Monasteries and their influence in North Lancashire and South Cumbria by Dr Alan Crosby. 4th September 2014.

Dr Crosby considered why the monastic system in Lancashire and Cumbria was valued and why Catholicism remained strong in the area after the Reformation.

By the 13th century, many monasteries had become very wealthy with strong international links. They were increasingly viewed as decadent and with over lavish churches and accommodation. They were also seen as being hand in glove with the church establishment and remote from the ordinary people. Many of the monks in establishments in the south of England were drawn from wealthy families with weak local links. There were relatively few establishments in the NW and, in contrast to those elsewhere , many of the monks had strong local links. Thus, they had local names, often based on local place names.

Most monks were also relatively young in the NW establishments. For example, in 1542, all but one of the Cartmel canons were between 25 and 41. The ages suggest that these monasteries were still recruiting shortly before the dissolution. Again, the names suggest local recruitment.

The monasteries in the NW were relatively small with between 9 and 30 monks plus their servants and farm labourers. Thus, Cartmel had 10 canons with 10 waiting servants, 19 household and estate officials and 8 farm labourers.  Some southern houses had more than one waiting servant per monk.

The monasteries had a great influence on their local neighbourhood. They provided employment and benefitted local businesses through supply and transport of goods, accommodation for visitors, and employment for craftsmen. Local gentlemen could also raise their status through patronage.

Prior to the dissolution the Commissioners assessed the wealth of the establishments but also the morals of the monks and canons; the latter in an attempt to blacken the reputation of the houses. The enquiries showed a relative low level of misdemeanours in the NW houses. The enquiries also looked at the level of charitable giving by the houses and those in the NW were shown to have a considerably higher level of charitable giving then the national average.

The local links, the charitable giving, the local benefits and the relatively parsimonious and moral life of the monks engender the support of the local population.

In 1536, as the monastic establishments were being closed, the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ opposed the closures. The establishments in Lancashire and Cumbria supported or were sympathetic to the movement but ,eventually the establishments were forceably closed. Some of the monks were punished  but others accepted retirement and took up positions in the protestant church in area around their former monastery/priory.

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