Little Bits of History

March 23

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 23, 2017

1540: Waltham Abbey is dissolved. The English Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy in 1534 which made the monarch also the Supreme Head of the Church of England, separate from Papal authority. The First and Second Suppression Acts followed in 1536 and 1539. This gave the monarch, King Henry VIII, the power to dissolve monasteries throughout his realm. At the time there were about 900 religious houses with about 12,000 people living there. One adult male in fifty was in religious orders at the time. It was assumed the income and assets from these establishments would increase the income of the Crown, many lands were sold off to pay for Henry’s military campaigns in the coming years.

Waltham Abbey lies about 15 miles NNE of central London. Archeological digs have shown the site has been in use for much longer than originally thought. Traces of rubble date back to the seventh century and radiocarbon dating of a burial site places it between 590 and 690 with a proposed original building date of 610 during the reign of King Saebert of Essex, a ruler noted for his church building. A second church was built in the late eighth century by King Offa of Mercia. In the twelfth century, the church and manor were overtaken by Tovi the Proud, an Anglo-Danish Thegn, aristocratic retainer of a king. He had a vision which led him to dig up a holy artifact from 150 miles away and transport the Holy Rood or Cross back to this church and it then became a pilgrimage site.

Tovi’s son had to sell the property to King Edward the Confessor and it was rebuilt by Harold Godwinson (the future King Harold II) and dedicated in 1060. The church was rebuilt again beginning in about 1090, reusing some of the materials but designed in the Norman rather than the Saxon fashion. It took about 60 years to complete and yet another rebuild was undertaken when Henry II gave the building to the Augustinians as part of his penance for killing Thomas Becket. In 1184, after beginning to rebuild again, the church status was increased and it became an abbey which increased the number of canons from 16 to 24. It was dedicated in 1242. The Holy Cross still brought many pilgrims to the Abbey, both aristocrats and commoners, but the nobles often stayed to hunt in Waltham Forest. This included King Henry VIII who was a frequent visitor.

Waltham was the last abbey to fall when Abbot Robert Fuller surrendered it and the estates to Henry’s commissioners. Fuller was pensioned off as were the prior and 16 canons. The choir master was paid off and given a job at Canterbury Cathedral. The Holy Cross disappeared without a trace. It was suggested the abbey become a cathedral for the Church of England but nothing happened. Today, it is in fact, part of the Church of England as a parish church and The Reverend Peter Smith is vicar. While the church remains, many of the outbuildings were destroyed in the dissolution. The Norman crossing tower and transepts collapsed in 1553 and a new west tower was added after the dissolution.

Well-beloved subjects! we thought that the clergy of our realm had been our subjects wholly, but now, we have well perceived that they be but half our subjects; yea, and scarce our subjects, for all the prelates, at their consecration, take an oath to the Pope clean contrary to the oath they make to us, so that they seem to be his subjects and not ours.

Alas, how can the poor souls live in concord when you preachers sow amongst them in your sermons debate and discord? They look to you for light and you bring them darkness.

Amend these crimes, I exhort you, and set forth God’s word truly, both by true preaching and giving a good example, or else, I, whom God has appointed his vicar and high minister here, will see these divisions extinct, and these enormities corrected.

I am very sorry to know and hear how irreverently that precious jewel, the Word of God, is disputed, rimed, sung, and jangled in every alehouse and tavern, contrary to the true meaning and doctrine of the same. – all from King Henry VIII

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