CHAPTER VIII. THE CHURCH IN IRELAND DURING THE REIGNS OF HENRY VIII. AND EDWARD VI. (1509-1553)

The other religious houses, alarmed by the course of proceedings both in England and at home, began to cut down the timber on their properties, to dispose of their goods, to hide their valuable church plate, and to lease their farms. Urgent appeals were sent to Cromwell from Archbishop Browne and others, requesting that a commission should be issued instantly for the suppression of the monasteries and convents. Henry VIII. and Cromwell were nothing loath to accede to these demands, particularly as some of the Mendicants had been very zealous in defence of the rights of the Pope; and accordingly a royal commission was addressed to the Archbishop of Dublin, John Alen Chancellor, William Brabazon Vice-Treasurer, Robert Cowley Master of the Rolls, and Thomas Cusake empowering them to undertake the work of suppression (April 1539). "From information of trustworthy persons," it was stated, "it being manifestly apparent that the monasteries, abbies, priories and other places of religious or regulars in Ireland, are at present in such a state that in them the praise of God and the welfare of man are next to nothing regarded; the regulars and nuns dwelling there being so addicted, partly to their own superstitious ceremonies, partly to the pernicious worship of idols, and to the pestiferous doctrines of the Romish Pontiff, that, unless an effective remedy be promptly provided, not only the weak lower order, but the whole Irish people, may be speedily infected, to their total destruction by such persons." To prevent such a calamity the king resolved to take into his hands the religious houses and to disband the monks and nuns, for which purpose he commanded the commissioners to notify his wishes to the heads of the religious houses, to receive their resignations and surrender of their property, to offer to those who surrendered willingly a benefice or a pension, and "to apprehend and punish such as adhere to the usurped authority of the Romish Pontiff and contumaciously refuse to surrender their houses."[33] It should be noted that from the terms of this commission it is clear that no serious abuses or irregularities could have been charged against the religious houses, else in the decree condemning them to extinction something more serious would have been alleged to their charge than adherence to their own superstitious ceremonies, to the worship of idols, and to the Roman Pontiff. A month later Alen, Brabazon, and Cowley were appointed to survey and value the rents and revenues of the dissolved monasteries, to issue leases for twenty-one years of both their spiritualities and temporalities, to reserve for the king the plate, jewels, and ornaments, and to grant to the monks and nuns pensions for their maintenance.[34]

Although many members of the privy council in Ireland had petitioned more than once for such a commission, yet when rumours reached Dublin that it had been granted, a request was forwarded from the council to Cromwell begging him to spare St. Mary's Abbey Dublin, Christ's Church, Grace-Dieu, Conall, Kells (Co. Kilkenny), and Jerpoint, on the ground amongst others that "in them young men and children, both gentlemen children and others both of man kind and woman kind, be brought up in virtue, learning and in the English tongue and behaviour, to the great charge of the said houses; that is to say, the woman kind of the whole Englishry of this land, for the more part, in the said nunnery, and the man kind in the other said houses."[35] This petition received but scant consideration, and no wonder; because, although the Archbishop of Dublin had agreed to it, he wrote on the same day to Cromwell asking him for the lands of Grace-Dieu,[36] and, according to a letter addressed to Cromwell by another prominent Irish official, the Deputy at that very time "had obtained from the abbot of St. Mary's leases of all the good lodgings in the monastery, and of the farms of Ballyboghill and Portmarnock on an agreement evidently meant to defraud the king."