of their first mutiny leaked out and they were properly
By Henry's orders steps were taken in 1536 to secure the approval of Parliament for the suppression of the monasteries, but though the Abbey of St. Wolstan near Leixlip, belonging to the Canons Regular of St. Victor was suppressed, both the spiritual and the lay peers together with the proctors of the clergy offered a strenuous opposition to the attack on the religious establishments. They knew better than the English officials the work that was being done by many of these institutions for religion, education, and hospitality, as well as for the comfort of the poor and the infirm. In October 1537, however, an act was passed for the suppression of Bective, St. Peter's beside Trime, Duisk, Duleek, Holmpatrick, Baltinglass, Taghmolin, Dunbrody, Tintern, and Ballybogan. Their lands, houses and possessions generally were to be vested in the king, and a pension was to be secured to the abbots and priors. Together with these, eight abbies mentioned in a special commission under the great seal were suppressed.
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." 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.
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." 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, 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."
Hardly had the commission been received than Browne and his companions went to work in good earnest to carry out the task entrusted to them. The superiors of most of the monasteries and convents situated within the Pale or in the territories dominated by the Ormond faction surrendered their houses at the first summons. Not even the Abbey of St. Mary's, which petitioned for mercy on the ground that it kept open house for poor men, scholars, and orphans, was spared, nor the priory of Conall, which boasted that though it lay among the wild Irish it had never any brethren unless they belonged to the "very English nation." During the years 1539, 1540, and 1541 nearly all the monasteries and convents in the territories within the jurisdiction of the king were suppressed. Amongst the communities and institutions that suffered were St. Mary's and the Abbey of St. Thomas the Martyr, the Carmelite, Dominican and Franciscan houses of Dublin; the Hospital of St. John and the Augustinians and Franciscans of Naas, the Priories of Conall and Clane, the Hospital of Castledermott, the Dominicans of Athy; the Franciscans of New Abbey, the Carmelites of Cloncurry, the Abbey of Baltinglass, and the College of Maynooth, the Priory of St. John in Kilkenny together with the houses of the Franciscans, and Dominicans, and the Hospital for Lepers near the same city, Jerpoint, Inistoge, Kells (Co. Kilkenny), the Carmelites of Leighlin Bridge, Knocktopher, Thurles, Clonmel, the Augustinians of Callan, Tipperary and Fethard, the Franciscans of Cashel and Clonmel, the monastery of Duisk, Hore Abbey, Kilcool and Inislonagh, Mellifont, the Abbey of the Blessed Virgin Mary near Trim, and of Kells, the Priories of St. Fechin at Fore, and of Mullingar, the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem at Kilmainham, together with several other religious houses at Louth, Dundalk, Drogheda, Waterford, and Carlow. At the same time most of the convents within the English sphere of influence surrendered their houses and possessions, amongst the last to do so being the celebrated convent of Grace-Dieu.
As a rule whenever a house was suppressed a pension was assigned to the superior, to be paid out of the tithes of some of the ecclesiastical livings in the gift of the monastery or priory. The amount of the pension depended to some extent upon the value of the property which was owned by the particular house. The Abbot of St. Thomas the Martyr's, Dublin, received ￡42 Irish, the Abbot of Mellifont ￡40, the Prior of Fore ￡50, the Abbot of Jerpoint ￡10, the Prioress of Grace-Dieu ￡6, the Abbess of Grane ￡4, and the Prioress of Termonfechin ￡1 6s. 8d., etc. Grants were also made to the members of the suppressed communities, but very frequently these were very small. Of the community of Mellifont one received ￡4, two ￡3 6s. 8d., two ￡2 13s. 4d., six ￡2, and two ￡1, while five of the community at Granard received 13s. 4d., and some from other institutions received only 4s. Many of the superiors and religious merely threw off the habit of their order to become secular clergymen, and to accept a rectory or vicarage in some of the churches over which their community had enjoyed the rights of patronage.
Long before the commission for suppression arrived the scramble for a share in the plunder had begun. In this contest the Deputy, Archbishop Browne, and the principal members of the privy council led the way. John Alen, Master of the Rolls, was the first to profit by the spoliation of the religious houses by getting possession of the property of St. Wolstan's (1536), Lord Grey secured for himself the goods and possessions of the Convent of Grane. The Earl of Ormond and the Butler family generally enriched themselves out of the lands of the monasteries situated in the south-eastern portion of Ireland, as did also a host of hungry officials and gentlemen in different parts of Ireland, such as the Cowleys, Alens, St. Legers, Lutrells, Plunketts, Dillons, Nugents, Prestons, Berminghams, Townleys, Aylmers, Flemings, Wyses, Eustaces, Brabazons, etc. Even Patrick Barnewall, who had resisted so strenuously the suppression of the monasteries in 1536, could not resist the temptation of sharing in the plunder. He secured for himself a large portion of the lands and advowsons of the Convent of Grace-Dieu. In this way the Anglo-Irish nobles were bribed into acquiescence with the king's religious policy, and were enabled to transmit to their descendants immense territories over which they were to rule as hereditary landlords long after the origin of their title had been forgotten. Similarly, in order to put an end to the opposition of the city authorities, which had good ground to complain of the suppressions of houses that were doing so much in the cause of charity and education, large grants were made to the corporations of Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, Clonmel, etc. Wealthy merchants who had money to invest were not slow in coming forward to secure leases of portions of the monastic land and thereby to lay the foundations of a new so-called aristocracy. The gold and silver ornaments, the sacred vessels, the bells, and the church plate generally were sold for the benefit of the king, but the officials were never particularly careful about making the proper returns. From a partial account given by the commissioners in 1541 it appeared that from the sales of the jewels, reliquaries, pictures, and goods of the monasteries they had received over ￡2,500 (Irish) of which they had given close on ￡500 to the superiors, servants, etc., and retained ￡375 as travelling expenses. With the submission of the Earl of Desmond, O'Brien of Thomond, O'Donnell, etc., a more determined campaign was initiated for the total destruction of the religious houses, and particularly of those belonging to the Mendicants, not merely in the Pale but throughout Ireland. A special commission was issued (Aug. 1541) to the Earl of Desmond and others "to take inventories of, to dissolve, and to put in safe custody, all religious houses in Limerick, Cork, Kerry, and Desmond." In return for his activity the Earl of Desmond was rewarded with several grants of monastic land, and even O'Brien did not think it beneath him to share in the plunder. In some places, as for instance in Monaghan, the Franciscan Friars were put to death. But in the Irish districts generally the decree of suppression was not enforced, and even in the English portions of the country the suppression of the monasteries did not mean the extinction of the monks. The Franciscans and Dominicans in particular seem to have been almost as numerous at the end of the reign of Henry VIII. as they had been before he undertook his campaign against Rome.
The whole story of these sad years is summarised in a striking if slightly exaggerated fashion by the Four Masters. "A heresy and new error," they say, "sprang up in England through pride, vain-glory, avarice, and list, and through many strange sciences, so that the men of England went into opposition to the Pope and to Rome. . . . They styled the king the chief head of the Church of God in his own kingdom. New laws and statutes were enacted by the king and council according to their own will. They destroyed the orders to whom worldly possessions were allowed, namely, the Monks, Canons, Nuns, the Crouched Friars, and the four Mendicant Orders, namely the Friars Minor, the Friars Preachers, the Carmelites, and the Augustinians, and the lordships and livings of all these were seized for the king. They broke down the monasteries and sold their roofs and their bells, so that from Aran of the Saints to the Iccian See there was not one monastery that was not broken and shattered, with the exception of a few in Ireland, of which the English took no notice or heed. They afterward burned the images, shrines, and relics of the saints of Ireland and England; they likewise burned the celebrated image of Mary at Trim, which used to perform wonders and miracles, to heal the blind, the deaf, the crippled, and persons affected with all kinds of disease; they burned the Staff of Jesus, which was in Dublin, and which wrought miracles from the time of St. Patrick, and had been in the hands of Christ while He was among men. They also appointed archbishops and bishops for themselves, and though great was the persecution of the Roman emperors against the Church, scarcely had there ever come so great a persecution from Rome as this, so that it is impossible to narrate or tell its description unless it should be narrated by one who saw it." The Annalists might have added a fact noticed by a distinguished Protestant historian that "instead of bestowing their [of the monasteries] incomes on the amelioration of the Church, or expending them in providing for the religious or secular improvement of the people in any other way, caring little apparently for the impoverishment of the Church, he [Henry VIII.] misapplied those revenues for the purposes of promoting his own gratification or enriching his favourites."
Very early in his reign Henry VIII. had dreamt of the complete subjugation of Ireland, but it was only after the successful overthrow of the Geraldine Rebellion (1534-5) that the realisation of these dreams seemed to be within measurable reach. The boldness and military genius of Lord Leonard Grey bade fair to bring all Ireland within the sphere of English jurisdiction, until the religious crisis arose to complicate the issues. Many of the Irish princes took offence at the doctrine of royal supremacy, the attack on images, pictures, pilgrimages, relics, etc., and at the desperate efforts that were being made to drive out entirely the monks and nuns. During the years 1537 and 1538 rumours of a great confederation reached the ears of the English officials. It was represented that Con O'Neill, Manus O'Donnell, O'Brien of Thomond, the De Burgos of Connaught, and the Earl of Desmond had joined hands to protect the young Garrett Fitzgerald and to defend the authority of the Pope. Messengers, it was said, were passing constantly from Ireland to Scotland, and from Scotland to Rome. It was reported in 1539 that the Irish princes regarded Henry VIII. as a heretic, who had forfeited all title to the Lordship of Ireland, that they were determined to uphold the authority of the Pope, that they expected help from the Emperor, from France, and from Scotland, and that if an invasion were attempted not even the Anglo-Irish of the Pale could be relied upon on account of their attachment to the Pope and to the Geraldines.