William Cobbett wrote about The Protestant English Reformation in 1824 in his book A History of the English Reformation.
He argues that the ‘Reformation’ would be better named as the ‘Devastation’. By 1600 Catholicism as a cultural influence in England was almost destroyed. For example, nearly all the monasteries and many churches were ransacked and their windows smashed. People lost not only their faith and culture but their educational opportunities and whatever power and influence they once had. They were also poorer. The Protestant Reformation is revealed as nothing less than a power grab by a privileged class that was already doing very well for itself but took from the poor to divide among themselves the spoils of religious discord introduced by Martin Luther and his crew.
This was the sorry state of England in the 16th century when the people witnessed their faith trashed and stolen from them. Not only this but were subsequently persecuted for their belief in Catholicism. Inevitably this led to martyrdom; the exemplary life of the Jesuit Priest Edmund Campion is well-worth reading about. But the points made by William Cobbett reveal not only a once happy country devastated by the so-called ‘Reformation’ but the absurdity of this persecution of Catholics who were in essence the forefathers of those who now say that the Pope was the “anti-Christ”. Protestants believed in the same New Testament as their Catholic forefathers so how can it be that many hundreds of years of faith and tradition was no longer considered acceptable?
The reason, as Cobbett makes clear in his insightful book, is that the ruling class enforced their power on the people and took their faith away controlling and shaping lives that had once found sanctuary in the church or in the grounds of the monastery or abbey to an even greater extent. By contrast, while Catholicism was still the most popular faith in England, people thrived in strong communities that were supportive in every aspect of life. Rents or tithes were modest and leniency given where it was due. There was order and respect from rich and poor although any disparity in wealth and power was not ordinarily a cause for division since everyone shared the same faith and religious purpose and this would be demonstrated in everyday concern and the giving of alms.
Durham in the 16th century is given as an example of these changes in English society of a happy and peaceful community now uprooted from the life they had once known. The wide increase in poverty subsequent to the Protestant Reformation is made known in many ways but also in an ‘old document’ written before the close of Henry VIII’s reign.
“The Priests witness a universal extremity and increase of misery, poverty, dearth, beggars, theives and vagabonds, that it is hardly now possible to bear it”.
“…we have never had a merry nor wealthy world since abbeys were put down and this new learning brought in place.”
And this made me think of contemporary England. The England of today has changed enormously in the past forty years. Thousands of new laws. Many people must now work for six months before they begin to earn money for themselves such are the delights of heavy and progressive taxation. Prior to the ‘Reformation’ taxation was negligible. Five hundred years after the devastation I see history repeating itself. A land turned upside down by overturning tradition and culture. People no longer feel their views and opinions are listened to by metropolitan elite who rule Westminster and have been found guilty of defrauding the taxpayer. Now they have destroyed evidence of this in parliament which means the police can no longer investigate further issues relating to the expenses scandal of five years ago.
Our politicians have given away our sovereignty to a supranational power: The EU. Five hundred years ago this supranational power was considered by Henry VIII to be Rome and Papal authority. On the surface this appears to be the reverse of what went before. On further scrutiny, however, one can see that history is repeating itself. The people are used by the ruling class for their own purposes. As we have seen the people of England have had their faith and their country taken away from them not once, but twice.