A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.

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Volume 2


Henry Vlll and the Reformation 

Long before the Reformation, the Lollards, who were followers of John Wycliffe (b. c1328 d.1384) were demanding religious reforms which were not acceptable to The State or to Rome. Wycliffe aimed at changing many of the current beliefs, and he led his 'poor priests' in complaining against the wealth of the church in comparison to the great poverty of the day. There was a strong feeling in favour of these views in this part of Suffolk, and between 1428 and 1430 fourteen people were tried at Norwich for their 'heresy'.

They included:-

        John Skylly, a miller of Flixton, who harboured heretics and was forced to do penance.

        Richard Flecher and Matilda Flecher of Beccles, who conversed with heretics. They were  beaten at a             procession at Mass in Beccles and beaten three times at Beccles Market.

        Robert Cavel who was Chaplain at Bungay, who consorted with heretics and did penance.

        John Spycer of Bungay, had two beatings, while a further six from Beccles did penance.

Their heresies consisted of saying that it was lawful to work on Sundays and Feast Days, that priests or nuns or clergy could marry, that pilgrimages were unnecessary, that it is wrong to fight, that no honour should be paid to the relics of saints, and that no priest can change bread into Christ's body.

By 1500 there were about 10,000 monks and 2,000 nuns in England, it sounds a lot, but there were too few in too many religious houses, so a true appraisal of the situation would mean that a number of monasteries should be disbanded and more of their resources diverted to the parishes. Within the cloister it seems that discipline had weakened - monks took it in turn to attend the services, and few now got up early in the morning for the vigils.

The move to rationalize the situation came when Cardinal Wolsey set about suppressing twenty nine assorted religious houses in order to raise funds to endow a grammar school in Ipswich, and another new college at Oxford. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was himself an Ipswich man, his father being a butcher, grazier and cloth merchant. He also owned an inn, and even although he was a church warden, he was fined as his inn had become a resort 'of friars and women of loose character'. He planned a large building at Black Friar's Street, incorporating the Ipswich School which already existed.

Among the religious houses he intended to dissolve were Rumburgh Priory which was closed, and Blythburgh Priory which wasn't. But out of those which disappeared he raised resources worth 1,800 a year. Wolsey, however, fell out of favour with Henry VIII, and at his downfall the school in Ipswich crashed too.

Time was getting short, but the crunch came when the Pope refused Henry VIII a plea that his marriage to Katharine of Aragon was invalid (not legal) as she had formerly been married to his elder brother Arthur, who died before he could succeed to the throne. So Henry opted for a complete break with Rome, and The Act of Supremacy of 1534 established him as 'Head of the Church of England' - to which the heads of nearly all the religious orders consented. 


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