A rare 16th century letter is on display at Norton Priory, on loan from the British Library until the end of July. It tells of the imprisonment of the abbot of Norton Priory and is a rare insight into the political machinations at the heart of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The letter was written by Piers Dutton, a powerful local aristocrat informing Cromwell, Henry VIII’s right hand man, of the abbot’s arrest. He even suggests a possible replacement; a monk from nearby Vale Royal.

Dr Andrew Dunning, Curator of Medieval Historical Manuscripts at the British Library said, ‘The letter is a window into the turmoil brought about by Henry VIII’s rule, providing rare insight into the fates of monks after his dissolution of the monasteries.’

Norton was one of the first abbeys to be dissolved and the letter marks the beginning of its end, written in August 1536 when the King’s commissioners were travelling through the North-West investigating the activities of the monasteries and collating information on their land and other means of income. Piers Dutton, the High Sheriff of Cheshire was one such commissioner. Through this kind of correspondence he comes across as ruthless and probably wished to close the abbey so that he could acquire its substantial estates for himself.

The letter is on display in the ground floor exhibition space until the end of July. The Norton Priory Trust is grateful to the British Library Board.