The Reformation in Hampshire

The Reformation in Hampshire

During the greater part of the 16th century the minds of Hampshire men and women were troubled and perplexed by the many religious changes of the times, changes of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, which eventually led to the establishment of a national Anglican Church with the Sovereign at its head, a Church claiming to be Catholic in doctrine but independent of papal authority. The monasteries were the last possible bastion of papal supremacy in England and for this reason, as well as for other political and financial motives, Henry VIII decided to close them.

In some ways, it is the dissolution of the Hampshire monasteries which marks the end of the Middle Ages in Hampshire. Yet it would be a mistake to think that ‘Reform’ only began in the reign of Henry VIII. Many of the later medieval bishops had shown a keen and informed interest in diocesan affairs. Wykeham’s attempts to provide for the education of his clergy led him to found, not a monastery, but two colleges, one at Winchester for boys, the other at New College for undergraduates. The problems of small or inefficient monasteries were noticed long before 1536, and there was a plan to close Mottisfont as early as 1494 which was not proceeded with, though Bishop Waynflete (1447-.86) did close Selborne Priory, and used its endowments for his new collegiate foundation of Magdalen College, Oxford. Fox’s episcopate (1501-28) was marked by careful and moderate reform, for he instituted the now familiar policy of unifying small benefices in towns, closing redundant churches, and he also completed the work of Edington and Wykeham in the cathedral by improving the choir and giving it a beautiful new wooden vault decorated with carved and coloured bosses. His sympathy towards the new learning of the Renaissance was shown by his foundation of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and it is significant that he, Wykeham and Waynflete all founded colleges at Oxford, not monasteries in their own diocese. Fox died in 1528, and was succeeded by Cardinal Wolsey, whose tenure of the bishopric was very brief, for he was enthroned by proxy, never held any ordinations and died in 1530. Ecclesiastical appointments made at this time suggest a definite policy of promoting those who were supporters of the government. John Salcot, made Abbot of Hyde, surrendered his abbey at the Dis­solution in return for higher office. Anne Boleyn’s uncle, William Boleyn, was made Archdeacon of Winchester in January 1530.

Map 9 New landlords after the Reformation (in Hampshire)
Map 9 New landlords after the Reformation (in Hampshire)

The main story of the first half of the Reformation in Hampshire coincides with the episcopate of Bishop Stephen Gardiner, a long period, 1531 to 1555, broken by Gardiner’s suspension and imprison­ment by the extreme Protestant government of Edward VI, when the bishopric was held by a Protestant reformer, John Poynet. During Poynet’s episcopate an arrangement was made with the Crown by which the bishop received a fixed annual revenue in return for the surrender of his lands, but this plan, by which not only the Crown but also the Marquess of Winchester appears to have benefited, was apparently cancelled in the reign of Mary, and the bishops kept their estates till the middle of the 19th century. Yet there is little in the registers of either Gardiner and Poynet to suggest that this was a time when men were giving their lives for their religious beliefs, and nothing at all to show the doctrinal changes or the reactions of Hampshire men to them. The dissolution of the Hampshire monasteries is hardly apparent at all in Gardiner’s Register, but a detailed account of the houses was, however, compiled in 1501 by Dr. Thomas Hede when he conducted a visitation of the monasteries at a time when both the sees of Winchester and of Canterbury were vacant.

Hede began his inspection at St. Swithun, Winchester. He found only 35 monks, but nothing to complain of there, or in the other Winchester houses of St. Mary’s and Hyde. All the other Hampshire houses were satisfactory, with the exception of St. Denys, Southampton, where one piece of church plate was in pawn, and Romsey where convent life had obviously become almost a farce. A little later on, in 1533, Wherwell Abbey became notorious for a brief while because of the behaviour of its abbess, Anne Colt, but this was an exceptional case; the previous abbess, Alice Cowdreye was said to have been ‘pleasant to God and true to the king’. Yet in 1536 no excuse of good conduct or proper administration could save the Hampshire monasteries from the king’s determination to close them, and by the end of the year St. Denys, Netley and Quarr had all ‘surrendered’. In 1537 Titchfield was closed, and handed over to Thomas Wriothesley who converted the fabric of the church into a great private house. Beaulieu fell to his lot also in 1538, as did Southwick, which eventually passed to one of his servants, John White. At Hyde, Winchester, Wriothesley used the monastery as a stone quarry for his new house at Titchfield, and the complaisant abbot was made Bishop of Salisbury. At St. Swithun’s, Winchester, Wriothesley, accompanied by his fellow commissioners Pollard and Williams, and by the mayor or Winchester, and some of the Corporation’s ‘best brethren’ destroyed the great shrine of the patron saint in the middle of the night of September, 1538, for fear of the citizens’ disapproval. Yet the cathedral survived, the capitular body was reformed as a Dean and Chapter, and the last prior, William Kingsmil, became the first dean. At St. Mary’s, Winchester, the last abbess, Elizabeth Shelley, surrendered her abbey, retired on a pension, as did the majority of monks and nuns, and continued to live a quasi-conventual life in Winchester with a group of nuns from the abbey.

Sweeping as these changes were, much of the old doctrine of the Catholic Church remained as before, and it was not until the reign of Edward VI that the real effect of reform was felt. A new liturgy, in English, contained in two successive prayer books superseded the old Latin missal, and liturgical books were thrown away, sold as scrap, or used as covers for the new church parish registers of baptisms, burials and marriages which Thomas Cromwell had ordered every incumbent to keep from 1538 onwards. To quote only a few examples, at St. Michael’s, Southampton, and at Southwick, the earliest parish registers are bound in parts of 15th-century missals; at Greatham, a late-medieval Gradual serves as cover; and there are fragments of pre-Reformation theological bindings similarly used on registers at Brockenhurst and Micheldever. In 1550 the churchwardens of St. John, Winchester, sold a hundredweight of old parchment books for six shillings, pieces of alabaster for one shilling and fourpence, and a ‘guilded image’ for only a shilling, though in 1551-54 they sold a cross and a chalice for the very large sum of £22 17s. lOd. At the beginning of Mary’s reign, Bishop Gardiner was released from the Tower, and it was he who officiated at Mary’s wedding to Philip of Spain in Winchester Cathedral. The reaction against extreme Protestantism is shown in his resumed register, which records that a number of Hampshire clerics were deprived of their livings, clearly men who had married or those who had accepted the Protestant prayer books.

The dissolution of the monasteries was inevitably followed by the appearance of a new class of landlord in Hampshire. Not all these ‘new’ men were Protestant reformers: those who kept the old faith included William Laurens of Winchester, a lawyer, who paid for the restoration of the High Cross on the occasion of the marriage of Philip and Mary in Winchester Cathedral, but who had negotiated the royal charter giving the corporation the Winchester rents of some of the dissolved monasteries, a service for which he was rewarded by favourable leases of city property. Other new landlords profited on a much larger scale; Thomas Wriothesley (d. 1550), who became Earl of Southampton, has already been mentioned and perhaps profited more from the Reformation than any other man. In Southampton itself the Mille family who had acted as lawyers and stewards for the Priory of St. Swithun, and perhaps also for the Priory of Breamore, acquired more town property as well as a large estate on the western side of Southampton Water. John Mule (? 1509-1551) was Town Clerk and Recorder, and the ancestor of a well-known Hampshire family, the Barker Mills, whose property came to include the manors of Eling, Milibrook, Langley, Colbury, and Mottisfont. Typical also of the new men of the Reformation was the first Marquess of Winchester, William Paulet (d. 1572), whose great estate in Hampshire was widespread, although partly as the result of inheritance from the de Port family, including the great house at Basing soon to be the centre of Royalist resistance in the Civil War of Charles I’s time. All the new Tudor landlords were in fact bound by the most practical considerations to be obedient to the monarch, and therefore to the Protestant Reforma­tion. The first Marquess of Winchester, when asked how he survived the various political and religious changes of each reign replied that he had been a willow and not an oak. It is arguable as to how much economic change the new landlords brought to the county. There was economic distress and unemployment in late-16th-century Hampshire, but these were results of many factors, not just of the Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries. The breakdown of the old system of training in craft gilds, the increased number of industrial capitalists, which made it hard for a man to set up on his own, and the number of soldiers and sailors returning from the wars all produced social difficulties, which were accentuated by inflation. The govern­ment relied on Justices of the Peace to deal with unemployed and vagrant men and women, and in 1578 a large ‘House of Correction’ was set up for the county in Winchester, under the supervision of the county magistrates. to provide training and supervision for all whom they sent there. In some parts of England the Reformation resulted in the enclosure of much land and a tendency to change from arable to sheep farming. Hampshire was already predominantly a sheep county, and the enclosure movement had begun before the Reforma­tion according to Wolsey’s commission of 1517, south Hampshire being enclosed earlier than the rest of the county. The greatest single example of enclosure in 1517 was of 120 acres at Bramshill where, about 100 years later, one of Hampshire’s great country houses was built, in brick, material whose rediscovery did much to affect the architectural appearance of the county. Grove Place, at Nursling, near Southampton, also in brick, was built at the end of the 16th century by the son of a London merchant who had profited by the Reforma­tion, and has a formal garden of typical Tudor design.

The Vyne, ground floor, c. 1540Hampshire
The Vyne, ground floor, c. 1540Hampshire

The county’s most famous house, The Vyne, at Sherborne St. John, belongs to the early Tudor period and was built by the first Lord Sandys, in diapered red brick with stone ornamentaion and sculptured coats of arms of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and the owner himself, who was perhaps noticed by Anne Boleyn when she visited The Vyne with the king in October 1535. Lord Sandys was a member of an ancient Hampshire family, a loyal subject of the king and not greatly involved in the religious changes of the time. An inventory of The Vyne made after his death in 1541 provides a fascinating account of the household of a great Hampshire nobleman of the period, describing each room, its contents, Lord Sandys’s horses, his household linen, his jewels and his plate, as well as the contents of his personal wardrobe. His support of the ancient faith did not, however, prevent him from converting Mottisfont Priory into a secondary residence. A later member of the Sandys family entertained Elizabeth I at The Vyne in 1569 with much difficulty and great expense.

By this time, the Anglican Church settlement was more or less established but the extreme Protestant policy of Bishop Home (1561-80) provoked much bitterness in a diocese which had been comparatively undisturbed by the Marian persecutions, and which had produced only one martyr, the Archdeacon of Winchester, John Philpot of Compton who was burnt at Smithfield in 1555. Home destroyed all those parts of the cathedral fabric which seemed ‘super­stitious’, windows of medieval glass, the surviving statues, and the great rood. He endeavoured to enforce the punishment of recusants, those Roman Catholics who would not attend the services of the Established Church, and many were subject to heavy nominal fines which were never in fact actually collected. The Hampshire families known to be recusants included the Cottons of Warblington, the Shelleys at Buriton, and some of the Paulets. Much more serious than non-attendance at church was the crime of denying the royal supremacy, and for this, two Hampshire men, John Slade and John Body, suffered the fate of traitors in 1583, Slade at Winchester, Body at Andover. Their deaths were undoubtedly intended as a warning, for the old religion remained strong in certain towns, particularly in Winchester. Religious difficulties, unemployment, political uncertainty and financial crises as well as fear of foreign invasion were the problems facing many men and women at the end of the 16th century. Those who suffered in the hundred years after Henry VIII reformed the Church included many close to the throne; Margaret de la Pole, whose Hampshire home was Warblington Castle, and several members of the widespread Seymour family.