Former Monks of Malmesbury

Document Concerning Former Monks of Malmesbury,
Forty Years After The Dissolution.

CHANCERY SUIT. Exemplification of Interrogatories. Manuscript dated June 9th, 1579, 21 x 26 inches, with a large portion of the first Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I attached at the foot. Signed at the end by Matthew Carew, who later became Master in Chancery, and Humphrey Waldron.

An interesting document, both for the details it gives of the arrangement of the legal administration of the abbey properties, and for its mention of what must have been some of the few surviving members of the abbey community.

The case concerns the ownership of some property at Kemble which formerly belonged to the abbey, and the question at issue was whether the present occupiers had a legal title to the property.

The document relates the examination of five former monks from the abbey, to find out if they knew of any leases which may have been granted by the abbey before the Dissolution. The names of the monks examined were Thomas Harmer, William Selwyn, Thomas Archard, Robert Cone, and Robert Woodrof. Each former monk was asked a series of eight questions, but for reasons of space, only the answers of Robert Cone are given here. In abbreviated form, the questions asked were as follows:-

  1. Whether doe you knowe a farme sett lying and being in kemble in the countye of wiltes in the tenure of Elizabeth Row land, and whether was the same farme of the possession of the late dissolved monastery of Malmesbury.

  2. Whether were not you an officer in the saide monastery before the dissolution thereof and if you were what office did you beare.

  3. Doe you knowe of any lease of the saide farme of kemble graunted before the dissolution, and when and how longe sithence was the same lease soe graunted.

  4. What officers of the saide monastery did use to be privie to the sealinge of all leases graunted by the late Abbott and convent of the saide monastery.

  5. What person had the keapinge of the convent seale wherewith all leases lawfully graunted were sealed before the suppression of the saide monastery.

  6. Whether could any such lease be graunted before the dissolution during such time as you were officer there without your pryvitie or knowledge.

  7. Whether doe you know or have heard sale t at any such lease was a forged lease or antedated and yt were then who did forge or antedate the same.

  8. Whether doe you knowe or have heard saie that any leases or coppies of any landes belonging to the saide monastery were at any tyme forged or antedated, what leases or copies were so forged or antedated, when by whom were they forged or antedated to your knowledge or as you have heard saie.

ROBERT Cone of Malmesbury aforesaid gent of thage of threescore and nynetene yeares or thereabout, sworne and examyned the daye and yeare aforesaide.

  1. To the firste interrogatorie saithe that he verie well knoweth the farme of Kemble in the countye of wiltes in the tenure of occupation of Elizabeth Rowlande alias Wye, and that the saide farme was parcell of the possessions of the late dissolved monastery of Malmesbury.

  2. To the second interrogatorie he saithe that he was carver to Robert Selwyn the last abbott of Malmesbury from the beginning of his beinge abbott untill the saide house was dissolved, and served Abbott Cam the last abbott before that without office.

  3. To the thirde interrogatorie he saithe in all things as the previous deponent Thomas Harmer hath saide.

  4. To the fourthe interrogatorie this deponent saithe that the abbott Chaplayne in the behalf of the saide abbott did seale all leases that were lawfully graunted by the saide abbott and convent receaving for his fee six shilling and eight pence, and that the abbott kept the keye of the coffer where the convent seale remayned, as he hath harde saie, and that the prior subprior and sexten kept three severall keys of three severall dores before any could come unto the coffer where the saide seale was kept, but what severall fees they had this deponent knoweth not.

  5. To the fyveth interrogatorie this deponent saithe as he hath already deposed and sayde to the fourth interrogatorie.

  6. To the sixt and seaventh and eighte interraaatorie he can saie nothing

We are not told the results of the enquiry, but the case was a typical one that was repeated all over the country following the Dissolution. The legal records of the dissolved monasteries were scattered in much the same way as their inhabitants, and to quote Aubrey’s remarks about Malmesbury, “the manuscripts flew about like butterflies, …. and the glovers at Malmesbury made great havock of them, and gloves were wrapt up no doubt in many good pieces of antiquity.”

Not one of the five former monks of Malmesbury mentioned in this document are mentioned in the list of pensions assigned to the Abbott and Monks of Malmesbury on the surrender of the monastery, the first payment of which began at Lady Day 1540. Besides the abbott, Robert Selwyn, alias Frampton, the list contains twenty-one names. It is known that many monks abandoned their calling-before the act of surrender of their house, and evidently the monks of Malmesbury were no exception. The fact that forty years later these five were still alive would seem to show that it was mainly the younger members of the community that anticipated the Dissolution.