Much of opinion is akin to prophecy, and the opinions about the Reformation period are not exempt from this condition. Facts remain unalterable save by the production of more facts, but what interpretation future ages may put on them is a hazardous speculation. Macaulay’s New Zealander may be more than a dream. England’s power may wither, and Rome remain as she is. Or, again, these days of historical study may bring forth fruit. Our indebtedness to Rome may receive just admission, and she herself may abandon the untenable points which have been taken up for her by her infatuated friends. It is even possible that she may recover her old sway, though such a result can hardly come about save with a tide of historical ignorance. In time to come unlooked-for issues may modify such estimates of the past as we cannot help making at the present time.
The great revival of learning has brought forth few more notable characters than Cardinal Wolsey, son of a substantial grazier and wool-stapler of Ipswich, born in 1471, the year of Barnet and Tewkesbury. He was studying at Magdalen College, Oxford, when Edward IV. died, and in the reign of Henry VII. he was employed in important diplomatic business, and preferred to the deanery of Lincoln. His rise to eminence under Henry VIII., his sudden fall, and his sad death, belong rather to the general historian than to ourselves, who regard mainly the traces of his influence discernible still in his native county.
Of these traces, the best known is the decaying gateway of his projected college in the parish of St. Peter, Ipswich, purposed to be connected with “Cardinal College”, Oxford, now Christ Church. Wolsey, with all his faults, was faithful to learning and to the Papacy. He saw clearly that the ignorance and self-indulgence prevalent among the secular clergy and in the smaller priories would, unchecked, bring about a general upset, coupled, perhaps, with a victory for the Lutheran heresy. Colleges of priests had proved themselves at Oxford and Cambridge the great lights of England, while even those in the country had shown their power to educate the mind and train the craftsman. What he planned was little beyond the scope of the Statute of Leicester in 1414, affecting the alien priories, while much more restricted in area. The difference lay in the machinery used, and it was for him a fatal difference, a Papal Bull instead of an Act of Parliament. Had there been no divorce suit pending, the procuring of the Bull of May 14, 1528, from Pope Clement VII. for the suppression of “Romboro, Felixtow alias Fylstou, Bromehil96 prope Brandonfery, Bliborow et Montjoy”, would have effectually brought him under the Statute of Provisors. The houses to be suppressed were of the Benedictine rule, save Blythburgh and Mountjoy in Ipswich, of which the inmates were Austin Canons. All this while the great divorce business was trembling in the scales, and the French, who were in Henry’s interest, were overrunning Italy. When Campeggio started for England, probably carrying this Bull with him, they were dangerously near Rome. The deadly Italian summer brought about a change. On August 21 De Lautrec, the French commander, died in the midst of his fever-stricken troops. Campeggio, who, in compliance with his instructions, had been dawdling about on his journey, passed through Paris a few days afterwards, and reached England to find it in the utmost turmoil, and Wolsey broken in spirit. It was clearly no time to be carrying out the Ipswich College project. A year and more passed, crammed with events of the greatest moment. The Long Vacation of 1529 wore away. The courts reopened on October 9, and, while Wolsey was presiding in Chancery, the King’s Attorney in the King’s Bench was preferring an indictment against him for violation of the Statute of Provisory. Eight days afterwards he was deprived of the Great Seal. Before the month was out judgment in the King’s Bench was given against him. Then the tide seemed to turn. The King refused to receive the address of the Parliament against him, and showed him marks of favour the next year. But the reaction was illusory. The Earl of Northumberland arrested him for high treason on November 4, and he died, crushed in body and spirit, at Leicester on the eve of St. Andrew’s Day. Thus fell the most noted, if not the greatest, of the sons of Suffolk. His fall arrested those of the little priories named in the Bull of Clement VII., and it is instructive to see how in one case the day of grace was utilized. John Righton, or Ryton, Prior of Blythburgh, was apparently short of ready cash, though he does not seem to have had many mouths to feed within his conventual walls. About fifteen miles from him lived an esquire, Richard Freston, of Mendham, not above dabbling in Church property and preferment. Between the two a mutually advantageous bargain was made, Freston paying “down on the nail” for ninety-nine years’ lease – “Bliburgh beneficise cum Capella Walberswick”. The lease is signed by John Baker as well as the Prior, and his is the only name thought by Blomefield worthy of record. Five years more, and Blythburgh Priory perishes in the general vorago.
Political convulsions are bad for trade, and we find Suffolk prominent among the counties at this time suffering from depression in the cloth business. Indeed, there seemed at once a possibility of another outbreak from distress. The market was glutted, the merchants would not buy, and work was like to fall short. Weavers and other artificers from Lavenham, Sudbury, Hadleigh, etc., assembled to the number of 4,000. Hall’s account of the crisis runs thus :
When the clothiers of Essex, Kent, Wiltshire, Suffolk, and other shires which are cloth-making, brought cloths to London to be sold, as they were wont, few merchants or none bought any cloth at all. When the clothiers lacked sale, then they put from them their spinners, carders, tuckers, and such others that lived by cloth-working, which caused the people greatly to murmur, and specially in Suffolk, for if the Duke of Norfolk had not wisely appeased them, no doubt but they had fallen to some rioting. When the King’s council was advertised of the inconvenience, the Cardinal sent for a great number of the merchants of London, and to them said, ” Sirs, the King is informed that you use not yourselves like merchants, but like graziers and artificers; for where the clothiers do daily bring cloths to the market for your ease, to their great cost, and then be ready to sell them, you of your wilfulness will not buy them, as you have been accustomed to do. What manner of men be you ?” said the Cardinal. ” I tell you that the King straitly commandeth you to buy their cloths as beforetime you have been accustomed to do, upon pain of his high displeasure.”
We must say a few words about the ecclesiastical rulers after the death of Bishop Hart, or Lyhart, in 1472. His long episcopate was followed by those of James Goldwell, who ruled the diocese some twenty-eight years, and Thomas Jane, or Jan, Dean of the Chapel Royal, which terminated in 1500, the year after his consecration.
Then came the long rule of Richard Nykke or Nix, who died at Norwich in 1535-36, and, like his predecessors here recorded and his immediate successor, was buried in the cathedral. Their personal participation in the events of their time amounts practically to nothing. Godwin calls Nykke “a vicious and dissolute man”, and he is said to have been blind during the latter years of his life. Trinity Hall, Cambridge, acknowledges him as one of her sons, not an undutiful one, for he founded three Fellowships there. His claim to immortality rests on a saying of his about the sister Norfolk foundation, Gonvile Hall, then regarded as a receptacle for the ” new notions”, that he heard of no clerk coming from that college “but savoured of the frying-pan, spake he never so holily”. Immediately after the extinction of the earldom of Suffolk at Edmund de la Pole’s execution in 1513 came the revival of the duchy in the person of Charles Brandon, Viscount Lisle, on February 1, 1514, simultaneously with Surrey’s advancement to the duchy of Norfolk. He was a nephew of Sir William Brandon, the standard-bearer of Henry VII. at Bosworth, and is described as one possessing all excellent gifts, tall, handsome, brave, clever, winsome. Certainly all his good qualities were needed in the extraordinary success which attended his matrimonial ventures, especially the third, when he espoused Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII. His first wife was Anne, daughter of Sir Anthony Browne; his second, Margaret, daughter of John Neville, Marquis of Montacute, and thus niece to the King-maker Warwick.
Mary Tudor, who seems to have had an early attachment to him, had been for political reasons handed over to the kindly but infirm King of France, Louis XII., a man old enough to be her father. The nuptial life lasted eighty days, the young Queen’s taste for revels and late hours being too much for her royal husband, and the first day of 1515 was the last of the French King.
Charles Brandon, twice widower, young as he was, was not wanting to the occasion, and promptly carried off the widow of sixteen years old. He had evidently been regarded as a dangerous character, for a German of prodigious strength and size had been brought into the tournament field by the Duke of Valois at the time of the royal marriage festivities to try conclusions with Charles Brandon, whose best efforts seem to have been necessary to bring him off victorious. The young couple “lived happily ever after”; that is to say, till June 25, 1533, when the Duchess died at Westhorpe. When her tomb at Bury was disturbed, her hair was found to be of the Tudor red tint. Duke Charles survived her twelve years, serving his royal brother-in-law successfully at home and abroad. His fourth wife was Catherine, heiress of Lord Willoughby d’Eresby, a good friend to Ridley and Latimer. He was buried at the cost of his monarch at Windsor. At his death his young son Henry became Duke, but in 1551 he was carried off by the sweating sickness, together with his brother Charles, who survived him but a few hours, both lads passing out of the world in the same day. The issue of the sole Brandon survivor, Frances, will receive notice in the next chapter.
It is a relief in adverting to the Reformation to be able to speak of Roman Catholic utterance being modified on the point of clerical celibacy. Anyone who wants evidence of the legal marriage of secular priests in the Middle Ages may find it ready to his hand. The wonder is that a fact so well attested should not have received earlier acknowledgment.
In other points Justice herself would be hard set to hold her scales. Abstract theological questions must be put aside as unsuited to these pages, and those who would know how Thomas Bilney and Friar Brusierde, probably a native of the village near Saxmundham, fared at each other’s hands in the dispute at St. George’s Chapel in Ipswich, may turn to Foxe’s “Acts and Monuments”. They will, perchance, wonder how, before the days of shorthand, the words were taken down, and will regard with pleased surprise the development of nose in the friar, who is depicted in the woodcut as trying to pull Bilney out of his rudely- constructed pulpit.
There can be no doubt that the atmosphere was saturated with what were thought by the authorities to be mere inventions of heretics. What was in the air could not be kept out of the churches, or even out of the priories. Greek had been taught in England some ten years before the fifteenth century was out, and “Greek”, as a reactionary German bishop said, “is the parent of all heresies”.
Thus, William Blomfield, a Bury monk, abjured in 1529, and another of the same abbey, Richard Bayfield, was burnt at Smithfield in 1532. In his case there is proof that the abbey was not free from Reformation doctrine, and yet none seems to have been more strictly managed. The well-known Dr. Barnes often went to Bury to see Dr. Ruffam, who had been a fellow-student of his at Louvain. Here he fell in with Bayfield, who was Chamberlain of the abbey. Barnes made him a present of a Latin New Testament, and Stacy and Maxwell, wardens of the Brickmakers’ Company in London, who had also been guests at the abbey, gave him Tyndale’s Testament in English,”with a booke called the wicked Mammon, and the obedience of a Christian man”. He”prospered mightily”, but after two years 1hee was cast into the prison of his house, there sore whipped, with a gagge in his mouth, and then stocked, and so continued in the same torment three quarters of a yeare before Doctour Barnes could get him out”. It is rather a puzzle to account for this influence of Barnes’s when his disciple was thus in durance vile, for there are material hints of the sharpness of Bury discipline, in the shape of carvings of the Fall of Man in upper rooms in secluded cottages on their property97, which give a hint of their having been executed by recalcitrant monks in expiation for some breach of discipline. However, Barnes got him away to Cambridge, whence he departed to his London friends to undergo worse things in Bishop Stokesley’s coal-hole than he had undergone at Bury. Like many others he abjured recanted his abjuration, and finally went cheerfully to the stake, enduring the horror of an unusually slow fire. The brothers Topley, and William Gardiner, who abjured in 1532, were Austin Friars at Clare, a house which Foxe seems to have confounded with the Secular College at Stoke-by-Clare, whereof Matthew Parker was the last Dean. About six years afterwards, “one Puttedew was condemned to the fire, about the parts of Suffolke” for some expressions not perhaps in the best taste, but pardonable, and William Leyton, a Benedictine of Eye, suffered in like manner for”speaking against a certain Idoll which was accustomed to be carried about the Processions” there, and for his views about the administration in both kinds.
A frightful scene is recorded at the burning of Peke of Earl Stonham at Ipswich, supplemented by Baron Curson, Sir John Audley and others casting boughs into the fire, to obtain forty days’ pardon from Bishop Nykke. Two Mendlesham men, Kerby and Clarke, were burnt in 1546 at Ipswich and Bury (at the gate called South Gate) respectively. Clarke’s was a terrible business. There is no need to expatiate on the effect of these horrors, under the authority of William Rugge, or Reppes, Bishop of Norwich, who, with one of his archdeacons, Wolman of Sudbury, had solemnly denied the Papal supremacy, in conjunction with Cranmer, Edward and Roland Lee, Stokesley, Tunstall, Gardiner, Latimer, Bonner, and other leading divines of the day.
The burning of the Dovercourt rood, though it brings in an East Bergholt man, must be left to Essex, and those who would read of the Lord of Misrule at Dennington will find a quotation about him in the Suffolk Archaeological Proceedings.
Church plunder went on shamelessly in some places. Inventories were made in 1547, of which few remain; but those of the year 1553 are practically perfect. The original mandate addressed to the churchwardens of Bedingfield, ordering them to appear in Ipswich on a certain day, bringing with them the church goods, except the bells, still lies in the chest of that parish. In some places the sale of the silver cross produced money which was used for the completion of the fabric. At Woolverstone the squire took away two bells and two vestments, “supposing the sayd churche to be hys own chapell”. He was fined xx1i., which sum went into the Augmentation Office, and the parish has never since had more than one bell.
At what time the greater spoliation of sepulchral brasses took place must remain uncertain. Many fine indents remain up and down the country to testify to the destructive power of religious bigotry and petty cupidity. Among these is a fine early fourteenth-century floriated cross in Mildenhall chancel, to the memory of Richard de Wicheforde, Vicar,”qui fecit istud novum opus”. Some have been restored, as the fine brass in Gorleston Church, a cross-legged effigy to the memory of John Bacon, 11292, which Mr. Gage Rokewode purchased and restored to its ancient position. Some happily have never been removed from their place, eminent among which is the noble figure of Robert de Bures at Acton, near Sudbury, 1302, one of the five effigies in complete chain-mail, without any admixture of plate armour, remaining in England, and inferior to none. Though he is rather later than Bacon, he is not so much in the fashion, for which all archaeologists may be thankful. Of the middle period, one of the best is the fine double brass to Sir William Burgate and his wife Eleanor, in the church of that name. Another figure is Sir George Felbrigg in Playford Church, bearing the Felbrigg lion rampant on his surcoat. A lady of the Clopton family, c. 1435, in Long Melford Church, and one perhaps a little earlier at Acton, Alice de Bures, who married one of the Bryan family, are remarkable for the elegance of the drapery. Other good specimens are at Barsham 98, Stoke-by-Nayland, Ipswich St. Mary-le-Tower,
and Sotterley. Later figures are at Mildenhall, Worlingworth, and other places too numerous to mention, while at Brandish is a Norman-French inscription: “Sire Esmound de Burnedissch jadys persone de lesglise de Castre gist icy. Dieu de salme eit mcy”.
- In Weeting, the only house in this list out of Suffolk.
- Chepenhall, in Fressingfield parish.
- Bearing the collar of SS.