Page:Henry VIII and the English Monasteries.djvu/53

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7
The Dawn of Difficulties

astic orders of England. The events of the previous century and a half must necessarily have done much to lower the tone of the religious houses and rob them of their primitive fervour. Before they could recover from the effects of the great plagues of the fourteenth century the civil disturbances of the fifteenth century intensified the evils from which they were suffering, and became to them "specially disastrous."[1]

The financial state of the monasteries at the commencement of the sixteenth century was undoubtedly deplorable. Although many of them were possessed of considerable estates, which in itself was regarded as a matter of reproach, they were yet suffering from acute poverty. Denuded of their tenants, the monastic lands became neglected and unproductive. "Debt with no chance of redemption weighed heavily upon all."[2] Claims, however, upon their charity, and the exactions of royal and other founders, increased rather than diminished, till the burden was more than the crippled resources of the religious could bear. The State papers of Henry VIII's reign contain abundant proof of the increasing demands made by king and courtier upon monastery and convent. Farm after farm, manor after manor, benefice after benefice, office after office were yielded up, in compliance with requests that were in reality commands. Pensions in ever-increasing numbers were charged on monastic lands at the asking of those it was impossible to refuse. "In some cases," writes Mr. Brewer, "the abbots were bound to give endowments to scholars of the king's nomination[3] or provide them with competent benefices; pensions and corrodies were granted under the privy seal to yeomen ushers of the wardrobe and the chamber, to clerks of the kitchen sewers, secretaries and gentlemen of the chapel royal;[4] and these were strictly enforced, whatever might be the other encumbrances of the house."[5]

The royal munificence was liberally exercised in grants of pensions and perquisites when others had to satisfy the

  1. Brewer, Henry VIII, i. p. 50.
  2. Ibid., p. 50.
  3. Calendar, i. 1235, 1360. Mr. Brewer adds: "One of the most interesting of these cases is that of a pension paid by the Prior of St. Frideswide's, Oxford, to Reginald Pole, then a student at the University of Oxford, afterwards cardinal." Note, p. 50.
  4. Calendar, i. 49, 60, 106, 615, 920, &c.
  5. Brewer, Henry VIII., i. p. 50.