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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 2 of 2)

A visitation of monasteries was ordered


the conference at Wittenberg had come to an end, Henry believed that he had no need for a German alliance. The ill-used Queen Catharine, who, alone of all persons concerned in the Divorce proceedings, comes out unstained, died on Jan. 7th, 1536. Her will contained the touching bequest: "To my daughter, the collar of gold which I brought out of Spain"[458]--out of Spain, when she came a fair young bride to marry Prince Arthur of England thirty-five years before.

There is no need to believe that Henry exhibited the unseemly manifestations of joy which his enemies credit him with when the news of Catharine's death was brought to him, but it did free him from a great dread. He read men and circumstances shrewdly, and he knew enough of Charles V. to believe that the Emperor, after his aunt's death, and when he had no flagrant attack on the family honour of his house to protest against, would not make himself the Pope's instrument against England.

Henry had always maintained himself and England by balancing France against the Empire, and could in addition weaken the Empire by strengthening the German Protestants. But in 1539, France and the Emperor had become allies, and Henry was feeling himself very insecure. It is probable that the negotiations which led to Henry's marriage with Anne of Cleves were due to this new danger. On the other hand, there had been discontent in England at many of the actions which were

supposed to come from the advance towards Reformation.

Henry VIII. had always spent money lavishly. His father's immense hoards had disappeared, while England, under Wolsey, was the paymaster of Europe, and the King was in great need of funds. In England as elsewhere the wealth of the monasteries seemed to have been collected for the purpose of supplying an empty royal exchequer. A visitation of monasteries was ordered, under the superintendence of Thomas Cromwell; and, in order to give him a perfectly free hand, all episcopal functions were for the time being suspended. The visitation disclosed many scandalous things. It was followed by the Act of Parliament (1536) for _The Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries_.[459] The lands of all monasteries whose annual rental was less than L200 a year were given to the King, as well as all the ornaments, jewels, and other goods belonging to them. The dislodged monks and nuns were either to be taken into the larger houses or to receive some measure of support, and the heads were to get pensions sufficient to sustain them. The lands thus acquired might have been formed into a great crown estate yielding revenues large enough to permit taxation to be dispensed with; but the King was in need of ready money, and he had courtiers to gratify. The convent lands were for the most part sold cheaply to courtiers, and the numbers and power of the county families were largely increased. A new visitation of the remaining monasteries was begun in 1538, this time accompanied with an inquiry into superstitious practices indulged in in various parts of the country, and notorious relics were removed. They were of all sorts--part of St. Peter's hair and beard; stones with which St. Stephen was stoned; the hair shirt and bones of St. Thomas the martyr; a crystal containing a little quantity of Our Lady's milk, "with two other bones"; the "principal relic in England, an angel with one wing that brought to Caversham (near Reading) the spear's head that pierced the side of our Saviour on the cross"; the ear of Malchus, which St. Peter cut off; a foot of St. Philip at Winchester "covered with gold plate and (precious) stones"; and so forth.[460] Miraculous images were brought up to London and their mechanism exposed to the crowd, while an eloquent preacher thundered against the superstition:

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