Letter from Thomas Norton to Francis Mylles

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Below is a transcription of a 1581 letter from Thomas Norton to Francis Mylles, an employee of Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I’s master spy. Norton identifies Thomas Cromwell as the mastermind behind the dissolution of the English monasteries, begun in 1536.

This transcription was featured in Open City: London, 1500–1700, one of the Exhibitions at the Folger.

Transcription X.c.62

Sir I am right glad of your masters health & of your good
hope of his
spedie retorne and yet at his departure I wold have thought
Michaelmas as long tyme as for many cawses it is, God
guide hym,
blesse hym, ^and^ prosper hym, and I pray you in your
returne of writing vnto
hym to besech hym for me to accept my humble
Comendacons and to
retaine his wonted opinion of my redines to doe hym all the
services
that I am hable, and my continuance in harty praier for hym/
Touching the matter of your letter for the course that king
henry kept in
dissolution of abbies, I am sorie I am so little hable to
satisfie, for
therof I have vtterlie no notes or writings whervpon I am
hable to
ground any instructions./ But what I am hable I will set downe
as I
have vnderstoode by that which I have red & heard.


The first entrance was a present given by Cardinall Wolsey
who vnder
pretence and for better habilitie to build his sumptyou
Colledge dissolued
Certaine smale howses and by that doing of hym self (I dout
not
with good warrant from Rome) he dyd make lese in other the
conscience
toward those howses.


After hym ther came to the kings service Mr Cromewell who
had served
the Cardinall in those former doinges


That Cromwall was the man that by his zeale his wisdom and
his
Courrige was godes instrument to carry all to good effect.
These
meanes he vsed.


He first found meanes to perswade the king that it lawfully
might be done
That for his Crowne and state in safetie it was it was [sic]
necessarie to
be done, for that he made appere to the king how by their
meanes the
Pope and clergie so great aucthoretie reuenue alliance and
prinsipallie
capituacion of the soules, and obedience of subiectes that
they weare
able to putt kinges in hazard of their will.


That for his revenue and maintenance of his estate wares &
affaires
both in warr and peace, at home and abrode with others it
was
most profitable to disolute them for augmentacion of his
tresure


He allied the king so strongly with might forens in Germany,
and that leauge [sic] of religion so as with their forces & his
treasure
and the consideracion of common perill by their comon
enemy the
pope he was hable to with stand and encountre any foren
princes so
at the Popes irritacion and prostituting his kingdome to the
occupanti wold make any attempt against hym[.] This aliance
was both by leauge {sic] with Saxonie and other and the
mariage with
the sister of Cleue.


The Emperour and french king were so in hostillitie that
eyther
of them was glad to wine king Henry to his part, wherby
either of them feared to irritate hym lest he coyning with the
other might make to hard a match agianst the invader,
wherby
I thinke that the same hostillitie was chersihed by
Cromewells
Pollicie, whervpon grewe the play in france wherin were shewed
the Emperor and the french king playing at tennise and the
king
of England paying for the balles, beside that though they
had not bene in hostillitie, yet wither of them durst suffer the
other to overgrow by impropriating to hym self anie thing in
England,
and so the Emperor hymself was glad to sit still allthough the
principall
ground in shewe of the quarrell touched hym in honor for his
Auntes repudiacion.


Cromewell caused preachers to go abroade & mainteined
them to instruct the
people and to perswade the subiectes consciences to stand
fast to the king with
feare of the Popes curse or his dissoluing of the allegance.


He causedto be placed in the Archebishops seate Cranmer
and in diuerse
other bishoprickes & hie places in the Clergie diuerse
protestantes by meanes
wherof he was hable to execute great thinges among
themselues,
and they were not hable so muche as to enter into any full
and
perfect counsell against hym, muche lesse to putt any thing
in
publike denuntation and execucon as against the former
kinges of
this realme.


He knew that the clergie had in King Richard the seconds
tyme
suborned another with Collor of a next attempting the like
with the
Marques of Excester, he cawsed the heades of that faction
to be cutt of: suche as the howse of guise is now in ffrance
who
kepe the lorrane title of Caroloningians in breath against the
Capiningians or hugonetes.


He perswaded the king my mainteyning of equ[..]ins and by
holding
Towe the over eminent power of such great ones as in tymes
past
had like bellwethers led the shepish flockes of England
against
their prince to be knit fast to hym the love of his comons and
specially of the Citie of London./


He placed Abbotes and priors in diuerse great howses many
lerned
men and men perswaded against those supersticions, which
men were
redie to make surrender of their howses at the kinges
Comaundement./


He caused the king to restraine all paymentes to Rome & all
resortes
of his subiectes that he for stues appeales faultes & other
causes
wherby both he kept treasure and held yt from his enemies &
restrayned his enemies from flying to forreine partes or
conference
with them, he six visitacons to be made of all the religious
howses toching their con conuersation, whervppon was
retorned
the booke called the black booke expressing of euery suche
house
the vile lyves and abhominable factes in murde^rs^ing of
their
bretheren in Sodomies, in whordomes in destroying of
children
in forging of deedes & other infinite horors of lyf in so muche
as
deuiding all the religious persons of england into three
partes, And
of thiese partes at the least weare Sodomites and this
Appeared in writing with the names of their parties & ^their^
factes: This
was shewed in parliament and the villaines made knowen
and
Abhorred.


He caused the king of the Abbies possessions to make such
dispersion
as it behoued infinite multitudes of their owne intrest to wyne
with the king in houlding them down which he did by
diuerse menes
and thiese among other vz. founding dierse Bishopprickes
and<Colledges with thiese possessions selling many of them to
many men
for reasonable prices exchanging many of them with the
nobility
and other for their auncient possession to their great gaine
which
whome he exchaunged preferring many sufficient persons to
the
kinges service who were sone raysed to Nobilityand and
some
to worshipp and good callinges and all indowed with
maintenance
out of the revenues of Abbies/


Here is all that I can remember


Ther was allso vsed for the manner of the disolution first
diuerse
Abbottes and other that could be thervnto perswaded or
were some of
them for that purpose placed by the king made surrender of
their
howses and Conveyed them to the king by order of law. and
had Competent pensions both them selues and their company
during their liues/


Some being detected by the said visitation to have the
kinges favor
not to punishe them with reigor nor to publish their infamie
for their
vi vile factes were likewise Content to surrender


ffor all the rest (which were then not many) the parliament
being
made acquainted with their vile lives were redilie contented
both to confirme their surrenders and to give their consentes
to the
giving of all the rest to the king./


Now by whome you may lerne the rest I will enforme you/


Mr Chauncellor of the duchie was then the Lord Cromewells
servant
and I thinke can say muche./


My Lord Treasorer by recordes in secrete tresurie and by
collection
of monumentes of knowledge and by such other meanes as
he hathe
Counsaile most of all men and best direct this to his naturall
Course./


Butt of a private man no man in England is in myne oppinion
Comparable to the recorder of london I am sure he canne
delier
vs by bookes and writinges remayning with hym very man
thinges and I suppose sufficient for this question.


I meane to hast to london the rather to further you in this
matter by some Conferrence with you I propose to be ther on
m monday I wold presently have come but that I had before
Appointed some Attendance here one my lord Cheyney and
and
other for her maiesties service/


I have nothing to forward this matter at London more then I
haue here for touching this course: Omnia mea mecum porto
/


Mr Milles I am your Masters, yours and all his


I Comend to you the towne of lernemouth [i.e., Yarmouth] so
farr as they wilbe well
aduised for they are honest men. So farre you well


At Sharpenhow in Bedfordshire iiijor myles beyond Luton xij
myles beyond St Talbones this I write because you may
know
whether to send an other tyme I wold you had a profitable
occasion to
Come and see This last of august 1581.


Yours assured

ffor the residue I must referr you to the Statutes


Endorsed:
A copie of Thomas
Nortons Letter