He started first in the North, under show of inflicting punishment for the encouragement that the Religious had given to the late rebellions; and one by one the great abbeys were tottering. Furness and Sawley had already fallen, with Jervaulx and the other houses, and Holme Cultram was placed under the care of a superior who could be trusted to hand over his charge when called upon.
But up to the present not many great houses had actually fallen, except those which were supposed to have taken a share in the revolt; and owing to the pains taken by the Visitors to contradict the report that the King intended to lay his hands on the whole monastic property of England, it was even hoped by a few sanguine souls that the large houses might yet survive.
There were hot discussions in the chapter at Lewes from time to time during the year. The “Bishops’ Book,” issued by a committee of divines and approved by the King, and containing a digest of the new Faith that was being promulgated, arrived during the summer and was fiercely debated; but so high ran the feeling that the Prior dropped the matter, and the book was put away with other papers of the kind on an honourable but little-used shelf.
The acrimony in domestic affairs began to reach its climax in October, when the prospects of the Priory’s own policy came up for discussion.
Some maintained that they were safe, and that quietness and confidence were their best security, and these had the support of the Prior; others declared that the best hope lay in selling the possessions of the house at a low price to some trustworthy man who would undertake to sell then back again at only a small profit to himself when the storm was passed.
The Prior rose in wrath when this suggestion was made.
“Would you have me betray my King?” he cried. “I tell you I will have none of it. It is not worthy of a monk to have such thoughts.”
And he sat down and would hear no more, nor speak.
There were whispered conferences after that among the others, as to what his words meant. Surely there was nothing dishonourable in the device; they only sought to save what was their own! And how would the King be “betrayed” by such an action?
They had an answer a fortnight later; and it took them wholly by surprise.
During the second week in November the Prior had held himself more aloof than ever; only three or four of the monks, with the Sub-Prior among them, were admitted to his cell, and they were there at all hours. Two or three strangers too arrived on horseback, and were entertained by the Prior in a private parlour. And then on the morning of the fourteenth the explanation came.
When the usual business of the chapter was done, the faults confessed and penances given, and one or two small matters settled, the Prior, instead of rising to give the signal to go, remained in his chair, his head bent on to his hand.