THE COMING OF THE FRIARS AND OTHER HISTORIC ESSAYS
BY THE REV. AUGUSTUS JESSOPP, D.D.
Hon. Canon in Norwich Cathedral, Hon. Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, and Hon. Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge
TO MY FRIEND AND SOMETIME TUTOR,
FRANCIS WHALLEY HARPER,
CANON OF YORK,
I OFFER THIS VOLUME AS A TOKEN OF MY GRATITUDE
[These Essays have appeared at various times in "The Nineteenth Century," and are now printed with some alterations, corrections, and additions.]
I. THE COMING OF THE FRIARS
II. VILLAGE LIFE IN NORFOLK SIX HUNDRED YEARS AGO
III. DAILY LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL MONASTERY
IV. THE BLACK DEATH IN EAST ANGLIA
V. THE BLACK DEATH IN EAST ANGLIA (continued)
VI. THE BUILDING UP OF A UNIVERSITY
VII. THE PROPHET OF WALNUT-TREE YARD
THE COMING OF THE FRIARS.
Sweet St. Francis of Assisi, would that he were here again!—Lord Tennyson.
When King Richard of England, whom men call the Lion-hearted, was wasting his time at Messina, after his boisterous fashion, in the winter of 1190, he heard of the fame of Abbot Joachim, and sent for that renowned personage, that he might hear from his own lips the words of prophecy and their interpretation.
Around the personality of Joachim there has gathered no small amount of mythus. He was, it appears, the inventor of that mystical method of Hermeneutics which has in our time received the name of "the year-day theory," and which, though now abandoned for the most part by sane men, has still some devout and superstitious advocates in the school of Dr. Cumming and kindred visionaries.
Abbot Joachim proclaimed that a stupendous catastrophe was at hand. Opening the Book of the Revelation of St. John he read, pondered, and interpreted. A divine illumination opened out to him the dark things that were written in the sacred pages. The unenlightened could make nothing of "a time, times, and half a time" [Footnote: Dan. xii. 7.] ; to them the terrors of the 1,260 days [Footnote: Rev. xi .3.] were an insoluble enigma long since given up as hopeless, whose answer would come only at the Day of Judgment. Abbot Joachim declared that the key to the mystery had been to him revealed. What could "a time, times, and half a time" mean, but three years and a half? What could a year mean in the divine economy but the lunar year of 360 days? for was not the moon the symbol of the Church of God? What were those 1,260 days but the sum of the days of three years and a half? Moreover, as it had been with the prophet Ezekiel, to whom it was said, "I have appointed thee a day for a year," so it must needs be with other seers who saw the visions of God. To them the "day" was not as our brief prosaic day—to them too had been "appointed a day for a year." The "time, times, and half a time" were the 1,260 days, and these were 1,260 years, and the stupendous catastrophe, the battle of Armageddon, the reign of Antichrist, the new heavens and the new earth, the slaughter and the resurrection of the two heavenly witnesses, were at hand. Eleven hundred and ninety years had passed away of those 1,260. "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth," said Joachim; "Antichrist is already born, yea born in the city of Rome!"
Though King Richard, in the strange interview of which contemporary historians have left us a curious narrative, exhibited much more of the spirit of the scoffer than of the convert, and evidently had no faith in Abbott Joachim's theories and his mission, it was otherwise with the world at large. At the close of the twelfth century a very general belief, the result of a true instinct, pervaded all classes that European society was passing through a tremendous crisis, that the dawn of a new era, or, as they phrased it, "the end of all things" was at hand.
The Abbot Joachim was only the spokesman of his age who was lucky enough to get a hearing. He spoke a language that was a jargon of rhapsody, but he spoke vaguely of terrors, and perils, and earthquakes, and thunderings, the day of wrath; and because he spoke so darkly men listened all the more eagerly, for there was a vague anticipation of the breaking up of the great waters, and that things that had been heretofore could not continue as they were.
Verily when the thirteenth century opened, the times were evil, and no hope seemed anywhere on the horizon. The grasp of the infidel was tightened upon the Holy City, and what little force there ever had been among the rabble of Crusaders was gone now; the truculent ruffianism that pretended to be animated by the crusading spirit showed its real character in the hideous atrocities for which Simon de Montfort is answerable, and in the unparalleled enormities of the sack of Constantinople in 1204. For ten years (1198—1208) through the length and breadth of Germany there was ceaseless and sanguinary conflict. In the great Italian towns party warfare, never hesitating to resort to every kind of crime, had long been chronic. The history of Sicily is one long record of cruelty, tyranny, and wrong— committed, suffered, or revenged. Over the whole continent of Europe people seem to have had no homes; the merchant, the student, the soldier, the ecclesiastic were always on the move. Young men made no difficulty in crossing the Alps to attend lectures at Bologna, or crossing the Channel to or from Oxford and Paris. The soldier or the scholar was equally a free-lance, ready to take service whereever it offered, and to settle wherever there was dread to win or money to save. No one trusted in the stability of anything. [Footnote: M. Jusserand's beautiful book, "La Vie Nomade," was not published till 1884, i.e., a year after this essay appeared.]
To a thoughtful man watching the signs of the times, it may well have seemed that the hope for the future of civilization—the hope for any future, whether of art, science, or religion-lay in the steady growth of the towns. It might be that the barrier of the Alps would always limit the influence of Italian cities to Italy and the islands of the Mediterranean; but for the great towns of what is now Belgium and Germany what part might not be left for them to play in the history of the world? In England the towns were as yet insignificant communities compared with such mighty aggregates of population as were to be found in Bruges, Antwerp, or Cologne; but even the English towns were communities, and they were beginning to assert themselves somewhat loudly while clinging to their chartered rights with jealous tenacity. Those rights, however, were eminently exclusive and selfish in their character. The chartered towns were ruled in all cases by an oligarchy. [Footnote: Stubbs, "Constitutional History," vol. i. Section 131.] The increase in the population brought wealth to a class, the class of privileged traders, associated into guilds, who kept their several mysteries to themselves by vigilant measures of protection. Outside the well-guarded defences which these trades-unions constructed, there were the masses—hewers of wood and drawers of water—standing to the skilled artizan of the thirteenth century almost precisely in the same relation as the bricklayer's labourer does to the mason in our own time. The sediment of the town population in the Middle Ages was a dense slough of stagnant misery, squalor, famine, loathsome disease, and dull despair, such as the worst slums of London, Paris, or Liverpool know nothing of. When we hear of the mortality among the townsmen during the periodical outbreaks of pestilence or famine, horror suggests that we should dismiss as incredible such stories as the imagination shrinks from dwelling on. What greatly added to the dreary wretchedness of the lower order in the towns was the fact that the ever-increasing throngs of beggars, outlaws, and ruffian runaways were simply left to shift for themselves. The civil authorities took no account of them as long as they quietly rotted and died; and, what was still more dreadful, the whole machinery of the Church polity had been formed and was adapted to deal with entirely different conditions of society from those which had now arisen.
The idea of the parish priest taking the oversight of his flock, and ministering to each member as the shepherd of the people, is a grand one, but it is an idea which can be realized, and then only approximately, in the village community. In the towns of the Middle Ages the parochial system, except as a civil institution, had broken down.
The other idea, of men and women weary of the hard struggle with sin, and fleeing from the wrath to come, joining together to give themselves up to the higher life, out of the reach of temptation and safe from the witcheries of Mammon,—that too was a grand idea, and not unfrequently it had been carried out grandly. But the monk was nothing and did nothing for the townsman; he fled away to his solitude; the rapture of silent adoration was his joy and exceeding great reward; his nights and days might be spent in praise and prayer, sometimes in study and research, sometimes in battling with the powers of darkness and ignorance, sometimes in throwing himself heart and soul into art which it was easy to persuade himself he was doing only for the glory of God; but all this must go on far away from the busy haunts of men, certainly not within earshot of the multitude. Moreover the monk was, by birth, education, and sympathy, one with the upper classes. What were the rabble to him? [Footnote: The 20th Article of the Assize of Clarendon is very significant: "Prohibet dominus rex ne monachi... recipiant aliquem de minuto populo in monachum, vel canonicum vel fratrem," &c.—Stubbs, "Benedict Abbas," pref. p. cliv.] In return the townsmen hated him cordially, as a supercilious aristocrat and Pharisee, with the guile and greed of the Scribe and lawyer superadded.
Upon the townsmen—whatever it may have been among the countrymen— the ministers of religion exercised the smallest possible restraint. Nay! it was only too evident that the bonds of ecclesiastical discipline which had so often exercised a salutary check upon the unruly had become seriously relaxed of late, both in town and country; they had been put to too great a strain and had snapped. By the suicidal methods of Excommunication and Interdict all ranks were schooled into doing without the rites of religion, the baptism of their children, or the blessing upon the marriage union. In the meantime it was notorious that even in high places there were instances not a few of Christians who had denied the faith and had given themselves up to strange beliefs, of which the creed of the Moslem was not the worst. Men must have received with a smile the doctrine that Marriage was a Sacrament when everybody knew that, among the upper classes at least, the bonds of matrimony were soluble almost at pleasure. [Footnote: Eleanor of Aquitaine, consort of Henry II., had been divorced by Louis VII. of France. Constance of Brittany, mother of Arthur—Shakespeare's idealized Constance—left her husband, Ranulph, Earl of Chester, to unite herself with Guy of Flanders. Conrad of Montferat divorced the daughter of Isaac Angelus, Emperor of Constantinople, to marry Isabella, daughter of Amalric, King of Jerusalem, the bride repudiating her husband Henfrid of Thouars. Philip II. of France married the sister of the King of Denmark one day and divorced her the next; then married a German lady, left her, and returned to the repudiated Dane. King John in 1189 divorced Hawisia, Countess of Gloucester, and took Isabella of Angouleme to wife, but how little he cared to be faithful to the one or the other the chronicles disdain to ask.] It seems hardly worth while to notice that the observance of Sunday was almost universally neglected, or that sermons had become so rare that when Eustace, Abbot of Flai, preached in various places in England in 1200, miracles were said to have ensued as the ordinary effects of his eloquence. Earnestness in such an age seemed in itself miraculous. Here and there men and women, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, raised their sobbing prayer to heaven that the Lord would shortly accomplish the number of his elect and hasten his coming, and Abbot Joachim's dreams were talked of and his vague mutterings made the sanguine hope for better days. Among those mutterings had there not been a speech of the two heavenly witnesses who were to do—ah! what were they not to do? And these heavenly witnesses, who were they? When and where would they appear?
Eight years before King Richard was in Sicily a child had been born in the thriving town of Assisi, thirteen miles from Perugia, who was destined to be one of the great movers of the world. Giovanni Bernardone was the son of a wealthy merchant at Assisi, and from all that appears an only child. He was from infancy intended for a mercantile career, nor does he seem to have felt any dislike to it. One story—and it is as probable as the other—accounts for his name Francesco by assuring us that he earned it by his unusual familiarity with the French language, acquired during his residence in France while managing his father's business. The new name clung to him; the old baptismal name was dropped; posterity has almost forgotten that it was ever imposed. From the mass of tradition and personal recollections that have come down to us from so many different sources it is not always easy to decide when we are dealing with pure invention of pious fraud, and when with mere exaggeration of actual fact, but it scarcely admits of doubt that the young merchant of Assisi was engaged in trade and commerce till his twenty-fourth year, living in the main as others live, but perhaps early conspicuous for aiming at a loftier ideal than that of his everyday associates, and characterized by the devout and ardent temperament essential to the religious reformer. It was in the year 1206 that he became a changed man. He fell ill—he lay at Death's door. From the languor and delirium he recovered but slowly—when he did recover old things had passed away; behold! all things had become new. From this time Giovanni Bernardone passes out of sight, and from the ashes of a dead past, from the seed which has withered that the new life might germinate and fructify, Francis—why grudge to call him Saint Francis?—of Assisi rises.
Very early the young man had shown a taste for Church restoration. The material fabric of the houses of God in the land could not but exhibit the decay of living faith; the churches were falling into ruins. The little chapel of St. Mary and the Angels at Assisi was in a scandalous condition of decay. It troubled the heart of the young pietist profoundly to see the Christian church squalid and tottering to its fall while within sight of it was the Roman temple in which men had worshipped the idols. There it stood, as it had stood for a thousand years—as it stands to this day. Oh, shame! that Christian men should build so slightly while the heathen built so strongly!
To the little squalid ruin St. Francis came time and again, and poured out his heart, perplexed and sad; and there, we are told, God met him and a voice said, "Go, and build my church again." It was a "thought beyond his thought," and with the straightforward simplicity of his nature he accepted the message in its literal sense and at once set about obeying it as he understood it.
He began by giving all he could lay his hands on to provide funds for the work. His own resources exhausted, he applied for contributions to all who came in his way. His father became alarmed at his son's excessive liberality and the consequences that might ensue from his strange recklessness; it is even said that he turned him out of doors; it seems that the commercial partnership was cancelled: it is certain that the son was compelled to make some great renunciation of wealth, and that his private means were seriously restricted. That a man of business should be blind to the preciousness of money was a sufficient proof then, as now, that he must be mad.
O ye wary men of the world, bristling with the shrewdest of maxims, bursting with the lessons of experience, ye of the cool heads and the cold grey eyes, ye whom the statesman loves, and the tradesman trusts, cautious, sagacious, prudent; when the rumbling of the earthquake tells us that the foundations of the earth are out of course, we must look for deliverance to other than you! A grain of enthusiasm is of mightier force than a million tons of wisdom such as yours; then when the hour of the great upheaval has arrived, and things can no longer be kept going!
"Build up my church!" said the voice again to this gushing emaciated fanatic in the second-rate Italian town, this dismal bankrupt of twenty-four years of age, "of lamentably low extraction," whom no University claimed as her own, and whom the learned pundits pitied. At last he understood the profounder meaning of the words. It was no temple made with hands, but the living Church that needed raising. The dust of corruption must be swept away, the dry bones be stirred; the breath of the divine Spirit blow and reanimate them. Did not the voice mean that? What remained but to obey?
In his journeyings through France it is hardly possible that St. Francis should not have heard of the poor men of Lyons whose peculiar tenets at this time were arousing very general attention. It is not improbable that he may have fallen in with one of those translations of the New Testament into the vernacular executed by Stephen de Emsa at the expense of Peter Waldo, and through his means widely circulated among all classes. [Footnote: See "Facts and Documents Illustrative of the History, Doctrine, and Rites, of the Ancient Albigenses and Waldenses," by the Rev. S. R, Maitland, London, 8vo., 1832, p. 127 et seq.] Be it as it may, the words addressed by our Lord to the seventy, when he sent them forth to preach the kingdom of heaven, seemed to St. Francis to be written in letters of flame. They haunted him waking and sleeping. "The lust of gain in the spirit of Cain!" what had it done for the world or the Church but saturate the one and the other with sordid greed? Mere wealth had not added to the sum of human happiness. Nay, misery was growing; kings fought, and the people bled at every pore. Merchants reared their palaces, and the masses were perishing. Where riches increased, there pride and ungodliness were rampant. What had corrupted the monks, whose lives should be so pure and exemplary? What but their vast possessions, bringing with them luxury and the paralysis of devotion and of all lofty endeavour? It was openly maintained that the original Benedictine Rule could not be kept now as of yore. One attempt after another to bring back the old monastic discipline had failed deplorably. The Cluniac revival had been followed by the Cluniac laxity, splendour, and ostentation. The Cistercians, who for a generation had been the sour puritans of the cloister, had become the most potent religious corporation in Europe; but theirs was the power of the purse now. Where had the old strictness and the old fervour gone? Each man was lusting for all that was not his own; but free alms, where were they? and pity for the sad, and reverence for the stricken, and tenderness and sympathy? "O gentle Jesus, where art Thou? and is there no love of Thee anywhere, nor any love for Thy lost sheep, Thou crucified Saviour of men?"
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Knocking at his heart—not merely buzzing in his brain—the words kept smiting him, "Provide neither gold nor silver nor brass in your purses, neither scrip for your journey, neither two coats, nor yet staves, for the workman is worthy of his meat!" Once men had changed the face of the world with no other equipment. Faith then had removed mountains. Why not again? He threw away his staff and shoes; he went forth with literally a single garment; he was girt with a common rope round his loins. He no more doubted of his mission, he no more feared for the morrow than he feared for the young ravens that he loved and spake to in an ecstasy of joy.
Henceforth there was "not a bird upon the tree but half forgave his being human;" the flowers of the field looked out at him with special greetings, the wolf of the mountains met him with no fierce glare in his eye. Great men smiled at the craze of the monomaniac. Old men shook their grey heads and remembered that they themselves had been young and foolish. Practical men would not waste their words upon the folly of the thing. Rich men, serenely confident of their position, affirmed that they knew of only one who could overcome the world—to wit, the veritable hero, he who holds the purse-strings. St. Francis did not speak to these. "Oh, ye miserable, helpless, and despairing; ye who find yourselves so unutterably forlorn—so very, very far astray; ye lost souls whom Satan has bound through the long weary years; ye of the broken hearts, bowed down and crushed; ye with your wasted bodies loathsome to every sense, to whom life is torture and whom death will not deliver; ye whose very nearness by the wayside makes the traveller as he passes shudder with uncontrollable horror lest your breath should light upon his garments, look! I am poor as you—I am one of yourselves. Christ, the very Christ of God, has sent me with a message to you. Listen!"
It is observable that we never hear of St. Francis that he was a sermon-maker. He had received no clerical or even academical training. Up to 1207 he had not even a license to preach. It was only after this that he was—and apparently without desiring it—ordained a deacon. In its first beginnings the Franciscan movement was essentially moral, not theological, still less intellectual. The absence of anything like dogma in the sermons of the early Minorites was their characteristic. One is tempted to say it was a mere accident that these men were not sectaries, so little in common had they with the ecclesiastics of the time, so entirely did they live and labour among the laity of whom they were and with whom they so profoundly sympathized.
The secret of the overwhelming, the irresistible attraction which St. Francis exercised is to be found in his matchless simplicity, in his sublime self-surrender. He removed mountains because he believed intensely in the infinite power of mere goodness. While from the writhing millions all over Europe—the millions ignorant, neglected, plague-stricken, despairing—an inarticulate wail was going up to God, St. Francis made it articulate. Then he boldly proclaimed: "God has heard your cry! It meant this and that. I am sent to you with the good God's answer." There was less than a step between accepting him as the interpreter of their vague yearnings and embracing him as the ambassador of Heaven to themselves.
St, Francis was hardly twenty-eight years old when he set out for Rome, to lay himself at the feet of the great Pope Innocent the Third, and to ask from him some formal recognition. The pontiff, so the story goes, was walking in the garden of the Lateran when the momentous meeting took place. Startled by the sudden apparition of an emaciated young man, bareheaded, shoeless, half-clad, but—for all his gentleness—a beggar who would take no denial, Innocent hesitated. It was but for a brief hour, the next he was won.
Francis returned to Assisi with the Papal sanction for what was, probably, a draught of his afterwards famous "Rule." He was met by the whole city, who received him with a frenzy of excitement. By this time his enthusiasm had kindled that of eleven other young men, all now aglow with the same divine fire. A twelfth soon was added—he, moreover, a layman of gentle blood and of knightly rank. All these had surrendered their claim to everything in the shape of property, and had resolved to follow their great leader's example by stripping themselves of all worldly possessions, and suffering the loss of all things. They were beggars—literally barefooted beggars. The love of money was the root of all evil. They would not touch the accursed thing lest they should be defiled—no, not with the tips of their fingers. "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon."
Beggars they were, but they were brethren—Fratres (Frres). We in England have got to call them Friars. Francis was never known in his lifetime as anything higher than Brother Francis, and his community he insisted should be called the community of the lesser brethren—Fratres Minores—for none could be or should be less than they. Abbots and Priors, he would have none of them. "He that will be chief among you," he said, in Christ's own words, "let him be your servant." The highest official among the Minorites was the Minister, the elect of all, the servant of all, and if not humble enough to serve, not fit to rule.
People talk of "Monks and Friars" as if these were convertible terms. The truth is that the difference between the Monks and the Friars was almost one of kind. The Monk was supposed never to leave his cloister. The Friar in St. Francis' first intention had no cloister to leave. Even when he had where to lay his head, his life-work was not to save his own soul, but first and foremost to save the bodies and souls of others. The Monk had nothing to do with ministering to others. At best his business was to be the salt of the earth, and it behoved him to be much more upon his guard that the salt should not lose his savour, than that the earth should be sweetened. The Friar was an itinerant evangelist, always on the move. He was a preacher of righteousness. He lifted up his voice against sin and wrong. "Save yourselves from this untoward generation!" he cried; "save yourselves from the wrath to come." The Monk, as has been said, was an aristocrat. The Friar belonged to the great unwashed!
Without the loss of a day the new apostles of poverty, of pity, of an all-embracing love, went forth by two and two to build up the ruined Church of God. Theology they were, from anything that appears, sublimely ignorant of. Except that they were masters of every phrase and word in the Gospels, their stock in trade was scarcely more than that of an average candidate for Anglican orders; but to each and all of them Christ was simply everything. If ever men have preached Christ, these men did; Christ, nothing but Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. They had no system, they had no views, they combated no opinions, they took no side. Let the dialecticians dispute about this nice distinction or that. There could be no doubt that Christ had died and risen, and was alive for evermore. There was no place for controversy or opinions when here was a mere simple, indisputable, but most awful fact. Did you want to wrangle about the aspect of the fact, the evidence, the what not? St. Francis had no mission to argue with you. "The pearl of great price—will you have it or not? Whether or not, there are millions sighing for it, crying for it, dying for it. To the poor at any rate the Gospel shall be preached now as of old."
To the poor by the poor. Those masses, those dreadful masses, crawling, sweltering in the foul hovels, in many a southern town with never a roof to cover them, huddling in groups under a dry arch, alive with vermin; gibbering cretins with the ghastly wens; lepers by the hundred, too shocking for mothers to gaze at, and therefore driven forth to curse and howl in the lazar-house outside the walls, there stretching out their bony hands to clutch the frightened almsgiver's dole, or, failing that, to pick up shreds of offal from the heaps of garbage—to these St. Francis came.
More wonderful still!—to these outcasts came those other twelve, so utterly had their leader's sublime self-surrender communicated itself to his converts. "We are come," they said, "to live among you and be your servants, and wash your sores, and make your lot less hard than it is. We only want to do as Christ bids us do. We are beggars too, and we too have not where to lay our heads. Christ sent us to you. Yes. Christ the crucified, whose we are, and whose you are. Be not wroth with us, we will help you if we can."
As they spoke, so they lived. They were less than the least, as St. Francis told them they must strive to be. Incredulous cynicism was put to silence. It was wonderful, it was inexplicable, it was disgusting, it was anything you please; but where there were outcasts, lepers, pariahs, there, there were these penniless Minorites tending the miserable sufferers with a cheerful look, and not seldom with a merry laugh. As one reads the stories of those earlier Franciscans, one is reminded every now and then of the extravagances of the Salvation Army.
The heroic example set by these men at first startled, and then fascinated the upper classes. While labouring to save the lowest, they took captive the highest. The Brotherhood grew in numbers day by day; as it grew, new problems presented themselves. How to dispose of all the wealth renounced, how to employ the energies of all the crowds of brethren. Hardest of all, what to do with the earnest, highly-trained, and sometimes erudite convert who could not divest himself of the treasures of learning which he had amassed. "Must I part with my books?" said the scholar, with a sinking heart. "Carry nothing with you for your journey!" was the inexorable answer. "Not a Breviary? not even the Psalms of David?" "Get them into your heart of hearts, and provide yourself with a treasure in the heavens. Who ever heard of Christ reading books save when He opened the book in the synagogue, and then closed it and went forth to teach the world for ever?"
In 1215 the new Order held its first Chapter at the Church of the Portiuncula. The numbers of the Brotherhood and the area over which their labours extended had increased so vastly that it was already found necessary to nominate Provincial Ministers in France, Germany, and Spain.
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While these things were going on in Italy, another notable reformer was vexing his righteous soul in Spain. St. Dominic was a very different man from the gentle and romantic young Italian. Of high birth, which among the haughty Castillians has always counted for a great deal, he had passed his boyhood among ecclesiastics and academics. He was twelve years older than St. Francis. He studied theology for ten years at the University of Palencia, and before the twelfth century closed he was an Augustinian Canon. In 1203, while St. Francis was still poring over his father's ledgers, Dominic was associated with the Bishop of Osma in negotiating a marriage for Alphonso the Eighth, king of Castille. For the next ten years he was more or less concerned with the hideous atrocities of the Albigensian war. During that dark period of his career he was brought every day face to face with heresy and schism. From infancy he must have heard those around him talk with a savage intolerance of the Moors of the South and the stubborn Jews of Toledo nearer home. Now his eyes were open to the perils that beset the Church from sectaries who from within were for casting off her divine authority. Wretches who questioned the very creeds and rejected the Sacraments, yet perversely insisted that they were Christian men and women, with a clearer insight into Gospel mysteries than Bishops and Cardinals or the Holy Father himself. Here was heresy rampant, and immortal souls, all astray, beguiled by evil men and deceivers, "whose word doth eat as doth a canker." Dominic "saw that there was no man, and marvelled that there was no intercessor."
It was not ungodliness that Dominic, in the first instance, determined to war with, but ignorance and error. These were to him the monster evils, whose natural fruit was moral corruption. Get rid of them and the depraved heart might be dealt with by-and-by. Dominic stood forth as the determined champion of orthodoxy. "Preach the word in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort"—that was his panacea. His success at the first was but small. Preachers with the divine fervour, with the gift of utterance, with the power to drive truth home—are rare. They are not to be had for the asking; they are not to be trained in a day. Years passed, but little was achieved.
Dominic was patient He had, indeed, founded a small religious community of sixteen brethren at St. Ronain, near Toulouse—one of these, we are told, was an Englishman—whose aim and object were to produce an effect through the agency of the pulpit, to confute the heretics and instruct the unlearned. The Order, if it deserved the name, was established on the old lines. A monastery was founded, a local habitation secured. The maintenance of the brotherhood was provided for by a sufficient endowment; the petty cares and anxieties of life were in the main guarded against; but when Innocent the Third gave his formal sanction to the new community, it was given to Dominic and his associates, on the 8th of October, 1215, as to a house of Augustinian Canons, who received permission to enjoy in their corporate capacity the endowments which had been bestowed upon them. [Footnote: So "La Cordaire, vie de S. Dominique" (1872), p. 120. It was, however, a very curious community, as appears from "Ripolli Bullarium Praedicat:" I.i.]
In the following July Innocent died, and was at once succeeded by Honorius the Third. Dominic set out for Rome, and on the 22nd of December he received from the new Pope a bare confirmation of what his predecessor had granted, with little more than a passing allusion to the fact that the new canons were to be emphatically Preachers of the faith. In the autumn of 1217 Dominic turned his back upon Languedoc for ever. He took up his residence at Rome, and at once rose high in the favour of the Pope. His eloquence, his earnestness, his absorbing enthusiasm, his matchless dialectic skill, his perfect scholastic training—all combined to attract precisely those cultured churchmen whose fastidious sense of the fitness of things revolted from the austerities of St. Francis and the enormous demands which the Minorites made upon their converts. While Francis was acting upon the masses from Assisi, Dominic was stirring the dry bones to a new vitality among scholars and ecclesiastics at Rome.
Thus far we have heard little or nothing of poverty among the more highly educated Friars Preachers, as they got to be called. That seems to have been quite an afterthought. So far as Dominic may be said to have accepted the Voluntary Principle and, renouncing all endowments, to have thrown himself and his followers for support upon the alms of the faithful, so far he was a disciple of St. Francis. The Champion of Orthodoxy was a convert to the Apostle of Poverty.
How soon the Dominicans gave in their adhesion to the distinctive tenet of the Minorites will never now be known, nor how far St. Francis himself adopted it from others; but a conviction that holiness of life had deteriorated in the Church and the cloister by reason of the excessive wealth of monks and ecclesiastics was prevalent everywhere, and a belief was growing that sanctity was attainable only by those who were ready to part with all their worldly possessions and give to such as needed. Even before St. Francis had applied to Innocent the Third, the poor men of Lyons had come to Rome begging for papal sanction to their missionary plans; they met with little favour, and vanished from the scene. But they too declaimed against endowments—they too were to live on alms. The Gospel of Poverty was "in the air."
In 1219 the Franciscans held their second general Chapter. It was evident that they were taking the world by storm; evident, too, that their astonishing success was due less to their preaching than to their self-denying lives. It was abundantly plain that this vast army of fervent missionaries could live from day to day and work wonders in evangelizing the masses without owning a rood of land, or having anything to depend upon but the perennial stream of bounty which flowed from the gratitude of the converts. If the Preaching Friars were to succeed at such a time as this, they could only hope to do so by exhibiting as sublime a faith as the Minorites displayed to the world. Accordingly, in the very year after the second Chapter of the Franciscans was held at Assisi, a general Chapter of the Dominicans was held at Bologna, and there the profession of poverty was formally adopted, and the renunciation of all means of support, except such as might be offered from day to day, was insisted on. Henceforth the two orders were to labour side by side in magnificent rivalry—mendicants who went forth like Gideon's host with empty pitchers to fight the battles of the Lord, and whose desires, as far as the good things of this world went, were summed up in the simple petition, "Give us this day our daily bread!"
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Thus far the friars had scarcely been heard of in England. The Dominicans—trained men of education, addressing themselves mainly to the educated classes, and sure of being understood wherever Latin, the universal medium of communication among scholars, was in daily and hourly use—the Dominicans could have little or no difficulty in getting an audience such as they were qualified to address. It was otherwise with the Franciscans. If the world was to be divided between these two great bands, obviously the Minorites' sphere of labour must be mainly among the lowest, that of the Preaching Friars among the cultured classes.
When the Minorites preached among Italians or Frenchmen they were received with tumultuous welcome. They spoke the language of the people; and in the vulgar speech of the people—rugged, plastic, and reckless of grammar—the message came as glad tidings of great joy. When they tried the same method in Germany, we are told, they signally failed. The gift of tongues, alas! had ceased. That, at any rate, was denied, even to such faith as theirs. They were met with ridicule. The rabble of Cologne or Bremen, hoarsely grumbling out their grating gutturals, were not to be moved by the most impassioned pleading of angels in human form, soft though their voices might be, and musical their tones. "Ach Himmel! was sagt er?" growled one. And peradventure some well-meaning interpreter replied: "Zu suchen und selig zu machen." When the Italian tried to repeat the words his utterance, not his faith, collapsed! The German-speaking people must wait till a door should be opened. Must England wait too? Yes! For the Franciscan missionaries England too must wait a little while.
But England was exactly the land for the Dominican to turn to. Unhappy England! Dominic was born in the same year that Thomas a Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral; Francis in the year before the judgment of the Most High began to fall upon the guilty king and his accursed progeny. Since then everything seemed to have gone wrong. The last six years of Henry the Second's reign were years of piteous misery, shame, and bitterness. His two elder sons died in arms against their father, the one childless, the other, Geoffrey, with a baby boy never destined to arrive at manhood. The two younger ones were Richard and John. History has no story more sad than that of the wretched king, hard at death's door, compelled to submit to the ferocious vindictiveness of the one son, and turning his face to the wall with a broken heart when he discovered the hateful treachery of the other. Ten years after this Richard died childless, and King John was crowned—the falsest, meanest, worst, and wickedest king that ever sat upon the throne of England. And now John himself was dead; and "Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child!" for Henry the Third was crowned, a boy just nine years old.
For eight years England had lain under the terrible interdict; for most of the time only a single bishop had remained in England. John had small need to tax the people: he lived upon the plunder of bishops and abbots. The churches were desolate; the worship of God in large districts almost came to an end. Only in the Cistercian monasteries, and in them only for a time, and to a very limited extent, were the rites of religion continued. It is hardly conceivable that the places of those clergy who died during the eight years of the interdict were supplied by fresh ordinations; and some excuse may have been found for the outrageous demands of the Pope to present to English benefices in the fact that many cures must have been vacant, and the supply of qualified Englishmen to succeed them had fallen short.
Strange to say, in the midst of all this religious famine, and while the Church was being ruthlessly pillaged and her ministers put to rebuke, there was more intellectual activity in the country than had existed for centuries. The schools at Oxford were attracting students from far and near; and when, in consequence of the disgraceful murder of three clerics in 1209, apparently at the instance of King John, the whole body of masters and scholars dispersed—some to Cambridge, others to Reading—it is said their number amounted to 3,000. These were for the most part youths hardly as old as the undergraduates in a Scotch university in our own time; but there was evidently an ample supply of competent teachers, or the reputation of Oxford could not have been maintained.
It was during the year after the Chapter of the Dominicans held at Bologna in 1220, that the first brethren of the order arrived in England. They were under the direction of one Gilbert de Fraxineto, who was accompanied by twelve associates. They landed early in August, probably at Dover. They were at once received with cordiality by Archbishop Langton, who put their powers to the test by commanding one of their number to preach before him. The Primate took them into his favour, and sent them on their way. On the 10th of August they were preaching in London, and on the 15th they appeared in Oxford, and were welcomed as the bringers-in of new things. Their success was unequivocal. We hardly hear of their arrival before we learn that they were well established in their school and surrounded by eager disciples.
Be it remembered that any systematic training of young men to serve as evangelists—any attempt to educate them directly as preachers well furnished with arguments to confute the erring, and carefully taught to practise the graces of oratory—had never been made in England. These Dominicans were already the Sophists of their age, masters of dialectic methods then in vogue, whereby disputation had been raised to the dignity of a science. Then a scholar was looked upon as a mere pretender who could not maintain a thesis against all comers before a crowded audience of sharp-witted critics and eager partisans, not too nice in their expressions of dissent or approval. The exercises still kept up for the Doctor's degree in Divinity at Oxford and Cambridge are but the shadow of what was a reality in the past. Whether we have not lost much in the discontinuance of the old Acts and Apponencies, which at least assured that a young man should be required to stand up before a public audience to defend the reasonableness of his opinions, may fairly be doubted. The aim of the Dominican teachers was to turn out trained preachers furnished with all tricks of dialectic fence, and practised to extempore speaking on the most momentous subjects. Unfortunately the historian, when he has told us of the arrival of his brethren, leaves us in the dark as to all their early struggles and difficulties, and passes on to other matters with which we are less concerned. What would we not give to know the history, say during only twenty years, of the labours of the Preaching Friars in England? Alas! it seems never to have been written. We are only told enough to awaken curiousity and disappoint it.
Happily, of the early labours of the Franciscan friars in England much fuller details have reached us, though the very existence of the records in which they were handed down was known to very few, and the wonderful story had been forgotten for centuries when the appearance of the "Monumenta Franciscana" in the series of chronicles published under direction of the Master of the Rolls in 1858 may be said to have marked an event in literature. If the late Mr. Brewer had done no more than bring to light the remarkable series of documents which that volume contains, he would have won for himself the lasting gratitude of all seekers after truth.
The Dominicans had been settled in Oxford just two years when the first band of Franciscan brethren landed in England on the 11th of September, 1224. They landed penniless; their passage over had been paid by the monks of Fcamp; they numbered in all nine persons, five were laymen, four were clerics. Of the latter three were Englishmen, the fourth was an Italian, Agnellus of Pisa by name. Agnellus had been some time previously destined by St. Francis as the first Minister for the province of England, not improbably because he had some familiarity with our language. He was about thirty years of age, and as yet only in deacon's orders. Indeed, of the whole company only one was a priest, a man of middle age who had made his mark and was famous as a preacher of rare gifts and deep earnestness. He was a Norfolk man born, Richard of Ingworth by name and presumably a priest of the diocese of Norwich. Of the five laymen one was a Lombard, who may have had some kinsfolk and friends in London, where he was allowed to remain as warden for some years, and one, Lawrence of Beauvais, was a personal and intimate friend of St. Francis, who on his death-bed gave him the habit which he himself had worn.
The whole party were hospitably entertained for two days at the Priory of the Holy Trinity at Canterbury. Then brother Richard Ingworth, with another Richard—a Devonshire youth conspicuous for his ascetic fervour and devotion, but only old enough to be admitted to minor orders—set out for London, accompanied by the Lombard and another foreigner, leaving behind him Agnellus and the rest, among them William of Esseby, the third Englishman, enthusiastic and ardent as the others, but a mere youth and as yet a novice. He, too, I conjecture to have been a Norfolk or Suffolk man, whose birth-place, Ashby, in the East Anglian dialect, would be pronounced nearly as it is written in Eccleston's manuscript. It was arranged that Richard Ingworth should lose no time in trying to secure some place where they might all lay their heads, and from whence as a centre they might begin the great work they had in hand. The Canterbury party were received into the Priest's House and allowed to remain for a while. Soon they received permission to sleep in a building used as a school during the day-time, and while the boys were being taught the poor friars huddled together in a small room adjoining, where they were confined as if they had been prisoners. When the scholars went home the friars crept out, lit a fire and sat round it, boiled their porridge, and mixed their small beer, sour and thick as we are told it was, with water to make it go further, and each contributed some word of edification to the general stock, brought forward some homely illustration which might serve to brighten the next sermon when it should be preached, or told a pleasant tale, thought out during the day—a story with a moral. Of the five left behind at Canterbury it is to be observed that no one of them was qualified as yet to preach in the vernacular. William of Esseby was too young for the pulpit, though he became a very effective preacher in a few years. He was, however, doing good service as interpreter, and doubtless as teacher of English to the rest.
Before long the cheerfulness, self-denial, and devout bearing of the little company at Canterbury gained for them the warm support and friendship of all classes. They had a very hard time of it. Sometimes a kind soul would bring them actually a dish of meat, sometimes even a bottle of wine, but as a rule their fare was bread—made up into twists, we hear, when it was specially excellent—wheat-bread, wholesome and palatable; but, alas, sometimes barley-bread, washed down with beer too sour to drink undiluted with water. Alexander, the master of the Priest's House at Canterbury, soon after gave them a piece of ground and built them a temporary chapel, but when he was for presenting them with the building, he was told that they might not possess houses and lands, and the property was thereupon made over to the corporation of Canterbury to hold in honourable trust for their use, the friars borrowing it of the town. Simon Langton too, Archdeacon of Canterbury, the primate's brother, stood their friend, and one or two people of influence among the laity, as Sir Henry de Sandwich, a wealthy Kentish gentleman, and a lady whom Eccleston calls a "noble countess," one Inclusa de Baginton, warmly supported them and liberally supplied their necessities. It is worthy of notice that at Canterbury their first friends were among the wealthy, i.e., those among whom a command of English was not necessary.
While Agnellus and his brethren were waiting patiently at Canterbury, Ingworth and young Richard of Devon with the two Italians had made their way to London and had been received with enthusiasm. Their first entertainers were the Dominican friars who, though they had been only two years before them, yet had already got for themselves a house, in which they were able to entertain the new-comers for a fortnight. At the end of that time they hired a plot of ground in Cornhill of John Travers, the Sheriff of London, and there they built for themselves a house, such as it was. Their cells were constructed like sheep-cotes, mere wattels with mouldy hay or straw between them. Their fare was of the meanest, but they gained in estimation every day. In their humble quarters at Cornhill they remained preaching, visiting, nursing, begging their bread, but always gay and busy, till the summer of 1225, when a certain John Iwyn—again a name suspiciously like the phonetic representative of the common Norfolk name of Ewing—a mercer and citizen, offered them a more spacious and comfortable dwelling in the parish of St. Nicholas. As their brethren at Canterbury had done, so did they; they refused all houses and lands, and the house was made over to the corporation of London for their use. Not long after the worthy citizen assumed the Franciscan habit and renounced the world, to embrace poverty.
In the autumn of 1225 Ingworth and the younger Richard left London, Agnellus taking their place. He had not been idle at Canterbury, and his success in making converts had been remarkable. At Canterbury and London the Minorites had secured for themselves a firm footing. The Universities were next invaded. The two Richards reached Oxford about October, 1225, and as before were received with great cordiality by the Dominicans, and hospitably entertained for eight days. Before a week was out they had got the loan of a house or hall in the parish of St. Ebbs, and had started lectures and secured a large following. Here young Esseby joined them, sent on it seems by Agnellus from London to assist in the work; a year or so older than when he first landed, and having shown in that time unmistakable signs of great capacity and entire devotion to the work. Esseby was quite able to stand alone.
Once more the two Richards moved on to Northampton, where an "opening from the Lord" seemed to have presented itself. By this time the whole country was on the tip-toe of expectation and crowds of all classes had given in their adhesion to the new missionaries. No! it was not grandeur or riches or honour or learning that were wanted above all things—not these, but Goodness, Meekness, Simplicity, and Truth. The love of money was the root of all evil. The Minorites were right. When men with a divine fervour proclaim a truth, or even half a truth, which the world has forgotten, there is never any lack of enthusiasm in its acceptance. In five years from their first arrival the Friars had established themselves in almost every considerable town in England, and where one order settled the other came soon after, the two orders in their first beginning co- operating cordially. It was only when their faith and zeal began to wax cold that jealousy broke forth into bitter antagonism.
In no part of England were the Franciscans received with more enthusiasm than in Norfolk. They appear to have established themselves at Lynn, Yarmouth, and Norwich in 1226. Clergy and laity, rich and poor, united in offering to them a ready homage. To this day a certain grudging provincialism is observable in the East Anglian character. A Norfolk man distrusts the settler from "the Shires," who comes in with new-fangled reforms. To this day the home of wisdom is supposed to be in the East. When it was understood that the virtual leader of this astonishing religious revival was a Norfolk man, the joy and pride of Norfolk knew no bounds. Nothing was too much to do for their own hero. But when it became known that Ingworth had been welcomed with open arms by Robert Grosseteste, the foremost scholar in Oxford—he a Suffolk man—and that Grosseteste's friend, Roger de Weseham, was their warm supporter, son of a Norfolk yeoman, whose brethren were to be seen any day in Lynn market—the ovation that the Franciscans met with was unparalleled. There was a general rush by some of the best men of the county into the order.
Already St. Francis had found it necessary to include in the fraternity a class of recognized associates who may be described as the unattached. These were the Tertiaries—laymen who were not prepared to embrace the vows of poverty and to surrender their all—but well-wishers pledged to support the Minorites, and to co-operate with them when called upon, showing their good-will sometimes in visiting the sick and needy, sometimes in engaging in the work of teaching, or accompanying the preachers when advisable, and bound by their engagement to set an example of sobriety and seriousness in their dress and manners.
Up to this time the word religious had been applied only to such as were inmates of a cloister. Now the truth dawned upon men that it was possible to live the higher life even while pursuing one's ordinary vocation in the busy world. The tone of social morality must have gained enormously by the dissemination of this new doctrine, and its acceptance among high and low. It became the fashion in the upper classes to enrol oneself among the Tertiaries, and every new enrolment was an important accession to the stability, and, indeed, to the material resources of the Minorites; and when, apparently within a few days of one another—no less than five gentlemen of knightly rank, of whom at least one, Sir Giles de Merc, had only recently been employed as an envoy by the king to his brother Richard in Gascony, and another, Sir Henry de Walpole, was amongst the most considerable and wealthy men in the eastern counties, Henry the Third spoke out his mind and showed that he was not too well-pleased. Really these friars were going on too fast— turning men's heads! At Lynn the Franciscans were specially fortunate in their warden, whose austerity of life, gentle manners, and profoundly sympathetic temperament obtained for him unbounded influence. Among others Alexander de Bassingbourne [Footnote: The name is again changed into Bissingburne by Eccleston, who writes it as he heard it from Norfolk people.]—seneschal of Lynn for Pandulph, Bishop of Norwich, and, as such, a personage of importance, became his convert and joined the new order; but the number of Norfolk clergy and scholars who actually became friars must have been very large indeed; they were quite the picked men among the Franciscans in England. Of the first eighteen masters of Franciscan schools at Cambridge, at least ten were Norfolk men, while of the first five Divinity readers at Oxford whose names have been recorded, after those of Grosseteste and Roger de Weseham, four were unmistakably East Anglians. No one familiar with Norfolk topography could fail to be struck by this fact, and the queer spellings of some places, which puzzled even Mr. Brewer, are themselves suggestive. [Footnote: E.g., Turnham represents the Norfolk pronunciation of Thornham. Heddele is Hadleigh, in Suffolk spelt phonetically ; Ravingham is Raveningham, Assewelle is Ashwell [cf. p. 93, Esseby for Ashby], Sloler is Sloley, Leveringfot is Letheringset.]
St. Francis died at Assisi on October 4, 1226. With his death troubles began. Brother Elias, who was chosen to succeed him as Minister General of the Order, had little of the great founder's spirit, and none of his genius. There was unseemly strife and rivalry, and on the Continent it would appear that the Minorites made but little way. Not so was it in England; there the supply of brethren animated by genuine enthusiasm and burning zeal for the cause they had espoused was unexampled. Perhaps there more than anywhere else such labourers were needed, perhaps too they had a fairer field. Certainly there they were truer to their first principles than elsewhere.
Outside the city walls at Lynn and York and Bristol; in a filthy swamp at Norwich, through which the drainage of the city sluggishly trickled into the river, never a foot lower than its banks; in a mere barn-like structure, with walls of mud, at Shrewsbury, in the "Stinking Alley" in London, the Minorites took up their abode, and there they lived on charity, doing for the lowest the most menial offices, speaking to the poorest the words of hope, preaching to learned and simple such sermons—short, homely, fervent, and emotional—as the world had not heard for many a day. How could such evangelists fail to win their way? Before Henry III.'s reign was half over the predominance of the Franciscans over Oxford was almost supreme. At Cambridge their influence was less dominant only because at Cambridge there was no commanding genius like Robert Grosseteste to favour and support them.
St. Francis's hatred of book-learning was the one sentiment that he never was able to inspire among his followers. Almost from the first scholars, students, and men of learning were attracted by the irresistible charm of his wonderful moral persuasiveness; they gave in their adherence to him in a vague hope that by contact with his surpassing holiness virtue would go out of him, and that somehow the divine goodness which he magnified as the one thing needful would be communicated to them and supply that which was lacking in themselves; but they could not bring themselves to believe that culture and holiness were incompatible or that nearness to God was possible only to those who were ignorant and uninstructed. We should have expected learning among the Dominicans, but very soon the English Franciscans became the most learned body in Europe, and that character they never lost till the suppression of the monasteries swept them out of the land. Before Edward I. came to the throne, in less than fifty years after Richard Ingworth and his little band landed at Dover, Robert Kilwarby, a Franciscan friar, had been chosen Archbishop of Canterbury, and Bonaventura, the General of the Order, had refused the Archbishopric of York. In 1281 Jerome of Ascoli, Bonaventura's successor as General, was elected Pope, assuming the name of Nicholas IV.
Meanwhile such giants as Alexander Hales and Roger Bacon and Duns Scotus among the Minorites—all Englishmen be it remembered—and Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus among the Dominicans, had given to intellectual life that amazing lift into a higher region of thought, speculation, and inquiry which prepared the way for greater things by-and-by. It was at Assisi that Cimabue and Giotto received their most sublime inspiration and did their very best, breathing the air that St. Francis himself had breathed and listening day by day to traditions and memories of the saint, told peradventure by one or another who had seen him alive or even touched his garments in their childhood. It may even be that there Dante watched Giotto at his work while the painter got the poet's face by heart.
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To write the history of the Mendicant Orders in England would be a task beyond my capacity, but no man can hope to understand the successes or the failures of any great party in Church or State until he has arrived at some comprehension, not only of the objects which it set itself to achieve, but of its modus operandi at the outset of its career.
The Friars were a great party in the Church, organized with a definite object, and pledged to carry out that object in simple reliance upon what we now call the Voluntary Principle. St. Francis saw, and saw much more clearly than even we of the nineteenth century see it, that the Parochial system is admirable, is a perfect system for the village, that it is unsuited for the town, that in the towns the attempt to work it had ended in a miserable and scandalous failure. The Friars came as helpers of the poor town clergy, just when those clergy had begun to give up their task as hopeless. They came as missionaries to those whom the town clergy had got to regard as mere pariahs. They came to strengthen the weak hands, and to labour in a new field. St. Francis was the John Wesley of the thirteenth century, whom the Church did not cast out.
Rome has never been afraid of fanaticism. She has always known how to utilise her enthusiasts fired by a new idea. The Church of England has never known how to deal with a man of genius. From Wicklif to Frederick Robertson, from Bishop Peacock to Dr. Rowland Williams, the clergyman who has been in danger of impressing his personality upon Anglicanism, where he has not been the object of relentless persecution, has at least been regarded with timid suspicion, has been shunned by the prudent men of low degree, and by those of high degree has been—forgotten. In the Church of England there has never been a time when the enthusiast has not been treated as a very unsafe man. Rome has found a place for the dreamiest mystic or the noisiest ranter—found a place and found a sphere of useful labour. We, with our insular prejudices, have been sticklers for the narrowest uniformity, and yet we have accepted, as a useful addition to the Creed of Christendom, one article which we have only not formulated because, perhaps, it came to us from a Roman Bishop, the great sage Talleyrand—Surtout pas trop de zle!
The Minorites were the Low Churchmen of the thirteenth century, the Dominicans the severely orthodox, among whom spiritual things were believed to be attainable only through the medium of significant form. Rome knew how to yoke the two together, Xanthos and Balios champing at the bit yet always held well in hand. At the outset the two orders were so deeply impressed by the magnitude of the evils they were to combat that they hardly knew there was anything in which they were at variance. Gradually—yes, and somewhat rapidly—each borrowed something from the other. The Minorites found they could not do without culture; the Dominicans renounced endowments; by-and-by they drew apart into separate camps, and discord proved that the old singleness of purpose and loyalty to a great cause had passed away. Imitators arose. Reformers they all professed to be, improvers of the original idea, Augustinian Friars, Carmelites, Bethlehemites, Bonhommes, and the rest. Friars they all called themselves—all pledged to the Voluntary Principle, all renouncing endowments, all professing to live on alms.
I have called St. Francis the John Wesley of the thirteenth century. The parallels might be drawn out into curious detail, if we compared the later history of the great movements originated by one or the other reformer. The new orders of Friars were to the old ones what the Separatists among the Wesleyan body are to the Old Connexion. They had their grievances, real or imagined, they loudly protested against corruption and abuses, they professed themselves anxious only to go back to first principles. Rome absorbed them all; they became the Church's great army of volunteers, perfectly disciplined, admirably handled; their very jealousies and rivalries turned to good account. When John Wesley offered to the Church of England precisely their successors, we would have no commerce with them; we did our best to turn them into a hostile and invading force.
The Friars were the Evangelizers of the towns in England for 300 years. When the spoliation of the religious houses was decided upon, the Friars were the first upon whom the blow fell—the first and the last. [Footnote: The king began with the Franciscan convent of Christ Church, London, in 1532; he bestowed the Dominican convent at Norwich upon the corporation of that city on the 25th of June, 1540.] But when their property came to be looked into, there was nothing to rob but the churches in which they worshipped, the libraries in which they studied, and the houses in which they passed their lives. Rob the county hospitals to-morrow through the length and breadth of the land, or make a general scramble for the possessions of the Wesleyan body, and how many broad acres would go to the hammer?
Voluntaryism leaves little for the spoiler.
As with the later history of the Friars in England, so with the corruptions of the Mendicant orders—though they were as great as malice or ignorance may have represented them—I am not concerned. That the Minorites of the fourteenth century were very unlike the Minorites of the thirteenth I know; that the other Mendicant orders declined, I cannot doubt—
What keeps a spirit wholly true To that ideal which he bears? What record? Not the sinless years That breathed beneath the Syrian blue.
The Rule of St. Francis was a glorious ideal; when it came to be carried into practice by creatures of flesh and blood, it proved to be something to dream of, not to live. And yet, even as it was, its effects upon the Church, nay, upon the whole civilized world, were enormous. If, one after another, the Mendicant orders declined, if their zeal grew cold, their simplicity of life faded, and their discipline relaxed; if they became corrupted by that very world which they promised to purify and deliver from the dominion of Mammon—this is only what has happened again and again, what must happen as long as men are men. In every age the prophet has always asked for the unattainable, always pointed to a higher level than human nature could breathe in, always insisted on a measure of self-renunciation which saints in their prayers send forth the soul's lame hands to clutch-in their ecstasy of aspiration hope that they may some day arrive at. But, alas! they reach it—never. And yet the saint and the prophet do not live in vain. They send a thrill of noble emotion through the heart of their generation, and the divine tremor does not soon subside; they gather round them the pure and generous—the lofty souls which are not all of the earth earthy. In such, at any rate, a fire is kindled by the spark that has fallen from the altar. By-and- by it is the fuel that fails; then the old fire, after smouldering for a while, goes out, and by no stirring of the dead embers can you make them flame again. You may cry as loudly as you will, "Pull down the chimney that will not draw, and set up another in its place!" That you may do if you please; another fire you may have, but the new will not be as the old.
VILLAGE LIFE SIX HUNDRED YEARS AGO.
"The rude forefathers of the hamlet..."
[In the autumn of 1878, while on a visit at Rougham Hall, Norfolk, the seat of Mr. Charles North, my kind host drew my attention to some large boxes of manuscripts, which he told me nobody knew anything about, but which I was at liberty to ransack to my heart's content. I at once dived into one of the boxes, and then spent half the night in examining some of its treasures. The chest is one of many, constituting in their entirety a complete apparatus for the history of the parish of Rougham from the time of Henry the Third to the present day—so complete that it would be difficult to find in England a collection of documents to compare with it.
The whole parish contains no more than 2,627 acres, of which about thirty acres were not included in the estate slowly piled up by the Yelvertons, and purchased by Roger North in 1690.
Yet the charters and evidences of various kinds which were handed over with this small property, and which date before the sixteenth century, count by thousands. The smaller strips of parchment or vellum—for the most part conveyances of land, and having seals attached—have been roughly bound together in volumes, each containing about one hundred documents, and arranged with some regard to chronology, the undated ones being collected into a volume by themselves. I think it almost certain that the arranging of the early charters in their rude covers was carried out before 1500 A.D., and I have a suspicion that they were grouped together by Sir William Yelverton, "the cursed Norfolk Justice" of the Paston Letters, who inherited the estate from his mother in the first half of the fifteenth century.
When Roger North purchased the property the ancient evidences were handed over to him as a matter of course; and there are many notes in his handwriting showing that he found the collection in its present condition, and that he had bestowed much attention upon it. Blomefield seems to have been aware of the existence of the Rougham muniments, but I think he never saw them; and for one hundred and fifty years, at least, they had lain forgotten until they came under my notice. Of this large mass of documents I had copied or abstracted scarcely more than five hundred, and I had not yet got beyond the year 1355. The court rolls, bailiffs' accounts, and early leases, I had hardly looked at when this lecture was delivered.
The following address gives some of the results of my examination of the first series of the Rougham charters. It was delivered in the Public Reading-room of the village of Tittleshall, a parish adjoining Rougham, and was listened to with apparent interest and great attention by an audience of farmers, village tradesmen, mechanics, and labourers. I was careful to avoid naming any place which my audience were not likely to know well; and there is hardly a parish mentioned which is five miles from the lecture-room.
When speaking of "six hundred years," I gave myself roughly a limit of thirty years before and after 1282, and I have rarely gone beyond that limit on one side or the other.
They who are acquainted with Mr. Rogers' "History of Prices" will observe that I have ventured to put forward views, on more points than one, very different from those which he advocates.
Of the value of Mr. Rogers' compilation, and of the statistics which he has tabulated, there can be but one opinion. It is when we come to draw our inferences from such returns as these, and bring to bear upon them the sidelights which further evidence affords, that differences of opinion arise among inquirers. I really know nothing about the Midlands in the Middle Ages; I am disgracefully ignorant of the social condition of the South and West; but the early history of East Anglia, and especially of Norfolk, has for long possessed a fascination for me; and though I am slow to arrive at conclusions, and have a deep distrust of those historians who, for every pair of facts, construct a Trinity of Theories, I feel sure of my ground on some matters, because I have done my best to use all such evidence as has come my way.]
* * * * * * *
Few things have struck me more forcibly since I have cast in my lot among country people, than the strange ignorance which they exhibit of the history of themselves. I do not allude to those unpleasant secrets which we should be very sorry indeed for our next- door neighbours to be acquainted with, nor to any such matters as our experience or memories of actual facts could bring to our minds; I mean something very much more than that. Men and women are not only the beings they appear to be at any one moment of their lives, they are not single separate atoms like grains of sand. Rather they are like branches or leaves of some great tree, from which they have sprung and on which they have grown, whose life in the past has come at last to them in the present, and without whose deep anchorage in the soil, and its ages of vigour and vitality, not a bud or a spray that is so fresh and healthful now would have had any existence.
Consider for a moment—Who are we, and what do we mean by Ourselves? When I meet a ragged, shuffling tramp on the road (and I meet a good many of them in my lonely walks) I often find myself asking the question, "How did that shambling vagabond come to his present condition? Did his father turn him out of doors? Did his mother drink? Did he learn nothing but lying and swearing and thieving when he was a child? Was his grandfather hanged for some crime, or was his great-grandfather a ruffian killed in a fight?" And I say to myself, "Though I do not know the truth, yet I am sure that man was helped towards his vagabondism, helped to become an outcast as he is, by the neglect or the wickedness, the crimes or the bad example of his fathers and forefathers on one side or the other; for if he had come of decent people on both sides, people who had been honestly and soberly brought up themselves, as they tried to bring up their children, yonder dirty tramp would not and could not have sunk to his present self, for we and ourselves are what we come to, partly by our own sins and vices, but partly (and much more than some like to believe) by the sins, negligences, and ignorances of those whose blood is in our veins.
My friends, it surely must be worth our while to know much more than most of us do know about Ourselves.
Being convinced of this, and believing, moreover, that to most of us nothing on earth is so interesting as that which most concerns ourselves at any period of our existence, I resolved, when I was asked to address you here this evening, that I would try to give you some notion of the kind of life which your fathers led in this parish a long, long time ago, and so help you to understand through what strange changes we have all passed, and what strange stories the walls of our houses, if they could speak, would have to tell, and on what wonderful struggles, and hardships, and dangers, and sorrows yonder church tower of yours has looked down, since, centuries ago, it first rose up, the joy and pride of those whose hands laid stone on stone.
When I came to think over the matter, however, I found that I could not tell you very much that I was sure of about your own parish of Tittleshall, but that it so happened I could tell you something that is new to you about a parish that joins your own; and because what was going on among your close neighbours at any one time would be in the main pretty much what would be going on among your forefathers, in bringing before you the kind of life which people led in the adjoining parish of Rougham six hundred years ago, I should be describing precisely the life which people were leading here in this parish where we are now—people, remember, whose blood is throbbing in the veins of some of you present; for from that dust that lies in your churchyard yonder I make no doubt that some of you have sprung— you whom I am speaking to now.
Six hundred years ago! Yes, it is a long time. Not a man of you can throw his thoughts back to so great a lapse of time. I do not expect it of you; but nevertheless I am going to try to give you a picture of a Norfolk village, and that a village which you all know better than I do, such as it was six hundred years ago.
In those days an ancestor of our gracious Queen, who now wears the crown of England, was king; and the Prince of Wales, whom many of you must have seen in Norfolk, was named Edward after this same king. In those days there were the churches standing generally where they stand now. In those days, too, the main roads ran pretty much where they now run; and there was the same sun overhead, and there were clouds, and winds, and floods, and storms, and sunshine; but if you, any of you, could be taken up and dropped down in Tittleshall or Rougham such as they were at the time I speak of, you would feel almost as strange as if you had been suddenly transported to the other end of the world.
The only object that you would at all recognize would be the parish church. That stands where it did, and where it has stood, perhaps, for a thousand years or more; but, at the time we are now concerned with, it looked somewhat different from what it looks now. It had a tower, but that tower was plainer and lower than the present one. The windows, too, were very different; they were smaller and narrower; I think it probable that in some of them there was stained glass, and it is almost certain that the walls were covered with paintings representing scenes from the Bible, and possibly some stories from the lives of the saints, which everybody in those days was familiar with. There was no pulpit and no reading desk. When the parson preached, he preached from the steps of the altar. The altar itself was much more ornamented than now it is. Upon the altar there were always some large wax tapers which were lit on great occasions, and over the altar there hung a small lamp which was kept alight night and day. It was the parson's first duty to look to it in the morning, and his last to trim it at night.
The parish church was too small for the population of Rougham, and the consequence was that it had been found necessary to erect what we should now call a chapel of ease—served, I suppose, by an assistant priest, who would be called a chaplain. I cannot tell you where this chapel stood, but it had a burial-ground of its own. [Footnote: Compare the remarkable regulations of Bishop Woodloke of Winchester (A.D. 1308), illustrative of this. Wilkins' "Conc.," vol. ii. p. 296. By these constitutions every chapel, two miles from the mother church, was bound to have its own burying-ground]
There was, I think, only one road deserving the name, which passed through Rougham. It ran almost directly north and south from Coxford Abbey to Castle Acre Priory. But do not suppose that a road in those days meant what it does now. To begin with, people in the country never drove about in carriages. In such a place as Rougham, men and women might live all their lives without ever seeing a travelling carriage, whether on four wheels or two. [Footnote: It is, however, not improbable that when the Queen came into Norfolk, the eyes of the awe-struck rustics may have been dazzled by even such an astonishing equipage as is figured in Mr. Parker's "Hist. Domestic Architecture," vol. ii. p. 141.] The road was quite unfit for driving on. There were no highway rates. Now and then a roadway got so absolutely impassable, or a bridge over a stream became so dangerous, that people grumbled; and then an order came down from the king to the high sheriff of the county, bidding him see to his road, and the sheriff thereupon taxed the dwellers in the hundred and forced them to put things straight. The village of Rougham in those days was in its general plan not very unlike the present village—that is to say, the church standing where it does, next to the churchyard was the parsonage with a croft attached; and next to that a row of houses inhabited by the principal people of the place, whose names I could give you, and the order of their dwellings, if it were worth while. Each of these houses had some outbuildings—cowsheds, barns, &c., and a small croft fenced round. Opposite these houses was another row facing west, as the others faced east; but these latter houses were apparently occupied by the poorer inhabitants—the smith, the carpenter, and the general shopkeeper, who called himself, and was called by others, the merchant. There was one house which appears to have stood apart from the rest and near Wesenham Heath. It probably was encircled by a moat, and approached by a drawbridge, the bridge being drawn up at sunset. It was called the Lyng House, and had been probably built two or three generations back, and now was occupied by a person of some consideration—viz., Thomas Middleton, Archdeacon of Suffolk, and brother of William Middleton, then Bishop of Norwich. This house was on the east side of the road, and the road leading up to it had a name, and was called the Hutgong. In front of the house was something like a small park of 5 acres inclosed; and next that again, to the south, 4 acres of ploughed land; and behind that again—that is, between it and the village—there was the open heath. Altogether, this property consisted of a house and 26 acres. Archdeacon Middleton bought it on October 6, 1283, and he bought it in conjunction with his brother Elias, who was soon after made seneschal or steward of Lynn for his other brother, the bishop. The two brothers probably used this as their country house, for both of them had their chief occupation elsewhere; but when the bishop died, in 1288, and they became not quite the important people they had been before, they sold the Lyng House to another important person, of whom we shall hear more by-and-by.
The Lyng House, however, was not the great house of Rougham. I am inclined to think that stood not far from the spot where Rougham Hall now stands. It was in those days called the Manor House, or the Manor.
And this brings me to a point where I must needs enter into some explanations. Six hundred years ago all the land in England was supposed to belong to the king in the first instance. The king had in former times parcelled it out into tracts of country, some large and some small, and made over these tracts to his great lords, or barons, as they were called. The barons were supposed to hold these tracts, called fiefs, as tenants of the king, and in return they were expected to make an acknowledgment to the king in the shape of some service, which, though it was not originally a money payment, yet became so eventually, and was always a substantial charge upon the land. These fiefs were often made up of estates in many different shires; and, because it was impossible for the barons to cultivate all their estates themselves, they let them out to subtenants, who in their turn were bound to render services to the lord of the fief. These sub-tenants were the great men in the several parishes, and became the actual lords of the manors, residing upon the manors, and having each, on their several manors, very large powers for good or evil over the, tillers of the soil.
A manor six hundred years ago meant something very different from a manor now. The lord was a petty king, having his subjects very much under his thumb. But his subjects differed greatly in rank and status. In the first place, there were those who were called the free tenants. The free tenants were they who lived in houses of their own and cultivated land of their own, and who made only an annual money payment to the lord of the manor as an acknowledgment of his lordship. The payment was trifling, amounting to some few pence an acre at the most, and a shilling or so, as the case might be, for the house. This was called the rent, but it is a very great mistake indeed to represent this as the same thing which we mean by rent now-a-days. It really was almost identical with what we now call in the case of house property, "ground rent," and bore no proportion to the value of the produce that might be raised from the soil which the tenant held. The free tenant was neither a yearly tenant, nor a leaseholder. His holding was, to all intents and purposes, his own— subject, of course, to the payment of the ground rent. But if he wanted to sell out of his holding, the lord of the manor exacted a payment for the privilege. If he died, his heir had to pay for being admitted to his inheritance, and if he died without heirs, the property went back to the lord of the manor, who then, but only then, could raise the ground rent if he pleased, though he rarely did so. So much for the free tenants.
Besides these were the villeins or villani, or natives, as they were called. The villeins were tillers of the soil, who held land under the lord, and who, besides paying a small money ground rent, were obliged to perform certain arduous services to the lord, such as to plough the lord's land for so many days in the year, to carry his corn in the harvest, to provide a cart on occasion, &c. Of course these burdens pressed very heavily at times, and the services of the villeins were vexatious and irritating under a hard and unscrupulous lord. But there were other serious inconveniences about the condition of the villein or native. Once a villein, always a villein. A man or woman born in villeinage could never shake it off. Nay, they might not even go away from the manor to which they were born, and they might not marry without the lord's license, and for that license they always had to pay. Let a villein be ever so shrewd or enterprising or thrifty, there was no hope for him to change his state, except by the special grace of the lord of the manor. [Footnote: I do not take account of those who ran away to the corporate towns. I suspect that there were many more cases of this than some writers allow. It was sometimes a serious inconvenience to the lords of manors near such towns as Norwich or Lynn. A notable example may be found in the "Abbrev, Placit.," p. 316 (6. E. ii. Easter term). It seems that no less than eighteen villeins of the Manor of Cossey were named in a mandate to the Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, who were to be taken and reduced to villeinage, and their goods seized. Six of them pleaded that they were citizens of Norwich—the city being about four miles from Cossey.] Yes, there was one means whereby he could be set free, and that was if he could get a bishop to ordain him. The fact of a man being ordained at once made him a free man, and a knowledge of this fact must have served as a very strong inducement to young people to avail themselves of all the helps in their power to obtain something like an education, and so to qualify themselves for admission to the clerical order and to the rank of free-man.
At Rougham there was a certain Ralph Red, who was one of these villeins under the lord of the manor, a certain William le Butler. Ralph Red had a son Ralph, who I suppose was an intelligent youth, and made the most of his brains. He managed to get ordained about six hundred years ago, and he became a chaplain, perhaps to that very chapel of ease I mentioned before. His father, however, was still a villein, liable to all the villein services, and belonging to the manor and the lord, he and all his offspring. Young Ralph did not like it, and at last, getting the money together somehow, he bought his father's freedom, and, observe, with his freedom the freedom of all his father's children too, and the price he paid was twenty marks. [Footnote: N.B.—A man could not buy his own freedom, Merewether's "Boroughs," i. 350. Compare too Littleton on "Tenures," p 65, 66.] That sounds a ridiculously small sum, but I feel pretty sure that six hundred years ago twenty marks would be almost as difficult for a penniless young chaplain to get together as L500 for a penniless young curate to amass now. Of the younger Ralph, who bought his father's freedom, I know little more; but, less than one hundred and fifty years after the elder man received his liberty, a lineal descendant of his became lord of the manor of Rougham, and, though he had no son to carry on his name, he had a daughter who married a learned judge, Sir William Yelverton, Knight of the Bath, whose monument you may still see at Rougham Church, and from whom were descended the Yelvertons, Earls of Sussex, and the present Lord Avonmore, who is a scion of the same stock.
When Ralph Red bought his father's freedom of William le Butler, William gave him an acknowledgment for the money, and a written certificate of the transaction, but he did not sign his name. In those days nobody signed their names, not because they could not write, for I suspect that just as large a proportion of people in England could write well six hundred years ago, as could have done so forty years ago, but because it was not the fashion to sign one's name. Instead of doing that, everybody who was a free man, and a man of substance, in executing any legal instrument, affixed to it his seal, and that stood for his signature. People always carried their seals about with them in a purse or small bag, and it was no uncommon thing for a pickpocket to cut off this bag and run away with the seal, and thus put the owner to very serious inconvenience. This was what actually did happen once to William le Butler's father-in- law. He was a certain Sir Richard Bellhouse, and he lived at North Tuddenham, near Dereham. Sir Richard was High Sheriff for the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk in 1291, and his duties brought him into court on January 25th of that year, before one of the Judges at Westminster. I suppose the court was crowded, and in the crowd some rogue cut off Sir Richard's purse, and made off with his seal. I never heard that he got it back again. [Footnote: Abbreviatio Placit. 284, b.]
And now I must return to the point from which I wandered when I began to speak of the free tenants and the "villeins." William le Butler, who sold old Ralph Red to his own son, the young Ralph, was himself sprung from a family who had held the Manor of Rougham for about a century. His father was Sir Richard le Butler, who died about 1280, leaving behind him one son, our friend William, and three daughters. Unfortunately, William le Butler survived his father only a very short time, and he left no child to succeed him. The result was that the inheritance of the old knight was divided among his daughters, and what had been hitherto a single lordship became three lordships, each of the parceners looking very jealously after his own interest, and striving to make the most of his powers and rights.
Though each of the husbands of Sir Richard le Butler's daughters was a man of substance and influence—yet, when the manor was divided, no one of them was anything like so great a person as the old Sir Richard. In those days, as in our own, there were much richer men in the country than the country gentlemen, and in Rougham at this time there were two very prosperous men who were competing with one another as to which should buy up most land in the parish, and be the great man of the place. The one of these was a gentleman called Peter the Roman, and the other was called Thomas the Lucky. They were both the sons of Rougham people, and it will be necessary to pursue the history of each of them to make you understand how things went in those "good old times."
First let me deal with Peter the Roman. He was the son of a Rougham lady named Isabella, by an Italian gentleman named lacomo de Ferentino, or if you like to translate it into English, James of Ferentinum.
How James of Ferentinum got to Rougham and captured one of the Rougham heiresses we shall never know for certain. But we do know that in the days of King Henry, who was the father of King Edward, there was a very large incursion of Italian clergy into England, and that the Pope of Rome got preferment of all kinds for them. In fact, in King Henry's days the Pope had immense power in England, and it looked for a while as if every valuable piece of preferment in the kingdom would be bestowed upon Italians who did not know a word of English, and who often never came near their livings at all. One of these Italian gentlemen, whose name was John de Ferentino, was very near being made Bishop of Norwich; [Footnote: At the death of Thomas de Blunville in 1236. John de Ferentino must have been almost supreme in the diocese. The see was practically vacant for three years.] he was Archdeacon of Norwich, but though the Pope tried to make him bishop, he happily did not succeed in forcing him into the see that time, and John of Ferentinum had to content himself with his archdeaconry and one or two other preferments.
Our friend at Rougham may have been, and probably was, some kinsman of the archdeacon, and it is just possible that Archdeacon Middleton, who, you remember, bought the Lyng House, may have had, as his predecessor in it, another archdeacon, this John de Ferentino, whose nephew or brother, James, married Miss Isabella de Rucham, and settled down among his wife's kindred. Be that as it may, John de Ferentino had two sons, Peter and Richard, and it appears that their father, not content with such education as Oxford or Cambridge could afford—though at this time Oxford was one of the most renowned universities in Europe—sent his sons to Rome, having an eye to their future advancement; for in King Henry's days a young man that had friends at Rome was much more likely to get on in the world than he who had only friends in the King's Court, and he who wished to push his interests in the Church must look to the Pope, and not to the King of England, as his main support.
When young Peter came back to Rougham, I dare say he brought back with him some new airs and graces from Italy, and I dare say the new fashions made his neighbours open their eyes. They gave the young fellow the name he is known by in the charters, and to the day of his death people called him Peter Romayn, or Peter the Roman. But Peter came back a changed man in more ways than one. He came back a cleric. We in England now recognize only three orders of clergy—bishops, priests, and deacons. But six hundred years ago it was very different. In those days a man might be two or three degrees below a deacon, and yet be counted a cleric and belonging to the clergy; and, though Peter Romayn was not priest or deacon, he was a privileged person in many ways, but a very unprivileged person in one way—he might never marry.
It was a hard case for a young man who had taken to the clerical profession without taking to the clerical life, and all the harder because there were old men living whose fathers or grandfathers had known the days when even a Bishop of Norwich was married, and who could tell of many an old country clergyman who had had his wife and children in the parsonage. But now—just six hundred years ago—if a young fellow had once been admitted a member of the clerical body, he was no longer under the protection of the laws of the realm, nor bound by them, but he was under the dominion of another law, commonly known as the Canon Law, which the Pope of Rome had succeeded in imposing upon the clergy; and in accordance with that law, if he took to himself a wife, he was, to all intents and purposes, a ruined man.
But when laws are pitted against human nature, they may be forced upon people by the strong hand of power, but they are sure to be evaded where they are not broken literally; and this law of forbidding clergymen to marry was evaded in many ways. Clergymen took to themselves wives, and had families. Again and again their consciences justified them in their course, whatever the Canon Law might forbid or denounce. They married on the sly—if that may be called marriage which neither the Church nor the State recognized as a binding contract, and which was ratified by no formality or ceremony civil or religious: but public opinion was lenient; and where a clergyman was living otherwise a blameless life, his people did not think the worse of him for having a wife and children, however much the Canon Law and certain bigoted people might give the wife a bad name. And so it came to pass that Peter Romayn of Rougham, cleric though he were, lost his heart one fine day to a young lady at Rougham, and marry he would. The young lady's name was Matilda. Her father, though born at Rougham, appears to have gone away from there when very young, and made money somehow at Leicester. He had married a Norfolk lady, one Agatha of Cringleford; and he seems to have died, leaving his widow and daughter fairly provided for; and they lived in a house at Rougham, which I dare say Richard of Leicester had bought. I have no doubt that young Peter Romayn was a young gentleman of means, and it is clear that Matilda was a very desirable bride. But then Peter couldn't marry! How was it to be managed? I think it almost certain that no religious ceremony was performed, but I have no doubt that the two plighted their troth either to each, and that somehow they did become man and wife, if not in the eyes of Canon Law, yet by the sanction of a higher law to which the consciences of honourable men and women appeal against the immoral enactments of human legislation.
Among the charters at Rougham I find eighteen or twenty which were executed by Peter Romayn and Matilda. In no one of them is she called his wife; in all of them it is stipulated that the property shall descend to whomsoever they shall leave it, and in only one instance, and there I believe by a mistake of the scribe, is there any mention of their lawful heirs. They buy land and sell it, sometimes separately, more often conjointly, but in all cases the interests of both are kept in view; the charters are witnessed by the principal people in the place, including Sir Richard Butler himself, more than once; and in one of the later charters Peter Romayn, as if to provide against the contingency of his own death, makes over all his property in Rougham without reserve to Matilda, and constitutes her the mistress of it all. [Footnote: By the constitutions of Bishop Woodloke, any legacies left by a clergyman to his "concubine" were to be handed over to the bishop's official, and distributed to the poor.—Wilkins' "Cone." vol. ii. p. 296 b.]