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Early Modern

THE REFORMATION PERIOD

THE REFORMATION

The Reformation had far reaching consequences for society both at a local and a national level. The Reformation involved a radical change from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism, characterised by new styles of worship and beliefs; the dissolution of the monasteries, the seizure of church lands and wealth, and the appointment of the monarch (instead of the Pope) as supreme head of the newly-created Church of England. All church laws had to be authorised by the monarch.

 

  

Bible

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The new Protestant religion affirmed by Henry VIII proved attractive to some groups in society and in some areas, but the pace of conversion was slow and many people were pleased when Queen Mary (1553-8) did all she could to undo the Reformation and make Roman Catholicism once again the official state religion. The accession of Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth I, in 1558, finally threw the support of the state behind the Protestant Reformation. Elizabeth’s government immediately began to impose Protestantism.

Protestant religion stressed the importance of Bible-reading and sermons, and sought to enforce strict morality and Sunday observance. Strenuous efforts were made to rid the church of Roman Catholic ritual and ceremony.

 

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THE DISSOLUTION OF DARTFORD PRIORY IN 1539 AND 1559

The closure of monastic institutions began under Henry VIII in 1536 with the dissolution of England’s smaller monasteries and the granting of their property to the king. A campaign followed to force the remaining monastic houses to dissolve themselves voluntarily. By 1540, eight hundred monastic houses had been taken over, bringing the Crown new revenues. However, it was the laity (ordinary men rather than clergymen) who benefited from this massive transfer of wealth. By 1547, two-thirds of ex-monastic land was sold by Henry to finance his wars. The destruction of the English monasteries was carried out primarily to meet royal financial needs.

The first dissolution of Dartford’s Dominican priory took place shortly after 1 April 1539. Pensions were arranged for the nuns and fees and annuities paid to the priory clerk, auditor, overseer, physician and servants. Henry VIII retained ownership of the site of the priory, and had the buildings demolished to make way for the construction of the Dartford Royal Manor House. This was just one of forty similar properties scattered throughout England, built by Henry VIII as a place of temporary accommodation during his frequent travels. His fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, lived at the Manor House in 1553-7.

With the accession of the catholic Queen Mary, the Dominican nuns were allowed to form a small community at King’s Langley Priory in Hertfordshire. Following Anne of Cleve’s death in 1557, the Royal Manor House at Dartford was handed-over to the Dominican nuns but the death of Queen Mary in November 1558 brought about the dissolution of Dartford Priory for the second time. The nuns were ordered to leave within twenty-four hours.

The Dartford nuns fled to the Netherlands with a small group from Syon House. After crossing to Belgium, they went to Antwerp, Dendermond, and then to the convent of Leliendael (Schowen). Conditions at the Dutch convent were very poor. Eventually the nuns were forced to return to Antwerp where they remained until 1566. The Dartford nuns finally found a home at the convent of Engelendael near Bruges, never again to return to their native land.

 

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THE IMPACT OF THE REFORMATION ON RELIGIOUS LIFE IN DARTFORD

The Reformation brought about significant changes in Dartford, which had an impact on the life of the church, styles of worship, and the nature of the local economy. The abolition of pilgrimages by Henry VIII took away the livelihoods of some sections of the local community - particularly those who had been involved in the manufacture and sale of pilgrim souvenirs. No doubt trade at some of Dartford’s inns and lodging-houses also became slack as pilgrims ceased to visit the town.

In September 1538, injunctions were issued for the abolition of numerous religious holidays and festivals that had been a feature of medieval town life. It became an offence for church visitors to light candles in front of religious shrines or altars. Shortly afterwards, the vicar of Dartford was ordered to purchase an English Bible ‘of the largest print’ to be set-up in a prominent position in the church. Parishioners were encouraged to visit the church to read the Bible for themselves.

An Act of 1545 empowered confiscation by the king of all charities, whether chantries, hospitals, guilds or colleges. Chantries, like Dartford’s Stampit Chantry, were a particular target of another act passed in 1547. The main purpose of a chantry was to fund priests to say masses for the dead, thereby implying the existence of purgatory, an intermediate stage where the dead waited before going to heaven or hell. The Protestants could not find proof in the Bible of the existence of ‘purgatory’; this gave them an excellent excuse to dissolve the chantries and seize all the land that had once funded the employment of chantry priests. The Crown received over 600,000 from the dissolution of chantries as land passed into lay hands. Dartford’s Stampit Chantry in Holy Trinity church was dissolved in 1547. The lamps were taken away, the figure of the Virgin Mary removed, and the altar pulled down.

An order was issued that all images, icons and pictures should be removed from parish churches. Consequently, a superb Medieval wall-painting in Holy Trinity church showing St. George killing the dragon was covered-over with whitewash - only to be rediscovered centuries later. Under an act of Edward VI, all the remaining images at Holy Trinity church were destroyed.

In 1547 the churchwardens were ordered to set-up a proper pulpit in the church, and, at the cost of the parish, to provide a strong wooden chest or collecting box, so that the parishioners could give to the poor and needy. Masses, that had been a prominent feature of pre-Reformation worship, ceased, and the traditional Latin service was performed in English.

With the short-lived accession of catholic Mary, the mass was restored and the high altar re-built at the church. Ceremonies and rituals were once more a key element in the daily worship.

The accession of Elizabeth I led again to destruction of the altar and the construction and installation of a communion table. The introduction of the Book of Common Prayer brought about the standardisation of services.

 

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CHURCH GOODS AND VESTMENTS

In pre-Reformation times Holy Trinity church at Dartford was one of the richest churches in Kent in terms of the number and quality of its church goods, and the richness and luxury of its collection of vestments. The simplicity of the reformed church services under Edward VI and Elizabeth made the use of these expensive goods and vestments unnecessary.

Given the high value of church silver and church vestments, careful and systematic inventories (lists) were prepared during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI. Local commissioners were appointed to make the inventory. Churchwardens and leading parishioners attended to confirm its accuracy. At Dartford, the commissioners found that some items had been sold to finance the purchase of new communion cups and repair of the church. Some of the fine vestments had been stolen.

With the accession of the catholic Queen Mary, the Dominican nuns were allowed to form a small community at King’s Langley Priory in Hertfordshire. Following Anne of Cleve’s death in 1557, the Royal Manor House at Dartford was handed-over to the Dominican nuns but the death of Queen Mary in November 1558 brought about the dissolution of Dartford Priory for the second time. The nuns were ordered to leave within twenty-four hours.

The 1552 inventory shows that Holy Trinity church possessed four silver-gilt chalices, one of these weighed more than twenty-six ounces. In total the church plate weighed-in at over three hundred ounces of silver. Church vestments were made from rich fabrics such as velvet, satin and silk and embroidered with gold.

Document 1: Click the link below to view the document

An inventory of goods and vestments at Holy Trinity church, 1552, taken by John Britte and Thomas Pellman, churchwardens

 

THE BURNING OF CHRISTOPHER WADE AT DARTFORD, 1555

The accession of Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) in 1553 led to the burning of some 280 Protestants throughout England. The Martyrs’ Memorial situated in the old churchyard above East Hill commemorates three Kentish martyrs who were burned at the stake for their faith, Christopher Wade (burned at Dartford 17 July 1555), Margaret Polley (burned at Tonbridge 18 July 1555), and Nicholas Hall (burned at Rochester).

Christopher Wade, a Dartford linen-weaver, refused to give up the Protestant faith and convert to Catholicism. It was ordered that he should be publicly burned at the stake on Dartford Brent on 17 July 1555.

 

  

Martyr's Memorial

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Document 2: Click the link below to view the document

An account of the burning of Christopher Wade taken from John Foxe's Book of Martyrs

In 1850 a subscription was opened to construct a memorial to Wade and the other Kentish martyrs. The memorial was unveiled in 1851 but was not well-constructed and rapidly fell into decay. Subscriptions for a new memorial were requested in 1887. The restored Martyrs’ Memorial (still standing today) was finally unveiled on 31 October 1888.

 

 

 

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