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The Compendium Compertorum and the making of the Suppression Act of 1536

By Anthony N. Shaw


This thesis investigates the relationship between the Royal Visitation of 1535 — 1536, the Compendium Compertorum and the Suppression Act of 1536. Through the extensive examination of new and corrected manuscript evidence and by the updating of previous analysis, the Royal Visitation has been identified as more extensive, geographically and conceptually, than has hitherto been recognised.\ud This work identifies for the first time all the Commissioners and their regions of responsibility in England and Wales. This discovery has enabled a thorough review of their visiting itineraries to be made and has allowed their actions to be examined relative to a central, emerging policy. The Royal Commissioners understood they had a reforming responsibility at the institutions they visited. This has not been previously recognised by historians who have seen the Royal Visitation as purely a means of collecting damaging evidence of monastic corruption. This work makes clear that the principal purpose of the Visitation, however, was to gain the wide acceptance of the Royal Supremacy among a range of ecclesiastical institutions, including religious houses.\ud It will be shown that although Thomas Cromwell co-ordinated the Commissioners, he can occasionally be identified bending to the royal will. The emergence of the core Injunctions in August 1535, for example, was a result of King Henry's intervention. The Commissioners had occasional direct contact with the king to discuss the progress of the Visitation. This work identifies that the decision to widen the definition of sexual crime in the Visitation was made in September 1535, when the court was at Winchester. Thereafter, Cromwell can be seen considering various policies for possible monastic reform.\ud On the eve of the passing of the Suppression Act Cromwell's chosen monastic reform policy was overruled. The Suppression Act in its final form was the preferred choice of King Henry. The data obtained on monastic crime was edited and manipulated from the Visitors' Act Book into the Compendium Compertorum to assist the passing of the Act. The Royal Visitation information was also used to evaluate the likely effects of the Act's implementation.\ud This work outlines why the Crown invested seven months in undertaking the Royal Visitation. It helps explain the first assault in the 1530s, by the government, on the English and Welsh monasteries. The widely held view that the Suppression Act was formulated by Cromwell must be revised. Cromwell certainly supervised the Royal Visitation but the king defined the final monastic suppression policy

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  2. Parliamentary Drafts 1529 - 1540', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, xxv (1952) 'Reform by Statute: Thomas Starkey's "Dialogue" and Thomas Cromwell's Policy', Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. liv (1968) •
  3. Toiler, T. N. (ed.) Vincent, Nick (trs.) 'Visitations in the Diocese of York by Archbishop Edward Lee 1534 - 35' Walcott, M. E. C.

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