English Reformation

The English Reformation

Many writers have pointed out the relation between commerce and scepticism in the Middle Ages, and, among others, Thorold Rogers has a passage in his History of Agriculture and Prices  so interesting that it should be read entire:—

“The general spread of Lollardy, about which all the theologians of the age complain, was at once the cause anti the effect of progressive opulence. It cannot be by accident that all the wealthiest parts of Europe, one district only excepted, and that for very sufficient reasons, were suspected during the Middle Ages of theological nonconformity. Before the campaigns of Simon de Montfort, in the first half of the thirteenth century, Provence was the garden and workshop of Europe. The sturdiest advocates of the Reformation were the burghers of the Low Countries.... In England the strength of the Lollard party was, from the days of Wiklif to the days of Cranmer, in Norfolk [the principal manufacturing county]; and I have no doubt that ... the presence of students from this district must have told on the theological bias of Cambridge University, which came out markedly at the epoch of the Reformation....

“English Lollardy was, like its direct descendant Puritanism, sour and opinionative, but it was also moral and thrifty. They who denounced the lazy and luxurious life of the monks, the worldliness and greed of the prelates, and the gross and shallow artifices of the popular religion, were pretty sure to inculcate parsimony and saving. By voluntarily and sturdily cutting themselves off from the circumstance of the old faith, they were certain, like the Quakers of more than two centuries later, to become comparatively wealthy. They had nothing to spare for monk or priest....”[183]

The Lollards were of the modern economic type, and discarded the miracle because the miracle was costly and yielded an uncertain return. Yet the mediæval cult was based upon the miracle, and many of the payments due for the supernatural services of the ecclesiastics were obligatory; beside, gifts as an atonement for sin were a drain on savings, and the economist instinctively sought cheaper methods of propitiation.

In an age as unscientific as the sixteenth century, the conviction of the immutability of natural laws was not strong enough to admit of the abrogation of religious formulas. The monied class, therefore, proceeded step by step, and its first experiment was to suppress all fees to middle-men, whether priests or saints, by becoming their own intercessors with the Deity.

As Dr. Witherspoon has observed, “fear of wrath from the avenger of blood” made men “fly to the city of refuge”;[184] but, as the tradesman replaced the enthusiast, a dogma was evolved by which mental anguish, which cost nothing, was substituted for the offering which was effective in proportion to its money value. This dogma was “Justification by Faith,” the corner-stone of Protestantism.

Far from requiring an outlay from the elect, “Justification by Faith” discouraged it. The act consisted in “a deep humiliation of mind, confession of guilt and wretchedness ... and acceptance of pardon and peace through Christ Jesus, which they have neither contributed to the procuring, nor can contribute to the continuance of, by their own merit.”[185]

Yet the substitution of a mental condition for a money payment, led to consequences more far-reaching than the suppression of certain clerical revenues, for it involved the rejection of the sacred tradition which had not only sustained relic worship, but which had made the Church the channel of communication between Christians and the invisible world.

That ancient channel once closed, Protestants had to open another, and this led to the deification of the Bible, which, before the Reformation, had been supposed to derive its authority from that divine illumination which had enabled the priesthood to infallibly declare the canon of the sacred books. Calvin saw the weak spot in the position of the reformers, and faced it boldly. He maintained the Scripture to be “self-authenticated, carrying with it its own evidence, and ought not to be made the subject of demonstration and arguments from reason,” and that it should obtain “the same complete credit and authority with believers ... as if they heard the very words pronounced by God himself.”[186]

Thus for the innumerable costly fetishes of the imaginative age were substituted certain writings, which could be consulted without a fee. The expedient was evidently the device of a mercantile community, and the saving to those who accepted it enormous, but it disintegrated Christendom, and made an organized priesthood impossible. When each individual might pry into the sacred mysteries at his pleasure, the authority of the clergy was annihilated.

Men of the priestly type among the reformers saw the danger and tried to save themselves. The thesis which the early evangelical divines maintained was the unity of truth. The Scriptures were true: therefore if the whole body of Christians searched aright they could not fail to draw truth from them, and this truth must be the creed of the universal Church. Zwingli thus explained the doctrine:—

“Whoever hears the holy scriptures read aloud in church, judges what he hears. Nevertheless what is heard is not itself the Word through which we believe. For if we believed through the simple hearing or reading of the Word, all would be believers. On the contrary, we see that many hear and see and do not believe. Hence it is clear that we believe only through the word which the Heavenly Father speaks in our hearts, by which he enlightens us so that we see, and draws us so that we follow.... For God is not a God of strife and quarrel, but of unity and peace. Where there is true faith, there the Holy Spirit is present; but where the Holy Spirit is, there is certainly effort for unity and peace.... Therefore there is no danger of confusion in the Church since, if the congregation is assembled through God, he is in the midst of them, and all who have faith strive after unity and peace.”[187]

The inference the clergy sought to draw was, that though all could read the Bible, only the enlightened could interpret it, and that they alone were the enlightened. Hence Calvin's pretensions equalled Hildebrand's:—

“This is the extent of the power with which the pastors of the Church, by whatever name they may be distinguished, ought to be invested; that by the word of God they may venture to do all things with confidence; may constrain all the strength, glory, wisdom, and pride of the world to obey and submit to his majesty; supported by his power, may govern all mankind, from the highest to the lowest; may build up the house of Christ, and subvert the house of Satan; may feed the sheep, and drive away the wolves; may instruct and exhort the docile; may reprove, rebuke, and restrain the rebellious and obstinate; may bind and loose; may discharge their lightnings and thunders, if necessary; but all in the Word of God.”[188]

In certain regions, poor and remote from the centres of commerce, these pretensions were respected. In Geneva, Scotland, and New England, men like Calvin, Knox, and Cotton maintained themselves until economic competition did its work: then they passed away. Nowhere has faith withstood the rise of the mercantile class. As a whole the Reformation was eminently an economic phenomenon, and is best studied in England, which, after the Reformation, grew to be the centre of the world's exchanges.

From the beginning of modern history, commerce and scepticism have gone hand in hand. The Eastern trade began to revive after the reopening of the valley of the Danube, about 1000, and perhaps, in that very year, Berenger, the first great modern heretic, was born. By 1050 he had been condemned and made to recant, but with the growth of the Fairs of Champagne his heresy grew, and in 1215, just in the flush of the communal development, the Church found it necessary to define the dogma of transubstantiation, and declare it an article of faith. A generation later came the burning of schismatics; in 1252, by his bull “Ad extirpanda,” Innocent IV. organized the Inquisition, and the next year Grossetête, Bishop of Lincoln, died, with whom the organized opposition of the English to the ancient costly ritual may be said to have opened.

In Great Britain the agitation for reform appears to have been practical from the outset. There was no impatience with dogmas simply because they were incomprehensible: the Trinity and the Double Procession were always accepted. Formulas of faith were resisted because they involved a payment of money, and foremost among these were masses and penances. Another grievance was the papal patronage, and, as early as the fourteenth century, Parliament passed the statutes of provisors and præmunire to prevent the withdrawal of money from the realm.

The rise of the Lollards was an organized movement to resist ecclesiastical exactions, and to confiscate ecclesiastical property; and, if 1345 be taken as the opening of Wickliffe's active life, the agitation for the seizure of monastic estates started just a generation after Philip's attack on the Temple in France. There was at least this difference in the industrial condition of the two nations, and probably much more.

Wickliffe was rather a politician than a theologian, and his preaching a diatribe against the extravagance of the Church. In one of his Saints' Days sermons he explained the waste of relic worship as shrewdly as a modern man of business:—

“It would be to the benefit of the Church, and to the honour of the saints, if the costly ornaments so foolishly lavished upon their graves were divided among the poor. I am well aware, however, that the man who would sharply and fully expose this error would be held for a manifest heretic by the image worshippers and the greedy people who make gain of such graves; for in the adoration of the eucharist, and such worshipping of dead bodies and images, the Church is seduced by an adulterous generation.”[189]

The laity paid the priesthood fees because of their supernatural powers, and the possession of these powers was chiefly demonstrated by the miracle of the mass. Wickliffe, with a leader's eye, saw where the enemy was vulnerable, and the last years of his life were passed in his fierce controversy with the mendicants upon transubstantiation. Even at that early day he presented the issue with incomparable clearness: “And thou, then, that art an earthly man, by what reason mayst thou say that thou makest thy maker?”[190]

The deduction from such premises was inexorable. The mass had to be condemned as fetish worship, and with it went the adoration of relics.

“Indeed, many nominal Christians are worse than pagans; for it is not so bad that a man should honour as God, for the rest of the day, the first thing he sees in the morning, as that regularly that accident should be really his God, which he sees in the mass in the hands of the priest in the consecrated wafer.”[191]

Wickliffe died December 30, 1384, and ten years later the Lollards had determined to resist all payments for magic. They presented their platform to Parliament in 1395, summed up in their Book of Conclusions. Some of these “conclusions” are remarkably interesting:—

5th.—“That the exorcisms and hallowings, consecrations and blessings, over the wine, bread, wax, water, oil, salt, incense, the altar-stone, and about the church-walls, over the vestment, chalice, mitre, cross, and pilgrim-staves, are the very practices of necromancy, rather than of sacred divinity.

· · · · · · · · · ·

7th.—“We mightily affirm ... that spiritual prayers made in the church for the souls of the dead ... is a false foundation of alms, whereupon all the houses of alms in England are falsely founded.

8th.—“That pilgrimages, prayers, and oblations made unto blind crosses or roods, or to deaf images made either of wood or stone, are very near of kin unto idolatry.”[192]

When Lord Cobham, the head of the Lollard party, was tried for heresy in 1413, Archbishop Arundel put him four test questions. First, whether he believed, after the sacramental words had been spoken, any material bread or wine remained in the sacrament; fourth, whether he believed relic worship meritorious.

His answers did not give satisfaction, and they roasted him in chains, in Saint Giles's Fields, in 1418.

A hundred years of high commercial activity followed Cobham's death. The discovery of America, and of the sea passage to India, changed the channels of commerce throughout the world, human movement was accelerated, gunpowder made the attack overwhelming; centralization took a prodigious stride, scepticism kept pace with centralization, and in 1510 Erasmus wrote thus, and yet remained in the orthodox communion:—

“Moreover savoureth it not of the same saulce [folly] (trow ye) when everie countrey chalengeth a severall sainct for theyr patrone, assignyng further to each sainct a peculiar cure and office, with also sundrie ways of worshipping; as this sainct helpeth for the tooth-ache, that socoureth in childbyrth; she restoreth stolene goods; an other aydeth shipmen in tempests; an other taketh charge of husbandmens hoggs; and so of the rest; far too long were it to reherse all. Then some saincts there be, that are generally sued for many thynges; amongst whom chiefly is the virgin Mother of God, in whom vulgar folke have an especiall confidence, yea almost more than in her Sonne.”[193]

When Erasmus wrote, the Reformation was at hand, but the attack on Church property had begun in England full two centuries before, contemporaneously with Philip's onslaught on the Temple. All over Europe the fourteenth century was a period of financial distress; in France the communes became bankrupt and the coinage deteriorated, and in England the debasement of the currency began in 1299, and kept pace with the rise of Lollardy. In 1299 the silver penny weighed 22 1 2  grains; Edward I. reduced it to 22 1 4  grains; Edward III. to 18 grains; Henry IV. to 15 grains; and Henry VI., during his restoration in 1470, to 12 grains.

As the stringency increased, the attack on the clergy gained in ferocity. Edward I. not only taxed the priesthood, but seized the revenues of the alien priories; of these there might have been one hundred and fifty within the realm, and what he took from them he spent on his army.

Edward II. and Edward III. followed the precedent, and during the last reign, when the penny dropped four grains, these revenues were sequestered no less than twenty-three years. Under Henry IV. the penny lost three grains, and what remained of the income of these houses was permanently applied to defraying the expenses of the court. Henry V. dissolved them, and vested their estates in the crown.

In the reign of Henry IV., when the penny was on the point of losing three grains of its silver, the tone of Parliament was similar to that of the parliaments of the Reformation. On one occasion the king asked for a subsidy, and the Speaker suggested that without burdening the laity he might “supply his occasions by seizing on the revenues of the clergy”;[194] and in 1410 Lord Cobham anticipated the Parliament of 1536 by introducing a bill for the confiscation of conventual revenues to the amount of 322,000 marks, a sum which he averred represented the income of certain corporations whose names he appended in a schedule.[195]

Year by year, as society consolidated, the economic type was propagated; and, as the pressure of a contracting currency stimulated these men to action, the demand for cheap religion grew fiercer. London, the monied centre, waxed hotter and hotter, and a single passage from the Supplicacyon for Beggers  shows how bitter the denunciations of the system of paying for miracles became:—

“Whate money pull they yn by probates of testamentes, priuy tithes, and by mennes offeringes to theyre pilgrimages, and at theyre first masses? Euery man and childe that is buried, must pay sumwhat for masses and diriges to be song for him, or elles they will accuse the dedes frendes and executours of heresie. whate money get they by mortuaries, by hearing of confessions ... by halowing of churches, altares, superaltares, chapelles, and bells, by cursing of men and absoluing theim agein for money?”[196]

One of the ballads of Cromwell's time ridiculed, in this manner, all the chief pilgrimages of the kingdom:—

“Ronnying hyther and thyther, 
We cannot tell whither, 
In offryng candels and pence 
To stones and stockes, 
And to olde rotten blockes, 
That came, we know not from whense. 
“To Walsyngham a gaddyng, 
To Cantorbury a maddyng, 
As men distraught of mynde; 
With fewe clothes on our backes, 
But an image of waxe, 
For the lame and for the blynde. 
“Yet offer what ye wolde, 
Were it otes, syluer, or golde 
Pyn, poynt, brooche, or rynge, 
The churche were as then, 
Such charitable men, 
That they would refuse nothyng.”[197] 

But the war was not waged with words alone. At the comparatively early date of 1393, London had grown so unruly that Richard assumed the government of the city himself. First he appointed Sir Edward Darlington warden, but Sir Edward proving too lenient, he replaced him with Sir Baldwin Radington. Foxe, very frankly, explained why:—

“For the Londoners at that time were notoriously known to be favourers of Wickliff's side, as partly before this is to be seen, and in the story of Saint Alban's more plainly doth appear, where the author of the said history, writing upon the fifteenth year of King Richard's reign, reporteth in these words of the Londoners, that they were ‘not right believers in God, nor in the traditions of their forefathers; sustainers of the Lollards, depravers of religious men, withholders of tithes, and impoverishers of the common people.'

“... The king, incensed not a little with the complaint of the bishops, conceived eftsoons, against the mayor and sheriffs, and against the whole city of London, a great stomach; insomuch, that the mayor and both the sheriffs were sent for, and removed from their office.”[198]

By the opening of the sixteenth century a priest could hardly collect his dues without danger; the Bishop of London indeed roundly declared to the government that justice could not be had from the courts.

In 1514 the infant child of a merchant tailor named Hun died, and the parson of the parish sued the father for a bearing sheet, which he claimed as a mortuary. Hun contested the case, and got out a writ of præmunire against the priest, which so alarmed the clergy that the chancellor of the diocese accused him of heresy, and confined him in the Lollard's tower of Saint Paul's.

In due time the usual articles were exhibited against the defendant, charging that he had disputed the lawfulness of tithes, and had said they were ordained “only by the covetousness of priests”; also that he possessed divers of “Wickliff's damnable works,” and more to the same effect.

Upon these articles Fitzjames, Bishop of London, examined Hun on December 2, and after the examination recommitted him. On the morning of the 4th, a boy sent with his breakfast found him hanging to a beam in his cell. The clergy said suicide, but the populace cried murder, and the coroner's jury found a verdict against Dr. Horsey, the chancellor. The situation then became grave, and Fitzjames wrote to Wolsey a remarkable letter, which showed not only high passion, but serious alarm:—

“In most humble wise I beseech you, that I may have the king's gracious favour ... for assured am I, if my chancellor be tried by any twelve men in London, they be so maliciously set, ‘in favorem hæreticæ pravitatis,' that they will cast and condemn any clerk, though he were as innocent as Abel.”[199]

The evidence is conclusive that, from the outset, industry bred heretics; agriculture, believers. Thorold Rogers has explained that the east of England, from Kent to the Wash and on to Yorkshire, was the richest part of the kingdom,[200] and Mr. Blunt, in his Reformation of the Church of England, has published an analysis of the martyrdoms under Mary. He has shown that out of 277 victims, 234 came from the district to the east of a line drawn from Boston to Portsmouth. West of this line Oxford had most burnings; but, by the reign of Mary, manufactures had spread so far inland that the industries of Oxfordshire were only surpassed by those of Middlesex.[201] In Wickliffe's time Norwich stood next to London, and Norwich was infested with Lollards, many of whom were executed there.

On the other hand, but two executions are recorded in the six agricultural counties north of the Humber—counties which were the poorest and the farthest removed from the lines of trade. Thus the eastern counties were the hot-bed of Puritanism. There, Kett's rebellion broke out under Edward VI.; there, Cromwell recruited his Ironsides, and throughout this region, before the beginning of the Reformation, assaults on relics were most frequent and violent. One of the most famous of these relics was the rood of Dovercourt. Dovercourt is part of Harwich, on the Essex coast; Dedham lies ten miles inland, on the border of Suffolk; and the description given by Foxe of the burning of the image of Dovercourt, is an example of what went on throughout the southeast just before the time of the divorce:—

“In the same year of our Lord 1532, there was an idol named the Rood of Dovercourt, whereunto was much and great resort of people: for at that time there was great rumour blown abroad amongst the ignorant sort, that the power of the idol of Dovercourt was so great, that no man had power to shut the church-door where he stood; and therefore they let the church-door, both night and day, continually stand open, for the more credit unto their blind rumour. This once being conceived in the heads of the vulgar sort, seemed a great marvel unto many men; but to many again, whom God had blessed with his spirit, it was greatly suspected, especially unto these, whose names here follow: as Robert King of Dedham, Robert Debnam of Eastbergholt, Nicholas Marsh of Dedham, and Robert Gardner of Dedham, whose consciences were sore burdened to see the honour and power of the almighty living God so to be blasphemed by such an idol. Wherefore they were moved by the Spirit of God, to travel out of Dedham in a wondrous goodly night, both hard frost and fair moonshine, although the night before, and the night after, were exceeding foul and rainy. It was from the town of Dedham, to the place where the filthy Rood stood, ten miles. Notwithstanding, they were so willing in that their enterprise, that they went these ten miles without pain, and found the church door open, according to the blind talk of the ignorant people: for there durst no unfaithful body shut it. This happened well for their purpose, for they found the idol, which had as much power to keep the door shut, as to keep it open; and for proof thereof, they took the idol from his shrine, and carried him quarter of a mile from the place where he stood, without any resistance of the said idol. Whereupon they struck fire with a flint-stone, and suddenly set him on fire, who burned out so brim, that he lighted them homeward one good mile of the ten.

“This done, there went a great talk abroad that they should have great riches in that place; but it was very untrue; for it was not their thought or enterprise, as they themselves afterwards confessed, for there was nothing taken away but his coat, his shoes, and the tapers. The tapers did help to burn him, the shoes they had again, and the coat one Sir Thomas Rose did burn; but they had neither penny, halfpenny, gold, groat, nor jewel.

“Notwithstanding, three of them were afterwards indicted of felony, and hanged in chains within half a year, or thereabout.

· · · · · · · · · ·

“The same year, and the year before, there were many images cast down and destroyed in many places: as the image of the crucifix in the highway by Coggeshall, the image of Saint Petronal in the church of Great Horksleigh, the image of Saint Christopher by Sudbury, and another image of Saint Petronal in a chapel of Ipswich.”[202]

England's economic supremacy is recent, and has resulted from the change in the seat of exchanges which followed the discovery of America and the sea-route to India; long before Columbus, however, the introduction of the mariner's compass had altered the paths commerce followed between the north and south of Europe during the crusades.

The necessity of travel by land built up the Fairs of Champagne; they declined when safe ocean navigation had cheapened marine freights. Then Antwerp and Bruges superseded Provins and the towns of Central France, and rapidly grew to be the distributing points for Eastern merchandise for Germany, the Baltic, and England. In 1317 the Venetians organized a direct packet service with Flanders, and finally, the discoveries of Vasco-da-Gama, at the end of the fifteenth century, threw Italy completely out of the line of the Asiatic trade.

British industries seem to have sympathized with these changes, for weaving first assumed some importance under Edward I., although English cloth long remained inferior to continental. The next advance was contemporaneous with the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope. On July 8, 1497, Vasco-da-Gama sailed for Calicut, and in the previous year Henry VII. negotiated the “Magnus Intercursus,” by which treaty the Merchant Adventurers succeeded for the first time in establishing themselves advantageously in Antwerp. Thenceforward England began to play a part in the industrial competition of Europe, but even then her progress was painfully slow. The accumulations of capital were small, and increased but moderately, and a full century later, when the Dutch easily raised £600,000 for their East India Company, only £72,000 were subscribed in London for the English venture.

Throughout the Middle Ages, while exchanges centred in North Italy, Great Britain hung on the outskirts of the commercial system of the world, and even at the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII. she could not compare, either in wealth, refinement, or organization, with such a kingdom as France.

The crown had not been the prize of the strongest in a struggle among equals, but had fallen to a soldier of a superior race, under whom no great nobility ever grew up. No baron in England corresponded with such princes as the dukes of Normandy and Burgundy, the counts of Champagne and Toulouse. Fortifications were on a puny scale; no strongholds like Pierrefonds or Vitré, Coucy or Carcassonne existed, and the Tower of London itself was insignificant beside the Château Gaillard, which Cœur-de-Lion planted on the Seine.

The population was scanty, and increased little. When Henry VIII. came to the throne in 1509, London may have had forty or fifty thousand inhabitants, York eleven thousand, Bristol nine or ten thousand, and Norwich six thousand.[203] Paris at that time probably contained between three and four hundred thousand, and Milan and Ghent two hundred and fifty thousand each.

But although England was not a monied centre during the Middle Ages, and perhaps for that very reason, she felt with acuteness the financial pressure of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. She had little gold and silver, and gold and silver rose in relative value; she had few manufactures, and manufactures were comparatively prosperous; her wealth lay in her agricultural interests, and farm products were, for the most part, severely pinched.

Commenting on the prices between the end of the thirteenth century and the middle of the sixteenth, Mr. Rogers has observed:—

“Again, upon several articles of the first importance, there is a marked decline in the price from the average of 1261–1400 to that of 1401–1540. This would have been more conspicuous, if I had in my earlier volumes compared all prices from 1261 to 1350 with those of 1351–1400. But even over the whole range, every kind of grain, except wheat and peas, is dearer in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries than it is in the first hundred and forty years of the present period [1401–1582]; and had I taken the average price of wheat during the last fifty years of the fourteenth century, it would have been (6 s. 1 1 2 d.) dearer than the average of 1401–1540 (5 s. 11 3 4 d.), heightened as this is by the dearness of the last thirteen years.”[204]

The tables published by Mr. Rogers make it possible to form some idea of the strain to which the population of Great Britain was exposed, during the two hundred and fifty years which intervened between the crisis at the close of the thirteenth century, and the discovery of the mines of Potosi in 1545, which flooded the world with silver. Throughout this long interval an expanding commerce unceasingly enlarged the demand for currency, while no adequate additions were made to the stock of the precious metals; the consequence was that their relative value rose, while the value of commodities declined, and this process had a tendency to debase the coinage.

The latter part of the Middle Ages was a time of rapid centralization, when the cost of administration grew from year to year but in proportion as the necessities of the government increased, the power of the people to pay taxes diminished, because the products which they sold brought less of the standard coin. To meet the deficit the same weight of metal had to be cut into more pieces, and thus by a continued inflation of the currency, general bankruptcy was averted. The various stages of pressure are pretty clearly marked by the records of the Mint.

Apparently the stringency which began in France about the end of the reign of Saint Louis, or somewhat later, did not affect England immediately, for prices do not seem to have reached their maximum until after 1290, and Edward I. only reduced the penny, in 1299, from 22.5 grains of silver to 22.25 grains. Thenceforward the decline, though spasmodic, on the whole tended to increase in severity from generation to generation. The long French wars, and the Black Death, produced a profound effect upon the domestic economy of the kingdom under Edward III.; and the Black Death, especially, seems to have had the unusual result of raising prices at a time of commercial collapse. This rise probably was due to the dearth of labour, for half the population of Europe is said to have perished, and, at all events, the crops often could not be reaped through lack of hands. More than a generation elapsed before normal conditions returned.

Immediately before the French war the penny lost two grains, and between 1346 and 1351, during the Black Death, it lost two grains and a quarter more, a depreciation of four grains and a half in fifty years; then for half a century an equilibrium was maintained. Under Henry IV. there was a sharp decline of three grains, equal to an inflation of seventeen per cent, and by 1470, under Henry VI., the penny fell to twelve grains. Then a period of stability followed, which lasted until just before the Reformation, when a crisis unparalleled in severity began, a crisis which probably was the proximate cause of the confiscation of the conventual estates.

In 1526 the penny suddenly lost a grain and a half, or about twelve and a half per cent, and then, when further reductions of weight would have made the piece too flimsy, the government resorted to adulteration. In 1542, a ten-grain penny was coined with one part in five of alloy; in 1544, the alloy had risen to one-half, and in 1545, two-thirds of the coin was base metal—a depreciation of more than seventy per cent in twenty years.

Meanwhile, though prices had fluctuated, the trend had been downward, and downward so strongly that it had not been fully counteracted by the reductions of bullion in the money. Rogers thought lath-nails perhaps the best gauge of prices, and in commenting on the years which preceded the Reformation, he remarked:—

“From 1461 to 1540, the average [of lath-nails] is very little higher than it was from 1261 to 1350, illustrating anew that significant decline in prices which characterizes the economical history of England during the eighty years 1461–1540.”[205]

Although wheat rose more than other grains, and is therefore an unfavourable standard of comparison, wheat yields substantially the same result. During the last forty years of the thirteenth century, the average price of the quarter was 5 s. 10 3 4 d., and for the last decade, 6 s. 1 d. For the first forty years of the sixteenth century the average was 6 s. 10 d. The penny of 1526, however, contained only about forty-seven per cent of the bullion of the penny of 1299. “The most remarkable fact in connection with the issue of base money by Henry VIII. is the singular identity of the average price of grain, especially wheat, during the first 140 years of my present period, with the last 140 of my first two volumes.”[206]

After a full examination of his tables, Rogers concluded that the great rise which made the prosperity of Elizabeth's reign did not begin until some “year between 1545 and 1549.”[207] This corresponds precisely with the discovery of Potosi in 1545, and that the advance was due to the new silver, and not to the debasement of the coinage, seems demonstrated by the fact that no fall took place when the currency was restored by Elizabeth, but, on the contrary, the upward movement continued until well into the next century.

Some idea may be formed from these figures of the contraction which prevailed during the years of the Reformation. In 1544, toward the close of Henry's reign, the penny held five grains of pure silver as against about 20.8 grains in 1299, and yet its purchasing power had not greatly varied. Bullion must therefore have had about four times the relative value in 1544 that it had two hundred and fifty years earlier, and, if the extremely debased issues of 1545 and later be taken as the measure, its value was much higher.

Had Potosi been discovered a generation earlier, the whole course of English development might have been modified, for it is not impossible that, without the aid of falling prices, the rising capitalistic class might have lacked the power to confiscate the monastic estates. As it was, the pressure continued until the catastrophe occurred, relic worship was swept away, the property of the nation was redistributed, and an impulsion was given to large farming which led to the rapid eviction of the yeomanry. As the yeomen were driven from their land, they roamed over the world, colonizing and conquering, from the Mississippi to the Ganges; building up, in the course of two hundred and fifty years, a centralization greater than that of Rome, and more absolute than that of Constantinople.

Changes so vast in the forms of competition necessarily changed the complexion of society. Men who had flourished in an age of decentralization and of imagination passed away, and were replaced by a new aristocracy. The soldier and the priest were overpowered; and, from the Reformation downward, the monied type possessed the world.

Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, was the ideal of this type, and he was accordingly the Englishman who rose highest during the convulsion of the Reformation. He was a perfect commercial adventurer, and Chapuys, the ambassador of Charles V. at London, thus described his origin to his master:—

“Cromwell is the son of a poor farrier, who lived in a little village a league and a half from here, and is buried in the parish graveyard. His uncle, father of the cousin whom he has already made rich, was cook of the late Archbishop of Canterbury. Cromwell was ill-behaved when young, and after an imprisonment was forced to leave the country. He went to Flanders, Rome, and elsewhere in Italy. When he returned he married the daughter of a shearman, and served in his house; he then became a solicitor.”[208]

The trouble which drove him abroad seems to have been with his father, and he probably started on his travels about 1504. He led a dissolute and vagabond life, served as a mercenary in Italy, “was wild and youthful, ... as he himself was wont ofttimes to declare unto Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury; showing what a ruffian he was in his young days ... also what a great doer he was with Geffery Chambers in publishing and setting forth the pardons of Boston everywhere in churches as he went.”[209]

These “pardons” were indulgences he succeeded in obtaining from the pope for the town of Boston, which he peddled about the country as he went. He served as a clerk in the counting house of the Merchant Adventurers at Antwerp, and also appears to have filled some such position with a Venetian merchant. On his return to England in 1513, he married and set up a fulling-mill; he also became an attorney and a usurer, dwelling by Fenchurch, in London.

In 1523, having been elected to Parliament, Cromwell was a most prosperous man. At this time he entered Wolsey's service, and made himself of use in suppressing convents to supply endowments for the cardinal's colleges at Oxford and Ipswich. When Wolsey fell, he ingratiated himself with Henry, and thenceforward rose rapidly. He became chancellor of the exchequer, master of the rolls, secretary of state, vicar general, a Knight of the Garter, and Earl of Essex. At once the head of Church and State, probably no English subject has ever been so powerful.

Both he and Cranmer succeeded through flexibility and adroitness. He suggested to Henry to accomplish his ends by robbing the convents, and Mr. Brewer, an excellent authority, thought him notoriously venal from the outset.

His executive and business capacity was unrivalled. He had the instinct for money, and provided he made it, he scrupled not about the means. In the State Papers  there is an amusing account of the treatment he put up with, when at the pinnacle of greatness:—

“And as for my Lord Prevye Sealle, I wold not be in his case for all that ever he hathe, for the King beknaveth him twice a weke, and some-tyme knocke him well about thee pate; and yet when he hathe bene well pomeld aboute the hedde, and shaken up, as it were a dogge, he will come out into the great chambre, shaking of the bushe with as mery a countenance as thoughe he mought rule all the roste.”[210]

Though good-natured where his interests were not involved, he appears to have been callous to the sight of pain, and not only attended to the racking of important witnesses, but went in state to see Father Forest roasted in chains for denying the royal supremacy, which he was labouring to establish. His behaviour to Lambert, whom he sent to the fire for confessing his own principles, astonished even those who knew him well. How he became a Protestant is uncertain; Foxe thought, by reading Erasmus's translation of the New Testament. More probably he was sceptical because he was of the economic type. At all events, he hated Rome, and Foxe said that in 1538 he was “the chief friend of the gospellers.”

In that same year Lambert was tried for heresy regarding transubstantiation, and it was then Cromwell sentenced him to be burned alive. Characteristically, he is said to have invited him to breakfast on the morning of the execution, and to have then begged his pardon for what he had done.

Pole described a conversation he had with Essex about the duty of ministers to kings. Pole thought their first obligation was to consider their masters' honour, and insisted on the divergence between honour and expediency. Such notions seemed fantastic to Cromwell, who told Pole that a prudent politician would study a prince's inclinations and act accordingly. He then offered Pole a manuscript of Machiavelli's Prince. Such a temperament differed, not so much in degree as in kind, from that of Godfrey de Bouillon or Saint Louis, Bayard or the Black Prince. It was subtler, more acquisitive, more tenacious of life, and men and women of the breed of Cromwell rose rapidly to be the owners of England during the sixteenth century. Social standards changed. Even in semi-barbarous ages a lofty courtesy had always been deemed befitting the great. Saint Anselm and Héloïse, Saladin and Cœur-de-Lion have remained ideals for centuries, because they represented a phase of civilization; and Froissart has described how the Black Prince entertained his prisoners after Poitiers:—

“The prince himself served the king's table, as well as the others, with every mark of humility, and would not sit down at it, in spite of all his entreaties for him so to do, saying that ‘he was not worthy of such an honour, nor did it appertain to him to seat himself at the table of so great a king, or of so valiant a man as he had shown himself by his actions that day.'”[211]

One hundred and fifty years of progress had eliminated chivalry. Manners were coarse and morals loose at the court of Henry VIII. Foreign ambassadors spoke with little respect of the society they saw. Chapuys permitted himself to sneer at Lady Jane Seymour, who afterward became queen, because he seems to have thought the ladies of the court venal:—

“I leave you to judge whether, being English, and having frequented the court, ‘si elle ne tiendroit pas à conscience de navoir pourveu et prévenu de savoir que cest de faire nopces.'”[212]

The scandals of the Boleyn family are too well known to need notice,[213] and it would be futile to accumulate examples of the absence of female virtue when the fact is notorious. The rising nobility resembled Cromwell more or less feebly. The mercenary quality was the salient characteristic of the favoured class. Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, made his fortune through his own shrewdness and the beauty of his daughters. Mary, the younger, was an early mistress of Henry; Anne, the elder and the astuter, was his wife. Boleyn's title and his fortune came through this connection. Boleyn was a specimen of a class; in him the instinct of self-preservation was highly developed. When his daughter Anne, and his son, Lord Rochford, were tried at the Tower for incest, the evidence was so flimsy that ten to one was bet in the court-room on acquittal. At this supreme moment, the attitude of the father was thus described by Chapuys, who had good sources of information:—

“On the 15th the said concubine and her brother were condemned of treason by all the principal lords of England, and the Duke of Norfolk [her uncle] pronounced sentence. I am told the Earl of Wiltshire was quite as ready to assist at the judgment as he had done at the condemnation of the other four.”[214]

The grandfather of Thomas Boleyn had been an alderman of London and a rich tradesman; his son had been knighted, and had retired from business, and Wiltshire himself, though a younger son and with but fifty pounds a year when married, raised himself by his wits, and the use of his children, to be a wealthy earl.

The history of the Cecil family is not dissimilar. David, the first of the name who emerged from obscurity, gained a certain favour under Henry VIII.; his son Richard, a most capable manager, obtained a fair share of the monastic plunder, was groom of the robes, constable of Warwick Castle, and died rich. His son was the great Lord Burleigh, in regard to whom perhaps it may be best to quote an impartial authority. Macaulay described him as possessed of “a cool temper, a sound judgment, great powers of application, and a constant eye to the main chance.... He never deserted his friends till it was very inconvenient to stand by them, was an excellent Protestant when it was not very advantageous to be a Papist, recommended a tolerant policy to his mistress as strongly as he could recommend it without hazarding her favour, never put to the rack any person from whom it did not seem probable that useful information might be derived, and was so moderate in his desires that he left only three hundred distinct landed estates, though he might, as his honest servant assures us, have left much more, ‘if he would have taken money out of the exchequer for his own use, as many treasurers have done.'”[215]

The Howards, though of an earlier time, were of the same temperament. The founder was a lawyer, who sat on the bench of the Common Pleas under Edward I., and who, therefore, did not earn his knighthood on a stricken field, as the Black Prince won his spurs at Crécy. After his death his descendants made little stir for a century, but they married advantageously, accumulated money, and, in the fifteenth century, one Robert Howard married a daughter of Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. This he hardly would have done had he not been a man of substance, since he seems not to have been a man of war. The alliance made the fortune of the family. It also appears to have added some martial instinct to the stock, for Richard III. gave John Howard the title of the Mowbrays, and this John was afterwards killed at Bosworth. His son commanded at Flodden, and his grandson was the great spoiler of the convents under Henry VIII., who also suppressed the northern rebellion.

Thomas Howard, the minister of Henry VIII., was one of the most interesting characters of his generation. He was naturally a strong Conservative; Chapuys never doubted that “the change in matters of religion [was] not to his mind”: in 1534 he even went so far as to tell the French ambassador that he would not consent to a change, and this speech having been repeated to the king, occasioned his momentary disgrace.[216] At one time Lord Darcy, the head of the reactionary party, counted on his support against Cromwell, though he warned Chapuys not to trust him implicitly, because of “his inconstancy.”[217] Yet, under a certain appearance of vacillation, he hid a profound and subtle appreciation of the society which environed him; this “inconstancy” made his high fortune. He had a sure instinct, which taught him at the critical moment where his interests lay, and he never was deceived. Henry distrusted him, but could not do without him, and paid high for his support. Howard, on his side, was keenly distressed when he found he had gone too far, and when the northern insurrection broke out, and he was offered the command of the royal forces, the Bishop of Carlisle, with whom he dined, said he had never seen the duke “so happy as he was to-day.”[218]

Once in the field against his friends, there were no lengths to which Thomas Howard would not go. He never wearied of boasting of his lies and of his cruelty, he wrote to assure Henry he would spare no pains to entrap them, and would esteem no promise he made to the rebels, “for surely I shall observe no part thereof, for any respect of that other might call mine honor dystayned.”[219]

As Cromwell behaved toward Lambert, so he behaved toward the Carthusians. Though they were men in whose religion he probably believed as sincerely as he believed anything, and in whose cause he had professed himself ready to take up arms, when they were sent to the stake he attended the execution as a spectacle, and watched them expire in torments, without a pang. Men gifted like Howard were successful in the Reformation, and Norfolk made a colossal fortune out of his polities. The price of his service was thirteen convents, and his son Surrey had two; of what he made in other ways no record remains.

Such was the new aristocracy; but the bulk of the old baronage was differently bred, and those who were of the antiquated type were doomed to pass away.

The publication of the State Papers  leaves no doubt that the ancient feudal gentry, both titled and untitled, as a body, opposed the reform. Many of the most considerable of these were compromised in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, among whom was Thomas Lord Darcy. If a mediæval baron still lived in the middle of the sixteenth century, that man was Darcy. Since the Conqueror granted the Norman de Areci thirty lordships in Lincolnshire, his ancestors had been soldiers, and at his home in the north his retainers formed an army as of old. Born in 1467, at twenty-five he bound himself by indenture to serve Henry VII. beyond the sea, at the head of a thousand men, and more than forty years afterward he promised Chapuys that he would march against London with a force eight thousand strong, if the emperor would attack Henry VIII. All his life long he had fought upon the borders. He had been captain of Berwick, warden of the east and middle marches, and in 1511 he had volunteered to lead a British contingent against the Moors. He was a Knight of the Garter, a member of the Privy Council, and when the insurrection broke out, he commanded at Pontefract Castle, the strongest position in Yorkshire.

A survival of the past, he retained the ideas of Crécy and Poitiers, and these brought him to the block. While negotiations were pending, Norfolk seems to have wanted to save him, though possibly he may have been actuated by a more sinister purpose. At all events he certainly wrote suggesting to Darcy to make his peace by ensnaring Aske, the rebel leader, and giving him up to the government. To Norfolk this seemed a perfectly legitimate transaction. By such methods he rose to eminence. To Darcy it seemed dishonour, and he died for it. Instead of doing as he was bid, he reproached Norfolk for deeming him capable of treachery:—

“Where your lordship advises me to take Aske, quick or dead, as you think I may do by policy, and so gain the king's favour; alays my good lord yt ever ye being a man of so much honour and gret experyence shold advice or chuss mee a man to be of eny such sortt or facion to betray or dissav eny liffyng man, French man, Scott, yea, or a Turke; of my faith, to gett and wyn to me and myn heyres fowr of the best dukes landdes in Fraunce, or to be kyng there, I wold nott do it to no liffyng person.”[220]

Darcy averred that he surrendered Pontefract to the rebels because the government neglected to relieve him, and although doubtless he always sympathized with the rising, he promptly wrote to London when the outbreak began, to warn Henry not only of the weakness of his fortress, but of the power of the enemy.[221] When the royal herald visited the castle to treat with the insurgents, he found Darcy, Sir Robert Constable, Aske, and others, who told him they were on a pilgrimage to London to have all the “vile blood put from” the Privy Council, “and noble blood set up again,” and to make restitution for the wrongs done the Church.[222]

This Aske was he whom Darcy refused to betray, but instead he offered to do all he could “as a true knight and subject” to pacify the country, and he did help to persuade the rebels to disperse on Henry's promise of a redress of grievances. In the moment of peril both Darcy and Aske were pardoned and cajoled, but the rising monied type were not the men to let the soldiers escape them, once they held them disarmed. Even while Henry was plotting the destruction of those to whom he had pledged his word, Norfolk wrote from the north to Cromwell: “I have by policy brought him [Aske] to desire me to yeve him licence to ride to London, and have promised to write a letter ... which ... I pray you take of the like sort as you did the other I wrote for Sir Thomas Percy. If neither of them both come never in this country again I think neither true nor honest men woll be sorry thereof, nor in likewise for my Lord Darcy nor Sir Robert Constable.”[223] Percy and Constable, Aske and Darcy, all perished on the scaffold.

Darcy and his like recognized that a new world had risen about them, in which they had no place. During his imprisonment in London, before his execution, he was examined by Cromwell, and thus, almost with his dying words, addressed the man who was the incarnation of the force that killed him:—

“Cromwell, it is thou that art the very original and chief causer of all this rebellion and mischief, and art likewise causer of the apprehension of us that be noble men and dost daily earnestly travail to bring us to our end and to strike off our heads, and I trust that or thou die, though thou wouldst procure all the noblemen's heads within the realm to be stricken off, yet shall there one head remain that shall strike off thy head.”[224]


[183] A History of Agriculture and Prices, J. E. Thorold Rogers, iv. 72.
[184] On Justification, Works, i. 60.
[185] On Justification, Works, i. 51.
[186] Institutes, I. vii. 1 and 5.
[187] Zwinglis Theologie, August Baur, 319, 320.
[188] Institutes, IV. viii. 9.
[189] John Wicliffe and his English Precursors, Lechler, Eng. trans., 302.
[190] Lechler, 349, note 1.
[191] Lechler, 348, note. Extract from De Eucharistia.
[192] Acts and Monuments, iii. 204, 205.
[193] The Praise of Folie, 1541. Englished by Sir Thomas Challoner.
[194] Parl. Hist., Cobbett, i. 295.
[195] Ibid., 310.
[196] A Supplicacyon for Beggers, 2. Early Eng. Text Soc.
[197] Acts and Monuments, v. 404.
[198] Ibid., iii. 218.
[199] Acts and Monuments, iv. 196.
[200] Agriculture and Prices, iv. 18.
[201] Reformation of the Church of England, Blunt, ii. 222.
[202] Acts and Monuments, iv. 706.
[203] Industrial and Commercial History of England, Rogers, 48.
[204] Agriculture and Prices, iv. 715.
[205] Agriculture and Prices, iv. 454.
[206] Ibid., iv. 200. For the average prices of grain see tables in vol. i. 245, and iv. 292.
[207] Agriculture and Prices, iv. 734.
[208] Chapuys to Granville, Cal. ix. No. 862. The State Papers edited by Messrs. Brewer and Gairdner are referred to by the word “Cal.”
[209] Acts and Monuments, v. 365.
[210] State Papers, ii. 552.
[211] Chronicles, 1, clxvii.
[212] Chapuys to Perrenot, Cal. x. No. 901.
[213] See Anne Boleyn, Friedmann, i. 43, and elsewhere.
[214] Cal. x. No. 908.
[215] Burleigh and his Times, Essays.
[216] Cal. vii. No. 296.
[217] Ibid., xi. No. 576, Chapuys to Charles.
[218] Ibid., xi. No. 576.
[219] Ibid., xi. No. 864.
[220] Cal. xi. No. 1045.
[221] Cal. xi. No. 729.
[222] Ibid., xi. No. 826.
[223] Ibid., xii. pt. i. No. 698.
[224] Cal. xii. pt. i. No. 976.