THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION IN THE ENGLISH PROVINCE (5)
It has been estimated that three hundred or more English Augustinians (Austin Friars) were evicted from their religious houses in 1538 and 1539. What became of them, where they went, what they did are questions that admit of no easy, certain answer.
A dozen of the friars, possibly more, saw what was coming and made provision in time for their future, that is, by asking to be dispensed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer from their religious profession, thereby becoming eligible for a benefice as secular priests. The application almost invariably was accompanied with a request to be allowed to take off their Augustinian habit.
One of the most interesting cases is that of a friar of Clare Priory, Stephen Luskyn. He was dispensed on 20th December 1537 and permitted to wear the habit of the Augustinian Order under the robe of a secular priest in common form.
The dispensation cost Luskyn four pounds, but he could hardly complain. After all, he was getting good value for his money, the best of both worlds: if the Catholic Church and the Augustinian Order were restored after the death of King Henry VIII, Luskyn could always truthfully say that he had never apostatized against the Order, and had continued to wear his Augustinian habit.
On the other hand, he could go about dressed as a secular priest and, therefore, save himself from Thomas Cromwell's ire had the all-powerful minister of state espied him in an Augustinian habit.
As in the case of the vast majority of the dispossessed friars, there is no record of Luskyn's movements immediately after 1537. But twenty-nine years later he reappears in the written records of the Parish of Borley in Essex, only a few miles from Clare. When its rector, William Cooper, died, the Anglican Bishop of London, in whose diocese the parish was, instituted Luskyn as the new rector on 5th January 1566.
It is a safe presumption to make that not many of Luskyn's fellow Augustinians lived out their days in such relative security.
The last Prior of Clare, John Hallibread, alias Stokes, doctor of theology, was incardinated in the diocese of Norwich within a year of the suppression of Clare Priory, and became one of the Anglican canons of Norwich Cathedral.
The one community that fared best of all was that of Bristol in the west country of England. At the time of the suppression in 1537-38 the community numbered eight friars. Of these, the Prior of the community and one other priest were appointed as pastors; two more received positions as curates or assistant priests in parishes; and another two became chantry priests or chaplains.
Thus six found employment and, with that, a livelihood, but the remaining two of the eight friars got nothing. Such was generally the case. Perhaps they were unable to get their "capacities" (i.e., the necessary dispensations for becoming secular priests and, therefore, becoming eligible for a benefice).
Photos (at right).
St Mary's Anglican Church at Atherstone, which contains sections of the original pre-Reformation church and tower built and administered by the Austin Friars until their suppression by King Henry VIII circa 1538. The building was then left abandoned until about 1692, and subsequently enlarged. The present "Gothic" tower was a reshaping in 1872 of the original Austin Friars' square tower.