Gaye Mack’s Blog

EXCAVATIONS AT BRITAIN’S 12THC FURNESS ABBEY REVEALS PHENOMENAL REMAINS OF ABBOT

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

     Approximately a year ago, archeological researchers from Oxford discovered remains of one of Furness Abbey’s medieval abbots. Furness, founded in 1124 by King Stephen.  Located in northern Cumbria, it was the second largest, wealthiest and obviously influential, abbey in the country prior to the dissolution rampage of King Henry VIII.  The following is an excerpt of a report of the find filed by Fatima Manji with Britain’s Channel 4 News:

    The skeleton was found by Oxford Archaeology North who were carrying out excavations during emergency repairs at the Cumbrian site.  The rare find could date as far back as the 12th century. The abbot’s body was buried with a very rare medieval gilded crosier and jeweled ring.  [According to] English Heritage curator Susan Harrison, “This is really significant because it’s the first time under modern conditions that an abbatial or abbot burial has been discovered intact with so much detail and information – from the skeleton to the mark of his office, his crosier, his ring, but also fragments of textile in there.”

     Oxford Archaeology North’s Stephen Rowland[stated],  “It’s extremely rare to find such a burial. Nationally he’s an important person; he’s a member of the Cistercian order which was the most powerful monastic order in England. He would have had estates across the Furness Peninsula, into Cambria, Lancashire and Yorkshire, control over large amounts of resources. He was a bit like a feudal overlord.”

     The archaeologists are now carrying out carbon 14 dating to find out when the abbot actually died. The results of this could give them a 25 year window, which may help to identify which abbot he was. However, the window could be as much as 100 years either side of his actual death.  Ms Harrison explained how the burial was found: “It was noted that the walls of the east end of the church were cracking and subsiding. A major investigation was set up by English Heritage to work out what was happening with these walls and then to try and reduce any impact on the ground. Archaeological work was undertaken to enable us to find out what was significant in the area that we were going to do further works on to stabilise the abbey ruins.”

     Mr Rowland explained what they already know about the abbot. He said: “We think he’s about 40 to 50-years-old which we can tell from the wear on his teeth, the way the bones are fused together and the sutures on the skull and the aspects on the pelvis. He’s about 5’7 tall by measuring his leg bones and he would have been a very important person in the abbey.”  He said the abbot probably suffered from arthritis and was most likely a portly man. He said: “He’s got a bony growth going down his vertebrae. It’s a condition called DISH, which is associated with obesity and middle-aged onset type-2 diabetes. So it’s quite probable that he was having a fairly rich diet.  The abbot’s knees were also worn.” Mr Rowland added: “He could have been praying quite a bit on his knees. We’ve got arthritis around his platella on his knee cap – again this signifies more bony growth.  He could have spent a bit of time on his knees writing and reading quite a lot, but he wasn’t hugely active like other medieval people of lower status really.”

    Ms Harrison said the ring was probably a reminder of piety: “It tells us he was a man of status to wear a ring. It was found on one of the fingers of his right hand and what’s really interesting is that it’s a copper alloy but it’s been gilded and it’s got a point behind – can you imagine how uncomfortable it would have been to wear that? It’s possibly as a reminder of his piety, a reminder of his position and his oaths to god.”

    The head of the crosier is made of gilded copper and decorated with gilded silver medallions showing the Archangel Michael defeating a dragon. The crosier’s crook or end is decorated with a serpent’s head.  Ms Harrison added: “This abbot was obviously of high status because he was buried with a very nice crosier, rather than a wooden or a lead replica of that. It’s in good condition. The only damage is caused by corrosion in the ground.”

 

mortuary chest

Mortuary Chests Such As This One in Winchester’s Cathedral Were Often Used To Hold Ecclesiastical Remains

Photography ©Gaye F. Mack, Inc. 

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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


EARLY GRAFFITI ARTISTS~BORED MEDIEVAL MONKS AND NUNS!

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 1 Comment

Not every young medieval man (or woman for that matter) was thrilled to be packed off to the monastery or nunnery.  Aside from those who ‘felt the call’ of dedicating their lives to the glory of God, more often than not religious houses served as an answer to a family’s dilemma; what to do with Romauldus or Matilda if the family was poor with no long term means of supporting them (as well as younger siblings), or in the case of the more affluent, the oldest son got the inheritance, leaving everyone else to a life of religious duty…or perhaps a less honorable means of living.

And these weren’t the only reasons.  Say for example at the old age of 18, a woman had no suitors on the horizon, she was packed up along with a nice dowry to ensure her admittance by Mother Abbess.  Even less honorable, if a WOMAN was the eldest child in a family of wealth, she could be sent away so that her brother next in line, would inherit.  Can you imagine?  In any case,  these young people were relegated to spend their lives within the cloister, their days and seasons marked by the ‘Hours of Office’, work in the fields, orchards, stables, brewery, infirmary and…the Scriptorium where their days were more than uncomfortable, long and BORING.

 In researching material for my  historical mystery series, Flight Through Time, I came across this amusing piece showing us that not much has changed through the centuries when young men and women are bored with their studies.  Actually I’ve seen this posted in various formats more than once, but have never seen the source cited; perhaps you have.     Later today I’ll be leaving Chicago for England’s 12th Century land and hope to be posting while ‘on the road’.  In the meantime, I’m sharing these medieval margin notes as some of the notations are quite funny. Now that I read this again…I think these can readily apply to any modern writer  who has hopes of producing the next ‘best seller!’

…I have my favorite; which one is yours??