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The Reformation: A changed society.

The Reformation: A changed society.

For good reason people often speak of the monastic era as the era of the caring society. Monasteries provided free education to the poor, they provided the first hospitals and hospices and a tenth of monastic income was given directly to the very poorest in society; the funds being distributed by a professional almoner. A town would typically grow alongside a monastery, attached to its security and faith setting. And the monks were good landlords charging reasonable rents for the lands that they rented out. The reasonable rents had the knock on effect of allowing the tenants a level of disposable income that boosted the local economy; allowing it to grow and thrive.
It also meant that local workers could create guilds and associations where, for example, funds would be available for a tradesman's family in the event of accidents or death. A level of trading standards, with its apprenticeships, also developed through this means, since joining a guild would require a recognized level of skill and training. This also gave a level of security to the tradesmen and their families themselves and also to the village or town. Guilds would be placed under the patronage of a saint. In turn this ordered the growth of the local community through well ordered developments. The whole picture being one of a caring and prosperous locality.
Things changed drastically at the Reformation. With monastic land having been seized and sold to landowners, under the new landowners rents typically quadrupled and with far less money for tenants to spend the economy was affected, with the knock on effect that the poor were everywhere and now left largely to fend for themselves; laws were passed that meant beggars could be punished if they dwelt too long in any area and refused to move on. The monasteries had been the bedrock of society; the caring society.
Hugh Latimer, who supported King Henry over his divorce and became a prominent protestant bishop during the reign of Edward VI is a useful source of information as to the changes that had swept and were still sweeping throughout society. In his introduction to one of Latimer's sermons(given in the presence of King Edward (extract below), Henry Charles Beeching writes of Latimer as follows:

"But the sermon contains one passage which was to be the
precursor of many future - a cry to London to repent of its
covetousness, "Charity is waxen cold, none helpeth the scholar
nor yet the poor." In the sermon of the lent following, preached
before the king, he returns to the subject in regard to rural
England. The dissolution of the monasteries had meant the
destruction of the monastic schools, with their free education.
It had meant also the transference of the manors to the lay
landlords who were disposed to exact the uttermost farthing of
rent; and also to enclose the commons. Moreover, the
development of the wool trade encouraged them to lay down
their estates in pasture; and this threw a large number of the
labourers out of employment, and filled the towns with beggars.
On all these topics - upon which, himself the son of a Leicester-
shire yeoman, he could speak from experience - Latimer probes
the consciences of his courtly hearers. In these sermons before
King Edward we have one of the most vivid pictures of the age.
Here, for example, is a striking contrast between the old times
and the new:

"My father was a yeoman, and had no lands of his own, only he
had a farm of three or four pound by year at the utmost, and
hereupon he tilled so much as kept half a dozen men. He had
walk for a hundred sheep, and my mother milked thirty kine.
He was able, and did find the king a harness, with himself and
his horse....He kept me to school, or else I had not been able to
have preached before the king's majesty now. He married my
sisters with five pounds or twenty nobles a piece, so that he
brought them up in godliness and fear of God. He kept
hospitality for his poor neighbours, and some alms he gave
to the poor. And all this he did of the said farm, where he that
now have it payeth sixteen pounds by year, or more, and is
not able to do anything for his prince, for himself, nor for his
children, or give a cup of drink to the poor"

The young King was never strong in health and reigned for just six years, until his death in 1553. It was indeed during his reign, and under the stewardship of his 'protectors,' the Dukes of Somerset and Northumberland, that England, without the knowledge and understanding of the vast majority of the English as to what was happening, enacted full continental protestantism.

Angela MM Searles

Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire: Plundered and Robbed at The Reformation.

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