The following excerpts are from Knowles, David; Bare Ruined Choirs: the dissolution of the English monasteries, pp. __-223.
“These considerations [of the historic, charitable role of monasteries], and others more detailed and subtle, were set out in unforgettable phrases by Robert Aske at his examination six months later [ ] When he wrote, Aske was a prisoner with no hope of life. He had nothing to gain and it may have seemed to him that he had much to lose from a frank exposition of his feelings in the previous autumn . . .
With the departure of the visitors in the autumn and winter of 1535-6 there began, for such of the monasteries as were not liable to suppression under the Act of 1536, a short periof of three to four years that my truly be called the last phase of their existence. Though their ultimate fate was still uncertain, they could have had few illusions as to the change in their condition. Any hopes that the inmates may have cherised of permanent survival became more and more forlorn with every new political event; domestic authority was impaired; sincere and sensitive spirits must have been assailed of every kind of doubt and despondency . . . The visitation coming as the climax of a series of harassing demands, had shown conclusively, even brutally that the royal supremacy was not a matter of words alone. Their independence, their freedom of manoevure, was gone for ever. . . .
Here, however, the abbotts had to do with an essential part of Cromwell’s technique, and met with no satisafaction. Taking no interest whatever in the spiritual well-being of the monasteries, he wished his grip to be felt throughout the community and . . . consistently used unsatisfactory or disgruntled subjects both as informers and as agitators, to bring about the downfall of an abbot or the surrender of a house. A number of letters of complaint rom such men survive, particularly from the months immediately following the visitation. They . . . have been preserved in particular abundance in connection with a group of houses in the region between the Cotswolds and the Malvern hills. The monasteries concerned are Winchcombe, Evesham, Pershore and Worcester; three of the four were seen as homes of energy in the late Old English monastic world. . .
Winchcombe had lost only three years previously the most distinguished abbot of its history, but there is no evidence that Richard Kidderminster had set any stamp upon the community . . . Cromwell, it would seem, had some personal connection with Winchcombe, for he is found staying there in the first days of August when the king lay nearby in Gloucestershire and he was on the point of launching the great visitation of the monasteries. . . Three weeks later one of the monks, John Placid, writes [to Cromwell that he] “is troubled . . about certain ceremonies which exalt the bishop of Rome, and wishes for powers to confiscate books dealing with the pope . . .
At about the same time Crowell was hearing from another Winchcombe gospeller, one Anthony Saunders, whom he had appointed ‘pastor’ in the little town to ‘set forth the King’s title and pluck down the great whore of Rome’. “I have small favour and assistance amongst the pharisaical papists’, writes Saunders. He is preaching justification by faith alone, and in consequence the neighbouring abbot of Hailes has set up to preach against him ‘a greate Golyas, a sotle Dunys man’.
Nor do the monks appreciate his efforts; they come later to his sermons because ‘they set so much by their Popish services’. With such an entourage the abbot was sure to be in trouble whether he enforced or relaxed discipline.
From Litzenberger, Caroline, The English Reformation and the Laity: Gloucestershire, 1540-1580 (Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History). From the introductory chapter subtitled “Gloucestershire in the 1530s”:
“Whereas, the Protestantism espoused by William Tyndale, William Tracy and James Baynham in the 15o2 and early in the 1530s had been at variance with the official religious policies of the Crown, those policies had changed by the mid-1530s as a result of the break with Rome and the ascendancy of supporters of reform to positions of power at court. The shift in policy was first clearly felt in Gloucestershire with the elevation of the reformer, Hugh Latimer, to be bishop of Worcester in 1535. Latimer had gained notoriety for his preaching in nearby Bristol and Exeter, as well as in London at Paul’s Cross and at court. . .
“[S]in 1497 the Crown had used the see of Worcester to support its representative to the Papcy, and, as a result, had awarded the bishopric to a series of Italians, none of whom ever came to England. . . However, once the Crown began to promulgate new policies, it needed someone in residence to implement and enforce them.
“Following his elevantion to the episcopate, Latimer immediately began to promote his beliefs within the diocese through his own sermons and his patronage of other preachers, three of whom, James Ashe, Anthony Saunders and Hugh Williams alias Rawlyns, held livings in GLoucestership . . Saunders had been appointed rector of Winchcombe by Cromwell sometimes before November 1534.
“Meanwhile Anthony Saunders was having trouble at Winchcombe. Not only was he one of Latimer’s licensed preachers, he had also been sent to his new cure with explicit instructions from Cromwell ‘to preach the word of God and read it to the monks’. However, both the size of the parish and the opposition of the abbot were impeding his efforts . . . The abbot seems to have seen Saunders’s preaching as having crossed the line into heresy, rather than just supporting the new official religion . . .