannot be certain how many they were at this stage. 3 L. and P. XIII (2), 86.  This seems to have included all three churches. 4 Ibid. 114. 5 G. Baskerville, ‘Married clergy and pensioned religious in Norwich diocese 1555’ in Eng. Hist. Rev. XLVIII (1933), 43-64,199228.  Blomefield noted (Hist. of Norfolk, IX, 278) that in 1555 eleven ex-canons of Walsingham were receiving pensions.  I have found nothing to justify Waterton’s remark (op. cit. 217) that ‘at the suppression fifteen of the canons of Walsingham were condemned for high treason of whom five were executed’.      Page 67  THE END OF THE PRIORY late priory of Walsingham with two closes of land formerly belonging to it for £90.1  Spelman tells us that when he was at school at Walsingham it was said that Sydney ‘was by the townsmen employed to have bought the site of the abbey to the use of the town, but obtained and kept it to himself’.2  Thus fell one of the most magnificent monasteries of medieval England.  But its memory was long adying; and about the end of the century an anonymous poem, perhaps by Philip earl of Arundel, poured out the bitterness which the deed had brought to those to whom the cult of Our Lady stood as an ennobling force in a crude society.   In the wrackes3 of Walsingam, whom should I chuse But the Queene of Walsingam to be guide to my muse. Then thou Prince of Walsingam grant me to frame Bitter plaintes to rewe thy wronge, bitter wo for thy name. Bitter was it oh to see the seely4 sheepe  Murdered by the raveninge wolves, while the sheephards did sleep. Bitter was it oh to vewe the sacred vyne, While the gardiners plaied all close, rooted up by the swine. Bitter, bitter oh to behould the grasse to growe, Where the walls of Walsingam so stately did shew. Such were the works of Walsingam while shee did stand, Such are the wrackes as now do shewe of that holy land. Levell levell with the ground the towres doe lye, Which with their golden, glitteringe tops pearsed once to the skye. Where weare gates, no gates are nowe; the waies unknowen, Where the press of peares5 did passe while her fame far was blowen.    1 L. and P. XIV (2), 619 (15). Cf. C.P.R. (1550-3), 416-17.  Much of the priory property went to Sir Thomas Gresham (Ibid. 240). 2 H. Spelman, History of Sacrilege (ed. C. F. S. Warren, 1895), 146. 3 Devastation. 4 Innocent. 5 Nobles.      Page 68 Oules do scrike where the sweetest himnes lately weer songe, Toades and serpents hold their dennes wher the palmers did thronge. Weepe, weepe O Walsingam, whose dayes are nightes, Blessinge turned to blasphemies, holy deeds to dispites.1  Sinne is wher our Ladie sate, heaven turned is to hell, Sathan sittes wher our Lord did swaye, Walsingam oh farewell.2     On 6 July 1922 a replica of the ancient image of Our Lady was ceremonially installed in the Anglican parish church, and soon after organized pilgrimages began there.  In 1931 the statue was moved to a permanent shrine built in the village.  The chapel was later extended and various auxiliary buildings added; it is now visited by some thousands of pilgrims annually.  The Roman Catholic focus of devotion is the medieval Slipper Chapel at Houghton (on which see Appendix IV) which was reopened in 1934 and is now the centre of very large pilgrimages.    1 Outrages. 2 Bodl. Lib. Oxf., MS. Rawl. poet. 219 fo. 16r—v.  See Percy’s Ballads and Romances (ed. Hales and Furnivall, 1868), III, 46572 for ballads concerning Walsingham, and for other literary references E. H. Sugden, A Topographical Dictionary to the works of Shakespeare. . . (Manchester, 1925), 555.  A. Gasquet, Henry VIII and the English Monasteries (London, 1888), II, 432, refers to ‘windows, doors, stone called freestone, glass, iron and tiles’ from Walsingham being disposed of in lots at the Dissolution; I have been unable to check this, as his reference (P.R.O. Mins. Accts. 31-2 Hen. VIII, 255 m. 10d) is incorrect.
Chapter 1     Chapter 2