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History department hosts lecture on sanctuary during the reign of King Henry VIII

March 30, 2012

The Department of History at Loyola University New Orleans presents Margaret McGlynn, Ph.D., in the lecture, “The end of an era? The Rite of Sanctuary in the Reign of King Henry VIII,” on Thursday, April 12 at 7 p.m. in Miller Hall, Room 114. The event is free and open to the public.

Thomas Cromwell, who served as chief minister of King Henry VIII from 1532 to 1540, is cited in almost every study on the subject of Tudor England for his annihilation of liberties and franchises and the utter destruction of sanctuaries. His attitude is often assumed to have been typical of the time, and most historians who have dealt with the subject have been similarly critical of an institution which presented such a substantial loophole through which debtors, thieves, rapists and murderers could escape their appointed fates.

Until recently, the general interpretation of the topic was that sanctuary was an outdated right of a corrupt church, more concerned with maintaining its position than with the law and order needs of the emerging state. The argument was that growing frustration with the church in the early 16th century, combined with the increasing strength of the Tudor state, led to attacks on church privileges, including sanctuary, which was steadily dismantled through a number of statutes, climaxing in 1540.

McGlynn claims that, although this narrative is clear, coherent and convincing, it is wrong. In fact, the church's interpretation of sanctuary was much narrower than what was actually being done in either the regular sanctuaries or the chartered ones, and by the late 15th century, the administration of sanctuary was primarily driven by the common law.

Sanctuaries were in abbeys and churches and were run on a day to day basis by churchmen. However, since it was the common law which set, and often extended, their limits, the broader narrative is complicated because it is hard to argue that they were working against the law and order agenda, or even that they were fighting the extension of the state. In short, it raises the question of whether the Henrician statutes were actually intended to abolish the practice.

McGlynn will examine the actual messages of those statutes passed between 1529 and 1540 and compare them to what they have been assumed to say. She will explore how that helps us to understand how sanctuary was being used in this period, and consider the effects of the dissolution of the monasteries on sanctuary and why a centuries-old practice appears to come to a sudden end in mid-16th century England.

McGlynn is an associate professor of history at the University of Western Ontario. Her research focuses on the dissolution of the monasteries and the fates of the ex-religious, and she is currently working on an edition of readings, or lectures on statutes, given by common lawyers at the Inns of Court between the mid-15th and mid-16th centuries, which focus on the relationship between the church and the common law. McGlynn is the Canadian Secretary for the Selden Society, the only learned society and publisher devoted entirely to English legal history.

The event is co-sponsored by the Biever Guest Lecture Series and Legal Studies.

For more information, contact Loyola history professor Sara M. Butler, Ph.D., at 504-865-2099 or sbutler@loyno.edu.

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