Sunday, November 18, 2012
Catholic Perspective on the English Reformation: Part III


On October 13 1536, Robert Aske, a partially blind barrister from Yorkshire, gathered nine thousand men and marched to York under the banner of the Five Wounds of Christ in response to attacks both upon England’s monasteries and the ancient Faith. In 1534, Thomas Cromwell had already begun to plan the dissolution of England’s monasteries by assessing the total value of all the Church property, [which involved] handpicking a small group of suitably anti-Catholic individuals and sending them out to investigate the spiritual and temporal conditions of every monastery in the realm. They had just six weeks, and managed to visit only one third of the religious houses on their lists. Still, Cromwell’s spies cobbled together a report of supposed tales of monkish evilness and presented it to Parliament in 1536. In response, the politicians passed Bill for the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries . Was this document published by a name that is still available for academics to see?

Over the next few months, the people watched with growing dismay as the King Henry VIII’s agents traveled from monastery to monastery, summoning the monks to appear before them, informing them of their impending doom, expelling them from their homes, and then taking anything that could be put into the back of a cart. After they had left, they sent in workmen to demolish the buildings. Many of the abbots were easily bought, cooperating with the King in their own demise.

In the meantime, Cromwell had appointed the most radical, anti-Catholic preachers he could find and sent them out to openly preach against Catholic doctrine. In August 1536, he issued a set of anti-Catholic Injunctions in which the clergy, under pain of imprisonment, were compelled to obey the legislation which abolished the Pope’s jurisdiction. They were also required to preach the Ten Articles as well as dissuade the faithful from undertaking pilgrimages. The veneration of the Saints and the invocation of their intercession, rejected by the Reformers as unbiblical, was deemed superstitious and prohibited.

By October, the people had had enough. Upon arriving in York, the first thing that Aske did was to expel the King’s squatters from the religious houses and recall the monks and nun to their homes. He then moved to Doncaster with approximately forty thousand men, each man wearing a pilgrim’s badge. Such was the strength and organisation of this army that the King was compelled to negotiate with the rebels, promising that a general pardon be granted and Parliament held at York within the year.

Unfortunately, Aske foolishly believed the King, and told his followers to disarm and disband. It was soon manifestly evident however, that Henry had never had the slightest intention of keeping his disingenuous promises. In 1537, he and several other leaders, as well as four Abbots were rounded up, arrested, convicted of treason and brutally executed. Henry declared martial law, taking revenge upon his own subjects by ordering a routine series of massacres and the north of the country became littered with corpses dangling in chains from gibbets. Henry had killed the opposition. The pilgrimage had failed. By the autumn of 1539, some one-hundred and fifty monasteries had signed their own death warrants and handed over their property to their tyrannical monarch.

Author's Biography: This is a guest post written by Dr. Bella d'Abrera.  Bella Wyborn d’Abrera, who is based in London, is a graduate of Monash University in Melbourne. She completed her Masters degree at the University of St. Andrews, and was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy by the University of Cambridge in 2003. She is also the author of  ‘A King with a Pope in His Belly’ and ‘Papists, Spaniards & Other Strangers.’

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