Page:Henry VIII and the English Monasteries.djvu/57

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11
The Dawn of Difficulties

guard, gives no absolute immunity from the taint of fallen nature. The religious of the sixteenth century had passed through many difficulties dangerous to their spiritual no less than to their temporal welfare. Yet, while their moral tone had probably been lowered by the influence of the spirit of the times, the graver falls were certainly confined to individual cases. Anything like general immorality was altogether unknown among the religious of England. This much is clearly proved by the testimony of the acts of episcopal visitations, as well as by the absence of any such sweeping charge till it became necessary for Henry and his agents to blast the fair name of the monastic houses in order the more easily to gain possession of their property.

The reports of Crumwell's visitors no doubt represented the religious houses as being in the worst possible state of moral degradation. Subsequent authors have improved upon the picture, and have drawn to a great extent upon their imagination. It is to be hoped that a better knowledge of the methods employed by Henry's agents to blacken the character of those they were about to despoil may lead to a truer appreciation of the value to be attached to their testimony.