1550 : Abbot out: Bagenal in

Fortune – and highly-placed friends – favoured Nicholas Bagenal in the year of 1550.

He was appointed to the Irish Privy Council, the supreme governing body of English rule in Ireland. He was made Marshal of the King’s forces in Ireland. Locally he was given the lease for 21 years of the Abbey lands: then he was made a grant of the town and its lands. He also gained the Lordship of Mourne.

Up until the early Tudors, courtesy of the Pope (the only English Pope, Adrian VI not co-incidentally, in 1155) under the bull Laudabilitere the English monarch was Lord of Ireland.  When Henry declared himself, in defiance of the Pope, Supreme Head of the Church in England, he could no longer accept the former title. In 1541 Henry got round the problem by simply declaring himself the King of Ireland. He had [for the time being: Henry tried to limit his barons’ power!] to rely on his Lords to enforce his rule in Ireland.  Bagenal was the King’s Lord of Newry and of Mourne.

The Ministers of Henry’s minor son Edward were even more determined than him to crush the power of the (Catholic) Church and its institutions. There was no pretence at impartiality in State documents: a preamble to a Rent Roll of ‘Nicholas Bagenal’s estate’ claims… ‘These lands were granted unto Sir Nicholas Bagenal, Knight Marshal of Ireland, by King Edward VI at which time the said land (in effect) was possessed with rebels …’  The so-called rebels were the Cistercian monks.

Under the settlement negotiated in 1543 with the previous administration by Arthur Magennis, the Abbey had become a college, its abbot the warden and his monks, vicars choral. They had the rent minus a small payment to the Crown.

Soon after Bagenal arrived, the pressure was further heaped upon them with the carrying out of two Inquisitions. Under these, we are informed that the one-acre site contained .. ‘a church with steeple, a chapter house, a dormitory, a hall, an orchard and a garden’.

Strangely no mention, you will notice, of an Abbot’s House! This building, we surmise, had already been seized by the Marshal and its occupants removed! In this way did Nicholas Bagenal come by his ‘new Castell’.

The only (extremely unlikely and illogical) alternative is that Bagenal instantly had the strongest and clearly the largest building in Newry demolished, so that he could build from scratch – on the same site – his own Castell. This at a time (see Bagenal biography here) when as Marshal of Ireland, he was seldom in Newry!

What makes this even more unlikely is the difficulty – two full centuries later – that workmen had in trying to demolish its staircase tower (according to the O.S. Memoirs 1834-36… ‘It was no easy task to take down the massive stone staircase …… men employed found it necessary to blow it up with gunpowder’).  

In relation to the other buildings of the dissolved Abbey, the reader is invited to study the disputed ‘Lythe’ map of Newry (c. 1570 – a copy is on p42 of Canavan’s Frontier Town [1989]) in an attempt to locate any on them. The Church is there, but nothing else that I can see.

This is just one more anomaly of that disputed paper, to my mind. It clearly would make no sense to raze all the buildings of the Abbey – and surely some would have survived after just twenty years?               

… Greencastle & Bagenals ? …

… more later …

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