Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

shed mentions, that the lower classes slept on straw pallettes or mats, and covered with a rug, while the head rested on a block of wood, instead of a pillow. At the same time, though churches and large mansions had their rich windows of painted glass, inferior houses were destitute even of common glass to admit the light.

Could we believe all that has been said of the vices prevailing amongst the inferior clergy and monks, morality would have incalculable obligations to Henry VIII. ; but it is impossible to credit every interested tale of this monarch and his commissioners, unless we are contented to forget the amiable men and women, neither monks nor priests, who fell beneath the axe at the command of the former; and, above all, the avaricious motives that led to the suppression of abbeys. Bad as numbers of both priests and monks were, the good man cannot see Henry compelling them to forfeit their oaths as to the pope's supremacy, or be hanged and quartered before their own gates, without feeling the utmost abhorrence at his conduct. Taken in a more enlarged sense, a gradual suppression would have been a national benefit.

This Reformer had the prudence to extend his views beyond his own immediate profit; if he suppressed monasteries to fill his Augmentation coffers, he wished the world to suppose, he hanged criminals who had committed petty rob

[ocr errors]

beries for the mere love of justice; and we are indebted to Holinshed for the information, that no less than 22,000 suffered in this way during his reign : a strong and melancholy proof of great prevailing depravity.

Besides releasing the community from these depredators, Henry endeavoured to repress the licentiousness of his subjects by expelling loose women from the Stews in Southwark, where laxity of manners and reprehensible custom had licensed their trade from the time of Henry II. Had purity of morals distinguished the king, and had he not divorced his wives for the charms of variety, perhaps the suppression of the stews might have operated in favour of virtue: but as things were, vice only became more guarded; in this respect setting an example to Henry which he did not deign to follow.

Perjury, it is said, flourished with uncontrouled liberty in this reign, from the throne to the cottage, which is not to be wondered at when people were executed on gibbets for refusing to violate their religious oaths. It is, however, only justice to mention, that this crime descended from the preceding reign, when, according to Stow, Henry VII. openly encouraged it, in the prosecution of his own subjects.

Much might be said under the head of travelling from place to place on state motives, or those of mere amusement; but the limits of my

work

work forbid me from entering into particulars. When our monarchs made a progress, as their journeys were termed, the procession was magnificent, and the nobles and attendants very numerous; a circumstance that frequently injured the fortune of individuals visited on these occasions. Queen Elizabeth was one of the last of our sovereigns who continued this custom; and her propensity for it contributed to the discontinuance: for the courtiers of the time were, in some measure, compelled to become rivals to each other in expence, and extravagant inventions to gratify the sated curiosity of this silly woman, and great queen.

“ Queen Elizabeth's Progresses,” collected by Mr. Nichols, furnish many proofs of this assertion; and shew her gross vanity and love of flattery, in a very strong light indeed. Great Barons,

it

may be supposed, followed the example of the monarch as nearly as possible; and the citizens of London were conspicuous for their invention in splendid pageants, exhibited on all public occasions, in the forming of which the heathen mythology was an endless source. As I have greatly enlarged on this subject in my “ History of London,” I cannot do more at present than refer the reader to the pageants in honour of Henry VI. and those exhibited on various accounts by the Company of Ironmongers.

The

[ocr errors]

The manners of the people during the reign of Henry VIII. may in a great measure be collected from what has been already said; but it may not be amiss to observe generally, that they must have much resembled that of the court, in many particulars. 'Henry, according to every original document now remaining, was most extravagantly profuse in his dress, and every luxurious indulgence; and all the paintings of that time extant convince us, that jewelry and embroidery were in constant fashion. The luxury of the monarch, his admiration of the fair sex, his splendid entertainments and revels, were each imitated in gradations caused by difference of circumstances.

The public mind was evidently enervated by these means; and we consequently find a few virtuous men, alone and unsupported, contending, till they fell to rise no more, against his monstrous encroachments on morality. Compassion for female suffering seems not to have existed ; or the general voice would have been raised, when so many queens were sacrificed in succession. Such were the royal ideas of gallantry and politeness to the fair, and such were the accommodating conduct and servility of the population, that the organs by which it speaks (the authors of the time) represent Henry and his courtiers as equally polished and gallant.

Despotic

[ocr errors]

Despotic power is never confined wholly to the throne. A courtier, compelled to bow with implicit obedience and reverence before his sovereign, returns to his family a complete tyrant, exacting the same degree of deference from his subjects, as he involuntarily pays to his superior, with few exceptions: therefore, behold the lord, seated in austere majesty, surrounded by his wife, his offspring, and his vassals ; even his guests, though equals, acknowledge his domestic sway; and all is restraint and embarrassment. It is useless to descend to more humble imitators, who might be traced almost to the dregs of society. Education was of little importance; to obey, was enough ; the enlargement of the mind must have caused rebellion. Children stood trembling and corrected before their parents ; and some faint traces may yet be found in the country, of the consort's subjection; who declines seating herself, at her own table, till her lord has dined.

One of the first traces of emancipation from his hateful slavery, was the excellent work, “ The Governor;" which I have made ample use of, and supersedes more minute particulars at present.

The bondmen of England were gradually diminished between the reigns of Henry VII. and Edward VI. Indeed, with our present ideas of

liberty,

« ZurückWeiter »