THE RELIGIOUS in this kingdom, as well
bishops as others, in the time of the Saxons, held their
possessions by a tenure, called in French, frankalmoign,
in Latin, libera eleemosyna, and pura et perpetua eleemosyna, that is, in free alms, or pure and perpetual alms,
to them and their successors for ever. This is the
tenure by which almost all the antient monasteries
and religious houses held their lands, and by which
the deans and chapters, clergy, and many other ecclesiastical and eleemosynary foundations hold them at
this day; for frankalmoign is excepted by name in the
statute of king Charles II. for abolishing tenures, and
therefore subsists, in many instances, at this day. It
is a tenure of a nature very distinct from all others;
being not in the least feodal, but merely spiritual,
and was materially different from what was called tenure by divine service, in which the tenants were
obliged to do some special divine services in certain. (fn. 1)
It was an old Saxon tenure, and continued under the
Norman revolution (excepting as to the bishops and
greater abbots, whose possessions were made subject
by the Conqueror to knights service in capite, through
the great respect that was shewn to religion and religious men, whose prayers (as the laws of king Edward II. express) ought to be looked upon as more
effectual than the assistance of the secular arm, which
is the reason that tenants in frankalmoign were discharged of all other secular services, except the trinoda
necessitas of repairing highways, building castles, and
repelling invasions, like as the Druids, among the
antient Britons, had omnium rerum immunitatem.
The clergy of this realm, in antient times, were
of two sorts, regular and secular. The former were so
called because they lived under the certain rules of
some order, and made a vow of true obedience, perpetual chastity, and wilful poverty, of which sort were all
abbots, priors, and others professing any of the religious orders, called in law hommes de religion, men of
religion, or religious. The latter were persons ecclesiastical likewise, but because they did not live under the certain rules of some of those orders, nor were
votaries, they were, for distinction's sake, called secular, of which sort were bishops, deans, and chapters, archdeacons, prebendaries, canons, parsons, vicars, and the like.
To give a general history of the several orders of
the regular clergy, such as monks, friars, canons,
nuns, &c. with their particular origin, habit, and
rules of each, would swell this work much beyond
my present design, I shall therefore content myself
with observing what relates to their dissolution; in
the course of which will be found the number of each
order in this county, the amount of their revenues,
and the time of their being suppressed, and I must
refer the reader for the time of their foundation, and
other local particulars, to the parishes in which their
several houses were situated.
There were in this county, of the Benedictine order, two abbies, three priories, and five nunneries;
of the Cluniac, one priory; of the Cistercian, one
abbey; of secular canons, five colleges; of regular
canons, four abbies and five priories, one of which
was Premonstratensian. Of the different sorts of friars; of the Dominicans, one priory and one nunnery;
of the Franciscans, two priories; of the Trinitarians,
one priory; of the Carmelites, three priories; of alien
priories, four. Two commanderies of the knights of
St. John of Jerusalem, and fifteen hospitals, besides
several hermitages, chauntries, and free chapels.
These houses were suppressed at several different times.
The first of which, in this county (for I do not men-
tion those which were united to other houses) was in
the reign of king Henry VI. a time when learning
had began to revive, and great men grew fond of
founding colleges and houses of learning, which they
got leave to endow with lands given to the maintenance of monks. (fn. 2)
In the 16th year of the above reign archbishop Chicheley founded All Souls college, in Oxford, and after
the example of William Wickham, bishop of Winchester, in his foundation of New-college in that university, obtained leave to settle the revenues of several
alien priories on it, among which was one at New
Romney, in this county.
Several other colleges, both in Oxford and Cambridge, were founded and endowed in the same manner. And about the 21st year of king Henry VII.
anno 1508, Margaret, countess of Richmond and
Derby, began the foundation of St. John's-college, in
Cambridge, which her executors, one of whom was
John Fisher, bishop of Rochester, carried forward, and
at his desire the nunnery of Littlechurch, alias Higham, and an hospital of Regulars at Ospringe in this
county, were among others suppressed, and the revenues settled upon that college.
In the reign of king Henry VIII. cardinal Wolfey,
being desirous of founding two colleges, one at Ipswich, and another at Oxford, and finding there were
several mean monasteries in England, where both the
revenues and the number of religious were too small
to keep up regular discipline, church-service, and hospitality, obtained leave of the pope, in the 16th year
of that reign, anno 1524, for suppressing, with the
king's good will, as many small monasteries as were
needful to raise a revenue, not exceeding three thousand ducats per annum. To this the king next year
consented, and above thirty religious houses, most of
them very small, were suppressed for this purpose;
among which were the priories of regular canons at
Lesnes and Tunbridge in this county.
About the same time a bull was granted by the
pope to cardinal Wolsey, for the suppressing monasteries, where there were not above six monks, to the
value of eight thousand ducats per annum, for endowing Windsor and King's colleges, Cambridge, and
two other bulls were likewise granted to cardinals
Wolsey and Campejus, for suppressing those where
there were less than twelve monks, and annexing them
to the greater monasteries; another was likewise
granted to the same cardinals, to enquire of abbies
to be suppressed, in order to their being made cathedrals, but nothing appears to have been done in pursuance of these bulls.
Afterwards another bull was granted to the same
two cardinals, with fuller powers relating to the new
cathedrals, for that some of the dioceses were thought
too large, and wanted much to be reduced, as it was
said, that the bishops might the better discharge their
offices. The chief intent of cardinal Wolsey, and of
most others, in suppressing these houses, seems to
have been the promoting of learning, though probably some, both then and afterwards, might encourage
it with other views. Archbishop Cranmer, in particular, is said to have been much for it, because he
could not carry on the reformation without it; and
the increase of learning having made the corruptions
of the church more visible, many also might promote
the dissolution of them, as nurseries of superstition.
But many other causes which concurred to bring on
their ruin; for many of the religious were certainly
loose and vicious, though not near so bad as the visitors represented them, who, to make their court to
their superiors, and perhaps in conformity to private
instructions, made use of every art to run them down,
and set them in the most odious light. Lord Her-
bert tells us, that some societies behaved so well, that
their lives were not only exempt from notorious faults
but their spare time was bestowed in writing books,
painting, carving, graving, and the like exercises, and
the preamble to the first act of dissolution sets forth,
that in the greater monasteries religion was right well
observed and kept up.
The casting off the pope's supremacy was urged as
another cause for the suppression of these orders, who,
notwithstanding their subscriptions, were generally
thought to be against it in their hearts, and ready to
join with any foreign power that should invade the
nation, whilst the king was excommunicated by the
pope. Their revenues not being employed according
to the design and intent of the donors, was also alledged against them. The discoveries of several cheats
in their images, miracles, and counterfeit reliques, is
said to have brought the monks everywhere into disgrace, and to have contributed much towards their
overthrow. Yet, notwithstanding these specious reasons were, and might well be urged, it is very likely a
principal inducement to their ruin was their large
revenues, and the moveables in money, jewels, &c.
which they were possessed of.
However, their suppression being resolved on, after
some debate in council, how to proceed with these
houses, the king appointed commissioners to visit
them, and take the value of every religious house in
the kingdom, their lands, and revenues; and the report of these visitors was such, that when a motion
was made in parliament shortly after, that, in order
to support the king's state and supply its wants, all
the religious houses, which were not above the clear
value of two hundred pounds per annum, might be
utterly suppressed, and the same, together with their
lands, tenements, and other hereditaments, conferred
on the crown, after some opposition in the house of
commons, an act passed for that purpose, in the 27th
year of king Henry VIII. which not only gave these
to the king, but all such as within one year next before had been surrendered to the king, or otherwise
dissolved. (fn. 3)
By this act, and the proceedings of the visitors,
about three hundred and eighty houses were dissolved,
and their revenues of upwards of thirty thousand
pounds per annum came to the crown, besides a hundred thousand pounds in plate and jewels. As to the
religious in them, though some were allowed to go to
the greater monasteries, yet it is said that ten thousand
persons were hereby sent to seek their fortunes in the
world, without any other allowance than forty shillings and a new gown to some few of them. Among
the above was the Franciscan priory at Greenwich,
which was suppressed August 11, anno 26 Henry VIII.
After which the following houses were suppressed in
this county in the course of the next year:—West
Langdon abbey, Folkestone priory, Dover priory, Bilsington priory, Minster in Shepey nunnery, Canterbury priory, St. Gregory's, Dover, St. Radigund's
abbey, and the priories of Cumbwell, Horton, Hedcorne, Mottenden, Canterbury, Aylesford, Newenden, and Sandwich.
The suppression of these houses in different parts
of England, occasioned great discontents, fomented
probably by the secular as well as regular clergy,
which at length broke out into open rebellion, which
being appeased, the king thought it the properest opportunity of putting his resolution in practice, of suppressing the rest of the monasteries, and thereupon
appointed a new visitation of them, requiring the visitors to examine whatever related either to their conversation, or their affection to himself and the supremacy, or to their cheats, impostures, or superstitions, or how they were affected during the late com-
motions, and in short to discover all that was amiss
This caused the greater abbies to be surrendered
apace, for some of the religious having been faulty
in the late rebellion, were liable to the king's displeasure, and surrendered their houses and possessions
to save their lives. Some began to like the reformation, or, at least, a secular life, or were persuaded to
it by promises of pensions and preferments. Others,
seeing their dissolution approaching, had so much embezzled their revenues, that they were scarce able to
keep up their houses. A great many monks were
executed for having been in the rebellion; and many
were prevailed on, by the threats and promises of the
visitors, to sign their resignations. (fn. 4)
In pursuance of this management the following
houses were surrendered in this county: viz. Canterbury priory, Boxley abbey, Canterbury, St. Sepulchre's nunnery, in the 29th year of that reign, and
Faversham, St. Austin's (Canterbury) abbies, and
Malling nunnery, in the course of the next year.
Many petitions were made, even by those that were
for the reformation, that some of these houses might
be spared, but a resolution being taken at court to
extirpate them all, the petitions were rejected; and
though there was no law to oblige the abbots to resign,
yet by means, some of which were not the most honest,
they were all wrought upon to do it. And the next
year, 31 Henry VIII. 1539, an act passed, by which
all the religious houses which since the former act had
been suppressed or given up, or which after this act
might be surrendered or given up, were confirmed to
the king and his successors. In which act is a clause
respecting privileges and exemptions, which was not
in the former one. This clause gave the houses, lands,
and hereditaments to the king and his successors, in
as full and as ample a manner as the governors of those
houses held the same in right of their said houses;
and that such of their lands as before the dissolution
were discharged of tithes, should continue in like
manner discharged of the same afterwards.
By this act no houses were suppressed, but all surrenders, which either were or should be made, were confirmed. The mitred, or parliamentary abbots were,
most of them in being and present at the passing of it,
and were every one, shortly after, brought to surrender, except the abbots of Colchester, Glastonbury,
and Reading, who could not be prevailed upon so to
do, and were therefore accused of high treason, and
executed, and their abbies seised, as forfeited to the
king by their attainder.
The remainder of the religious houses suppressed
in this county was, in Canterbury, Christchurch priory, Dartford nunnery, Leeds priory, and in Rochester, St. Andrew's priory.
The next year an act passed for the suppressing the
order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, commonly called the Knights Hospitallers, in consequence of which, among the rest of their revenues in
this county, there were two of their commanderies in
it given up to the king, viz. the commandery or
preceptory at West Peckham, and the like at Swingfield.
By the suppression of these greater houses by the
two above-mentioned acts, the king obtained a revenue of above one hundred thousand pounds per
annum, besides a very large sum in plate and jewels.
However he was not in possession of the whole of this
income; for the religious of most of these houses had
something given them for their present subsistence,
and pensions assigned to them for life, or until they
should be preferred to some dignity or cure, of as
great or greater value than their pensions, which were
generally proportioned according to their readiness to
promote the king's measures.
In the 37th year of king Henry VIII. the parliament, in order to supply the king's wants, granted to
him all colleges, chantries, free chapels, hospitals, and
guilds, some of which had been before surrendered.
This act was made so general that even the colleges
in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, with
those of Eaton and Winchester, were not exempted
in it; and upon the breaking up of the parliament in
February, notice was sent to both universities, that
their colleges were at the king's disposal, upon which
they petitioned for mercy, which was soon obtained.
But the commissioners, named in this act, for giving
the king possession of the colleges, &c. had not time
to enter upon many of them before his death, which
happened in the January following; so that most of
them remained till the first year of king Edward VI.
anno 1548, when they were granted by another act,
in which the colleges of both universities, those of
Eaton and Winchester, were excepted, as some few
others were to the king; they were consequently most
of them soon destroyed, to the number of ninety colleges, one hundred and ten hospitals, and two thousand three hundred and seventy-four chantries and
In this county were the following hospitals and colleges, in Canterbury, Eastbridge, Maynard's, and
Northgate hospitals; in Chatham, St. Bartholomew's
hospital; Harbledown, Hythe; in Sandwich, St.
Bartholomew's hospital; in Canterbury, St.Laurence
and St. Margaret's, poor priests, hospitals; in Dover
St. Bartholomew and Maison Dieu hospitals; in
Thanington, St. James's hospital; Sevenoke, and
Strood hospitals, Bredgar, Maidstone, Wingham, Cobham, and Wye secular colleges.
The following is a list of the chantries, free chapels,
guilds, fraternities, &c. in this county:
Ash, by Sandwich, chantry.
Bapchild, Radfield free chapel.
Cranbrook, Milkhouse free chapel,
Herne, Virgin Mary, chantry.
Horton, Kirkby, chantry.
Maidstone Fraternity of Corpus
Malling, East, a free chapel, called Newhyth,
Orpington chapel, two chantries.
Orpington, Rufferth chantry, in Crofton.
Petham, Depden chantry.
Reculver, Holy Trinity chantry.
Sandwich, in St. Peter's
Sittingborne chantry, and
The total clear revenues of the above monasteries,
and other religious foundations in this county, were
about nine thousand pounds per annum; and the
number of houses suppressed, from first to last, were
three thousand one hundred and eighty-two; and their
clear yearly revenue about one hundred and forty
thousand seven hundred and eighty-five pounds; the
persons they contained were estimated at forty-seven
thousand seven hundred and twenty-one.
As there were pensions paid to almost all those of
the greater monasteries, the king did not immediately come into the full enjoyment of their whole revenues. However, out of what did come to him, he
founded six new bishoprics, and in eight other sees
he founded deans and chapters, by turning the priors
and monks into deans and prebendaries; among which
were those of Canterbury and Rochester. He founded two colleges in Oxford and Cambridge, and several professorships in both universities, and was a munificent benefactor to the city of London. Besides
which, he laid out great sums in building and fortifying the forts and castles on the sea-coast, and intended to have done more, but by the continual
grants he made of these lands to his courtiers, and an
unbounded lavishness in his expences, he soon wasted
the whole of this immense revenue, and nothing farther was done by him.
It is much to be lamented, that, in the hurry of
this dissolution, great numbers of excellent books, and
other manuscripts, were made away with and destroyed, to the unspeakable loss of the learned world; for
there was scarce any religious house that had not a
library, and several of them had very good ones.
From their chronicles, registers, and other books relating to their own houses and estates, the history and
antiquities of the nation in general, and of almost
every particular part of it, might have been more
fully discovered. The many good accounts of families, of the foundation, establishment, and appropriation of parish churches, and the endowment of their
vicarages; of the antient bounds of forests, counties,
hundreds, and parishes; of the privileges, tenures,
and rents of many manors and estates, and the like,
which we meet with in such of their books as are still
remaining, are sufficient testimonies how great the advantage would have been had there been a greater
number of them preserved.