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Years 1399-1485 page 3

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The power of the crown at this period was widely diffused by the number of valuable offices in its gift, which, Sir John Fortescue says, were more than a thousand, besides those in the gift of the Prince of Wales. Yet, notwithstanding this power, and the sanguinary scenes we have had to describe, compared with all other countries at that time, the Government in this appeared to be conducted on very liberal principles. Philip de Comines, the minister and historian of France, after enumerating the miseries and the exactions of the people of that country, of Italy, and Germany, says, "In my opinion, of all the states of the world that I know, England is the country where the commonwealth is best governed, and the people least oppressed."

The Government of Scotland received some marked improvements during this century. When James I. returned from his long captivity in England, he found his kingdom overrun with abuses, and the common people in particular groaning under the oppressions of the nobles. He set about the work of reformation with a vigour which ended in his own death, after thirteen years of assiduous labour for the benefit of his subjects. One of the first mischiefs which he attacked was that of crowds of "thiggers and sorners," as they were called, spreading themselves over the country. These were the same class as the "sturdy rogues" of England - vagabonds who, capable of work, preferred to beg, and, what was worse, to menace and intimidate the country people into compliance with their demands. James ordered all such fellows between the ages of fourteen and seventy, who were abroad without badges, which were granted by the sheriffs to infirm or superannuated people, and who were called gaberlunzies, to be compelled to work, or to be branded on the cheek and driven from the country. The evil was too deeply rooted, however, to be eradicated in James's time, though he greatly diminished it.

The three estates of Parliament in Scotland had always met in one house. The first estate consisted of the archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, and a few other dignitaries of the church; the second of the dukes, earls, barons, and presbytery; the third of the commissioners of the boroughs. Of these, the borough commissioners were so few in comparison with the others - being only fourteen or fifteen - that they had a mere nominal influence.

James I. endeavoured to remedy this by erecting a separate House of Commons, like that with whose working he was so familiar in England. This would have completely curbed the power of the aristocracy, but they took care to murder James before the scheme could be carried out. He ordered every sheriffdom, except Clackmannan and Kinross, to send "twa or maa wyse men;" the two just mentioned to send "ane of thame" each. Unfortunately, the order, through the king's death, remained a dead letter, and the Scottish Parliament continued to the end one house.

The powers of the Scottish Parliament were, by a peculiar institution, thrown almost wholly into the hands of the crown and aristocracy. The first thing which Parliament did, on assembling, was to appoint three committees. The first was called the committee "pro articulis advisandis;" the second "ad judicia;" and the third "ad causas" The business of the members of the third was to sit as judges of all civil causes brought before Parliament; of the second, of all criminal prosecutions; and the first - far the most important, as it regarded the constitution - was to sit as a Parliamentary grand jury upon all petitions, proposals, and overtures, and to form such of them as they thought fit into bills to be laid before the house, It is clear that the whole legislative power of the realm was vested in this committee, for it determined entirely what should and what should not come before Parliament. It is true that all the committees were composed of members of the three estates, which gave them an air of great fairness; but this apparent equilibrium was totally destroyed by another law, which gave seat and vote in each of these committees to all the lords of Parliament which chose to claim them, by which the whole power was vested in the hands of the aristocracy. Hence the members of this particular committee became called the "Lords of the Articles." Another great foundation of James I, was the Court of Session, which has become in Scotland the great central and supreme tribunal of justice. But on its establishment the justiciar-general - an office long abolished in England, as giving too much power to any subject - was the officer of the law, and dispenser of justice in Scotland, and he held courts of justice, called justice-airs, twice a year in every county in the kingdom. The chamberlain, another great officer, held also his chamberlain-airs in the royal boroughs of the kingdom, from which there lay appeal to another court, called the Court of the Four Boroughs, these being Edinburgh, Stirling, Roxburgh, and Berwick; and after these fell into the hands of the English, Lanark and Linlithgow, which sent commissioners to this court. James I. also at this period abolished various hereditary offices and grants, which gave too much power to particular nobles over the subject; but many of these after his death were revived, and the hereditary powers and jurisdictions of the barons continued for three centuries longer to be a cause of oppression to the people.


In our narrative of the different reigns of this period we have noticed the spread of Wycliffism, and the persecuting resistance of the church. Henry V., and after him every monarch of the century, supported the pretensions of the clergy, and let loose the horrors of persecution upon their subjects. The civil wars for a time checked these persecutions, the very storm, as Fuller observed, being the shelter of the persecuted; but they afterwards revived in all their virulence. Though the schism in the papacy which agitated all Europe from the death of Gregory XI. in 1378 to the election of Nicholas V. in 1447, and the resignation of Felix V. in 1449, had greatly undermined the foundations of the Romish Church, yet, supported by the royal power, the hierarchy in England persecuted with a high hand. We will trace with a rapid pen the great facts of this most important contest betwixt the church - which asserted that its laws and doctrines were the truth and could not change, therefore announcing that there could be no progress - and the people, who were changing from day to day, because they were getting more light, and advancing in it.

Thomas Fitzalan, or Arundel, as he was more commonly called, being the brother of the Earl of Arundel, had been banished by Richard II., and came back with Henry IV., as it would seem, determined to deal sternly will all who thenceforth dared to trouble the church with fear of change. But the Lollards, as they were called, most probably after the German reformer, Walter Lolhard, who was burnt at Cologne in 1322, were now become a numerous and resolute body, not likely to be put down without a sturdy struggle; and, as it proved, not at all. These people had boldly announced their doctrines in their petition to the House of Commons in 1395. In that they declared that the Church of Rome was not the church of Christ, and ought to be removed. They maintained that the possession of temporalities by the clergy was totally opposed to the law of Christianity; that outward rites and ceremonies have no warrant in Scripture; that the celibacy of the clergy was the manifest work of anti-Christ, and the root of all the immoralities of the church; that transubstantiation was a gross imposition; the blessing of bread, wine, salt, oil, &c., was not religion, but necromancy; that the clergy filling offices of state were hermaphrodites, endeavouring to serve God and mammon. They attacked in the same sweeping manner pilgrimages, auricular confession, worshipping of images, absolution of sins by the priests, war, and luxury, as all equally un-Christian. They went, therefore, far beyond the after reformation of the time of Henry VIII., and resembled in many of their doctrines George Fox.

It was clear that either the Lollards or the church could not stand, and the tug of internecine war commenced at once. The public was, during this century, divided into three religious parties: the church, which was for standing as it was, unmoved and unmoving for ever; the Lollards, who were for pulling it down stick and stone; and another large section of the public which saw the corruption of the church, and demanded its reform, but did not accord with the Lollards in the cry for its destruction. The Commons, and especially the famous Lack-learning Parliament in 1404, and the Parliament of 1409, strongly recommended the king to seize the revenues of the church, as inconsistent with its spiritual office, and filling it with arrogance and sensuality, and to apply these riches to the exigencies of the state. The church, during this century, was saved from this spoliation by the contending monarchs having too much need of its support; but that process was in operation which, by destroying the old nobility, and increasing the power of the crown, should, ere long, at the cry of a new and indigent noblesse, effect this in a more wholesale manner. Safe for the time, the hierarchy let loose its fury on the Lollards.

In 1401 they burnt in Smithfield, William Sawtre, the incumbent of St. Osith's, London, for this heresy. In 1407, William Thorpe, a clergyman celebrated for his learning and eloquence, was arraigned before Arundel and others at St. Paul's for like heresy. There Thorpe made a terrible onslaught on images and pilgrimages - the image of "Our Lady of Walsingham," especially, which was at that time, and long after, the most famous in all England. Thither flocked princes, nobles, and people of all degrees to pay their vows and make their offerings; and the most extraordinary miracles were attributed to this popular virgin. Camden says: "In the last age, whoever had not made a visit and an offering to the blessed virgin of this place, was looked upon as impious." Judges from the bench ascribed all their good fortune in the world to the good offices of Our Lady of Walsingham. Ladies of all ranks were enthusiastic votaries of Our Lady. The whole place was a-blaze with gold, silver, and precious stones. Henry VIII., as a boy, walked bare-footed to the shrine from Barham, and presented a necklace of great value. It seems he never forgot the riches of the place, for it was one of the first monasteries that he afterwards ransacked.

From Thorpe's account of the pilgrimages, they appear to have been precisely what they have continued to the present day on the Continent, the licentiousness of which has compelled some of the most Catholic governments in Germany to put them down. Men and women, of all ages and characters, went whole weeks, and even months, journeys on these pilgrimages, camping out in woods and fields, with pipers and singing men and women, "jangling of their Canterbury bells," and troops of barking dogs, and enacting scandals which spread demoralisation like a pestilence. It may be imagined with what indignation so daring an attack on these things, in the height of their popularity, would be received. Thorpe, however, was not consigned to the flames, but is supposed to have lain in the archbishop's dungeon at Saltwood Castle, in Kent, till he perished, for he never was heard of again.

Thomas Badby, a tailor, of Worcester, was the next victim. He was burnt in Smithfield in 1410. In 1444, Arundel died, and was succeeded by Archbishop Chicheley, who was a still more relentless persecutor of the new faith. He it was who built the Lollards' Tower attached to the palace at Lambeth, in which he confined his heretical prisoners, chaining them to iron rings, which are still in the walls, and upon the wainscot of which remains scratched some of their names. In 1415, John Claydon, a London furrier, and a relapsed heretic, having been confined two years in Conway Castle, and three years in the Fleet, was burned for having in-his possession heretical books, especially one called "The Lanterne of Light." In the same year, Richard Turmin, a baker, of London, was sent to the stake. Lord Cobham, whose bold and unbending advocacy of the reformed religion we have related, as well as his escape from the clutches of Arundel, was again captured by Chicheley, hanged and then burnt at Tyburn, December, 1418. In 1423 William Taylor, Father Abraham, of Colchester, John Whiter and John Wadham, priests, were burnt for the same crime of daring to think for themselves on the subject of religion.

In 1443 Chicheley died, having burnt, imprisoned, and persecuted many, yet being as far as ever from extinguishing Lollardism. In 1457, Thomas Bouchier being archbishop, Reginald Pococke, Bishop of Chichester, was brought to trial for heresy. It is curious that Pococke differed greatly in opinion from the Lollards, but he reasoned with them instead of persecuting and burning them; and this was such a reproof to the persecuting section of the clergy, that he was brought to the bar of the church. The bishop did not believe that the church was infallible, or that it was necessary even to salvation to believe in the Catholic Church; broad and unpardonable heresies! These, however, he renounced, and yet was deprived of his bishopric, and shut up in a cell in Thorney Abbey, in the Isle of Ely, without pen, ink, or paper, but was permitted to have a Bible, a mass-book, a psalter, and the legends of the saints. He died after a confinement of three years.

Spite of the danger with which the church was menaced, and the growth of knowledge amongst the people, as is the case with all old and corrupt institutions, it made no efforts to reform itself and thus to avoid its fate. On the contrary, Archbishop Bouchier, while putting the reformers to the most horrible of deaths, complained that members of "the clergy, both regular and secular, were ignorant and illiterate blockheads, or rather idiots; and that they were as profligate as they were ignorant, neglecting their cures, strolling about the country with bad women, and spending the revenues of their benefices in feasting, drinking, and adultery."

Whilst the clergy were exhibiting this disgusting character, in the very spirit of obstinate dogmatism, all the outward rites and ceremonies of the church were more than ever insisted upon. The cup in the sacrament was taken from the laity. They were told that the wine in the cup was not the sacrament, but only given to enable them to swallow the bread more easily. The clergy were ordered to begin in small, obscure churches, to withdraw the cup, and to tell the people to swallow the bread whole, that it might not stick in their teeth. Several new saints were introduced - St. Osimund and the two virgins, St. Fridiswida and St. Ethelrida. The churches were crowded with images of the Virgin and other saints. The festivals of St. George, St. Edmund, and the Virgin, were made double festivals. Pilgrimages, processions, indulgences, and confessions to the priests, were more zealously enjoined than ever. Every effort was in the wrong direction, showing that the days of the Catholic Church in this country were numbered as the state church. Instead of endeavouring to infuse new intellectual life, the clergy were trying to make a dead body stand erect, and when they could not succeed, they as vainly endeavoured to prop it up with gorgeous habiliments and empty forms.

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