On loan from The National Archives and Victoria and Albert Museum until the 29th August is a fascinating letter from Henry VIII and a stunning silver-gilt monstrance.

The letter is actually a draft with corrections betraying the thoughts of the infamous King. It was written presumably by a secretary under dictation from Henry in October 1536. It responded to the news that the canons and local people had stopped his men from closing the Abbey during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Evidently enraged, the King first demands that the Abbot of Norton Abbey be hung drawn and quartered with the body parts displayed around the country. Intriguingly, this has been crossed out in favour of the milder sentence of hanging. Why Henry changed his mind remains a mystery, although research into this and other letters provides a number of possibilities.

Sean Cunningham, Head of Medieval at The National Archives, said: ‘As a king with a reputation for delegation of the routine business of state, this draft signet warrant shows that Henry VIII did, in fact, take a very close interest in events that threatened his power and undermined his sovereignty. We can almost hear his outrage as he decides on the most effective response to the news of events at Norton Abbey. Although ministers like Wolsey and Cromwell were famous for doing most of the bureaucratic moving-and-shaking on Henry’s behalf, the king was educated and intelligent enough to know when and how to bend the system to his will when necessary’.

The whole story and a transcript of the letter can be viewed at: www.livingletters.co.uk/.

Monstrances are sometimes used during Catholic Mass to show the consecrated Host. On loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum is a fabulous Spanish example created around the 1540. It is demonstrative of the kind of objects that would have been venerated at Norton Abbey and why the King and his advisors might have been keen to acquire them.

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