Thursday, January 31, 2008

Inflation and the bitterness of the Reformation

During a quick skim through the blogs this morning i came on this ion Roman Catholicism:

The best work on the subject is that of Hilaire Belloc entitled Charles I.

He shows how the monarchy was financially squeezed by the massive inflation that was created by the English Protestant Reformation of King Henry VIII - 300% running inflation year after year.

The traditional revenues of the Crown, such as Ship Money and Poundage and Tunnage, were so tightly squeezed that the King did not have enough to run the state, let alone defend the state.

The Puritan peers, MPs, lawyers and the new men, enriched from the plunder of the monasteries, saw their chance and seized, squeezing the King tighter and tighter so as to demand more and more concessions against the Church of England, the Crown and the Royal prerogative.

The King sought to govern for the whole people and not just for the rich new men.

The Parliamentary Puritans sought to govern for their own benefit and the benefit of the rich, all the time disguising their rapacity as religious Reformation.

This is made crystal clear by the Protestant Anglican author and MP, William Cobbett, in his famous book The Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland in which he flays utterly the rapacious rich new men who profited from the spoliation of the monasteries and ground the face of the poor so utterly as to create a whole new class of paupers, the like of which had never befopre been seen in Merrie England of old when Englishmen were all Catholic.

Eventually, like all revolutions, one brood of rebels began to declare war on others and t swallow them up so that a strong man was soon to emerge and so provide the model for future Fascist dictators

It reminded me of passage in Dr Daniel Rock's famous Heirurgia, he details some of the consequences of the Protestant Reformation. The closure of the monasteries he claims led directly to the change in status of the poor: no monasteries meant no one to care for the poor, therefore the poor are left to wander the streets with no support, hence the introduction of the draconian Elizabethan Poor Laws.
What he does concentrate on was its effect on beekeeping, Catholic devoption consumed vast quantities of beeswax. Wax was the important thing, honey the by-product. Paschal Candles in the great cathedrals were huge, weighed in hundredweights and stones, they were kept burning from Easter to Pentecost, and often reached from the sanctuary floor to the clerestory -hence the lighting of the triple taper in the old form of the Paschal Vigil. Money was often left in wills for lights to be kept burning perpetually before the Blessed Sacrament or a sacred image. With the Protestant Reformation all this was swept away, tallow replaced wax for lighting and beekeepers were thrown out of work.
Rock doesn't say that the other consequence was that the cost of honey, the normal sweetner at the time went through the roof, ale replaced mead as the normal drink in England, the search for a replacement then lead to the farming of sugar cane in the Indies and England's involvement in the slave trade, and attempt to do something about the bitter taste left in the mouths of the people of England by Protestantism after those sweet Catholic centuries.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I can’t allow you to get away with the suggestion that inflation and capitalism are nasty Protestant phenomena and that, but for Luther and Calvin, they would not have occurred.

The link between Protestantism and Capitalism was actually one of the many fatuous suggestions of Marx in Das Kapital, but it has also been put forward by both Max Weber (1904) and R H Tawney (1926). However, more recent historians (e.g. Sir Geoffrey Elton, one of the most eminent authorities on Tudor England) have argued that Marx, Weber and Tawney were all wrong. In Reformation Europe (1963), Elton argues that inflation and capitalism were the consequence of the population shift from urban to rural area, which gave rise to increased demand, and hence inflation and which allowed wages and rent to stay low because of the easy availability of labour. In other words, it was demographics that gave rise to capitalism, not religion. Of course, these theories are not mutually exclusive. As always, the truth lies somewhere in between. But I must admit that I get very irritated by Belloc’s romantic “1532 and all that” view of English Catholic History, which makes history a department of apologetics and only holds water by ignoring the facts.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I am glad you won't let me get away with any specious arguement. I am merely suggesting that the closure of monasteries had an economic affect.
However the movement to the towns seems a direct result of the closing of the monasteries. What happened to all those Northern sheep farming lay brothers, what seems very apparent was that they were not assumed into the local peasant population. The same, which is less well documented, I presume happened to dispossessed female religious, choir nuns genereally returned home, the others tended not to do so.
Rock, if I remember, elesewhere actually quotes the price of honey from 1535-50 and its steep rise in price, it suggests that quite graphically not just the dissolution of the monasteries but the apiaries as well!
I think post Duffey there has been a rethink of men like Elton, though I am no expert in the matter.

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