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Here marble platforms, flight o'er flight,
Slow rising through the long-lined view,
Where each for different rank he knew.
The battles, of which the immediate vicinity of St. Albans has been the theatre, are familiar to every reader of history.* In connection with our immediate subject, however, we may briefly advert to them as melancholy contrasts to that peace and religious tranquillity which were supposed to be the cherished inmates of this magnificent sanctuary, The firsts It was now, says Newcome, when the first battle of St. Albans
1455. l happened; the causes of which it is unnecessary to relate. Suffice it to say, that the king attended with his nobles, or such as were of his council, and a number of armed troops came down from London; and probably with the view that a treaty with the Duke of York might be carried on with less interruption or danger from the military. The duke was coming from the north; and brought with him 3000 men of that body which he had raised there, and took part in the great field on the east side of the town, called Key-field. The king's men had barricadoed all the avenues on that side. The cry among the Yorkists was, “ Give up the Duke of Somerset;" but no concession of this sort being made, the duke's men broke into St. Peter's Street; and being there met by the royalists, a dreadful conflict ensued; where, after many were slain, the king's party lost courage and fled, leaving their sovereign alone, and standing under his standard. He, perceiving himself thus deserted, walked away into a small house, that of a baker; and here the duke finding him, led him out, and conducted him to the Abbey, where he first placed him close to the shrine, whether for safety and sanctuary, or to induce him to return thanks for his safety. He then conducted him to the
* In the Archæologia, vol. xx. p. 519, is an interesting account of the first battle of St. Albans, from a
contemporary MS., communicated by John Bayley, Esq., F.S.A., to which the reader is referred.
THE BATTLE OF ST. ALBANS.
royal apartments, and the next day to London. The effeminacy of the king's men, and to which is ascribed the loss of the battle, is thus described by our author, who saw both parties, and writes of them thus :
Quicquid ad Eoos tractusque regni tepores
The duke's men fell to plundering the town, but, by the commands of the duke, they abstained from doing any injury to the Abbey; but the Abbot
thought it necessary to send out to them great quantities of victuals and wine, and this, together with the protecting hand of the martyr, as my author asserts, preserved the Abbey and church from any injury by spoil and depredation. The slain lay thick in the upper street, and at the division of the ways about the market; and among them were seen the dead bodies of Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset; of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland; and of Thomas Clifford, Lord Clifford. But because they were persons well known to be hateful to the Duke of York when alive, none ventured to prepare for their funerals, or showed any decent regard to their dead bodies. Whereupon Abbot John addressed the duke, and begged him to spare the vanquished, and
suffer some honours to be paid to the deceased "Not enemies will I call them,” says he, “but your relations by blood, -your fellow patriots.” And saying more to recommend moderation in his victory, the duke commanded him to take the bodies and provide for their funerals. The Abbot then caused some of the brethren to go forth and take up the deceased. This being done, and the dead bodies received into the church and laid out in decent order, in a few days the funeral obsequies were performed, and the bodies had interment in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin. They were laid in the ground “ lineali ordine, juxta statum, gradum, et honorem, dignitatis. Unde de his dominis et de eorum sepulturâ scribitur in ista formâ :"*_
Quos Mars, quos Martis sors sæva suæque sororis,
During a period of more than seven centuries, “this Abbey continued to flourish with various improvements, under the government of no less than forty-one Abbots, many of whom enriched it with additional buildings and treasures; so that its extent was in proportion to its immense estates, and more resembled a town than a religious establishment. To its apartments we have already adverted. Here, in 1215, King John, during his opposition to the Barons, 'held a grand consultation' in the Chapter-house; here also Louis the Dauphin, who arrived shortly after, exacted a heavy contribution for carrying on the war, in which he had been invited to take part. Henry the Second and Henry the Third were often entertained by the Abbots of St. Albans, and were liberal benefactors to the monastery ;" but the eighth Henry, as every reader is aware, pursued the opposite course. Its funds were appropriated to state purposes, its privileges abolished, its inmates dismissed; but the fabric itself, comparatively, suffered little from the violence of the transition.
In a careful perusal of the history of this monastery, the reader will find abundant materials for reflection. The lives of the Abbots, as recorded by a member of their own body, present many instructive anecdotes and examples of the civil and religious government, the state of society, the progress of science, and that encouragement of the arts over which they exercised so direct and beneficial an influence. “Although originally subject to the Diocesan, the Lord Abbot gradually advanced in external splendour till the Abbey-church became a rival to the Cathedral; and this," as Newcome has
* History of St. Albans, p. 358.
CHARACTER OF THE ABBOTS.
observed, “went on till, at the Dissolution, the mitred Abbots, who had laboured for pre-eminence, outnumbered the Bishops in the House of Lords, amounting in 1514 to twenty-eight, whilst the Bishops were only eighteen or nineteen.”
There were many other considerations that tended to give the Monks power and consequence; and Abbeys were found to be such beneficial institutions, that they would have stood their ground to the present day, had not their great possessions and revenues tempted indigent courtiers" to combine and plot against them.” “ Their utility," continues the same author, “appeared in these respects, that they exercised great hospitality towards the poor; and this was done at one-tenth of the expense which the poor now (1790) create, by being maintained by a legal provision. The monastery was the house of reception for all the sick, who were here nursed, spiritually consoled, and cured. The monastery generally employed masters to teach the poor children of the neighbourhood; entertained all persons who were ingenious in any art or science, and transcribed books when few understood the art, or could undertake it. There is now extant a chronicle composed and printed at St. Albans, in 1484, under the countenance then given to this particular Abbey by Richard the Third."
“ These old religious houses kept public registers of all great public transactions; and to them we are indebted for all our English historians down to the period of the Dissolution. They were possessed of all the learning that was in any repute at the time prior to the coming of the friars. The monasteriés, in general, furnished the men who were fit for embassies abroad, or for offices of trust and distinction at home: and to their honour it is recorded, that all the inferior officers, both in the courts of law and in the civil departments of the Government, who are called clerks, owe this appellation to the religious houses, Abbeys or Cathedrals, from which the first officers were taken. The landed property belonging to these houses at the time of the Dissolution was so great, that it was computed at one-third of the kingdom. Yet, whatever were their temporal possessions, they were always found to be good landlords, ever ready to forward improvements, and accomplishing many great works in draining, enclosing, and planting, which could never have been undertaken by individuals.” “In truth,” adds the historian quoted, “they did more to civilize mankind, and to bring them within the comforts of society, than any set of men of any denomination have ever done. And yet the ungrateful world, that was enjoying the fruits of their labours and their riches, now that it beheld the edifice completed, cast down the builders and the scaffoldings as if no longer useful! In spite of all the calumny thrown out against these monastic institutions, nothing so well proclaims their utility as this—that they maintained themselves in credit and repute, some of
them a thousand years; and many of them during the space of three hundred, four hundred, and five hundred years; and that, when they were dissolved, Edward the Sixth and his counsellors found it necessary to endow new hospitals, to build new schools, and to provide new relief for the poor and helpless.”
Such is the testimony of a liberal-minded clergyman of the Church of England, who spent a great portion of his leisure in investigating the history of monastic institutions, particularly that of St. Albans. “These religious foundations,” he adds, "fell with such undeserved calumny and slander, that it is but common justice to restore their character, and give them their due praise, wherever that can be done; and if all others were as free from corruption and ill government as the Abbey of St. Albans, it would be seen how unjustly they were accused, and that their overthrow was effected for other reasons than pretended misrule and corruption. But as they had been ever the main pillar and support of the Papal dominion, it was natural and consistent to abolish the members after the Head was rejected. They were bodies so nearly allied to the Papal power, that they must of necessity fall with it; and although a gradual reformation might have been effected in them, yet, in the new plan of church government, they were deemed un
necessary; for the new Head of the
were many great and able men; but whatever cause there may be to charge them with want of piety, there is no room to accuse them of any want of worldly wisdom, or of their embracing that self