Gaye Mack’s Blog

THE BRUTAL “EXECUTION” OF GLASTONBURY ABBEY’S LAST ABBOT, RICHARD WHITING UNDER “CROMWELL”

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 4 Comments

By the fall of 1539, Thomas Cromwell’s  methodical eradication of England’s  abbeys and monasteries  on behalf of King Henry VIII  had well been  underway for a few years.  Beginning with the smaller houses  in 1537, the campaign eventually  found it’s way to Glastonbury, one of the wealthiest abbeys in the country.  The zealous motivations behind this fierce onslaught were complex, no question.  Political posturing, Henry’s break with Rome, the need for a male heir and frankly his desperation to get his hands on cold, hard cash… all of these were at the root.

 Long before his marriage to Anne Boleyn and the brutal execution of Richard Whiting,  Henry’s ability to manage his money was out of control.  He was known to be a lavish spender so much so that by the time he married Anne he’d gone through all of the money left to him by his father, some £1,800,000!  Once he broke with Rome, Henry had all but alienated most of Europe, making his realm a target for wolves on his doorstep.  At the very least, he needed money to supply a military and to keep Anne in the manner to which she’d become accustomed.

 For its part,  the Church was rife with greed and a variety of non-spiritual improprieties that  ran rampant among the religious houses prior to the dissolution.  However, at the end of the day, Henry’s object was to get his hands on salable land and possessions. Since The Great Fire of 1184Glastonbury  had miraculously risen from its ashes like the mythical phoenix. Only the  shrines at Canterbury and Walsingham attracted more pilgrims.  This was a house that despite its own internal disorder between factions of monks, was rich in material goods and property.

 In September of 1539 Richard Layton along with two other of Cromwell’s commissioners made a ‘visit’ to Glastonbury for the purpose of interrogating its abbot, Richard Whiting.  Whiting was an old man by this time and by all accounts had so far gone to great lengths to stay out of trouble by not rocking the ecclesiastical boat regarding Henry’s petition to divorce Katherine of Aragon.   However, when Layton and his colleagues searched Whiting’s study, they discovered a book arguing against the divorce along with various papers considered to be traitorous.  Further interrogation of Whiting proved to be unfruitful as evidently the abbot was stubborn and uncooperative.  As a result he was removed to London’s Tower to await interrogation by Cromwell himself. 

Meanwhile back in Glastonbury, Layton, Thomas Moyle and Richard Pollard thoroughly discharged the abbey’s community and then proceeded with a systematic sweep that revealed hidden wealth in the form of plate, gold and ‘other articles.’  One can only imagine  details of the resulting inventory totaling (not including land and cattle holdings) 11,000 oz in plate plus gold, furniture and £1,100 in money.  Nevertheless, despite Layton and his associate’s discoveries, the myth remains alive to this day that ‘much of the Glastonbury treasure’ including the Holy Grail, escaped Cromwell’s commissioners. 

Whiting was arraigned on November 6th, 1539 resulting in the order,  ‘put to execution.’    At some point he was transferred back to Glastonbury according to Sir John Russell, who was  charged with the abbot’s ‘disposal.’  Details of Whiting’s gruesome execution are fairly well-known. Feeble and ill, the Abbot was dragged on a hurdle to Tor Hill where he was hung, (some resources claim from St. Michael’s tower) drawn, quartered and beheaded.  His four body parts were sent to Wells, Bath, Ilchester and Bridgewater for public display; his head was stuck on Glastonbury’s abbey gate. 

The question remains, was Whiting truly a traitor or was his execution simply vindictive retaliation for his obstinacy and Henry’s need to get his hands on the great abbey’s extensive wealth?  Unfortunately it’s doubtful we’ll ever know as the  records of Whiting’s trial along with Cromwell’s justification for execution have never been found.

 So, what do you think?  Was Whiting’s execution justified or simply an example of  bullying, power that ordered terminal  punishment for defiance?

 

St. Michael’s Tower-The Tor, Glastonbury

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.

Relevant books to explore:

  • The Tudors-G.J. Meyer
  • The Last Divine Office-Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries-Geoffrey Moorhouse
  • Wolf Hall-Hilary Mantel
  • Bringing up the Bodies-Hilary Mantel

 You can follow me on: http://www.facebook.com/gayemackauthor


A RARE FACE TO FACE MEETING WITH 12TH CENTURY ECCLESIASTICAL TRAPPINGS

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 6 Comments

As I write this post, I’m currently ensconced in one of my favorite English cities, Oxford, where tomorrow I’ll be tramping around what remains of Godstow Nunnery just outside of the city and the setting for book #3 in my ‘Flight Through Time’ historical mystery series.  While I’m looking forward to this, two days ago I had an extraordinary experience at Winchester Cathedral.

 Through connections to the Cathedral, an old friend of mine was able to arrange an opportunity for me to spend some time with one of the Cathedral’s curators who allowed me to privately view the 12th century ‘Sparsholt Chalice and Paten’, on loan to the Cathedral, but not on display.  

We tend to fantasize that such ecclesiastical trappings were always very ornate, made from the most valuable of metals such gold or silver, decorated with priceless gems.  The reality is that in fact, often they were not. 

During a Victorian renovation of Sparsholt’s church which is located about three miles from Winchester and believed to be a site of worship since Saxon times, the chalk grave of a 12th century priest was discovered near the pulpit;  buried with him were a ceremonial pewter chalice and paten.

What surprised me the most was not only its lack of ornamentation and utter simplicity, but the size!  A visual guess puts the chalice at roughly four inches tall with the bowl perhaps six inches in diameter.  The paten is perhaps four inches in diameter.  With the exception of the medieval Christian cross embossed in the center of the paten, both pieces are totally devoid of decoration and although Pewter was considered a valuable metal, it certainly wasn’t in the category of gold and silver.  During a recent conservation restoration, the decision was made not to attempt to repair the crack in the bowl.  Nevertheless, to contemplate something so old in front of you, wondering who might have used it 900 years ago, staggers the mind.

We also forget that the average height of the medieval body was much shorter than modern physical characteristics, so one wonders; even though the pieces were ceremonial, were they proportionally fashioned?

Unfortunately, but understandably, I wasn’t allowed to hold them, but nevertheless it was an extraordinary experience, knowing that characters in my books have been taking the sacraments from items such as these.

 

 

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.


WAS THE SAINTED HUGH OF LINCOLN CATHEDRAL REALLY SO ‘SAINTLY’?

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work Leave a comment

If one could board the ‘way back machine’ with Mr. Peabody and Sherman from the endearing ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ show, it might be interesting to dial in coordinates for May 1186, Eynsham Abbey, Oxfordshire.  Upon arrival, we might very well hear the town crier announcing,

STUNNING RESUME CATAPULTS HUGH OF AVALON

INTO BISHOP’S CHAIR AT LINCOLN CATHEDRAL!!

 It was to Eynsham that King Henry II summoned a council of bishops and barons in order to elect Hugh of Avalon to the vacancy at Lincoln.  No question, by this time in his life, Hugh had amassed a very impressive resume of accomplishments and on the surface it would seem that he was well placed in the monastic life.    Following his appointment as a deacon for the Benedictine priory of Villard Benoît near Grenoble France, Hugh’s ecclesiastical career was on the proverbial meteoric rise by the age of 19, particularly after he came to the attention of the powerful Plantagenet king, Henry II.

 As it was, in 1170 Henry found himself in a hot spot of bother with the Pope over that nasty business concerning Thomas Becket.  However, Henry being the quintessential deal maker, managed to appease Pope Innocent III (an ‘interesting name’ in and of itself!) by making an offer that Innocent couldn’t refuse.  In lieu of going on pilgrimage as part of his penance for his complicity in Becket’s murder, Henry agreed to establish a Carthusian house in England; which he did, just down the road (more or less) from Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset. 

 Unfortunately by 1179, the Witham Charterhouse was pretty much of a mess; so who to call?  By this time Hugh, now quite accomplished in his mid forties, was on Henry’s radar and thus, was commanded to Witham to sort things out… which he did…brilliantly actually.  As there is nothing like success, Hugh’s accomplishments at Witham led him to an additional assignment on the King’s orders.

 By 1183 the political climate had become so poisonous at Glastonbury that Henry ordered Hugh to take on the supervision of Glastonbury’s diabolical ‘Custodian’, Peter D’Marcy.  Predictably, D’Marcy didn’t take kindly to Hugh’s interference which provides rich fodder for my book, A Murder of Crows.  However, following Glastonbury’s disastrous Great Fire of 1184, Hugh remained at Witham until the Eynsham council elected him to head Lincoln’s bishopric in 1186.

Hugh’s biography, written by Adam of Eynsham, a Benedictine monk who was Hugh’s constant companion during Hugh’s final three years of life, remains in manuscript form in Oxford’s Bodleian Library.  Predictably, Adam’s accounts of Hugh’s life and behavior is impeccable. 

 However… in his contemporary and highly entertaining book, Sex Lives of the Popes, author Nigel Cawthorne informs us:

            “Like other popes, Alexander III [1159-1181] had particular problems with the clergy in England.  Determined to have someone celibate in the See of Canterbury, he appointed the monk Clarembald, only to discover the he had seventeen illegitimate children in one village alone.

            At the that time, the Bishop of Lincoln [this would be Hugh] was concerned about the debauchery of nuns in England.  So he developed a novel test to see if they were living up to their vows of chastity.  He would go through the convents fondling the nuns’ breasts to see how they would react.”

 Hmmmm….What do YOU think???

Nevertheless,  Hugh of Lincoln is the most venerated saint in Great Britain today after Thomas Becket!

A Murder of Crows is book one in my historical mystery series, Flight Through Time, which is in production.

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.


GLASTONBURY-ONCE ENGLAND’S WEALTHIEST ABBEY REMAINS POWERFULLY MYSTICAL 800 YEARS AFTER THE GREAT FIRE OF 1184

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain Leave a comment

Glastonbury and its once powerful Abbey are arguably among the most enigmatic and mystical sites in England.  The place simply exudes legends, mysteries and improbable lore.  One cannot speak about Glastonbury without the mystical King Arthur immediately coming to mind as well as speculative stories about the Holy Grail, Joseph of Arimathea and of course, the Goddess and Avalon.  It happens to be one of my most favorite sacred sites in Great Britain, one I have visited more times than I can count over the years.  As such, it is no accident that Glastonbury is the chosen location of my historical thriller which is presently making the rounds of literary agent review…time will tell regarding this book’s  future.  In the meantime, no question Glastonbury will be one of the  subjects under my ‘Ancient Legends’ postings as this blog goes forward, for it hosts a wealth of legendary myths and historical facts.  One such historical event  mixed with legend  is that of  ‘The Great Fire of 1184.’

 In a nutshell, for several years before the fire, Glastonbury had been without an Abbot following the death of Robert of Winchester in about 1178(exact dates vary slightly depending on historical source!)  With the absence of a strong Abbot at the helm of this mighty abbey, nefarious machinations for political power and personal gain infiltrated the community.  Additional speculation by royal watchers was that King Henry II was reluctant to name a candidate for the Abbot’s chair as to do so would cut off his direct access to the treasury which he needed for his war with France.  However after much pressure by the monks, he did name a ‘Custodian’ by the name of Peter De Marcy who for various reasons was vehemently hated by the Community.

On May 25th, 1184  fire broke out in the most sacred of the Abbey’s buildings, the Ecclesia Vestuta, or ‘old church’ which  housed the ‘Holy of Holies’,  or foundation remnants  from Joseph of Arimathea’s beehive church dating a thousand years previous; it was also the professed burial site of Mary, mother of Jesus.  The fire happened about nine in the morning, just before the prayer office of Terce.  One historical speculation is that within the Ecclesia Vestuta, the curtain or tapestry hanging over the  entrance to Holy of Holies caught fire from a candle .    From the previous night, the May winds had been unusually high, vigorously fueling the flames.  Regardless of the cause, to the horror of Glastonbury’s monks, their beloved great Abbey and nearly all of its buildings were brought to ground within a matter of hours.  

More than 800 years later, the cause behind this event still intrigues.  In addition to the ‘curtain’ theory, legend speculates it might have been a result of  jealous arson or the intervening hand of spirit ; after all, fire does purify.  If you are planning a visit to England and love the mysterious and sacred mystical, be sure to add Glastonbury to your list of ‘must see’s’.  In addition to the Abbey ruins there is the Chalice Well, the enigmatic Tor and numerous other intrigues within Glastonbury’s legends.  Located in Southwest England, the town of Glastonbury is approximately 12 miles to the south of Wells…site of a very famous cathedral!  

Photo©2011 Gaye F. Mack