Sanctuary in the age of uncertainty: Beaulieu c1537

Although in many ways sanctuary was just continuing along as normal in the second half of the 1530s, not surprisingly the ongoing monastic dissolutions, which had begun in 1536, were raising issues. As of 1537, none of the religious houses with attached sanctuaries had been shut down, but at the very least there was uncertainty in the air. The abbot of Beaulieu, a Cistercian monastery in Hampshire, seems to have been particularly worried.


One effect of that worry was doing whatever the abbot could to signal what an obedient and loyal servant of the king he was. So when in 1537 he received a command to deliver up one of his sanctuary men, Florentine James Mangini, he was most willing to do so. The problem was, though, as he explained in a letter to Thomas Cromwell, he couldn’t, because Mangini had caught wind that he was about to be grabbed and had flown. The letter doesn’t explain why Mangini was in sanctuary or why his arrest was so urgent.


Mangini did not get far, however; he had evidently hidden out in the woods near Beaulieu and within the week he was found in a hay barn and delivered up to Cromwell. There’s no record of what happened to him after that.

The Beaulieu abbot’s professed willingness to cooperate did not, of course, stave off closure of the abbey, and in fact Beaulieu was the first of the major chartered sanctuaries to be shut down the next year, in 1538. Some discussion at that point ensued about what to do with the resident sanctuary seekers, of which there were thirty-two at the time of the dissolution. Most were debtors: the plan at first was that they should be able to remain. The felonious sanctuary seekers, on the other hand, were simply to be let go – if they managed to find another sanctuary, they could enter there, or they could simply try to evade arrest.

In both cases, it’s not clear what happened to them. The abbey came into the hands of Cromwell crony Thomas Wriothesley, who demolished the abbey; seems very unlikely that he would have allowed a community of debtors to remain resident indefinitely on his new property.

Thomas (“Call-Me”) Wriothesley

For the felons (and we don’t know how many of the thirty-two were felons), we have little indication, though as often happened in Henry VIII’s reign, difficult legal situations could be solved by pardons, and there’s a record for at least one Beaulieu man being pardoned in 1538.

TNA, SP 1/125, fols 8r, 44rv; SP 1/131, fols 9, 120; SP 1/78, fol 140; BL, Cotton Titus MS B I, fol 465; L&P, 12/2:259, 273; 13/1:254, 295, 296, 322, 484; WH St John Hope & Harold Brakspear, ‘The Cistercian Abbey of Beaulieu’, The Archaeological Journal 63 (NS 13) (1906): 129–88. Top image source

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