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The Dissolution

Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire Wolds

In the mid 1530’s, King Henry VIII of England authorized Thomas Cromwell to shut up the monasteries in that country under the guise of consolidation.  A methodical review of all of the monasteries, complete with inventory, was conducted.  Most of the smaller, poorer monasteries were closed, the monks and nuns forced to seek shelter at the bigger monasteries.  At the bigger monasteries, a different kind of pogrom took place.  Some of the abbotts and abbesses were able to negotiate small pensions to ease their way and that of some of their charges in the world.  The monasteries and convents were stripped of their wealth and sent to Henry’s treasury where he rewarded his retainers to ensure their loyalty.  The monasteries themselves were broken apart, the libraries made into bonfires and the tenants dispersed.

Those who resisted, like the Bishop of Glastonbury, were treated to “black propaganda”.  They were accused of the most heinous offences of pedophilia, sexual licentiousness and the like.  And while there were instances of immorality, sloth and greed at some of the richer abbeys, it wasn’t true of all.  The Bishop of Glastonbury did not survive his encounter with Henry’s men.  He was charged a traitor to the crown and was drawn, quartered and his parts nailed to the gates.

Nuns fared particularly poorly.  Henry forbade them from marrying unless they were coerced to take their vows before the age of 20.  Some nuns did eventually marry but were persecuted for it in some areas of the north.  The convents themselves were places of education for anyone who could spare the time from their daily chores to learn.  They were particularly important to women because there was virtually nowhere else in England where women could learn languages other than English or be acquainted with the classics or discuss Aristotle.  It is said that after the dissolution, education for women did not recover its former capacity for two centuries.

Oddly enough, Anne Boleyn, who was the instigator of the reform movement in the first place, tried to intercede for a number of convents that applied to her for help.  She had limited success.  She also came into conflict with Cromwell who performed his duty to enhance the power of the state under Henry.  Anne was appalled that the proceeds of the dissolution were going into the hands of the already rich and powerful.  She challenged Cromwell and Henry to turn the monasteries into colleges and to distribute the money to the taxpayers who had footed the bill for the monasteries for centuries.  She had her chaplain sermonize to Henry about it from the pulpit.  He was not amused.

It was this conflict that finally cost her her head.  Maybe Henry could have given her a couple more years to produce an heir.  Maybe he could have worked out a deal with Emperor Charles V to recognize his marriage to Anne while restoring his daughter Mary to the succession.  But he couldn’t tolerate Anne’s bleeding heart liberalism getting in the way of enriching his treasury.  Cromwell saw her as a threat to his authority and set her up.  Henry signed off on the plan.  To the Tower she went.

History and human nature have ways of repeating themselves.  Those of us who get too comfortable are in for a nasty shock when the rules holding the social compact together get relaxed.  There will always be people who look after themselves and cement their place in the hierarchy using violence, intimidation and propaganda to satisfy their greed for power and wealth.  It has happened since time immemorial and will happen wherever the general public lets down its guard or is lead astray by clever salesmen.  Whatever wealth there is goes to the sociopathic robber barons with the blessing of the state.  Tenants are evicted.  People die in old age in poverty.  No system of government is immune.

A system tends towards disorder without constant vigilance.

For more on the subject of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, listen to the In Our Times podcast.

For more on the Dissolution of America, read There Will Be Blood by Paul Krugman.

46 Responses

  1. He was charged a traitor to the crown and was drawn, quartered and his parts nailed to the gates.

    Call me old fashioned, but the old ways are often the best.

  2. One of the saddest aspects of that period for me is how the English killed each other based on religion.

    • They didn’t exactly invent the concept.

      Killing people based on religion has been a popular pastime for at least two millennia.

      • I think it seems different to me because CoE was just invented and wham, cousins killing each other. They didn’t even have a history of animosity before that.

        • Arnaud (or Arnau) Amalric (died 1225) was a Cistercian monk remembered for giving advice during the Albigensian Crusade to a soldier wondering how to distinguish the Catholic friendlies from the Cathar enemies to just “Kill them all. For the Lord knows them that are His.”

          He is the origin of the saying “Kill them all and let God sort ’em out.”

          • Aka: “Kill ’em all. Let God sort eem out.”

            Compared to the Continent, there was actually very little religious bloodletting in Britain prior to the English CIvil War of the 1640’s. Henry killed right and left for politcal reasons, not doctrinal ones. Executions for heresy reached their peak under his daughter Mary, who paid them as the price of her Spanish marriage and the heir she never bore. It was only toward the end of her reign that Elizabeth executed Catholics, and then only those involved in Spanish and Papal plots to overthrow her.

          • Which Crusade was it where they sacked Constantinople?

          • The Fourth. Innocent III was so horrified he excommunicated the entire Crusade. Then he set them loose on the Cathars in the Languedoc.

  3. the ‘drawn and quartered’ death (to dissuade others from missbehaving) was also the penalty for treason. When out founders signed the Declaration of Independence they knew this was the penalty they would encounter if independence failed.

  4. Keeping people in line by using fear is nothing new. Amazing how some things don’t change.

  5. Heh:

    Political reporters often rely on University of Wisconsin political scientist Charles Franklin for expertise. In just the past few months, his insights have appeared in articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Associated Press, Politico, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, and many other publications. He’s also a co-founder of the influential website Pollster.com, as well as co-director of the Big Ten Battleground Poll.

    So Franklin answered with considerable authority when he was asked, at a recent forum on the November 2 election results, why Republicans emerged victorious in so many races. “I’m not endorsing the American voter,” Franklin said. “They’re pretty damn stupid.”

  6. Speaking of religious wars, I just watched the 2nd ep of Sarah Palin’s Alaska, and in the first part, they go to shooting range, and SP mentions that she had her 1st baby shower there. Then she says, “I love telling that story, it always gets the liberals all wee-weed up.”

    • It was a good episode. That was funny. 🙂

      • I did enjoy watching the fishing part, specially since I like to learn about where the food in my grocery comes from. The fish-bopping did make me cringe a bit, but I liked to see the theme of encouraging Bristol to sort of “take back her power” as feminist would say.

    • It might be a good story but, it sounds depressing to me.

      • That she had her baby shower at a shooting range?

        I’ve never actually ben to any kind of shooting range, though we used to live practically next door to one, could hear the shots, but I am more bemused than anything.

        • I just picture the cold-metal-folding-chairs …. and maybe some spent shells lying around. And some press-board bins to hold stuff … and guys with ear protectors walking around.

          It just seems like a grim scene to me.

    • 🙂 You’d think the liberals would get it after that line. They won’t.

  7. Entropy. God’s clock winding down. Without constant energy input our political systems will degrade. Obama and the liberals have little energy, leaving TPers to supply what stability there is.

    • Obama will be remembered as the president who brought unity into the government with one party rule.

    • Ding! Ding! Ding!
      Some readers think this post is about religious wars. It is not.
      It is about greed and power hiding under a religious war v
      Not that different than what we have today.

      • The power-hungry/greedy will always find a way to be a part of the power structure – no matter what that structure is supposed to represent.

        I agree with Krugman, but I wish he would include the fact that it isn’t new. The jobs have been gone and going for over two years.

        That we are looking forward to another crisis this spring… they should be ashamed doing nothing about it for all this time.

      • And some readers immediately knew your post was about greed and power mirrored here in BO’s America.

  8. “Republicans are blocking an extension of unemployment benefits — an action that will both cause immense hardship and drain purchasing power from an already sputtering economy.”

    We currently allow people to collect two years of unemployment insurance. That’s not free money, states have to eventually bill it to employers. The more employees you have, the more you have to pay in unemployment compensation. That’s makes people reluctant to hire. I myself cannot afford to hire anybody right now because I can’t afford the insurance premiums.

    Unemployment was intended as temporary help so people can get through hard times. I don’t know what you do when the hard times last two, three, four years, but Krugman is completely wrong about this. Rather than stimulating the economy, unemployment eventually starts draining it. Most people who receive unemployment are simply buying groceries and paying rent. There is no “purchasing power” left over from an unemployment check, unless you were like a high paid bank CEO or something. For the most part, nobody on unemployment can afford to go out and stimulate the economy.

    • Maybe, but December is not the time to stop unemployment bennies. Huge backlash from voters.

      • Only those people who’s benefits are running out in December would be impacted.

        If Congress doesn’t grant yet another extension of unemployment benefits, that doesn’t mean the whole program ends or that everybody is suddenly cut off.

        • Yes, it does. It means that when people run out of benefits on their current “tier,” they’re out of benefits, period.

    • Most people who receive unemployment are simply buying groceries and paying rent. There is no “purchasing power” left over from an unemployment check

      Unemployment keeps people from rioting. The Republicans will figure it out if the unemployment is not extended. Germany has a better system to deal with unemployment. That system keeps employees working on a part time basis. It works better for everyone until the economy recovers. But that’s SOCIALISM!

      • Yep, I’ll be waiting for the rioting in the streets because of the number of people unemployed. I’m frankly surprised that it hasn’t happened already.

    • And employees get smaller paychecks because employers pass most of that through to them.

      I think the solution is not to cut off unemployment, esp. in this economy causing homelessness, starvation, dying in the streets, possibly rioting, revolution, etc.

      How about we as a collective pool our resources and help ourselves out of this deep recession by deficit spending to help the bottom and to create jobs. Say instead of giving the bonus class more free money. Just a thought.

  9. “It was this conflict that finally cost her her head. Maybe Henry could have given her a couple more years to produce an heir.”

    She did produce an heir (unfortunately for her, not a male one): Elizabeth I, who reigned for 40 years and expanded the British Empire beyond anything that the males preceding her had ever done.

    • This is not a feminism post. This is a post about power.
      If I have to check every statement fir political correctness, the point is missed.
      In any case, Henry would not have considered Mary or Elizabeth suitable heirs. It doesn’t matter what we think because we have the benefit of hindsight. Henry could not look into the future and women were just playthings and uteruses to him. It is pointless to argue otherwise.

      • It was history, too. The only other time a woman had claimed the throne in her own right–Matilda, mother of Henry II–there was a vicious civil war that devastated the country. It was called the time “when Christ and the Saints slept.” Henry was afraid of the same thing happening again, with one or more of the male Plantagenet cousins he hadn’t managed to behead yet rebelling against Mary or Elizabeth. (There was a period, though, when Mary was recognized as heir, with the title of Princess of Wales. He never gave that title to Elizabeth; instead, she was “Princess Royal,” the designation given to the eldest (legitimate) daughter.)

        The irony, of course, is that Matilda very likely would have been far more competent than her cousin Stephen, who had little going for him except the dangly bits. Mary was certainly better equipped to be Queen than her little brother was to be King Her reign was a failure largely because she allowed others–her Spanish husband and Bishop Gardiner-to act through her. Elizabeth, in contrast, seized power with both hands when her turn came and never let go, which is one reason England never became involved in a foreign war under her leadership and why there were no religious persecutions to match her siblings’..

  10. Actually, yttik, economists have found that things like welfare and unemployment benefits DO stimulate the economy, precisely because of what you’re talking about — people going out and actually buying things (e.g. food and paying their heating bills) that they need. Welfare has been to shown to be one of the best ROIs a government can make in terms of economy-stimulation. Lower taxes/bennies for corporations? Nope, not so much.

    And I don’t understand your statement that you can’t afford unemployment insurance and that is why you can’t hire. It’s much cheaper for employers to pay the insurance hit than to pay actual salaries. If it weren’t true, they wouldn’t automatically turn to job-slashing when their financials get ugly. But that’s the first thing they do — massive layoffs — obviously the hit to their insurance rates does not deter that.

    And in any case, from a moral perspective, cutting unemployment benefits (which are meager anyway) in the midst of 20 percent real unemployment strikes me as the height of cruelty. But of course YMMV.

    • Some employers minimize their UI premiums by not laying off — instead they have enough HR rules that they can fire employees for cause at practically the drop of a hat.

  11. Poll: Tea Party support grows; USA divided

    The survey also underscores Obama’s weakened standing. His overall job approval rating, at 42%, is 1 percentage point higher than his historic low in midsummer. His 35% approval rating on the economy is the lowest of his presidency.
    The nation’s mood “guarantees that there will be gridlock,” says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “The government follows public opinion and public opinion is all over the lot about who should now be running things.”

    The turkey is done

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