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when the books of the civil law had been discovered) the old Roman jurisprudence were the basis, was tedious, costly, and what was perhaps worse than all, novel.* Even of those who had to administer it, there were some who did it reluctantly, strove to evade it, and adopted the trial by jury instead of the subtleties of the Roman law; but these innovations were accounted heretical, and prohibitions were issued against Grosthead, Bishop of Lincoln, and others, who had the courage or temerity to attempt them. Still it was one thing to silence, and another to satisfy. Much inconvenience was felt by the people in consequence of "the law's delay," and a proportionate desire was created for a reformation of the system. The rolls of parliament, from Edward III. to Henry VIII., present numerous complaints to the Commons on the difficulties attending the probate of wills; and such there well might be, when, in addition to the parties already mentioned, the bishop and the legate, each of whom asserted his own exclusive right of probate, and referred his cause to the pope, a third party stepped in, under the title of legatus e latere, or special legate, who in his turn, contested the privileges of the legatus natus, and urged his own superior claim to the cognisance of all testamentary matters. Nor were the grievances touching property more onerous than those which regarded domestic relationship. The regulations of marriage were intricate and vexatious: whilst it was maintained to be in itself a sacrament, and so indissoluble, the prohibited degrees were studiously multiplied, and thereby a pretence was furnished for a dissolution whenever it should be the pope's pleasure to pronounce it. Thus did he hold in his hands, and determine by his legate, or by the dean of the
* Reynolds, 36.
+ Reynolds, 38.
arches, the legate's deputy, the legitimacy of children, and the succession of families, separating those whom no man had a right to put asunder, and giving his sanction to unions which nature and Scripture forbade.
The progress of a cause, slow, of necessity by reason of the forms of the court, and the contradictions of the canons, was still further and more seriously impeded by appeals. By these, episcopal decisions were set at nought; and the more effectually as the court of the arches was invested with the power of suspending the process of the ordinary till the pope's answer should be received, and often no doubt, till one or both of the litigants would be ready to exclaim with King Henry, whose divorce presents, in its seven years' details, a splendid example of the grievances under which numbers of his subjects were suffering, with more right on their side
This dilatory sloth and tricks of Rome."
It would be a long labour, and one, perhaps of no great interest to the majority of our readers after all, to follow out this branch of our subject in all its extent. Suffice it, however, not to have passed over in silence so fruitful a source of popular discontent as abuses in the administration of the law-abuses which could fail of alienating multitudes from a church with which they were identified. It is not, perhaps, a circumstance less worthy of notice from being often overlooked, and whilst the more obvious evils which clamorously demanded redress are set forth to the full, one which touched men in their property, their affections-which met them in the affairs of "this working-day world" at every turn-is noticed casually, or not at all.
There may be those, indeed, who think that to dwell at
so much length on the secondary and more disrgaceful causes of the Reformation, is to detract from the character of that great event, and to tarnish its lustre; but they who regard God's enemies as his instruments will not so account of it. They will see in the course given to those beggarly elements the same superintending hand that wrought the nourishment of Jacob's household out of the sin of Jacob's sons; so that whilst they wickedly sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites, God mercifully made it for good, sending him before them, by this means, to preserve them a posterity in the earth, and to save their lives by a great deliverance. They will see in it the same power at work that shaped the cruel decree of Pharaoh for the children to be cast into the river into an easy provision for bringing up Moses in the royal household, and thus fitting him to be the teacher and leader of Israel, by introducing him into all the wisdom of the Egyptians. They will see in it the same that achieved the salvation of the world itself, by Caiphas who declared that it was expedient for one man to die for the people, and by the wretches that cried, "Crucify him! crucify him!"
MONASTERIES.-THEIR USURPATION OF THE RIGHTS OF THE CLERGY.-IMPROPRIATIONS.-EVILS OF THE SYSTEM.
WITH the causes already enumerated as those which worked the downfall of the Roman Catholic church, there conspired the ignorance and immoral lives of the clergy. A system of celibacy upon compulsion was sure to produce a system of profligacy. Yet the disgusting catalogue of offences alleged against the regulars, by the visiters of the monasteries, ought, perhaps, to be received with some caution. The commissioners were not unprejudiced judges. They knew full well, that the king, their master, was determined on the dissolution of the religious houses, and that, at all events, a quarrel was to be picked. Bad enough those houses probably were, but had they been better, their doom was sealed. The preamble of the act for dissolving the smaller ones on pretence of their corruption, proclaims that the greater were spared as being regular, devout, and praiseworthy; yet we know what followed.* The nunnery of
Godstow, in Oxfordshire, was actually reported as exemplary; it was the school to which all the young gentlewomen of the country resorted. Their friends pleaded with the king to spare it, the inquisitors seconded their petition, -but they obtained for it no other boon than that it should be eaten up last. Voluntary confessions of guilt, which accompanied the surrender of the abbeys, are the mere suicidal confessions of a man upon the wheel, proof of no
* 27 Hen. 8. c. 28. Stat. of the Realm, iii. 576.
thing but of the pain or the hope which extorted them. The monks found that they could not save their ship, and therefore, they compromised, by stripping themselves naked, and trying for a plank. Had they stood upon their own innocence, they would have condemned the king, and still lost their estates; did they allow their guilt, they screened his rapacity, and received a see, a living, or a pension. The courtiers were interested in swelling the cry that such men were not fit to live. They, like the visiters, themselves hoped for a share of the golden eggs when they should have succeeded in killing the hen. "Wherefore this waste?" was their pretence; but they carried a bag of their own, which was to be filled out of their neighbour's pocket; and, whatever might be the sin of sacrilege," tithe corn," thought they, "makes very good bread." Here is no attempt or desire to defend these miserable monks in the teeth of damning facts and some such, no doubt, there were to testify against very many of the monastic abuses-but it is nothing but justice, and the practice of every equitable court, to weigh the characters and prejudices, and private interests of the witnesses, when they would swear away a man's life, substance, and good name; and, in the present instance, it is fair to adopt the same rule, were it only out of consideration to the many sincere, and humble, and righteous servants of God, that those religious houses contained within their walls, even in the midst of an adulterous and sinful generation; the faithful among the faithless; the many who had fled thither for shelter from the sorrows of life; the ambitious, with blithed hopes and a broken spirit, the gay with the experience of the wise man that all under the sun was vanity; the forlorn, whom the world had abandoned, and left to drift upon the rocks; the disappointed, whose course of true love might not have run smooth; these, and a thousand other malignant influences, contributed their victims to those "po