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HOME > Classical Novels > History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin > CHAPTER XIII.
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(October, 1536.)
The bastard system of a catholicism without a pope, put forward by the king, did not enjoy great favor, and the evangelical Reform gained fresh adherents every day. The more consistent popish system endeavored to stand against it. There were still many partisans of Rome in the aristocracy and among the populations of the North. A mighty effort was about to be made to expel both Cranmer's protestantism and the king's catholicism, and restore the papacy to its privileges. A great revolution is rarely accomplished without the friends of the old order of things combining to resist it.
Many members of the House of Lords saw with alarm the House of Commons gaining an influence which it had never possessed before, and taking the initiative in reforms which were not (as they thought) within its sphere. Trained in the hatred of heresy, those noble lords were indignant at seeing heretics invested with the episcopal dignity, and a layman, Cromwell, presuming to direct the convocation of the clergy. Some of them
formed a league, and Lord Darcy, who was at their head, had a conference on the subject with the ambassador of Charles V. That prince assured him that he should be supported.[417] The English partisans of the pope, aided by the imperialists, would be amply sufficient, they thought, to re-establish the authority of the Roman pontiff.
There was great agitation especially among the inhabitants of the towns and villages of the North. Those of the counties of York and Lincoln, too remote from London to feel its influence, besides being ignorant and superstitious, were submissive to the priests as to the very representatives of God. The names of the Reformers Luther, Melanchthon, Œcolampadius, and Tyndale were known by the priests, who taught their flocks to detest them. Everything they saw exasperated them. If they went a journey, the convents which were their ordinary hostelries existed no longer. If they worked in the fields, they saw approaching them some ragged monk, with tangled hair and beard, with haggard eye, without bread to support him, or roof to shelter him, to whom hatred still gave strength to complain and to curse. These unhappy wretches went roaming up and down the country, knocking at every door; the peasants received them like saints, seated them at their table, and starved themselves for their nourishment. 'See,' said the friars, showing their rags to the people about them, 'see to what a condition the members of Jesus Christ are reduced! A schismatic and heretical prince has expelled us from the houses of the Lord. But the Holy Father has excommunicated and dethroned him: no one should henceforth obey him.' Such words produced their effect.
When the autumn of 1536 had arrived, the ferment increased among the inhabitants of the rural districts who had no longer their field labors to divert them.
They assembled in great numbers round the convents to see what the king meant to do with them. They looked on at a distance, and with angry eyes watched the commissioners who at times behaved violently, indulged in exactions, or threw down one after another the stones of the building which had been held in such long reverence. Another day they saw the agent of some lord settle in the monastery with his wife, children, and servants; they heard those profane lay-folks laugh and chatter as they entered the sacred doors, whose thresholds had until now been trodden only by the sandals of the silent monks. A report spread abroad, that the monasteries still surviving were also about to be suppressed. Dr. Makerel, formerly prior of Barlings, disguised as a laborer, and a monk (some writers say a shoemaker) named Melton, who received the name of 'Captain Cobbler,'[418] endeavored to inflame men's minds and drive them to revolt. Everywhere the people listened to the agitators; and ere long the superior clergy appeared in the line of battle. 'Neither the king's highness nor any temporal man,' they said, 'may be supreme head of the Church. The Pope of Rome is Christ's vicar, and must alone be acknowledged as supreme head of Christendom.'[419]
On Monday, 2d of October, 1536, the ecclesiastical commission was to visit the parish of Louth in Lincolnshire,[420] and the clergy of the district were ordered to be present. Only a few days before, a neighboring monastery had been suppressed and two of Cromwell's agents placed in it to see to the closing. The evening before the inspection (it was a Sunday) a number of the townspeople brought out a large silver cross which belonged to the parish, and shouting out, 'Follow the cross! All follow the cross! God knows if we can do so for long,' marched in procession through the town, with
Melton leading the way. Some went to the church, took possession of the consecrated jewels, and remained under arms all night to guard them for fear the royal commissioners should carry them off. On Monday morning one of the commissioners, who had no suspicions, quietly rode into the town, followed by a single servant. All of a sudden the alarm-bell was rung, and a crowd of armed men filled the streets. The terrified commissioner ran into the church, hoping to find it an inviolable asylum; but the mob laid hold of him, dragged him out into the market-place, and pointing a sword at his breast, said to him, 'Swear fidelity to the Commons or you are a dead man.' All the town took an oath to be faithful to King, Commons, and Holy Church. On Tuesday morning the alarm-bell was rung again; the cobbler and a tailor named Big Jack marched out, followed by a crowd of men, some on foot and some on horseback. Whole parishes, headed by their priests, joined them and marched with the rest. The monks prayed aloud for the pope, and cried out that if the gentry did not join them they should all be hanged; but gentlemen and even sheriffs united with the tumultuous troops. Twenty thousand men of Lincolnshire were in arms. England, like Germany, had its peasant revolt;[421] but while Luther was opposed to it, the archbishop of York, with many abbots and priests, encouraged it in England.
The insurgents did not delay proclaiming their grievances. They declared that if the monasteries were restored, men of mean birth dismissed from the Council,[422] and heretic bishops deprived, they would acknowledge the king as head of the Church.[423] The movement
was got up by the monks more than by the pope. Great disorders were committed.
The court was plunged into consternation by this revolt. The king, who had no standing army, felt his weakness, and his anger knew no bounds. 'What!' he said to the traitors (for such was the name he gave them), 'what! do you, the rude commons of one shire, and that one of the most brute and beastly of the whole realm, presume to find fault with your king? Return to your homes, surrender to our lieutenants a hundred of your leaders, and prepare to submit to such condign punishment as we shall think you worthy of; otherwise you will expose yourselves, your wives and children, your lands and goods, not only to the indignation of God, but to utter destruction by force and violence of the sword.'
Such threats as these only served to increase the commotion. 'Christianity is going to be abolished,' said the priests; 'you will soon find yourselves under the sword of Turks! But whoever sheds his blood with us shall inherit eternal glory.' The people crowded to them from all quarters. Lord Shrewsbury, sent by the king against the rebellion, being unable to collect more than 3,000 men, and having to contend against ten times as many, had halted at Nottingham. London already imagined the rebels were at its gates, and mighty exertions were made. Sir John Russell and the duke of Suffolk were sent forward with forces hurriedly equipped.
The insurgents were 60,000 strong, but with no efficient leader or store of provisions. Two opinions arose among them: the gentlemen and farmers cried, 'Home, home!' the priests and the people shouted, 'To arms!' The party of the friends of order continued increasing, and at last prevailed. The duke of Suffolk entered Lincolnshire on October 13, and the rebels dispersed.[424]
A still greater danger threatened the established order of things. The men of the North were more ultramontane than those of Lincoln. On October 8 there was a riot at Beverley, in Yorkshire. A Westminster lawyer, Robert Aske, who had passed his vacation in field-sports, was returning to London, when he was stopped by the rebels and proclaimed their leader. On October 15 he marched to York and replaced the monks in possession of their monasteries. Lord Darcy, an old soldier of Ferdinand of Spain and Louis XII., a warm papal partisan, quitted his castle of Pomfret to join the insurrection. The priests stirred up the people,[425] and ere long, the army, which amounted to 40,000 men, formed a long procession, 'the Pilgrimage of Grace,' which marched through the county of York. Each parish paraded under a captain, priests carrying the church cross in front by way of flag. A large banner, which floated in the midst of this multitude, represented on one side Christ with the five wounds on a cross, and on the other a plow, a chalice, a pix, and a hunting-horn. Every pilgrim wore embroidered on his sleeve the five wounds of Christ with the name of Jesus in the midst. The insurgents had a thousand bows and as many bills, besides other arms,[426] but hardly one poor copy of the Testament of Christ. 'Ah!' said Latimer, preaching in Lincolnshire, 'I will tell you what is the true Christian man's pilgrimage. There are, the Saviour tells us, eight days' journeys.' Then he described the eight beatitudes in the most evangelical manner: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and the rest.[427]
Aske's pilgrimage was of another sort. Addressing
the people of those parts, he said to them: 'Lords, knights, masters, and friends, evil-disposed persons have filled the king's mind with new inventions: the holy body of the Church has been despoiled. We have therefore undertaken this pilgrimage for the reformation of what is amiss and the punishment of heretics.[428] If you will not come with us we will fight and die against you.' Great bonfires were lighted on all the hills to call the people to arms. Wherever these new crusaders appeared the monks were replaced in their monasteries and the peasants constrained to join the pilgrimage, under pain of seeing their houses pulled down, their goods seized, and their bodies handed over to the mercy of the captains.
There was this notable diff............
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