François Bonvin [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Hans Holbein [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Arden Hall on the site of the priory. Uncredited / Arden Hall via Wikimedia
|Young nun digging a grave — Wikipedia|
This points to a reality quite different from tales that were circulated in 1536 of corruption and ungodliness. Motivated by his favour of the new learning Cromwell and his men put forward stories of nuns indulging in sexual misconduct with monks, murdering their own infants, enjoying lewd and promiscuous lives. Even if they had the inclination, I would be surprised if the nuns of Arden found either the time or the energy for such practices.
The dissolution was almost universally resented by monks and traditionalists. Monasteries were a life-line; common people relied on them from birth to death for charity, employment and for healthcare. The closures united the populace both rich and poor, culminating in widespread protest that posed the biggest threat to the crown during Henry VIII’s reign. The first rising took place in Lincolnshire in October but was quickly put down, only to spring up again in Yorkshire when the people of the north, led by lawyer, Robert Aske, embarked upon a ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’.
Richard Croft / Lincolnshire Rising plaque
Gentry as well as commonfolk joined the peaceful march to persuade the king to change his mind; monks and laymen, nuns and children were among those who took to the road to preserve their way of life. The Pilgrimage of Grace was the worst uprising during Henry VIII’s reign, the rebels reaching more than 30,000, far outnumbering the royal army but after initially agreeing to consider their complaints, the king managed to get the upper hand. He ‘invited’ Robert Aske to spend Christmas at court, promising to consider their requests but when unrest broke out again in the East Riding it provided the king with the excuse he needed. The Duke of Norfolk was sent to deal with the rebels. The leaders were executed, and there were widespread hangings of common people, a deterrent to further protesters. Robert Aske was hung in chains on the walls of York and left to die.
By Banner_of_the_Holy_Wounds_(Pilgrimage_of_Grace).png: self-createdderivative work: Diego Sanguinetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
One by one the abbeys fell, monks and nuns were turned out, some abbots were tortured and executed. By 1540 the largest of the abbeys were closed, the lands distributed among the nobilty, the remains of once glorious buildings subjected to neglect and decay.
The plight of those affected by the dissolution has always intrigued me and I have enjoyed revisiting the period in Sisters of Arden which is due for publication later on this year. The records of Arden are scanty but by piecing together what little we know with wider records of the dissoultion and the pilgrimage of Grace, I have at last been able to explore the closure of the abbeys and the uprisings that followed from the perspective of a group of insignificant nuns.
Sisters of Arden follows the path of three nuns, Margery, Grace and Frances, from the closure of Arden, through the journeyings of the pilgrims on their march for Grace, where they experience the outside world for the first time. As their adventures take them the length and breadth of Yorkshire they move from determination to despair, from hope to disillusion. But, with their world in pieces, the only thing they can do is try to rebuild it.
Sisters of Arden
Arden Priory has remained unchanged for almost four hundred years. When a nameless child is abandoned at the gatehouse door, the nuns take her in and raise her as one of their own.
After the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536, the embittered King strikes out, and unprecedented change sweeps across the country. The bells of the great abbeys fall silent, the church fragments and the very foundation of the realm begins to crack.
Determined to preserve their way of life, Margery and the sisters of Arden join a pilgrimage thirty thousand strong and attempt to lead the heretic king back to grace.
Sisters of Arden is a story of valour, virtue and veritas.
Coming soon — December 2018
Judith Arnopp is the author of ten historical novels including The Winchester Goose, The Beaufort Chronicle (three book series), The Kiss of the Concubine and A Song of Sixpence. You can find her on Facebook • Twitter • Website • Blog.