Monday, 22 September 2014

Glastonbury Abbey, Henry VIII, and Bad Taste

As a Glastonbury Abbey season-ticket holder, I am on the mailing list for news on upcoming events. I recently received notification of an upcoming Audience with Henry VIII in the Abbey Museum in October. A notable Henry impersonator will provide a "very amusing and interesting talk".

Anyone with even a modest knowledge of the Abbey history would probably do a double-take on this. I was moved to a Facebook rant. "I would really like to chill with the fuckpig responsible for the ruination of the place who sent his hit squad to brutally murder the old man in charge in an atrocity redolent of some dark sacrifice that still resonates centuries later". I'd like to expand that a bit here to enhance the expression of my disbelief that anyone could think this event was a good idea, full of scope for humour.

Here is an extract from my Mysterium Artorius that covers Henry's role in Abbey history.

In November 1539 onetime Renaissance wunderkind Henry VIII perpetrated perhaps the greatest British cultural atrocity. His dissolution of the monasteries was carried out in a needlessly wanton manner. 


What happened at Glastonbury was the worst example of the entire process. The elderly abbot, Richard Whiting, was set up on a blatantly false charge of treason. 

Along with two colleagues, he was sentenced to death. 

The King’s Einsatz Kommando hit-squad stretched and tied the old man on a hurdle. This was dragged by a horse through the town, past the Abbey, and up to the summit of the Tor, where gallows had been erected. 

There the three men were executed. Whiting’s head was removed and placed above the Abbey gate. The rest of his body was cut into four pieces that were displayed in nearby towns.

Geoffrey Ashe raised some disturbing points about the ghastly scenario in King Arthur’s Avalon. It would require considerable effort, in wet and muddy November, for a horse to drag a man tied to a hurdle up to the top of the Tor. The construction of the gallows there was no easy task either. The summit is renowned for the strong winds that often blow across it. If the sole purpose of the deed was to instil fear in the population then why not choose the front of the abbey, in the middle of the town, where everyone could potentially see it? There’s an unsettling hint of impractical stranger motives amongst the executioners. The three bodies strung up on a hill suggest a blasphemous parody of the crucifixion and archaic sacrificial rites.

The Abbey library was trashed. Pages of priceless manuscripts were found as litter in the streets. The bones displayed as Arthur and Guenevere’s were lost. Who knows what modern forensic science could have told us if they were still available? The monks were dispersed. Before long the majestic edifice of the building was pillaged for raw material. One of its later owners used explosives to blow great holes in the walls to satisfy his materialistic priorities. The Grail chalice of British Christendom disappeared, leaving a wasteland behind.

I find it more than passing strange that the History section of the Abbey website spectacularly evades mention of the horrors of 1539. The Whiting murder is completely ignored! This is all it says.

"In 1536, during the 27th year of the reign of Henry VIII, there were over 800 monasteries, nunneries and friaries in Britain. By 1541, there were none. More than 10,000 monks and nuns had been dispersed and the buildings had been seized by the Crown to be sold off or leased to new lay occupiers. Glastonbury Abbey was one of principal victims of this action by the King, during the social and religious upheaval known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries."

It should be a really fun evening in October. Glastonbury Abbey has a Facebook page. I posted a comment on there. If the event seems a tad grotesque to you, maybe you might like to do likewise.