Dissolution of the Monasteries and Friaries in Cardiff
Reformation not only led to a rupture with the Church of Rome, but also
resulted in the seizure of ecclesiastical property by the Crown. Monasteries
and friaries were stripped of all their moveable items of value before they
were formally closed. Afterwards, in Cardiff as elsewhere, their lands were
confiscated on behalf of the King and sold to powerful local families.
In 1533 all friars were commanded
to swear an oath which accepted the King as head of the Church. Those, who
failed to comply, faced a term of imprisonment or even the death penalty. In
addition, the friaries were required to submit an inventory of their treasures
and valuables. The King's Visitor, Dr. John Hilsey, journeyed to Cardiff in 1534 to
ascertain whether these instructions were being followed. He was also in
pursuit of two Friars Observant, so called because they continued to observe
their obedience to the Pope. The friars, who were from Newark, had unsuccessfully tried to smuggle
themselves aboard a vessel bound for France and had been arrested by the
bailiffs. The two friars were perhaps rather fortunate since, after a period of
harsh imprisonment in London, their pleas for mercy were heeded and they were
released. The Cardifffriaries survived this visitation but their fate was only delayed for a few
years. In 1538 Dr. Richard Ingworth, a former Dominican friar but now Bishop of
Dover, was authorised "to visit and vex' the friaries of Wales. In theory,
his brief was no more than to sequestrate their possessions and depose or
suspend any offending friars. Ingworth had no mandate to suppress their orders
or seize their convents, but the confiscation of chattels, together with the
impoverished circumstances of the friars, left them with little choice but to
surrender everything to the Crown.
Ingworth arrived in Cardiff on 6 September.
He made his way first to the house of the Blackfriars, who were in mourning as
three of their number, including the Prior, had died twelve days earlier. The
tolling of the bell summoned the seven brothers still in residence and,
"with one assent and consent, without any manner of coercion or counsel',
they signed the deed which disposed of all their property. The only valuable item
was a silver chalice which Ingworth retained to pay his expenses.
In the afternoon it was the turn of
the Franciscans to meet the royal emissary. Unable to accept the impossible
conditions of reform, the nine Greyfriars meekly surrendered their convent,
"desiring his grace to be good and gracious to us'. They too possessed a
few silver ornaments which were weighed and dispatched to London.
John Loveday, a merchant and the
Deputy Bailiff, was given the keys of both the friaries and assumed
responsibility for the buildings until they were sold. A single day had been
sufficient to terminate 300 years of history at the Cardiff friaries. One can only imagine the
emotional distress, the fear and the despair of the friars, as the royal
servant revealed his master's intentions. We do not know what happened to the
ejected friars. Some of them may have become priests but this was a period when
the number of churches was in decline. Perhaps others sought alternative work
but this was not an easy option at a time of high unemployment. Unlike the
monks, friars did not receive a pension and their more elderly brethren
probably became beggars for the rest of their days.
In 1546 the friaries were sold to
Sir George Herbert of Swansea,
a brother of William, the future Earl of Pembroke. Within a few years, the
churches and their adjoining buildings had begun to lapse into a state of ruin.
In the convent, where the Dominican friars had worshipped, the King's
commissioners authorised Lewis Bleddyn to sell its glass, lead, iron, tiles,
timber and stone. The official sequestrators were assisted by the local people
who looted both the friaries at night, in
searching for stone and timber which would improve their homes. By 1610
only the pitiful shell of two buildings bears testimony to the site of the
Blackfriars. The house of the Greyfriars was reduced even more quickly and by
1578 Rice Merrick was referring to, "the Gray ffriars, wherein Sir William
Herbert, Knight, hath builded a house of late'.
This "Sir William' was the
grandson of George Herbert and should not be confused with his namesake and
great-uncle, the first Earl of Pembroke. Speed's map clearly depicts his
splendid mansion built on the site of the Greyfriars' Convent and situated in a
walled garden. Second only to the castle in size, the house had four lofty
gables, high pitched roofs and large Tudor windows. The Herbert family lived at
"The Friars', sometimes mistakenly called "White Friars', until about
1730. Then the house , no longer occupied and the subject of a lawsuit, fell
rapidly into decay. Its gaunt ruins were said to be haunted by ghosts who
enticed the unwary intruder to his doom.
Eventually, the remains of the old
friary were lost to view, but in 1887 the Third Marquess of Bute excavated the
site and uncovered the foundations of the convent. As late as 1967, a portion
of the ruined house of the Herberts, including a fine bay window, was still a
landmark in central Cardiff.
Then the bulldozers moved in and
the Pearl Assurance tower block, completely out of character with every other
building in the area and dwarfing both the castle and the City Hall, was
erected on the site. At the time the developers claimed, "There were fears
that it might spoil the general appearance of the area but we are convinced it
will add to, rather than detract from, the appearance of the district'. Few
people in Cardiff share this opinion and now only the placename,
"Greyfriars Road', reminds us of the gentle Franciscans who once prayed
and worked there. At least the site of the Blackfriars, while little of it
survives, can be seen in a beautiful setting in the castle grounds.
monastic lands in and around Cardiffwere sold by the Crown and several families, especially those enjoying royal
favour, were able to extend their estates and enhance their social status. Sir
Edward Carne, who served the Tudors as a distinguished diplomat, invested
wisely in Church property. Ewenny Priory was his most important purchase, and
in Cardiff he
was content to acquire the Margam Grange at Cathays, together with the nearby
manor of Llystalybont. This manor was sold to the Earl of Pembroke in 1622 and
became a part of the castle estate. In Parkfield Place, off North Road, an eighteenth century farm
house has been converted into offices for the Training and Development Centre
and retains the name of the original manor.
The Lewis family of the Van, near
Caerphilly, were an old-established Welsh family who could trace their ancestry
back to the indomitable Ifor Bach. The Moor Grange, appropriated from Margam
Abbey, was sold to Edward Lewis, and in 1616 his grandson, Edward, purchased
the manor of St. Fagans to add another valuable acquisition to the family
estate. Edward made its castle his principal residence and, when the male line
of the Lewis family expired in the eighteenth century, the heiress to a
considerable fortune married the Third Earl of Plymouth, whose descendants
retained an association with St, Fagans until 1947.
The lands of Keynsham Abbey at
Roath, Llanedeyrn and Llanrumney exchanged ownership on a number of occasions
before they were acquired by William Morgan of Tredegar House. These districts
to the east of Cardiffremained in the possession of the Morgan family until the twentieth century,
and at Llanrumney they owned a fine hall which has now been converted into a
public house. The famous buccaneer and privateer, Henry Morgan, was no relation
of theirs but he is said to have spent his early life at Llanrumney.
Inevitably, the Herbert family
derived the greatest advantage from the disposal of Church assets in Cardiff. The Earl of
Pembroke made only modest additions to his property, but his brother, George,
apart from acquiring the two friaries, also procured the Tewkesbury Abbey lands
in Llanishen, Llysfaen, Cardiffand Roath. The property in Llanishen and Llysfaen was sold to Sir Roger Kemys
of Cefn Mabley in 1557 but, before the end of the sixteenth century, Sir William Herbert of "The Friars' had
inherited a position of great wealth and influence in Cardiff.
The mediaeval chapels of Llanishen
and Llysfaen henceforth served their communities as parish churches. The parish
of St. John'salso came into existence after the Reformation, a long overdue recognition of
the church's importance. However, the Trinity Chantry of the Glovers was
dissolved as the guilds were now considered to be religious foundations. From
1548 the Glovers' Guild met with the Cordwainers at their hall in Shoemaker Street.
The Chapel of St. Piran was also suppressed as a religious organisation but,
following a pitched battle with the King's officers, the Cordwainers
surprisingly retained their chapel for secular use.
Now that Tewkesbury Abbey was
dissolved, St. Mary's Church passed into the keeping of the Dean and Chapter of
Gloucester Cathedral. This remained the situation until the Second Marquess of
Bute purchased the living in the nineteenth century. St. Mary's never really
recovered from the flood of 1607 and by 1678 its fabric was in a state of
advanced deterioration. The tower had collapsed and the roof had fallen into
the nave. Services had ceased and parishioners worshipped at St. John's, though St. Mary's continued to be
used for burials and baptisms until the early eighteenth century.