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St Augustine : Augustinian Church & Priory Hammersmith, London
Augustinian Church & Priory
Hammersmith, London
The pressure of financial concerns increased the malaise and uncertainty that the Augustinian priories of England experienced in the four decades before the dissolution by King Henry VIII of the last remaining Augustinian Priory - at Hull – in 1539.
There was a large debt unwisely caused by Robert Stokes O.S.A., who had become a doctor of divinity at Cambridge in 1486, after he became the English Provincial in 1487.
This happened when in 1494 he obtained from the Pope, for a large up-front fee that was paid through further borrowing, the right to promote in all Austin Friars priories the granting of a plenary indulgence in return for financial contributions by people to the Augustinians' Priory at Cambridge.
The practice of selling indulgences was at that time relatively new in England. The Archbishop of Canterbury vigorously protested it, but he was powerless to halt this papal edict. Even so, partially due to the opposition of local bishops to this Augustinian fundraising among the people in their dioceses, the expected monetary influx failed to occur. Precise financial figures are no longer extant.
This reprehensible scheme left the Province on a ruinous financial footing. It brought impoverishment to all priories of the Austin Friars, exacerbated alienation with the Augustinian Curia in Rome, and laid the foundations for the lamentable weakness of morale that was present when the royal visitors of Henry VIII came knocking on the priory doors for the dissolution of monasteries in the 1538-1539.
Robert Warner O.S.A., a reputable friar who succeeded Robert Stokes as English Provincial later in 1494, successfully repaid part of the Province debt, but died in office in 1496 before the task was completed.
In 1516 a second edict for granting plenary indulgences was obtained by the Austin Friars, this time intended for the benefit of the Augustinian priory at Oxford.
As early as from 1508 onwards, however, the English Province began to become increasingly alienated from the Augustinian Curia in Rome, variously through poor or mutually-misunderstood communications. This was exacerbated as English Provincials either found themselves in a vice between the conflicting purposes of the English king and the Augustinian Curia in Rome, or else were supporting the royal stance.
Between 1528 and its final occurrence in 1538, there was a sense abroad that the dissolution of monasteries was a serious and increasingly inevitable option.
In 1532 the British Parliament commanded the members of the Austin Friars’ Provincial Chapter, contrary to the Augustinian Constitutions, to reappoint William Wetherall O.S.A. as Provincial, they did so. This was political interference.

Further untoward behaviour is suspected in April 1532 when an indenture was drawn up between William Wetherall O.S.A. (Provincial), and George Browne O.S.A., Prior of the Augustinian Priory in London, for a lease for ninety-nine years to Thomas Cromwell, Master of the Royal Jewels, of land within the Augustinian enclosure so that Cromwell could build his great house there.

The Prior General in Rome confirmed these decisions, most probably because he was effectively unable to do otherwise. That was the final official communication between the Order in England and the General Curia in Rome.

(Continued on the next page.)

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