The Pilgrimage of Grace

Robert Aske, [on Abbeys]

In 1536, Parliament passed an act for the suppression of the smaller monasteries, dissolving hundreds of religious houses; monks and nuns were expelled from their monastaries, abbeys, and convents, and their property was confiscated by the crown. Chief among the demands of the Pilgrimage of Grace was "That the suppressed abbeys . . . be restored to their houses, lands, and goods." Before his execution for treason, Robert Aske was subjected to an extended interrogation, including the question "for what causes ye grudged against them [the King's acts], and what reasons were brought forth by any man for declaration of those causes?" In his response, Aske sought to explain to his interrogators what the spiritual and economic significance of the religious houses had been to the people of the north, especially the poor. The haste with which Aske was forced to draft his responses to the questions put to him is reflected in the sometimes garbled syntax.


To the 23rd article the said Aske sayeth: First, to the statute of suppressions, >> note 1 he did grudge against >> note 2 the same and so did all the whole country, because the abbeys in the north parts gave great alms to poor men and laudably served God; in which parts of late days >> note 3 they had but small comfort by ghostly >> note 4 teaching. And by occasion of the said suppression the divine service of almighty God is much minished, >> note 5 great number of masses unsaid, and the blessed consecration of the sacrament now not used and showed in those places, to the distress of the faith and spiritual comfort to man's soul; the temple of God rushed >> note 6 and pulled down, the ornaments and relics of the church of God unreverent used, the tombs and sepulchres of honorable and noble men pulled down and sold, none hospitality now in those places kept, but the farmers for the most part lets and taverns out >> note 7 the farms of the same houses to other farmers, for lucre and advantage to themselves. And the profits of these abbeys yearly goeth out of the country >> note 8 to the King's highness, so that in short space little money, by occasion of the said yearly rents, tenths, and first fruits, should be left in the said country, in consideration of the absence of the King's highness in those parts, want of his laws, and the frequentation of merchandise. Also divers and many of the said abbeys were in the mountains and desert places, where the people be rude of conditions and not well taught the law of God, and when the said abbeys stood, the said people not only had worldly refreshing in their bodies but also spiritual refuge, both by ghostly living of them and also by spiritual information and preaching. And many their tenants were their fee'd >> note 9 servants to them, and servingmen, well succoured >> note 10 by abbeys. And now not only these tenants and servants wants refreshing there, both of meat, cloth, and wages, and knoweth not now where to have any living, but also strangers and baggers >> note 11 of corn, as betwixt Yorkshire, Lancashire, Kendal, Westmorland, and the Bishopric was neither carriage of corn and merchandise greatly succored both horse and man by the said abbeys. For none was in these parts denied, neither horsemeat nor mansmeat, so that the people were greatly refreshed by the said abbeys, where now they have no such succor; and wherefore the said statute of suppression was greatly to the decay of the commonwealth of that country, mid all those parts of all degrees greatly grudged against the same, and yet doth, their duty of allegiance always saved. >> note 12

Also the abbeys were one of the beauties of this realm to all men and strangers passing through the same; also all gentlemen much succoured in their needs with money, their young sons there succoured, and in nunneries their daughters brought up in virtue; and also their evidences >> note 13 and money left to the uses of infants in abbeys' hands, always sure there. And such abbeys as were near the danger of sea banks, great maintainers of sea walls and dykes, maintainers and builders of bridges and highways, such other things for the commonwealth.

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