From: Religious Context 16th Century Bible Translation Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2016
Its Results and the Problems Left Unsolved
It turned out to be far more than reform--the church, the government, the society all underwent a revolution in the way they thought, acted, and behaved. As with most revolutions, there were results that could be looked upon by most with considerable pleasure. All revolutions, however, also have a negative impact: something gets changed and that very act of major change has a ripple effect into other areas of society. Privileges may be removed, but benefits may also disappear. Abuses may vanish, but new ones arise.
In this chapter we will tackle the “downside” of the changed religious landscape of the sixteenth century. Perhaps much of what we discuss would have occurred even if England had remained safely tucked within the fold of its preceding Catholicism--indeed, the societal problems likely would have. On the other hand, the “winners” of a revolution must not only take the glory of having won; they must also endure the criticism of their failures to accomplish their goals and ideals and those of their supporters.
Societal Impact of the Seizure
of the Monasteries
In 1536, 16 pieces of monastic property were disposed of. This increased to 35 in the following year, jumped dramatically to 75 in 1538, and to an even higher 112 in 1539. Indeed, by the time Henry VIII died, more than half of the properties and their estates had not only been seized but also disposed of. The transfers continued under Edward and, though they dropped, not even the orthodox Mary Tudor ended them completely. With considerable justice, Paul Halsall calls the seizure of church properties during this period “the most successful land grab in English history.”
There was no way to redistribute the vast amount of church properties without simultaneously producing a massive societal change. With land ownership and revenue from the produce of that land automatically came power--both real and perceived. Hence there would be an economic shift in the roots of power from a clerical to a lay source and a shift of the revenue-produced visible possession of wealth as well.
As this process transferred church lands into private hands, that of the church as a hierarchical institution declined. The new owners possessed a vested interest not to permit the previously existing church owners to regain these possessions for this would now dilute their own new found wealth.
There would be the natural predisposition toward accepting a religious theology that either permitted or overtly justified the dispossession of the previous owners and their own retention of the properties. Hence the difficulties, even under the dedicated Catholic Mary Tudor, to go very far in the restoration of the church: its prestige, its honors, even certain of its rights--but never its properties. Even being a faithful Catholic did not require the layman to suffer a major financial loss--at least if he had the ability to stop it.
Initially the monastic holdings were added to royal possessions and income. If the tax system had been more effective and had been producing greater revenue perhaps this is the way it would have remained . . . directly enhancing regal power--to the glory and ego of King Henry VIII and his successors. Financial pressures precluded such a long-range policy. Large amounts of the newly obtain properties had to be repeatedly sold off to provide short term profit to the crown. Henry rarely gave them away; they were too valuable and needed an economic resource for his regime to permit him to do so except on an occasional basis.
Certainly the sale price was a sufficiently reasonable one that both seller and purchaser felt benefited. The reasonableness of the price solidified the purchasers’ loyalty to the regime, but at the cost of additional revenue to the national treasury, which needed immediate income even more than long term. Indeed, many of the purchasers made their purchase with the conscious intent of reselling to others, requiring that the purchase value be sufficiently low to guarantee their own profit in reconveying the property.
It has been common to argue that the properties were sold only for a modest percentage of their true long-term value. If we speak in terms of many decades this was certainly true. If we speak in terms that the modern American homebuyer is accustomed to, the terms were reasonable but far from a giveaway. Typically the sales price was twenty times the revenue one would expect to gain from it in a given year. Nor did the government normally initiate the sale. Rather, they waited for a request to be made for a specific property and then evaluated the bid.
Many of the property sales have also been challenged on the grounds that the purchasers were not interested in true investments but in turning a quick profit. Although the term “speculation” has been applied to many of the purchases, the term is a bit misleading. The property was usually retained for a modest or considerable period of time before being sold off piece by piece.
The modern criticisms echo the fears of socially conscious contemporaries, however: A significant number of the supporters of the seizures were concerned that the action would only make the rich richer. Hence there was the hope expressed that revenues obtained would be utilized in a more constructive direction. For example, Thomas Streaky proposed to Henry VIII, in a letter of June 1536, that the monastic lands be leased to the poor and thereby relieve their poverty and make them self-supporting. Nothing came of this.
Yet massive as were the "voluntary" forfeitures and the outright seizures, the church did continue to possess large amounts of land, though modest in comparison to its previous holdings. Even four centuries later (the 1930s, in particular) one seventh of all coal digging royalties went to the Church of England, for coal dug on their property.
We have stressed the economic consequences of the seizures. There were indirect social ones as well. Some were minor or virtually nonexistent. Many of the clerical farm estates were already administered by laymen even when officially clerically owned. Hence the daily conduct of the overseers was little changed; the recipients of the profits were simply different.
Other results of the change were more significant. Those towns under monastic ownership were now freed of their lordship. On the other hand any pilgrimage that had come their way (and increased civic revenue thereby) passed away as well.
Some 10,000 monks were stripped of their official rationale for existence. A number became Anglican clerics as time went by while those who remained steadfast to their original convictions represented a source of trained religious support for Mary Tudor in her effort to restore Catholicism (although few ever returned to the monasteries). A number were appointed to bishoprics and other positions in the still Catholicized form of Anglicanism that existed,
A genuine effort was made to provide them with an economic safety net for the years ahead, regardless of what future course they set for themselves. The bulk were provided a pension.
The large libraries of the monasteries basically either disappeared or were destroyed--an invaluable historical resource vanishing beyond recovery. Even if the libraries had been dispersed among the modest ones held by book readers of the day, they would have continued to fulfill part of their original purpose. Apparently not even wealthy “papists” attempted to obtain them for their own possession. Royal seizure would at least have assured their survival for future generations.
But they were matters of little concern for the political/aristocratic forces behind the confiscations. It was common for the books to be purchased in large volume and for them to be wasted on the most trivial purposes. The preface to Leyland’s Journey (1549) describes some of the more extreme cases of how these monastic works had been treated,
A great number of them which purchased those superstitious mansions, reserved of those library books, some to scour their candlesticks, and some to rub their boots; some they sold to the grocers and Sao-sellers; some they sent over sea to the bookbinders, not in small numbers, but at times whole ships full, to the wondering of the foreign nations. . . . I know a merchant man . . . that bought the contents of two noble libraries for forty shillings price; a shame it is to be spoken. This stuff hat he occupied in the stead of gray paper, by the space of more than ten years, and yet he hat store enough for as many years to come!
Although such an attitude might reflect the theological bias of some of the purchasers, it seems far more likely that it reflects the ignorance of the illiterate or semi-literate. The libraries were, by their nature, bastions of those who could read. Most of the population were still illiterate and the abuse of these volumes was a symbolic way to strike out at the “arrogance” of the literate regardless of their theology. The seized pages of the Great Bible were treated with similar disdain when they were confiscated in France: they were purchased by a merchant to use as stuffing inside his hats!
When the monasteries were abandoned, at least some of the residents left with a few books of their own choosing. These they wished to retain for personal use or were ones they thought would be of value to others. The identity of some of the works can be traced. Among them were typical Renaissance era texts that could be utilized by those who would in the future earn their living by teaching. More common were traditional theological works, commentaries, and volumes of sermons. Also represented were volumes of the Latin New Testament and at least one vernacular New Testament.
The long-established system of monastery-based public assistance for the needy vanished along with the monasteries. This left a vast hole in the societal "safety net" for the most vulnerable and needy. To what extent the major local landowners attempted to replace this with their own efforts is unknown, but human nature being as varied as it is, it would be startling if it did not vary immensely.
At least a minority, however, recognized the need for action of some kind. As early as Henry VIII himself, London established a system of poor relief. The establishment of a secular, publicly financed system of public assistance took a long time to expand throughout the kingdom and was grudgingly supported by many. Not just out of greed in many cases; the line between self-supporting and poverty was often frighteningly narrow.
What was particularly perplexing was poverty that existed where one did not anticipate it, among what they called the “sturdy beggars” of the day, i.e., those who were physically able to work but for one reason or another did not. Since this paradox had bedeviled the social order even before Henry's break with Rome, poverty represented a problem that would not go away with a change in theological patterns.
Just as the abolishment of the monasteries brought a financial gain to the government so did the later abrogation of the chantries (trust funds to assure the continued saying of masses for a dead individual). The geographic impact, though, tended to be reverse in the two cases. The dissolution of the monasteries had only a modest impact upon the cities because most of the institutions were located in rural areas. Abolishment of chantries under Edward, however, was far more likely to affect urban areas.
The On-Going Crosses of
Mass Poverty and Disease
The traditional problem of an abundance of the destitute not only continued during the sixteenth century but actually intensified. We have examined the question from the standpoint of the impact of abolishing the monasteries and, thereby indirectly, removing their contribution to public relief.
In this context we wish to study the wider pattern of pauperism in that era. This was affected by three major factors: wages, prices, and food supply. These interlocking phenomena, when in good balance, made life passable for the lower classes even if not always something to brag about. When they were disjointed, personal and family tragedy were the results.
As to wages and prices: Although there were periods of prosperity during the century, there were also periods of economic decline and even depression. Yet overall there was a downward pressure on cash income throughout the period. This was especially grievious for urbanites. In the countryside and small towns even the smallest cash income could at least be supplemented by one's own garden and by grazing one's animals on the common land of the village. Few city dwellers would have had this option available and certainly not on the same scale.
Wages declined in the 1570s to 90s, 80s and this combined with major price increases combined to crunch the ability of even the laboring poor to adequately support itself. Although numbers are far from scientifically precise (because the necessary breadth of continuing documentation throughout the period does not exist), enough data has survived to gain at least a reasonably accurate approximation of the economic toil of inflation.
By considering a list of consumable, as they were priced between 1451-1475, as the base figure of 100, little price change occurs in the remainder of the fifteenth century. Costs remained basically stable during the first two decades of the sixteenth. Then the rise began. It increased to 231 in 1547 and skyrocketed to 409 during the last year of Queen Mary’s reign. In 1558 it had declined to 230, rose to 300 in 1570, and exceeded even Mary’s high (by hitting 448) in the year Elizabeth died.
Agricultural problems occurred time and again, which made the wage-price crunch that much worse: even if you had money there wasn’t that much food available to purchase. Widespread rainstorms in 1527 caused major damage to the crops. Government inability to handle the situation annoyed high and low. Cardinal Wosley’s enemies mocked that he should have used his "politick wisdom" to have averted them. He did, however, send out royal commissioners who were able to list the available grain and thereby assure its availability for distribution (rather than hoarding) during the following year.
The crop of 1535 was disastrous. It began to rain when certain Cartesian monks were hung and a suffering population spread the story that it was Divine wrath for the action of their king. Henry ordered that an alternative version be preached from the pulpit: that God was testing the people. Either way, the harvest was less than half normal. The corn would vanish before the winter’s snow finally melted. It was the worst crop failure of the century.
Elizabeth’s reign also endured several such tragic misfortunes. Heavy summer rains in 1561 kept the harvests from being fully harvested. In both 1563 and 1566 crops were again inadequate. The personal, social, and economic dislocations from such unpredictable swings were immense. As one scholar has written,
. . . [T]he effects, and threat, of bad harvests were constant. Wide fluctuations in the food supply, in turn, caused dramatic price swings, exacting a heavy toll of a society that was primarily agricultural. A bad harvest emphasized the social divisions between the poor and the better off, the griping stomachs of the poor pushing them toward riot and revolt. Hungry, agricultural laborers reduced their consumption, hurting those who sold to them. Their masters, with less produce to sell, curtailed their spending. Reduced spending meant hard times for the merchants and occupiers who sold to the agricultural sectors. The poor then swelled the ranks of the seasonal laborers, traveling in search of work and food.
The 1570s and 1580s were blessed with many good harvests. Even so, the crop of 1586 was notably bad. Even worse there was a series of major widespread crop shortages in 1594-1598. Substantial local crop failures continued in the early years of the next century (1608 and 1614, in particular).
Bad weather and failed crops were not all that undermined rural prosperity. The enclosure movement deserves special mention. Those not directly benefited by the process blamed the increase of enclosures--which denied large pieces of land to public use--for many of the societal disruptions that plagued rural society. The movement was widespread in the sixteenth century (and late fifteenth) and was produced by the desire to maximize the revenue from one’s land. This was caused not only because it was desirable in its own right but also because bursts of inflation had undermined the amount of revenue being gained from property on long-term leases.
This revenue loss was countered by several tactics. In some cases rents were raised. What probably impacted far more individuals was that the “common” land of the village was increasingly enclosed, thereby setting it aside for the exclusive use of one individual. (This and the combination of properties offered economies of scale to further enhance revenue.) Even farm land was affected. Because so much money was made from the wool trade, sizable pieces of territory were taken out of agriculture entirely and converted into pasturage.
Many villagers protested the denial of common grazing rights that had been enjoyed for generations. Critics saw the wool trade eating up not merely grass but, though the massive increase of flocks and land set aside for their exclusive use, the very existence of the rural peasantry. Sir Thomas More wrote, “Your sheep that were wont to be so meek and tame, and so small eaters, now, as I hear say, be become so great devours and so wild, that they eat up, and swallow down the very men themselves.”
A popular poem of the day echoed the sentiment,
The towns go down, the land decays:
Of cornfields plain lees,
Great men machete now-a-days
A sheepcot in the church.
Commons to close and keep,
Poor folk for bread to cry and weep
Towns pulled down to pasture sheep,
This is the new guise.
Scholars still debate the true degree and significance of the enclosure movement. Yet there can be no question that at the time there were deep suspicions of the motives and, even more so, disgruntlement of the socially disruptive results of the process.
Even farmers needed some hard cash. Merchant people even more so. One way to temporarily starve off financial disaster was, of course, to secure a loan. Most of the population lacked the resources or financial standing to obtain them. Those who could borrow money to tide them through the various crises faced significant interest rates and the uncertainty as to their ability to repay. Indeed the very legality of borrowing at interest--the term "usury" was applied to all such transactions regardless of rate charged--was commonly subject to severe moral censure.
A 10 percent loan rate was permitted by acts of Parliament beginning in 1545. Usury was defined by that legislation as existing only if the interest rate were over ten percent. In 1552 charging interest on loans was again banned, a prohibition which remained in effect until 1571. This does not mean that interest loans ceased to exist. John Young wrote in 1559 that the interest given the most credit worthy borrowers in London was then at twenty percent. The drawing up of the necessary legal documents boasted the loan rate five percent more. More questionable loans (such as to those going abroad to fight) ran from thirty to fifty percent.
In 1571, after lengthy and heated debate, usury was divided into two types: that over ten percent and that under ten percent. The former was permitted while the latter was prohibited.
All ages have their poor--the relative degree of poverty changes, but none has ever fully escaped that bane. Times of economic stress magnify the problem. Sometimes it seems that more than mere inflation or shortages are behind the difficulty, however. For example, England had always known poor individuals, but in the age of the Tudors came the perception of a distinct (and growing) class of transient beggars.
Estimated at the time to number around 10,000 individuals, they never set down roots and their lives embodied and perpetuated the worst moral excess their critics could picture. This permanent underclass financed their irresponsibility and debauchery through theft.
Furthermore their dishonest begging demeaned those who stood in genuine need and tempted the cynical to deny them the assistance they truly deserved. This new element of society perpetuated all types of frauds to secure the charity they sought. There were “Abraham men” (pretending to be insane). There were “domineers” (pretending to be deaf). There were “cranks” (pretending to suffer from falling sickness).
Collectively, they represented a threat to society’s stability, to themselves, and to the genuine poor and disabled. It was a phenomena the collective public memory did not recognize from the past and which frightened it.
Hence throughout this period efforts were made in two different directions to resolve the problem. The first was by regulating the presence of vagrants. This varied from punishment of them to “encouraging” them to go elsewhere. The more constructive form was to systematize poor relief to assure that the genuinely needy would receive it.
Less obvious to the public eye were the self-supporting dishonest transients. These included such connivers as the dishonest “cony-catchers” who used skill and wit to milk the rich of their funds. These were men who played with loaded dice, were card sharps, and were ever alert to schemes to fleece the wealthy of their money. They were self-supporting but their means were even more open to censure than the outright beggar: could they not use these talents in a more constructive direction and achieve the same end?
Even in the sixteenth century it was recognized that the localities were unable to carry the entire burden of public assistance. National welfare programs took two forms: one targeted at the individuals and one targeted those towns in collective economic decline. The former tended to be punitive in nature, while the latter took more constructive forms.
Several efforts to deal with on-going poverty of individuals were attempted during the sixteenth century. At times both begging and almsgiving were prohibited. Instead of almsgiving, individuals were to give to a central fund which would then provide for the genuinely needy.
Another proposal (adopted in 1536 and 1547) was to turn adult beggars into temporary, two-year slaves. Although there was the suggestion the slaves could be utilized on public projects of different types, neither the money nor specific projects to utilize them were adopted. Nor did anyone particularly seem to want to take on the obligation (and potential stigma) of being a slaveowner even when it was for the alleged public good.
Measures adopted in 1552 provided for a register of the unquestionable poor and an on-going commitment from private citizens to provide the funds to the government to assist them. The 1555 revision of this legislation required that richer parishes in London provide their surplus resources to those parishes unable to meet their welfare needs. When financial support was simply inadequate, beggars were permitted to be licensed. Since this provision was continued in the Elizabethan poor law legislation, this would seem to imply that efforts to channel all relief through official institutions had failed due to the depth of the social problem.
During Edward’s reign, legislation was adopted to remit certain taxes for three years back to the towns so that they could use the sums to pay the destitute to perform various public work projects. This would have performed a double function: permit the communities to undertake improvements they could not otherwise afford, while simultaneously being of immediate benefit to the poor. Unfortunately good will clashed head on with financial limitations, and the decrease in national level government revenue caused the program to be ended after its first year.
Hence a variety of approaches were attempted. What they shared in common was not only a failure to end poverty, but, worse yet, a failure to make any deep inroads into the problem.
Although we tend to think of poverty as a social plague on individuals (or, when dishonest and dangerous individuals, upon the surrounding population), both today and in the sixteenth century there were entire communities that were in dire economic straits. Sometimes this occurred periodically due to boom/bust cycles, while at other times it was the result of on-going conditions that nothing could seem to overcome.
Although measures to alleviate these communities did not usually directly help the worst off, they did indirectly remove some of the pressure that otherwise would have existed. Without relief measures targeted at the entire city or town, the communities would have been even harder pushed to make economic ends meet. Those towns least able to fend for themselves, would have been as likely to find themselves worse off as those higher on the economic totem pole had even less to pay in taxes or give in charity.
The community relief measures took a number of forms. One was the experiment just mentioned to provide money to hire the poor for public building and improvement projects. The most well known was the granting of special monopolies to a local industry or the community itself. Partial or complete remission of taxes owed was given to specially needy towns even before Henry VIII came to the throne.
In dire cases, the taxes were even known to be rebated to them. Towns were given the authority to order hefty fines against those who permitted their urban properties to decay and refused to undertake the necessary repairs. Alternatively, the local governments could seize the properties and restore them themselves.
If poverty were not enough, society bore the terrible scourge of disease as well. Sometimes it struck unfortunate individuals--anywhere, at any time. Upon other occasions it would take the form of a massive outbreak that would kills hundreds or thousands over a short span of time. Everyone lived in the perpetual shadow of death--and knew it full well. Government found it extraordinarily difficult to assemble meaningful plans that had any significant impact upon poverty; regardless of the religious orientation of a given ruler; it was even more difficult to do much about physical disease. A sufficient base of scientific knowledge simply did not exist as of yet.
Two forms of plague brought horrifying death to thousands of Englanders in the Middle Ages. The pneumonic form spread from one person to another by coughing. Because of its fast spread, the infamous Black Death (1348-1349) was probably of this type.
In contrast, the bubonic plague was passed through fleas and rats. The plague outbreaks of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in England were generally confined to the towns and cities. This far more limited scope of outbreaks combined with the presence of abundant potentially plague carrying black rats, makes it probable that the bubonic form of the plague dominated in the latter period.
Major outbreaks of plague hit London in both 1499 and 1500. In the second sweep of the city, as many as one in four residents may have died. Major epidemics also hit the country in 1563-1564, 1592, 1599, and again in 1603.
A previously unknown killer appeared in England in 1485 and, after its symptoms, was named the “sweating sickness.” It is believed to have been brought to England by Continental mercenaries who had been hired by Henry Tudor. Within days of its initial 1485 breakout in England, six aldermen of London had perished. In the same period of time the mayor and his immediate replacement died as well.
In the 1517 appearance of “the sweat” several key members of Cardinal Wolsey’s household were killed. Wolsey himself somehow managed to survive four outbreaks of the symptoms over a nine week period.
When it returned in 1528, King Henry fled the infected region. Thousands perished. Although still legally married to Catherine, his desires were already for Anne Boleyn. When word came that she had been laid low with the sweat, he promptly wrote to her and sent his best available physician.
The 1528 outbreak was the only time it spread from England to the Continent itself. Disease crosses the path of Bible translation at this point because it continued into 1529 in Antwerp, posing a constant potential danger to Tyndale and those assisting him in his Bible translation work.
The final visitation of the sweat to England in 1551 was described by King Edward in July in these terms, “At this time came the Sweat into London which was more vehement than the old sweat [i.e., of 1528 and earlier]. For if one took cold, he died within three hours, and if he escaped it held him but nine hours, or ten at the most . . . then he raved and died raving.” The chronicler Edward Hall described the Sweat as allowing one to be “merry at dinner and dead at supper.”
Unlike these sporadic outbreaks, smallpox was an on-going danger throughout this period. Henry VIII may have had it in 1514. Alternatively, it may have been measles; the two were often thought to be varieties of the same basic illness. In the case of Elizabeth’s October 1562 brush with death, the illness was more clearly that of smallpox.
In the cases of plague, sweating sickness, smallpox, and measles, the medical profession could offer nothing in the way of cure. At most, they could provide or encourage only those things that might alleviate some of the symptoms. The twentieth century, with its many medications and cures can so often postpone death, that western society becomes angered at the inability of medicine to abolish it. The sixteenth century was under no such illusion. Death was an ever present reality.
There were three basic types of remedies. The first was faith and prayer. The second were “cures” hawked by physicians of the era. The third was resorting to a sorcerer. The first two options were socially acceptable; the last opened one to grave censure.
The belief in magic was common, though frowned upon by the church and opening one to legal prosecution. The closest one can come even to a knowledgeable guess of how many conjurers there were is found in the testimony of a then contemporary, William Wycherley who was arrested as a sorcerer in 1549. He admitted not only that he was such a practitioner but also that “there be within England above five hundred conjurers as he thinketh . . . and specially in Forelock, Hertfordshire, and Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.”
Of course Wycherley was a “professional.” There were doubtless countless local men and women who acted in a similar manner but whose reputation was little known.
Add to economic troubles food shortages, disease, various foreign wars (and threats of such wars) and repeated changes in religious policies and one can understand that the poorer classes were in an unusually vulnerable position--on both the physical and psychological levels. Such vulnerability traditionally expresses itself in the extreme rage and prejudice that exhibited itself toward "heretics" (real and imagined) witches (again, real and imagined), and whatever could or might further endanger their sense of well being.
One sign of societal disintegration is the illegitimacy rate. Between 1595 and 1610 it hit unprecedented highs (indeed, the whole period from 1580 to 1620 was characterized by rates previously unseen). It is quite probable that the multiple stresses upon life were either the cause or, at least, the excuse for avoiding the kind of permanent relationships that in an earlier and later period would have been deemed as required.
Some of these phenomena would have occurred regardless of what religious regimen dominated the land. For those opposed to the changes, the plague of disease could be looked upon as God’s judgment upon the land. From the reform perspective, such outbreaks were either parallel to what past centuries had seen (even the sweating sickness had preceded the Reformation) or God’s chastening hand for not carrying forth reform with sufficient vigor.
To the traditionalists the moral disintegration of family life represented the anarchy at the heart of rebellion against hierarchical authority as represented in the Roman Church. To the reformer, the depravity represented the stubborn refusal of unregenerate men and women to conform to the Divine standard. From their standpoint, if a comparison were to be made to the Catholic past it would have been a purely negative one: in those days token acts supposedly atoned for the transgression; now the transgression was openly acknowledged by a more godly church. The problem lay not in the religious changes but in the refusal of individuals to conform themselves to patterns of morality, many of which even the previously dominant church conceded were the proper ones.
Regardless of which side did the interpreting, the problems remained unresolved.
Religious Policy Reversals and
the Impact on Popular Morale
On top of economic difficulties came the continuing conflicts and policy reversals over religious conduct and practice. The Ten Articles of the 1530s attempted to establish a religious system in the middle between the reformers and the traditional faith. Henry had carefully examined the repeated drafts of the bishops. He wrote and rewrote their wording and posed possible substitutes. The "Wittenberg Articles" (drawn up mainly by Melanchthon as the basis for a reconciliation with the English) played a major role in determining the text as well. Only after repeated revisions did the Ten Articles finally go forth with the royal stamp of approval.
Although Cromwell’s fall put the reform elements in retreat and the traditionalist Catholic faction in dominance, it was a gradual retreat not a full rout. The Six Articles appeared in 1539. The reformers in Henry's privy council lost out to the theological traditionalists. A more Catholic style theology was decreed and this remained the official orthodoxy until Henry died. When Parliament debated it, Henry personally defended it before his legislators.
The accompanying legislation on uniformity resulted in the prompt arrest of 500 people. The king issued a general pardon. Only six individuals were executed kingdom wide. Whether out of prudence or concern where the Catholic relapse might lead him, the king refused to unleash the kind of generalized persecution the reformers feared might occur. Individuals did, indeed, suffer, but the disaster that was a thundercloud on the horizon dissipated without major harm.
A shot over the bow of the traditionalists occurred in July 1541. The king decreed the abolition of the "many superstitious and childish observations" which accompanied the feast of Saint Nicholas. In October lighted candles were banned from all ceremonial functions in church except when left in front of the Communion sacrament. Even more importantly, the major effort to force out Archbishop Crankier never gained the support of the king.
In 1543 appeared A Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for Any Christian Man (popularly known as the "King's Book"), which attempted to explain and defend the Independent Catholicism that had evolved. Although the abolished traditionalist practices remained outside the pale of approval and the terminology was often vague and even Lutheran, the book reaffirmed the more traditionalist presentation of religion found in the earlier Six Articles.
Moving strongly in the opposite direction, in 1544 a liturgy in English (written by Crankier) was authorized by the King. At the same time the Mass proper remained in Latin.
In 1545 a book of English language prayers was authorized by Henry for use in all church services. The Catholic phase was being diluted, again, little by little.
In the same year Crankier and two other bishops were instructed by the king to draw up a list of religious ceremonies that were to be banned. Among the prohibitions they recommended in January 1546 were covering church statues and the cross during Lent and kneeling to the cross on Palm Sunday when the cross was finally uncovered. The king personally added to the list “creeping to the cross.”
Diplomatic considerations caused Henry to back off. Henry, however, wrote the Archbishop not to be discouraged. He should “take patience herein, and forbear until we may espy a more apt and convenient time for that purpose.” At the King's urging, Parliament also passed legislation in 1546 authorizing the seizing of the chantries.
If the king's decisions did not go in contradictory directions, then one was plagued by the calculated ambiguity of them. Was he really being "Catholic" when the terminology was Lutheran? Was he really advocating reform when he simultaneously demanded the retention of certain traditional Catholic style practices?
If this were not enough, it was made that much worse by that great plague of both theologians and scholars in general: verbosity and obscurity. Of the Injunctions issued in 1538 and read throughout the kingdom one annoyed cleric observed, "By God's flesh, here is a hundred words in these Injunctions where two would serve, for I know what it meant as well as they that made it. . . . A vengeance upon him that printed these Injunctions! By God's bones there is never one in Westminster Hall that would read thus much for twenty nobles!"
What was the impact of these inconsistencies, reversals, contradictions, and ambiguities upon the attitudes of the people over a long period of time? On a psychological level, the policy reversals had to wear and tear upon the spirit of those aware of the changes and the prospect for yet more. It certainly left such individuals wondering what he or she was expected to believe. Most wanted to be considered patriotic citizens and loyal to their King, but what was such a person to do when the King kept moving in contradictory directions?
The shifting party line in Russian Communism in the 1920s and 1930s is an obvious secular parallel. Even the most dedicated zealots landed up being open to charges of treason because they could either not accommodate the most recent changes or because they had not been able to keep up with the latest reversal. Likewise in Henry's England, the loyalist of one year was open to potential treason accusations the following.
Mary's short reign was too short to allow sufficient time for a sustained policy of reversals to develop and disillusion society. On the other hand the harshness of her policy in persecuting her religious foes undermined those who wanted Catholicism--but a moderate and temperate Catholicism.
When the regime became Elizabeth's, the re-catholicizing policy was promptly reversed and the pressure for a Protestantized religion again became dominant. To implement it, all but one of the bishops had to be purged and considerable traditionalist sentiment bucked in the rural regions. There was a constant pressure from those who wished to carry the changes even further and there was far from certainty that they would be stopped. If they weren’t, even more radical changes would be implemented.
So far we have spoken of the "important" elements of society: court, major landowners and merchants, and such like. These were the people who were economically and socially considered significant and whose defiance of the changes were most likely to become matters of public note--and personal betrayal by foes and enemies.
John Q. Public counted little in the equation for they were the powerless and the poor. Essential to the existence and operation of society, but having no control over the political and religious situation. (Though common prudence required leaders not to push their luck too far.) Illiterate and having difficulty surviving, the changes could hardly be less perplexing to them than their "betters."
Since there was no longer a continuum of religious practice to rely upon--of any type--those psychological reinforcements that a long-standing spiritual tradition bestows upon its community were removed. A fundamental "rock" of existence had been taken out of its place and substituted with an ever shifting public policy. This must have had a depressing impact on both pro- and anti-change citizens. Change is hard to bear in any age and especially by those whose confidence in survival hinges upon the existence of stability.
It was an age of lawlessness, violence, and injustice. The existence of these factors had played a powerful role in emotionally justifying the breaking of clerical power in the kingdom. On the other hand, the changes that had occurred since the establishment of Henry’s Independent Catholicism had not brought a reign of integrity and had done nothing to substantially eliminate the societal rot. If a “purified” religion was the sure fire solution to all of society’s difficulties, why hadn’t the evils disappeared?
When the “solution” to a problem itself permits the problem to continue--perhaps because some of the problems were inherently unremovable, at least in their entirety?--despair becomes inevitable. The solution of religious revolution provided only strictly religious change and had minimal positive impact on the difficulties of existence in an agrarian society.
Worse yet the religious issue itself never seemed to be definitively resolved. You had one side and then the other seemingly victorious, defeated, recuperating, regaining strength. Hence much of the population came to despair of religion as the solution for societal evil and the solace of comfort in time of injustice.
This would have been especially true among the bulk of individuals who were only marginally involved in religious commitment to begin with. Those deeply committed had explanations, such as those which we have already mentioned, but these did not comfort the masses. For them, religious disillusionment was surely inevitable and to that we turn next.
Reformed Religion Fails
to Solve the Problems
With such an unsettled climate, it should not be surprising that even the practice of religion itself became an open question for the masses of people. Nicholas Bacon threw out the challenging question to Parliament in 1563, “How cometh it to pass that the common people in the country universally come so seldom to common prayer and divine service?”
The solution was to punish those who did not attend. A partial solution but not one that solved the religious instability that had plagued the kingdom nor the economic corruption and injustice that the mighty in the land felt themselves entitled to exercise.
In short, much of the English population remained vaguely religious but certainly not "Christian" in the sense that the reformers used the term. By the late sixteenth century there was no hiding the fact that a large number of English people lacked any real commitment to any religious system at all.
While Mary was on the throne, Ralph Allergen suggested to Bishop Boner that, “There are in England three religions. The first is that which you hold; the second is clean contrary to the same; and the third is a neuter, being indifferent.”
John Jewel voiced a similar sentiment soon after Elizabeth gained the crown, “Many will believe neither side, whatsoever they allege. Bring they truth, bring they falsehood; teach they Christ, teach they Antichrist: they will believe neither, they have so hardened their hearts.”
In 1572 one pro-reform minister estimated that the truly devout proportion of the population was only 1 in 40; in 1617, another estimated 1 in 20.
How realistic were such estimates? The literacy-reform correlation worked against there being as large an over-all commitment in the population at large as when one only considered that minority of the English who could read and write. Although the rate of literacy increased during the sixteenth century, large segments of the population--such as day laborers, vagrants, and those at the bottom of the social class system--saw only modest growth in the number who had the ability. Since there tended to be more of such people in rural districts, those acquainted with rural conditions would put an even dimmer view on the level of spirituality than would urban ministers.
Especially Puritan-style reformers were a victim of their own theology. They expected an extremely high standard of conduct on the behalf of church members--and most members were either unable or unwilling to deliver on it. Furthermore, the predestination of Calvinism automatically inclined an individual to think in terms of a minority of the righteous versus a majority being of the unsanctified, non-elect. With such a mental framework, the natural tendency would be to “low ball” any estimates of the proportion of church faithful.
How does this “dearth” of spirituality compare to the earlier period of the sixteenth century? One interpretation is that England underwent a profound change not so much “from Catholicism to Protestantism than a decline from religious commitment into conformist or indifference.” That there was an increase in general skepticism of organized religion seems inevitable from the evidence we have already examined. But substantially present was a second reality as well: the change in religious expectations brought to general recognition the profound tokenism that had always existed.
Because of the lack of a viable alternative and the relative modest demands of the Catholic Church, one could live a lifetime and go only through the outward forms that were demanded or expected. With the rebirth of large scale religious pluralism (a phenomena of the ancient world that had been repressed for many centuries), the lack of commitment began to be far more noticeable.
Due to the large number of zealots that began to appear in both Catholicism and the reformed movements, tokenism itself became increasingly repugnant and reprehensible. Both sides expected and demanded far more. True, it was often not provided, but the expectation remained. The marginally involved became an embarrassment where in the past their minimal participation became an evidence of the depth and popularity of the dominant faith.
This was not the only unexpected phenomena of the period. Theoretically anti-clericalism should have disappeared with the removal of the doctrine, cultic, and organizational practices that were believed to have created them. As so often happens, the theory did not blossom into reality.
Anti-clericalism came back to haunt the reformers themselves. If anti-clericalism had been a powerful force to undermine confidence in traditional Catholicism, it remained a powerful force that encouraged laypeople to question the practices, behavior, beliefs, and motives of the new orthodoxy as well.
Anti-clericalism represented not just a reaction to excesses; it also represented a frame of mind that would tend to put the worst possible interpretation upon anything and everything questionable. If Catholic priests had once suffered from both its legitimate accusations and its excesses as well, now Protestant ministers would be on the receiving end as well.
Furthermore, significant secular powers did not want a genuinely powerful church--even if it were “purified” of the perceived superstitions of the past. They had backed the Reformation--partly out of conviction, partly out of loyalty to the king, and partly out of self-interest. They certainly had no interest in encouraging the prestige and power of a church that might attempt to bring them to heel for their own injustices and moral transgressions.
Not only did the attitude toward religious expression change, but a moral crisis gripped the land as well. A tidal shift in the popular definition of acceptable conduct had occurred during the first half of the sixteenth century, beginning before the Reformation erupted and becoming a fact of life even before the Reformation became clearly triumphant. What had previously been branded as unacceptable had now become acceptable.
It had become what the 1960s (and later) called a “permissive society.” So widespread had this become that the homily “Against Whoredom and Uncleanness” in The First Book of Homilies described the amoral climate of the 1550s in these terms,
Although there want not . . great swarms of vices worthy to be rebuked, unto such decay is true godliness and virtuous living now come, yet above other vices the outrageous seas of adultery (or breaking of wedlock), whoredom, fornication, and uncleanness have not only breast in, but also overflowed almost the whole world, unto the great dishonor of God, the exceeding infamy of the name of Christ, the notable decay of true religion, and the utter destruction of the public wealth; and that so abundantly that, through the customizable use thereof, this vice is grown into such an height, that in a manner among many it is counted no sin at all, but rather a pastime, a dalliance, and but a touch of youth; not rebuked, but winked at; nor punished, but laughed at.
The “papists” blamed the “heretics” for unleashing the baser nature of the people in the sixteenth century; the “heretics” blamed it on the inability to fully root out the vile roots of “Romanism” that had corrupted the nation. But was either an adequate or, if adequate, complete, explanation? Many--of widely varying theological backgrounds--considered the disintegration of sixteenth century as caused by what our contemporary world would call genetics: There was, they thought, a peculiar tendency among island peoples to search out change, innovation, and novelty as an end in itself. And the result of that could be quite self- and group-destructive.
The reformers tried to reign the excesses in through legislation and strong preaching, but neither turned the tide. The church had become, for many, an irrelevancy.
It certainly did not help the reform effort at moral uplift that ignorance of the contents of the Bible remained profound in much of the land long after the reformers began to gain dominance. For that matter, if one no longer cared how one lived, what difference did it make even if one were well versed in the sacred text?
The reformers assumed that the study of the scriptures would automatically produce moral reformation. But if an individual had no desire to exercise moral restraint the first place, why should they go out of their way to learn a book whose contents would condemn their lifestyle?
Even in the early 1600s, the Norfolk preacher Nicholas Bound lamented that the tales of Robin Hood were more known than the stories of the Bible. He stressed of his rural area, “They are utterly ignorant in and never so much as have heard before of many texts that are alleged in the sermons. . . . Nay the common stories of the bible they are unacquainted with; Faeroe them with this or that judgment executed . . . comfort them with such a mercy showed . . . it moves them not; they are altogether strangers in these matters.” Of course the bias of the learned against the unlearned must be factored into our evaluation of such remarks, but even doing so, the evidence still is that among the illiterate majority, Biblical ignorance was both profound and pervasive.
The reform minded ministers, of course, tried to right the situation, but they themselves labored under many difficulties not of their own making. A continuing one for most of those that remained within the Anglican community (and surely for those outside as well) was the lack of adequate financial support.
If an individual held multiple benefices, he was expected to deputize his functions to someone else so the local citizens would not be destitute of spiritual assistance. Since the purpose of holding multiple benefices was not merely to enrich oneself (in the more visible cases) but, even more commonly, to gain an adequate amount of financial support, the quality of one’s substitute would often be inferior: The more qualified the individual the less likely he would be to accept the limited wages available. Furthermore, if the benefice were unable to adequately support one person, how much less if the revenue had to be divided between two individuals!
Nor did the break with Rome bring a quick end to the problem. During Crankier’s service as Archbishop, almost 600 permissions are known to have been granted to hold multiple benefices. The records are not complete; the total number was certainly larger. Since he had minimal control over the granting of these exceptions, the number illustrates the failure of the system itself to be reformed rather than any faults peculiar to Crankier himself. Not that Crankier was unwilling to work the system to his own advantage and that of his relatives, but he never gained the controlling influence over it.
Even after the Reformation was well advanced, few benefices were adequately funded. Archbishop Whitgift of Canterbury estimated in 1585 that there were only 600 such sites in all of England and Wales combined--out of some 9,000 total. (We translate his terminology into its modern equivalent. He spoke specifically of sites providing adequate income for the appropriate support of a learned individual.)
From modern regional research, it has been discovered that in the diocese of Chichester only four benefices produced the minimum income of 30 pounds required for a clergyman to adequately support himself in the 1580s. (We stress the minimum aspect. It was assumed, with considerable justification, that a well qualified and well educated individual deserved significantly higher income.) Of those four, three benefices actually supported clergymen who labored outside the diocese. The one minister of the four who was actually resident, supplemented his income with revenue from benefices in other dioceses.
Part of the problem lay in the fact that laymen had, by one means or another, long had rights to a substantial part of the tithe coming into each parish. In the late 1500s the province of Canterbury lost 40 percent of its tithes to such laymen; the province of York lost an even larger 62.6 percent. One of the more extreme cases was where a local layman had rights to a 100 pounds annually of the tithes; the local vicar received the petty 7 pounds that remained.
Lack of income often translated into lack of time, opportunity, and interest in intellectual matters, including that of gaining the pervasive knowledge of the scriptures that one would expect in those claiming a commitment to the Bible as supremely authoritative. If the ignorance of Biblical matters (even traditional Catholic matters) of the pre-Reformation clergy appalled reformers, the road to a Biblically informed clergy was still a long and hard one.
Bishop Hopper examined in detail 311 of the clergy in his diocese of Gloucester in 1551. Of these 171 were unable to quote the Ten Commandments; 33 were even unable to provide its location in the Bible. Thirty did not know the location of the Lord's Prayer; 27 did not know who said it; 10 could not quote it from memory.
With knowledge so low, an educated clergy was clearly needed. On the other hand, with income for the benefices also so low (see above), the parishes could not provide the pay an educated minister required.
In spite of these major obstacles of financing, an educated ministry gradually became more and more common. It was not until the seventeenth century that it was the dominant pattern and even there we have to wait until the 1630s. This was the natural--though delayed--outgrowth of the view held by clerics themselves as to what was required of an ideal minister.
The downside of this was a change in the class background of the ministers. In the past, both they and the laypeople usually shared a common rural background. Now the ministers tended to be from the higher classes (such as that of tradesmen) while those they ministered to preserved their rural customs and practices. To these new clergy, the local cultural customs became more and more difficult to understand, much less tolerate.
This inclined them toward strict legal enactments to compel what they perceived as the appropriate and proper behavior for citizens in an allegedly Christian nation. Internally, the last decades of the sixteenth century began a renewed determination by the church authorities to police its own ministers as well. Not merely heresy became punishable, but the kind of misconduct and misbehavior that might once have been ignored or overlooked. Ministers, too, must now live up to the standards they demanded of others--or face grave danger of retribution.
 Youings, 117-118. For a sample Deed of Surrender, see the text of that of Oseney Abbey, as printed in [Anonymous], “The Suppression of Oxford’s Monasteries--The Surrender of Oseney Abbeny,” which includes the text of the November 17, 1539 Deed of Surrender. (http://madhatter.chch.ox.ac.uk/chchcath/osney/suppress.html), AOL Netfind, August 22, 1997.
 Paul Halsall, “Medieval Sourcebook: The Suppression of Glastonbury Abbey, 1539,” (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/h8/glastonbury.html), AOL Netfind, August 23, 1997.
 For a discussion of the rhetoric used in the discussion and the varying resale patterns of the time, see Ibid., 126-128.
 For a good introduction to the social changes, see Ibid., 102-107. On the conclusions of past scholars concerning the impact of the seized monasteries and chantry properties also see Christopher Kitching, “The Disposal of Monastic and Chantry Lands,” in Church and Society in England: Henry VIII to James I, edited by Felicity Heal and Rosemary O’Day (Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1977), 119.
 Claire Cross, “Monastic Learning and Libraries in Sixteenth-century Yorkshire,” in Humanism and Reform: The Church in Europe, England, and Scotland, 1400-1643, edited by James Kirk (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers for the Ecclesiastical History Society, 1991), 255, 266-268.
 A. G. Dickens, “Some Popular Reactions to the Edwardian Reformation in Yorkshire,” Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 34 (1939), as reprinted in A. G. Dickens, Reformation Studies (London: Hambledon Press, 1982), 21.
 Wrightson, 143, and Paul A. Fideler, Fideler, Paul A. "Poverty, Policy and Providence: The Tudors and the Poor," in Political Thought and the Tudor Commonwealth: Deep Structure, Discourse and Disguise, edited by Paul A. Fideler and T. F. Mayer (New York: Routledge: 1992), 143.
 Lehmberg, Reformation of Cathedrals, 180. For comparison, Maurice Ashley, England in the Seventeenth Century, 23, argues for a doubling of wages in the sixteenth century but a sixfold increase in prices.
 Norman L. Jones, "William Cecil and the Making of Economic Policy in the 1560s and Early 1570s," in Political Thought and the Tudor Commonwealth: Deep Structure, Discourse and Disguise, edited by Paul A. Fideler and T. F. Mayer (New York: Routledge: 1992), 171.
 For a description of the motives and various methods of maximizing revenue, see Williams, Life in Tudor England, 37-38.
 Ibid., 43-44. For the techniques that could be used by the country people to obstruct the movement, see pages 44-45.
 For a discussion of the English attitude toward interest loans in this period, and the ethical-religious elements of the discussion see Jones, "William Cecil and the Making of Economic Policy," 176-191.
 Paul Slack, “Social Policy and the Constraints of Government, 1547-58,” in The Mid-Tudor Polity, c. 1540-1560 (Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1980), 102.
 For a discussion of the project see Robert Tittler, “The Emergence of Urban Policy, 1536-58,” in The Mid-Tudor Polity, c. 1540-1560, edited by Robert Tittler and Jennifer Loach (Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1980), 75-76.
 Cf. the discussion in Williams, Life in Tudor England, 100-101. For contemporary “remedies” see pages 102-103. Wrightson, 144, considers burbonic to have been more common after 1580.
 For a survey of this and related illnesses see Ian Jessiman, “A General Study of the Plague in England 1539-1640, with a Specific Reference to Loughborough” (http:www. gmtnet.co.uk/plague/ ), Magellan, September 1, 1997.
 Lewis Lupton, Tyndale: The Martyr, Volume 19 of A History of the Geneva Bible (London, England: The Olive Tree, 1987), 140.
 Entry dated July 9, 1551 in Edward VI, [King], The Chronicle and Political Papers of King Edward VI (New York: Cornell University Press for the Folger Shakespeare Library, 1966), 71. A slightly different version, differing mainly in punctuation, is quoted by Lewis Lupton, [Miles Coverdale:] Heaven, Volume 12 of A History of the Geneva Bible (London, England: The Olive Tree, 1980), 97.
 As quoted by Christopher Hibbert, The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I, Genius of the Golden Age (New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1991), 94.
 For quotations from this period on this attitude, see D. M. Loades, The Oxford Martyrs, in the Historic Trials series (New York: Stein and Day, 1970), 97-98.
 For an examination of this concept among those living through this period, see Sara Warneke, “A Taste for Newfangledness: The Destructive Potential of Novelty in Early Modern England,” Sixteenth Century Journal: The Journal of Early Modern Studies 26 (Winter 1995): 889-896.
 Roger B. Manning, Religion and Society in Elizabethan Sussex: A Study of the Enforcement of the Religious Settlement, 1558-1603 ([Bristol]: Leicester University Press, 1969), 173.
 W. K. Jordan, Edward VI: The Threshold of Power--The Dominance of the Duke of Northumberland (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1970), 303-304.
 For the then contemporary definition of what it meant to be a good or ideal minister (as seen by ministers themselves), see Neal Enssle, “Patterns of Godly Life: The Ideal Parish Minister in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century English Thought,” Sixteenth Century Journal: The Journal of Early Modern Studies 28 (Spring 1997): 3-28.