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men held as many as eight benefices; bishops accumulated sees, and, unable to attend to all, attended to none. Wolsey himself, the church reformer, (so little did he really know what a reformation meant,) was at once Archbishop of York, Bishop of Winchester, of Bath, and of Durham, and Abbot of St. Albans. In Latimer's opinion, even twenty years later, and after no little reform in such matters, there was but one bishop in all England who was ever at his work and ever in his diocese;" and that was the Devil.* Strype, in speaking of this movement of Wolsey, says that
complaints abounded against the manners of the clergy, their oppressions, extortions, and vexations of the laity, as well as against their corrupt and loose lives; the cardinal, to show his resentment of these crimes, as well as the exercise and show of his legatine authority, did, about the year 1523 or 1524, resolve upon a remedy, by a general visitation; and for that purpose, summoned the clergy of both provinces in the kingdom, ad tractand. de reformatione tum laicorum, tum ecclesiasticorum, 23 Apr., to appear before him in the church of Westminster."
So delighted was old Fox, Bishop of Winchester, with this scheme of Wolsey's, that he wrote the cardinal that “such a happy day he had now a long time as earnestly desired to see, as Simeon in the Gospel looked for the Messiah's coming." He also told him, that for almost three whole years he had been trying to reform his own diocese; but that such was the depravity and corruption and malignancy of the clergy, that he had small hope, in his old age, of seeing a perfect and absolute reformation even in his own private diocese.
* Froude, 1. 88.
Little or nothing, however, came of Wolsey's reformatory scheme. And Strype says: “That no more good came of this commendable purpose of his, to reform the ignorance and vices of the priests and monks, may probably be attributed to their craft in diverting this reformation from themselves, towards those who favored Luther and his doctrines.”* Wolsey's reformation ended where his predecessors' had, in a persecution of the only men in the kingdom who heartily desired a true reformation; and there were many such in England in 1527, for “ heresy, as it was then called, that is, the Gospel, had already spread considerably in the diocese of London, and especially about Colchester and other parts of Essex, as well as in the city. The New Testament in English, translated by Hotchyn, (that is, Tindal,) was in many hands, and read with great application and joy; the doctrines of the corporeal presence, of worshipping images, and going on pilgrimages to saints, would not down. And they had secret meetings, where they instructed one another out of God's word. Now the cardinal earnestly bestirred himself to put
* Ecc. Mems., vol. 1. pt. 1. ch. 3, pp. 71-74, and pt. II. Appendix, No. 10.
a stop to these things, and to reduce all declining persons to the old way again." * And then began that severe persecution of the poor saints of which some account has been given in the first volume of this work.
About A. D. 1527, there appeared mysteriously in London - a certain book, entitled “The Supplication of Beggars," " which was scattered abroad, and finally came into the king's own hands. This book calls the clergy "ravenous wolves, going in herd's clothing, devouring the flock — bishops, abbots, priors, deacons, archdeacons, suffragans, priests, monks, canons, friars, pardoners, and somners.” It sets forth the immense wealth of the clergy, and their “ravenous” exactions, and asserts that “they looked so narrowly upon their profits, that the poor wife must be accountable to them for every tenth egg, or else she getteth not her rights at Easter, and shall be taken as an heretic." And again : “ This greedy sort of sturdy, idle, holy thieves," are represented as dissolute to the last degree. “ Yea, what do they more? Truly, nothing but apply themselves, by all the sleights they may, to have to do with every man's wife, every man's daughter, every man's maid, that the worst vices should reign over all.” And yet, there was no remedy for all this in the courts of the kingdom. “Who is he, though he be grieved very sore for the murder of his ancestor, the ravishment of his wife, of his daughter; robbery, trespass, maim, debt, or any other offence, dare lay to their (the clergy's] charge by any way of action ? And if he do, then is he, by and by, by their wilyness accused of heresy."
* Strype's Ecc. Mems., vol. 1. pt. I. ch. 7, pp. 113–134. + See vol. 1. pp. 546-562.
This was the popular opinion entertained of the clergy in 1527. And that it was substantially a correct one, we may infer from the reported remark of Henry VIII., who, after hearing the whole petition read," made a long pause, and then said : If a man should pull down an old stone wall, and begin at the lower part, the upper part might chance to fall upon his head'"* — thus broadly intimating that the clergy were the foundations of the rotten old church, and should an attempt be made to reform them, the whole structure would tumble down.
That the “ Beggars' Supplication" did not misrepresent the moral condition of the great body of the ecclesiastics of that day, seems quite apparent from the doings of Henry's famous reforming parliament, which assembled November 3d, 1529, and continued its labors for nearly seven years. Read, first of all, the “ Act of Accusation" against the clergy, presented by the commons to the king, probably during the first week of the first session of this parliament. In this remarkable document are enumerated “the special, particular griefs" which the commons regarded as “the very chief fountains, occasions, and causes that daily breedeth and nourisheth the deadly hatred and most uncharitable part-taking” of the clergy and laity against each other. In this act of accusation, the commons complain, first, of the laws, constitutions, and ordinances made by the clergy in their convocations, without the knowledge or consent of the king or of his parliament; and which, nevertheless, they (the laity) were bound to obey, though said laws were never made known to them in the English tongue, or otherwise; of the tyrannical and iniquitous arrangements and management of the archbishop's courts of the “ Arches and Audience," where laymen were not only subject to great delay and “importable charges, costs, and expense,” but to great injustice ; that the king's subjects, and "specially those that be of the poorest sort,” were daily called before the spiritual ordinaries, their commissaries, and substitutes, ex officio, at the pleasure of the ordinaries — "sometimes for malice, without any cause," sometimes at the suggestion of their summoners and apparitors, being
* Beggars' Petition, in Fox, 11. 229-233; Froude, 1. 179.
light and indiscreet persons," without lawful cause of accusation -- and there put to great trouble and expense, and often suspended and excommunicated, for small and light causes and on insufficient evidence; of the great and excessive fees taken in the spiritual courts, and especially in the Courts of the Arches and Audience; also, that inferior clergy were allowed to extort money from the laity for the administration of the sacraments