On the one hand, this is just a letter from a random petitioner making a request to Thomas Cromwell – the kind of thing that happened all the time. On the other hand, it is an interesting commentary on the changes that were sweeping (or would soon sweep) England…
Anne, Lady Sheffington, wrote to Cromwell because he had recently been awarded Launde Abbey in Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries (the story goes that Cromwell visited the priory and was so taken by it that he wrote in his diary “myself for Launde” to remind himself that’s what he wanted for his share of the spoils). At the time, the site was surrounded by a deer park with a minor royal forest beyond that – and apparently Cromwell decided that he would convert the land use to farming.
Now, don’t misunderstand – this was not the kind of enclosure that fomented rebellion later on. Enclosure was the practice of converting arable land to sheep farms, which resulted in farmers losing their livelihoods, shortages of food, general misery. What Cromwell did here was kind of the opposite: after all, he created arable land which he was planning to rent to tenant farmers! And yet in a way it was a precursor: he took a deer park/forest (which would have been available to the villagers for various uses) and turned it into the type of holding that lent itself to those future problems.
Maybe I’m making too much of this…but it’s still a fun letter that gives a good idea of just how much flattery was required when you were making a request… (PS It’s from Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain, Volume III)
Right honourable and my singular good Lord,
My humble duty premised me unto your good lordship, may it please the same to be advertised: that, as I am informed, your lordship hath obtained of the King’s grace the whole town and lordship of Loddington, in the county of Leicester, which of late did belong to Launde Abbey; and the lordship place of the same, with the demesnes thereof, as I am informed, is to be letten to farm, with a little pasture ground, called Stelton; wherefore, if it would please your good lordship to be so good and gracious lord to me as that I might become your poor tenant to the same, for some reasonable years, of such convenient rent as it is worth, then were I greatly bounden to your good lordship. For as God knoweth, I have been so straitly ordered with my husband’s children, that I have no house of my late husband’s to put my head in; neither have I any house of any other man but only from year to year.
Wherefore, I beseech your lordship, some deal to pity this my poor suit, and I shall be very glad to do therein for your lordship’s profit as another will do, with my hearty prayer during my life. And I beseech your lordship to continue my good lord in my suit of pardon to the King’s grace, and to accept my poor servant, John Fosten, this bearer, to be a poor solicitor to your lordship in these my suits and causes. And I shall daily pray to God long to prosper your lordship, in honour and gladness.
From Colliweston, the 27th day of April.
Your daily beadwoman, Dame Anne Skeffington, Widow.
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