Page:Henry VIII and the English Monasteries.djvu/25

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INTRODUCTION


MONASTIC ENGLAND


The ruined abbeys of England are evidences of a past which, however diversely it may be judged in other respects, all will agree was great. To some the crumbling wall or broken arch speaks eloquently of the rapacity of an English king and indicates the completeness of his spoliation. Alas! it is to be feared that to the minds of most Englishmen the desecrated sanctuary calls up one thought above all else the thought of wasted, wanton or vicious lives, and of the sad necessity which compelled King Henry to proceed to drastic measures of reform. The oft-repeated story proverbially gains in strength; and for many generations anecdotes about the wickedness of monk and nun have been listened to and accepted as simple truth; whilst even well-wishers to the monastic institute have thought it best friendliness to observe or counsel silence.

Undoubtedly it is no inviting task to attack a tradition so long implanted. A horror of monk and monastery has been imparted with early knowledge at many an English mother's knee,—the teaching first imbibed and latest lost. It would almost seem that in this regard the national character of honesty and fairness had been permanently warped. Englishmen have been wont to extend consideration even to a fallen enemy. In this case, they appear to have had neither mercy nor pity for those who were among the most honoured and cherished of their own household for many centuries. The truth is, that Henry's scheme for