In 1294, Edward embarked on an expedition to recover Gascony and a protracted war ensued. On the night of Tuesday 2 August 1295, the French, with a fleet of 300 ships, landed a force that disembarked under Western Heights and proceeded to set Dover alight. They then ‘Beset the gates of the Convent church (Dover Priory) … they broke them forcibly down and likewise burnt them with fire. Upon entering, they immediately put to a cruel death all the servants they found at large within the precincts‘.
The monks fled except for the elderly Thomas Hale (sometimes written Thomas de la Hale/Hayle), who followed his usual routine, ignoring the mayhem around him. However, ‘scarcely had he reached his bed when, lo! The accursed band, led by the men of Calais, followed hard after him’. Apparently, the marauders knew that the Priory’s treasures were hidden somewhere near Thomas’s dormitory and quickly found the recess where ‘books, vestments, cups, censers, basins, vials, relics, charters granted by kings and popes and many other ornamenta,’ were hidden.
The aged Thomas tried to stop the plunderers, ‘presuming as they did to handle so irreverently with polluted and unworthy hands the consecrated reliquaries of God’, but to no avail. They then turned on Thomas and demanded that he hand over the treasure. Thomas, so it is written, ‘answered them quietly that he had indeed a treasure, of which they could never rob him, laid up in his heart’, that was, ‘his Lord Jesus Christ and his Virgin Mother.’ Then he was slain with swords, spears and daggers.
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