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The Chantry Priest of Barnet by  Alfred J. Church

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THE EPILOGUE, WRIT BY THOMAS BINGHAM

The 1st day of March, 1559.

[293] I, THOMAS BINGHAM, who add to this book what hereinafter followeth, will say at this present only so much of myself, that I was of the kindred of Thomas Aylmer, sometime chantry priest of Barnet, being grandson to his sister, and that I was a monk of the monastery of St. Alban at the time of its dissolving, and was thereupon assigned a pension of nine marks by the year.

The said Thomas Aylmer died in the year 1530, being then ninety years of age, weak indeed of body, but of so sound a mind that neither memory nor apprehension had at all failed him. Nevertheless for five years before his decease he had a deputy in his chantry, not being able himself to sing mass; and he had [294] himself dwelt in the house of a gentleman of Hadley, Francis Goodere by name, who gave to his old age kindly and honourable shelter.

I was present at his decease (which befell on the last day of September in the year aforesaid), having been fetched for that cause from the monastery. It was eleven in the forenoon when I came into his presence. He lay upon his bed very calm and peaceful, having already confessed and received absolution, and been fortified with the sacraments. There were gathered in his chamber Master Francis Goodere and Mistress Alice his wife, and Henry and Dorothy, their son and daughter. Then the old man called for his monk's scrip, and bade Master Goodere open it, for he himself was too feeble so much as to move a hand. "What money findest thou therein, son Francis?" for so he called Master Goodere. And he said, "Four marks or thereabouts." Then the old man said, smiling the while, "See now, my son, how thou with thy bounty hast caused me to break my vow of poverty. Lo! I am cumbered with riches, and must needs make a will and testament. But it shall be such as the Latins [295] did call nuncupatoria, that is, made by word of mouth. Let the parson of Hadley have a mark, and if he will, let him say a mass or twain for my soul. And let the parson of South Mimms, in which parish my chantry is locally situate, have the same. The two marks that remain I give to Henry and Dorothy Goodere, one to each, desiring them, if it be their pleasure, to buy therewith some ring or trinket whereby they may remember me. The little book in writing I give to my nephew, Thomas Bingham, to whom also I bequeath the half of all other books or volumes, whether in writing or print, of which I am possessed, and the remainder Francis Goodere shall have. And lest ye two fall out over this great inheritance, I will that Master Goodere shall first choose one of the books which he shall like best, and then Thomas Bingham another, and so forth till all be divided. Let the other small matters in the bag, the comb and the knife and the like, be divided among the serving men and women. And I give to Henry Goodere my angling tackle (if any of it yet survives) and to Dorothy Goodere my brushes [296] and colours and other implements of painting. And now, son Francis, take from the bag a little packet sealed that thou wilt find lowest of all." So Master Goodere brought it forth. Then said the old man, "Open it!" and to himself, "It were no harm to see it once more before I die." So Master Goodere brake the seal and opened it. And within, wrapped in three folds of paper, was a little kerchief of white linen; and we noted that it had a smell of lavender. Then the old man said, speaking as it were to himself, "She bound it on my finger, which I had wounded with a knife, cutting a rose in the garden; and I have not seen it for threescore years and nine." And then to Master Goodere, "Fold it again and lay it upon my breast when I am buried." Now none of us knew what this might mean, but now, having read the little book, I know. After this he lay for the space of half an hour or so, speaking in a low voice of persons and places that he had seen in time past, for so it seemed to us that stood by, though the names were for the most part unknown to us. Last of all, opening his eyes, for before he had lain as one that slept, and looking up, as though [297] he saw somewhat, he said, "Sunt sicut angeli in coelis," and drawing his breath twice deeply, so departed.

He had, as they who have read this book do know, but few of the things that men commonly desire; but he had that wherein shall be found the best riches, a quiet and contented spirit; nor do I, who knew him from my childhood, remember so much as one word of complaint upon his lips. And he had also this happiness, that though he perceived the evil that was coming upon the houses of religion in this land, he saw it not with his own eyes. Six years thereafter the smaller houses were dissolved, and in three years more the same thing befell all that yet remained. I do not deny that there needed to be brought about some change. For indeed these houses were too many by far, and had too great riches, holding, it was commonly reported, one-third of the land of this nation. Also they were too much given to idleness, having altogether lost their old love of letters and sound learning; nor were they altogether pure—for how should men so be [298] that lived in idleness?—from other sins (though these were falsely magnified). But it was an ill deed that bolstered up with their possessions the houses of nobles, ignorant men for the most part, and greedy of riches and pleasures. For if it was to the good of the commonwealth, as indeed I deny not, that these great possessions should be taken from their then present holders, yet should they have been still preserved to the service of God, being given to schools and the like, and for the better aiding of the poor. This was not done; but rather (if I may speak plainly) these great riches were given over, for the most part, to the service of the devil, going to feed the riotous living of a pack of godless courtiers.


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THE RUINS OF SOPWELL PRIORY.

Of the monastery of St. Alban there is little to be told. In the year 1540 John Boreman, who had been chosen abbot two years before, did, after some vain show of resistance, surrender the abbey to the King. And, indeed, how could he have done otherwise. For not only had he been put in his place for this end, being, as was believed, of a pliant disposition, but he could not have withstood to any purpose [299] had he been so minded. But Master Boreman was not of the temper of Abbot Whiting of Glastonbury, that was hanged by King Henry the Eighth, but was content to have his pension of four hundred marks.

It was an evil day when we were driven forth from our home, though we had, as I have said, some provision made; but that which I was most disturbed to see was the fury with which the townsfolk fell upon the buildings, destroying them, not only for greed, but as it would seem, from very hatred. Nor could I but confess to myself that, though they were not blameless, we had not been so hated had we borne ourselves more like Christian men and better kept our vows.

There is no need to tell at length how I have fared between the dissolving of the abbey and this present time of writing. Let it suffice to say that being able to write a legible hand I could earn so much with the scriveners as with my pension sufficed to keep me without stinting. In the last year of King Henry the chantries were granted to the King and the priests turned out. As for that of which my uncle [300] was priest, it lay empty for a long space, but was not pulled down, as were many in those days, the Barnet folk preserving it for a memorial of the great battle. And indeed in Queen Mary's time, there was talk of restoring it, but the land had been bestowed elsewhere, and nothing was done. Then, when her majesty Queen Elizabeth came to the throne, I, thinking that it might be turned to some good purpose, and having some interest with persons in authority, procured it to be granted to me on a lease, and have made it into a house for travellers. Nor have I done this, lest haply some should think it a profaning of things given to sacred uses, without good advice first taken from such as are able to judge of such matters. That it should be turned again to its old uses is manifestly a thing not to be expected; and I conceive that this being so, it is more to the honour of God that it should give shelter to the weary and destitute than that it should stand desolate, falling little by little into decay. As for myself, I do it not for gain, but conceive that I shall so best keep the vow wherewith I bound myself in my youth to God's service. I [301] blame not others that have gone into the world, to which indeed they were constrained without other choice, and have gathered substance and taken to themselves wives. But I am rather content to abide in the state whereto I was once called; and having been driven forth from one house of God, to make to myself another by prayer and such good deeds as He may give me grace to do.


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