The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

March 23, 2014

March 23, 1540

For some historians, and many contemporaries, the "dissolution of the monasteries" was a more grievous wrong committed by Henry VIII, than his beheading of his queens. A few (Roy Strong is where I got this perspective) have even characterized this series of events --- the dissolution of the monasteries-- as a wanton destruction of a millenium of art work. All the art, sculpture, painting, glass, jeweled objects-- shattered, melted down, and often just chopped up, for it's being a Catholic product, rather than Protestant. Since that millenium mostly had no Protestant element, the upshot was all the art of England was destroyed, a thousand years worth. This perspective is not discussed much, and I think this is because people do not realize that there were NO artists in the medieval era. The creation of beauty was a way of worshipping god. The art was unsigned partly because people didn't even have names, the way we think of them, before 1066. The lack of artists still  produced a glorious heritage of art, a heritage not lost, but deliberately destroyed.

On March 23, 1540, the last monastery was surrendered to the king. That was Waltham Abbey. A history of Waltham Abbey was written by a later curate, Thomas Fuller (1608 to August 16, 1661
). During his tenure there he was living precariously in a world ruled by those who executed a successor to Henry VIII, Charles I. So his words I think can fairly be said to delicately point to his real sentiments.

These sentiments are preserved in his volume A History of Waltham Abbey, I am not sure exactly when this history was published but it was written during the 1650s . The copy I accessed was included with others works by Fuller in an 1840 collection of his writing, The History of the University of Cambridge: And of Waltham Abbey. With the Appeal of Injured Innocence, which James Nichols edited.

We recall that Thomas Fuller is writing over a century after the dissolution. Writing of  The Model of the modern Church. Mortality triumphant, Fuller describes the current abbey.

A structure of Gothic building, rather large than neat, firm than fair; very dark, (the design of those days to raise devotion,) save that it was helped again with artificial lights; and is observed by artists to stand the most exactly east and west of any in England. The great pillars thereof are wreathed with indentings; which vacuities, if formerly filled up with brass, (as some confidently report,) added much to the beauty of the building. But it matters not so much their taking away the brass from the pillars, had they but left the lead on the roof, which is but meanly tiled at this day. In a word, the best commendation of the church is, that on Lord's days, generally, it is filled with a great and attentive congregation....
[Apparently the destruction has continued]  A picture of king Harold in glass was lately to be seen in the north window of the church, till ten years since some barbarous hand beat it down, under the notion of superstition. Surely, had such ignorant persons been employed, in the days of Hezekiah, to purge the temple from the former idolatry; under the pretence thereof they would have rended off the lily-work from the pillars; and the lions, oxen, and cherubims from the bases of brass.

I assume Fuller refers to the imprint behind the brass, stripped away in the previous century.  By "Harold" Fuller refers to the last Saxon king of England. The text goes on to suggest the motive is not anti-popery so much, as a neighborhood rivalry over who can claim to be the burial place of this king.  The argument I am not quoting makes clear that the destruction of the glass window is to diminish the claims of Waltham Abbey to be the burial place.  Fuller could not speak of his regard for the exiled Charles II, but the sentiment behind his speaking of Harold, suggests this, also. And Charles II did return to England, and restore Thomas Fuller to his pre-eminence, in 1660. 

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