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§ 39. The Church in England in the Fourteenth Century.

The 14th century witnessed greater social changes in England than any other century except the 19th. These changes were in large part a result of the hundred years’ war with France, which began in 1337, and the terrible ravages of the Black Death. The century was marked by the legal adoption of the English tongue as the language of the country and the increased respect for parliament, in whose counsels the rich burgher class demanded a voice, and its definite division into two houses, 1341. The social unrest of the land found expression in popular harangues, poems, and tracts, affirming the rights of the villein and serf class, and in the uprising known as the Peasants’ Revolt.

The distinctly religious life of England, in this period, was marked by obstinate resistance to the papal claims of jurisdiction, culminating in the Acts of Provisors, and by the appearance of John Wyclif, one of the most original and vigorous personalities the English Church has produced.

An industrial revolution was precipitated on the island by the Great Pestilence of 1348. The necessities of life rose enormously in value. Large tracts of land passed back from the smaller tenants into the hands of the landowners of the gentry class. The sheep and the cattle, as a contemporary wrote, "strayed through the fields and grain, and there was no one who could drive them." The serfs and villeins found in the disorder of society an opportunity to escape from the yoke of servitude, and discovered in roving or in independent engagements the joys of a new-found freedom. These unsettled conditions called forth the famous statutes of Edward III.’s reign, 1327–1377, regulating wages and the prices of commodities.

The popular discontent arising from these regulations, and from the increased taxation necessitated by the wars with France, took the form of organized rebellion. The age of feudalism was coming to an end. The old ideas of labor and the tiller of the soil were beginning to give way before more just modes of thought. Among the agitators were John Ball, whom Froissart, with characteristic aristocratic indifference, called "the mad priest of Kent," the poet Longland and the insurgent leader, Watt Tyler. In his harangues, Ball fired popular feeling by appeals to the original rights of man. By what right, he exclaimed, "they, who are called lords, greater folk than we? On what grounds do they hold us in vassalage? Do not we all come from the same father and mother, Adam and Eve?" The spirit of individual freedom breathed itself out in the effective rhyme, which ran like wildfire, —

When Adam delved and Eve span

Who was then the gentleman?

The rhymes, which Will Longland sent forth in his Complaint of Piers Ploughman, ventilated the sufferings and demands of the day laborer and called for fair treatment such as brother has a right to expect from brother. Gentleman and villein faced the same eternal destinies. "Though he be thine underling," the poet wrote, "mayhap in heaven, he will be worthier set and with more bliss than thou." The rising sense of national importance and individual dignity was fed by the victory of Crécy, 1346, where the little iron balls, used for the first time, frightened the horses; by the battle of Poictiers ten years later; by the treaty of Brétigny, 1360, whereby Edward was confirmed in the possession of large portions of France, and by the exploits of the Black Prince. The spectacle of the French king, John, a captive on the streets of London, made a deep impression. These events and the legalization of the English tongue, 1362,536536    Mandeville composed his travels in 1356 in French, and then translated out of French into English, that every man of his nation might understand. Trevisa, writing in 1387, said that all grammar schools and English children "leaveth French and construeth and learneth English." contributed to develop a national and patriotic sentiment before unknown in England.

The uprising, which broke out in 1381, was a vigorous assertion of the popular demand for a redress of the social inequalities between classes in England. The insurgent bands, which marched to London, were pacified by the fair promises of Richard II., but the Kentish band led by Watt Tyler, before dispersing, took the Tower and put the primate, Sudbury, to death. He had refused to favor the repeal of the hated decapitation tax. The abbeys of St. Albans and Edmondsbury were plundered and the monks ill treated, but these acts of violence were a small affair compared with the perpetual import of the uprising for the social and industrial well-being of the English people. The demands of the insurgents, as they bore on the clergy, insisted that Church lands and goods, after sufficient allowance had been made for the reasonable wants of the clergy, should be distributed among the parishioners, and that there should be a single bishop for England. This involved a rupture with Rome.537537    See Kriehn, AmHist. Rev., pp. 480, 483.

It was inevitable that the Church should feel the effects of these changes. Its wealth, which is computed to have covered one-third of the landed property of the realm, and the idleness and mendicancy of the friars, awakened widespread murmur and discontent. The ravages made among the clergy by the Black Death rendered necessary extraordinary measures to recruit its ranks. The bishop of Norwich was authorized to replace the dead by ordaining 60 young men before the canonical age. With the rise of the staples of living, the stipends of the vast body of the priestly class was rendered still more inadequate. Archbishop Islip of Canterbury and other prelates, while recognizing in their pastorals the prevalent unrest, instead of showing proper sympathy, condemned the covetousness of the clergy. On the other hand, Longland wrote of the shifts to which they were put to eke out a living by accepting secular and often menial employment in the royal palace and the halls of the gentry class.

Parson and parish priest pleyned to the bishop,

That their parishes were pore sith the pestilence tym,

To have a license and a leve at London to dwelle

And syngen there for symonye, for silver is swete.

There was a movement from within the English people to limit the power of the bishops and to call forth spirituality and efficiency in the clergy. The bishops, powerful as they remained, were divested of some of their prestige by the parliamentary decision of 1370, restricting high offices of state to laymen. The first lay chancellor was appointed in 1340. The bishop, however, was a great personage, and woe to the parish that did not make fitting preparations for his entertainment and have the bells rung on his arrival. Archbishop Arundel, Foxe quaintly says, "took great snuff and did suspend all such as did not receive him with the noise of bells." Each diocese had its own prison, into which the bishop thrust refractory clerics for penance or severer punishment.

The mass of the clergy had little learning. The stalls and canonries, with attractive incomes, where they did not go to foreigners, were regarded as the proper prizes of the younger sons of noblemen. On the other hand, the prelates lived in abundance. The famous bishop of Winchester, William of Wykeham, counted fifty manors of his own. In the larger ones, official residences were maintained, including hall and chapel. This prelate travelled from one to the other, taking reckonings of his stewards, receiving applications for the tonsure and ordination and attending to other official business. Many of the lower clergy were taken from the villein class, whose sons required special exemption to attend school. The day they received orders they were manumitted.

The benefit of clergy, so called, continued to be a source of injustice to the people at large. By the middle of the 13th century, the Church’s claim to tithes was extended not only to the products of the field, but the poultry of the yard and the cattle of the stall, to the catch of fish and the game of the forests. Wills almost invariably gave to the priest "the best animal" or the "best quick good." The Church received and gave not back, and, in spite of the statute of Mortmain, bequests continued to be made to her. It came, however, to be regarded as a settled principle that the property of Church and clergy was amenable to civil taxation, and bishops, willingly or by compulsion, loaned money to the king. The demands of the French campaigns made such taxation imperative.

Indulgences were freely announced to procure aid for the building of churches, as in the case of York Cathedral, 1396, the erection of bridges, the filling up of muddy roads and for other public improvements. The clergy, though denied the right of participating in bowling and even in the pastime of checkers, took part in village festivities such as the Church-ale, a sort of mediaeval donation party, in which there was general merrymaking, ale was brewed, and the people drank freely to the health of the priest and for the benefit of the Church. As for the morals of the clergy, care must always be had not to base sweeping statements upon delinquencies which are apt to be emphasized out of proportion to their extent. It is certain, however, that celibacy was by no means universally enforced, and frequent notices occur of dispensations given to clergymen of illegitimate birth. Bishop Quevil of Exeter complained that priests with families invested their savings for the benefit of their marital partners and their children. In the next period, in 1452, De la Bere, bishop of St. David’s, by his own statement, drew 400 marks yearly from priests for the privilege of having concubines, a noble, equal in value to a mark, from each one.538538    Gascoigne, as quoted by Gairdner: Lollardy and the Reform., I. 262. Glower, in his Vox clamantis, gave a dark picture of clerical habits, and charges the clergy with coarse vices such as now are scarcely dreamed of. The Church historian, Capes, concludes that "immorality and negligence were widely spread among the clergy."539539    p. 253 The decline of discipline among the friars, and their rude manners, a prominent feature of the times, came in for the strictures of Fitzralph of Armagh, severe condemnation at the hands of Wyclif and playful sarcasm from the pen of Chaucer. The zeal for learning which had characterized them on their first arrival in England, early in the 13th century, had given way to self-satisfied idleness. Fitzralph, who was fellow of Balliol, and probably chancellor of the University of Oxford, before being raised to the episcopate, incurred the hostility of the friars by a series of sermons against the Franciscan theory of evangelical poverty. He claimed it was not scriptural nor derived from the customs of the primitive Church. For his temerity he was compelled to answer at Avignon, where he seems to have died about the year 1360.540540    His Defensio curatorum contra eos qui privilegatos se dicunt is printed in Goldast, II. 466 sqq. See art. Fitzralph, by R. L. Poole, Dict. of Nat. Biog., XIX. 194-198. Four books of Fitzralph’s De pauperie salvatoris were printed for the first time by Poole in his ed. of Wyclif’s De dominio, pp. 257-477. As for libraries, Fitzralph says that in every English convent there was a grand library. On the other hand, the author of the Philobiblion, Rich. de Bury, charges the friars with losing their interest in books. Of the four orders of mendicants, the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Augustinians, Longland sang that they

Preached the people for profit and themselve

Glosed the Gospel as them good lyked,

For covetis of copis construed it as they would.

Of the ecclesiastics of the century, if we except Wyclif, probably the most noted are Thomas Bradwardine and William of Wykeham, the one the representative of scholarly study, the other of ecclesiastical power. Bradwardine, theologian, phiIosopher, mathematician and astronomer, was a student at Merton College, Oxford, 1325. At Avignon, whither he went to receive consecration to the see of Canterbury, 1349, he had a strange experience. During the banquet given by Clement VI. the doors were thrown open and a clown entered, seated on a jackass, and humbly petitioned the pontiff to be made archbishop of Canterbury. This insult, gotten up by Clement’s nephew Hugo, cardinal of Tudela, and other members of the sacred college, was in allusion to the remark made by the pope that, if the king of England would ask him to appoint a jackass to a bishopric, he would not dare to refuse. The sport throws an unpleasant light upon the ideals of the curia, but at the same time bears witness to the attempt which was being made in England to control the appointment of ecclesiastics. Bradwardine enjoyed such an enviable reputation that Wyclif and other English contemporaries gave him the title, the Profound Doctor—doctor profundus.541541    Wyclif: De verit. scr., I. 30, 109, etc. In his chief work on grace and freewill, delivered as a series of lectures at Merton, he declared that the Church was running after Pelagius.542542    De causa Dei contra Pelagium et de virtute causarum ad suos Mertinenses, ed. by Sir Henry Saville, London, 1618. For other works, see Seeberg’s art. in Herzog, III. 350, and Stephens in Dict. of Nat. Biog., VI. 188 sq. Also S. Hahn, Thos. Bradwardinus, und seine Lehre von d. menschl. Willensfreiheit, Münster, 1905. In the philosophical schools he had rarely heard anything about grace, but all day long the assertions that we are masters of our own wills. He was a determinist. All things, he affirmed, which occur, occur by the necessity of the first cause. In his Nun’s Tale, speaking of God’s predestination, Chaucer says:—

But he cannot boult it to the bren

As can the holie doctour, S. Austin,

Or Boece (Boethius), or the Bishop Bradwardine.

Wykeham, 1324–1404, the pattern of a worldly and aristocratic prelate, was an unblushing pluralist, and his see of Winchester is said to have brought him in £60,000 of our money annually. In 1361 alone, he received prebends in St. Paul’s, Hereford, Salisbury, St. David’s, Beverley, Bromyard, Wherwell Abergwili, and Llanddewi Brewi, and in the following year Lincoln, York, Wells and Hastings. He occupied for a time the chief office of chancellor, but fell into disrepute. His memory is preserved in Winchester School and in New College, Oxford, which he founded. The princely endowment of New College, the first stones of which were laid in 1387, embraced 100 scholarships. These gifts place Wykeham in the first rank of English patrons of learning at the side of Cardinal Wolsey. He also has a place in the manuals of the courtesies of life by his famous words, "Manners makyth man."543543    See art. by Tait in Dict. of Nat. Biog., LXIII. 225-231.

The struggles of previous centuries against the encroachment of Rome upon the temporalities of the English Church was maintained in this period. The complaint made by Matthew Paris544544    Rolls Series, IV. 559. that the English Church was kept between two millstones, the king and the pope, remained true, with this difference, however, the king’s influence came to preponderate. Acts of parliament emphasized his right to dictate or veto ecclesiastical appointments and recognized his sovereign prerogative to tax Church property. The evident support which the pope gave to France in her wars with England and the scandals of the Avignon residence were favorable to the crown’s assertion of authority in these respects. Wyclif frequently complained that the pope and cardinals were "in league with the enemies of the English kingdom"545545    De eccles., p. 332 and the papal registers of the Avignon period, which record the appeals sent to the English king to conclude peace with France, almost always mention terms that would have made France the gainer. At the outbreak of the war, 1339, Edward III. proudly complained that it broke his heart to see that the French troops were paid in part with papal funds.546546    Walsingham, Hist. Angl., I. 200 sqq., and the pope’s reply, p. 208 sqq. Benedict showed his complete devotion to the French king when he wrote that, if he had two souls, one of them should be given for him. Quoted by Loserth, Stud. Zur Kirchenpol., p. 20.

The three most important religious acts of England between John’s surrender of his crown to Innocent III. and the Act of Supremacy, 1534, were the parliamentary statutes of Mortmain, 1279, of Provisors, 1351, and for the burning of heretics, 1401. The statute of Mortmain or Dead-hand forbade the alienation of lands so as to remove them from the obligation of service or taxation to the secular power. The statute of Provisors, renewed and enlarged in the acts of Praemunire, 1353, 1390 and 1393, concerned the subject of the papal rights over appointments and the temporalities of the English Church. This old bone of contention was taken up early in the 14th century in the statute of Carlyle, 1307,547547    Gee and Hardy, pp. 92-94. which forbade aliens, appointed to visit religious houses in England, taking moneys with them out of the land and also the payment of tallages and impositions laid upon religious establishments from abroad. In 1343, parliament called upon the pope to recall all "reservations, provisions and collations" which, as it affirmed, checked Church improvements and the flow of alms. It further protested against the appointment of aliens to English livings, "some of them our enemies who know not our language." Clement VI., replying to the briefs of the king and parliament, declared that, when he made provisions and reservations, it was for the good of the Church, and exhorted Edward to act as a Catholic prince should and to permit nothing to be done in his realm inimical to the Roman Church and ecclesiastical liberty. Such liberty the pope said he would "defend as having to give account at the last judgment." Liberty in this case meant the free and unhampered exercise of the lordly claims made by his predecessors from Hildebrand down.548548    For the text of the parliamentary brief and the king’s letter, which was written in French, see Merimuth, p. 138 sqq., 153 sqq., and for Clement’s reply, Bliss, III., 9 sqq. Thomas Fuller was close to the truth, when, defining papal provisions and reservations, he wrote, "When any bishopric, abbot’s place, dignity or good living (aquila non capit muscas — the eagle does not take note of flies) was like to be void, the pope, by a profitable prolepsis to himself, predisposed such places to such successors as he pleased. By this device he defeated, when he so pleased, the legal election of all convents and rightful presentation of all patrons."

The memorable statute of Provisors forbade all papal provisions and reservations and all taxation of Church property contrary to the customs of England. The act of 1353 sought more effectually to clip the pope’s power by forbidding the carrying of any suit against an English patron before a foreign tribunal.549549    See the texts of these statutes in Gee and Hardy, 103 sqq., 112-123. With reference to the renewal of the act in 1390, Fuller quaintly says: "It mauled the papal power in the land. Some former laws had pared the pope’s nails to the quick, but this cut off his fingers."

To these laws the pope paid only so much heed as expediency required. This claim, made by one of his predecessors in the bull Cupientes, to the right to fill all the benefices of Christendom, he had no idea of abandoning, and, whenever it was possible, he provided for his hungry family of cardinals and other ecclesiastics out of the proverbially fat appointments of England. Indeed, the cases of such appointments given by Merimuth, and especially in the papal books as printed by Bliss, are so recurrent that one might easily get the impression that the pontiff’s only concern for the English Church was to see that its livings were put into the hands of foreigners. I have counted the numbers in several places as given by Bliss. On one page, 4 out of 9 entries were papal appointments. A section of 2½ pages announces "provisions of a canonry, with expectation of a prebend" in the following churches: 7 in Lincoln, 5 in Salisbury, 2 in Chichester, and 1 each in Wells, York, Exeter, St. Patrick’s, Dublin, Moray, Southwell, Howden, Ross, Aberdeen, Wilton.550550    II. 345; III. 54 sq. Prebend has reference to the stipend, canonry to the office. From 1342–1385 the deanery of York was held successively by three Roman cardinals. In 1374, the incomes of the treasurer, dean and two archdeaneries of Salisbury went the same way. At the close of Edward III.’s reign, foreign cardinals held the deaneries of York, Salisbury and Lichfield, the archdeanery of Canterbury, reputed to be the richest of English preferments, and innumerable prebends. Bishops and abbots-elect had to travel to Avignon and often spend months and much money in securing confirmation to their appointments, and, in cases, the prelate-elect was set aside on the ground that provision had already been made for his office. As for sees reserved by the pope, Stubbs gives the following list, extending over a brief term of years: Worcester, Hereford, Durham and Rochester, 1317; Lincoln and Winchester, 1320; Lichfield, 1322; Winchester, 1328; Carlisle and Norwich, 1825; Worcester, Exeter and Hereford, 1827; Bath, 1829; Durham, Canterbury, Winchester and Worcester, 1334. Provisions were made in full recognition of the plural system. Thus, Walter of London, the king’s confessor, was appointed by the pope to the deanery of Wells, though, as stated in the papal brief, he already held a considerable list of "canonries and prebends," Lincoln, Salisbury, St. Paul, St. Martin Le Grand, London, Bridgenorth, Hastings and Hareswell in the diocese of Salisbury.551551    Bliss, II. 521. Cases of the payment of large sums for appointments to the pope and of the disappointed ecclesiastics-elect are given in Merimuth, pp. 31, 57, 59, 60, 61, 71, 120, 124, 172, etc., Bliss and others. Merimuth, p. 67, etc., refers constant]y to the bribery used by such expressions as causa pecunialiter cognita, and non sine magna pecuniae quantitate. In cases, the pope renounced the right of provision, as Clement V., in 1308, the livings held in commendam by the cardinal of St. Sabina, and valued at 1000 marks. See Bliss, II. 48. For the cases of agents sent by two cardinals to England to collect the incomes of their livings, and their imprisonment, see Walsingham, I. 259 By the practice of promoting bishops from one see to another, the pope accomplished for his favorites what he could not have done in any other way. Thus, by the promotion of Sudbury in 1874 to Canterbury, the pope was able to translate Courtenay from Hereford to London, and Gilbert from Bangor to Hereford, and thus by a single stroke he was enriched by the first-fruits of four sees.

In spite of legislation, the papal collectors continued to ply their trade in England, but less publicly and confidently than in the two preceding centuries. In 1379, Urban VI. sent Cosmatus Gentilis as his nuncio and collector-in-chief, with instructions that he and his subcollectors make speedy returns to Rome, especially of Peter’s pence.552552    Bliss IV. 257. In 1375, Gregory XI. had called upon the archbishops of Canterbury and York to collect a tax of 60,000 florins for the defence of the lands of the Apostolic see, the English benefices, however, held by cardinals being exempted. The chronicler Merimuth, in a noteworthy paragraph summing up the curial practice of foraging upon the English sees and churches, emphasizes the persistence and shrewdness with which the Apostolic chair from the time of Clement V. had extorted gold and riches as though the English might be treated as barbarians. John XXII. he represents as having reserved all the good livings of England. Under Benedict XII., things were not so bad. Benedict’s successor, Clement VI., was of all the offenders the most unscrupulous, reserving for himself or distributing to members of the curia the fattest places in England. England’s very enemies, as Merimuth continues, were thus put into possession of English revenues, and the proverb became current at Avignon that the English were like docile asses bearing all the burdens heaped upon them.553553    Inter curiales vertitur in proverbium quod Anglici sunt boni asini, omnia onera eis imposita et intolerabilia supportantes. Merimuth, p. 175. To these burdens imposed upon England by the papal see were added, as in Matthew Paris’ times, severe calamities from rain and cold. Merimuth tells of a great flood in 1339, when the rain fell from October to the first of December, so that the country looked like a continuous sea. Then bitter cold setting in, the country looked like one field of ice. This prodigal Frenchman threatened Edward III. with excommunication and the land with interdict, if resistance to his appointments did not cease and if their revenues continued to be withheld. The pope died in 1353, before the date set for the execution of his wrathful threat. While France was being made English by English arms, the Italian and French ecclesiastics were making conquest of England’s resources.

The great name of Wyclif, which appears distinctly in 1366, represents the patriotic element in all its strength. In his discussions of lordship, presented in two extensive treatises, he set forth the theory of the headship of the sovereign over the temporal affairs of the Church in his own dominions, even to the seizure of its temporalities. In him, the Church witnessed an ecclesiastic of equal metal with Thomas à Becket, a man, however, who did not stoop, in his love for his order, to humiliate the state under the hand of the Church. He represented the popular will, the common sense of mankind in regard to the province of the Church, the New Testament theory of the spiritual sphere. Had he not been practically alone, he would have anticipated by more than two centuries the limitation of the pope’s power in England.


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