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out of the three remaining tenths, thus kindly left to king, lords, and commons, were the four numerous orders of mendicants to be maintained, against whom no gate could be shut, to whom no provision could be denied, and from whom no secret could be concealed. Such representations of ecclesiastical cupidity would appear inadmissible, were they not corroborated by more recent instances in the state of church property in Spain, Italy, and France before the revolution, and of Ireland in the nineteenth century.
Although the policy of dissolving the monastic institutions is unquestionable, there may reasonably prevail difference of opinion regarding the appropriation of their confiscated revenues. The wily and self-willed monarch, indeed, who ventured on this great measure may be justly charged with a breach of faith. It is well known that Henry VIII., to obtain the concurrence of the parliament in his project of spoliation, declared that the revenues of the abbeys should not be converted to the king's private use, but applied towards the exigencies of state, and that no demands should in future be made on his subjects for loans, subsidies, and other aids. At the suppression of the monasteries, however, no provision was made to carry the king's promises into effect; and Lord Coke remarks, that the king, in the very year when the great and opulent priory of St. John of Jerusalem was suppressed, demanded subsidies both from the laity and clergy. The parties who ultimately benefited by the disso
lution were the aristocracy, who acquired not only the chief portion of the abbey-lands, but the numerous benefices and tithes appropriated to them.
It has been represented by some, that the Reformation operated unfavourable on the interests of the working classes, by depriving them of the almsgiving and hospitality of the conventual bodies. The great northern rebellion has been ascribed by Mr. Hallam, to the summary abolition of the religious houses, and it is apparent, from the language of the popular ballads of the time, the poor were hostile to their dissolution. But this dissatisfaction may have originated in the ignorance of the people, and the power possessed by the clergy to impress them with mistaken apprehensions of the tendency of the Reformation. While the people continue unenlightened, they must always continue subject to their superiors, or those who possess influence enough to direct or delude them. A similar union of selfishness and vulgar apprehension opposed the opening of turnpike-roads, and the introduction of the cow-pox, steam-carriages, and machinery. With respect to the charitable doles of the convents, Sir F. Eden, with reason, greatly doubts, whether the monasteries generally, troubled themselves with relieving the poor that did not immediately belong to their own demesnes. The same sort of charity was usually practised by the nobility on their estates. The truth is, the abbeys were more burdened with the rich than the poor. Sheriffs and other great men often travelled from abbey to abbey with great retinues, and besides
regaling themselves at each, extorted considerable presents at their departure. That the charity of the monks was not very lively might be inferred from their conduct in respect of the appropriate livings. By masses and obits, and other sanctimonious pretexts, they had possessed themselves of a large num→ ber of the richest benefices in the kingdom; instead of applying the incomes of these to the purposes of religion and charity, they perverted them to the enriching of their own fraternities, and a compulsory act of the legislature (15 R. II. c. 6.) was necessary to compel them to restore to the poor a portion of their rights, and allow a decent maintenance to the parish priest.
The merits of the Reformation, and of the sovereign under whose auspices it was effected, are very different questions. Henry VIII., it is now admitted, was determined in his conduct, more by personal resentments, by low prejudices, and motives of avarice, than just indignation against the abuses of monastic institutions. But the vices of the individual, in this instance, happily tended to the public benefit. How favourable the new disposition of ecclesiastical estates was to the advancement of national wealth has been adverted to, and it may be added that the intellectual and moral advantages were still more indisputable. Knowledge was incompatible with the power of the monks whose influence was founded on the general belief of miracles, the sanctity of relics, and other pious frauds, to which popular enlightenment would have been fatal.
Hence their dispersion became a necessary preliminary to freedom of discussion, and the general diffusion of science and literature. It is difficult to imagine how the religious orders themselves could suffer by the change in their condition. A life of celibacy, seclusion, and the unceasing iteration of religious solemnities is so unnatural, that it could not be favourable either to virtue or happiness. If exempt from the cares of life, they were also unparticipant, without hypocrisy or a violation of religious vows, of its pleasures; it was an unnatural and artificial mode of existence, which could only have originated in the most gloomy and mistaken notions of religious duty.
The great increase of monasteries was the radical inconvenience of the Catholic religion, and every other disadvantage attending that communion was inseparably connected with their institution. Papal usurpations, the tyranny of the inquisition, the multiplication of holidays, all these fetters on liberty and industry, were derived from the regular clergy. They also fostered a vicious dependence among the laity, by supporting a numerous and idle poor, whose sustenance depended upon what was daily distributed as alms at the gates of the religious houses. Upon the total dissolution of these, the inconvenience of thus encouraging habits of indolence and beggary, was quickly felt throughout the kingdom; and abundance of statutes were made, in the reign of Henry VIII., for providing for the poor and impotent, which, as the preambles of some of
them recite, had of late years strangely increased. This evil no doubt was occasioned by the expulsion of the religious, as well as the cessation of the accustomed charitable doles. By the suppression of the monasteries, 50,000 monks were converted into miserable state pensioners; and, unaccustomed to the active exertions of industry, were thrown among the busy crowd, to whose manners and modes of life a long seclusion from the world had rendered them indifferent. The necessary consequence of forcing so many helpless individuals into society, was to add to the amount, and still more to aggravate the spectacle of wretchedness and vagabondage, under which the community had so long suffered and the legislature vainly essayed to subdue.
The state of the market of labour, for many years before and after the Reformation, presented a contrast to the present; the chief difficulty in the former era not being to find sources of productive employment for the working people, but to bring them into habits of industry. To conquer the propensity to "idleness and vagabondries," most severe laws were enacted early in the reign of Edward VI. In the preambles to the 1st Edw. VI. c. 3, it is declared, "that the godly acts which had hitherto been framed on the subject had not had the successe which might have been wished," and which is partly ascribed to the "foolish pitie and mercie, of those who should have seene the same godly laws executed." It is then provided, that if any person refuse to labour, and live idly three days, he shall be branded with a