Milton Abbey before its Dissolution

James G Clark’s new magnum opus ‘The Dissolution of the Monasteries: A New History’, 2021, brings attention to the fact that during the reign of Henry VII 1485 – 1509 the nobility vigorously tried in many ways to interfere in the running of the monasteries. They used their family ties to influence appointments, especially abbots, they obtained positions as stewards and they used their sponsorship to extract privileges and money. 

This can be witnessed by the stained glass in the Abbots Hall of Milton Abbey where local families, including the Strangways, Browning, Morton, Phelip, Filiol, Fenn, Stafford, Latimer, Turbeville, Delalynde, Newburgh, Bingham, Kelway, Knoyle, Horsey, as given by Hutchins. have their arms emblazoned.

It seems likely that Abbot William who finished the building of the Abbey Church and the Abbots Hall during Henry VII’s reign used his connections (and possibly family connections) with these nobility to raise funds for the building work. Unfortunately we do not know where William came from nor who his family were. These sponsors would have demanded something in return other than prayers for their souls. It would be nice to know what they got.

With the monasteries and the nobility entangled in this way, the monasteries lost some of their immemorial sanctity and independence from worldly concerns. They came more and more under the scrutiny and control of the crown. It didn’t help that the monasteries were in need of cash, in the case of Milton Abbey to get the Abbey Church built. The interference gathered pace, and with Cardinal Wolsey later jumping on the bandwagon, the situation only got worse for the monasteries, and we know what happened in 1536 – but that’s another story.

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