The Chapel Royal at Saint James Palace
To recap the problem: the Church had immense wealth—approximately one third of the land in England belonged to the Church and its revenues (mostly rents from tenants) went to the Church and did so without being taxable by the Crown. The Crown, on the other hand, was desperately short of funds. Henry was transforming England from a feudal kingdom to one of the first modern nation states (along with Spain and France, England’s traditional rivals/enemies.) Henry knew he needed a Navy if he was to expand England’s trade and explore for both new markets and natural resources for manufacturing. He also needed a Navy if he was to be able to defend England, particularly from Spain whose vast American Empire had required her to develop an unparalleled naval fleet. Henry was not, for the most part, interested in foreign wars but he also needed a standing army if the Crown were to hold its own against the threats of the feudal nobility that were determined to preserve their traditional prerogatives against the centralized Government Henry was building. To build that governmental machinery, Henry cultivated a new class of civil servants—drawing not on the old feudal families that had traditionally been ministers of state, but on the rural gentry and urban business classes whose sons had been sent to university to study law. Henry vastly expanded the Civil Service to make royal government more efficient. Where was he to get the resources to pay for this new England? There could be no new taxation without Parliamentary consent. The nobility in the House of Lords did not support the King because his plans were undermining their power. The Commons were reluctant to vote new taxes because the burden fell on them and on their home constituency. They wanted the advantages of expanded government—increased commerce, more efficient judicial processes, better national security and defense—but they didn’t want it to come from their pockets. (I know: this does sound like a Democratic President with a Republican Congress and its fears of “big government,” but as Quoheleth said, “there is nothing new under the sun.”) Henry had to look for existing wealth he could tap and the Church was replete with it.
Henry began by seizing a number of ecclesiastical properties. As mentioned in a previous post he took Wolsey’s country palace at Hampton Court, upriver from London, but he also took his London residence, York Place, which he renamed Whitehall and which became Henry’s principal London Residence. The problem in taking York Place, however, was that it wasn’t Wolsey’s personal property but the property of the Archbishopric of York (Wolsey was Archbishop of York) and which by right should have gone to Edward Lee, the next Archbishop of York for his use in London. Henry also seized Durham House, the London residence of the Bishops of Durham, from his submissive bishop of Durham, Cuthbert Tunstall. This was not a punishment—Tunstall signed the Oath of Supremacy without complaint—and the King promised Tunstall Coldharbour in return, but never delivered on the promise. Henry also disbanded the Leprosarium of Saint James and built a palace of the same name on the site. The Palace of Saint James, though not used as the residence of the Sovereign since the accession of Victoria in 1837, remains in use today. Prince Charles long had his London residence there before moving to Clarence House. The body of Charles’ ex-wife, Diana, lay there before her funeral in 1997. And their grandson, Prince George was baptized there this past October.
In addition to seizing London properties belonging to bishops and abbots—most of which he turned to his private use—Henry forced cash settlements from the hierarchy. In 1530 Convocation, the assembly of bishops and abbots, were charged with violations of the Statutes of Praemunire. In the 14th century Parliament passed a number of laws limiting papal power in England. The Statute of Provisors (1306) forbad the sending out of England of revenue for any sort of tax, tribute, or fee imposed by a religious authority. This would mean that such fees as Peter’s Pence, annates, or any fees paid to the Holy See were illegal. (Annates were the monies paid to the Holy See when a cleric was appointed to his office—usually the first year’s salary. In other words, a Bishop, a Cathedral Dean, an Abbot or another Churchman whose appointment required a papal confirmation was required by the Holy See to send to Rome the equivalent of his salary for his first year in office. These amounts could be quite considerable. The Statute of Provisors forbad this as well as other fees being sent abroad.)
The 1353 Statute of Praemunire forbad filing an appeal to any Court outside England, including the Papal Court. Thus it was forbidden to send any matter—such as a petition for annulment—to Rome for settlement. In addition to annulments (which were rare) there were many cases where bishops or lower clergy appealed to Rome to settle matters of jurisdictional dispute or other questions that could not be handled by English courts—civil or ecclesiastical. A further statute passed in 1393 forbad appealing to Rome or paying the Holy See for papal bulls, excommunications, or the translation of a prelate from one benefice to another. These laws, along with several others that had been designed to limit the growth of Papal power in England but which had never been seriously enforced, compromised the entire hierarchy. Every single Bishop and Abbot, as well as most Cathedral deans, had sent the required monies to Rome to obtain the bulls authorizing their consecration or abbatial blessing. Every one of them had paid their annates. Many of them had paid the fees that allowed them to transfer from one deanery to a better paying one, or one diocese to a wealthier one. Many clergy—not only bishops, abbots, and deans—had filed suits in a Roman Court. The entire hierarchy stood guilty of a breach of law and the punishment declared them outlaws and the properties escheat to the Crown. Moreover, not only were they to be punished, but their notaries and advisors were guilty and subject to punishment as well. As I said, these laws had never been enforced but now Henry turned to Parliament—whose laws these were—and Parliament graciously decreed that should the clergy pay a fine of £118,000, punishment would be waived.
Using the pension of £5 per annum paid to monks of suppressed abbeys in the 1537-41 dissolution of the monasteries as a guide, £118,000 would be worth approximately 475 million dollars in today’s cost of living. (It is very difficult to give an accurate translation of cost from 1530 Tudor England to 2014 United States. The actual value of the pound sterling, based on its silver content, would not be so high as to equal 475,000.000 USD 2014—perhaps the value would be about £27,500,000 in today’s British currency, or about 44,000.000 USD. But you need to remember that a respectable 1540 salary for an English worker with which to support his family might be £8 a year. Taking that as a base to translate the Pound Sterling for cost of living impact, you would come up with £295,000.000 or 475,000,000 USD.)
This payment of £118,000 was only the beginning of Henry’s looting the Church coffers. A 1532 Act of Parliament reduced the amount of money sent to Rome for Annates and other fees to 5%. 1534 was a banner year for the Royal Coffers. In the winter of that year, Parliament decreed that all monies formerly sent to Rome were now to go to the royal coffers. In March that same year Parliament decreed that the Peter’s pence was no longer to be sent to Rome. Later in the spring, Parliament then passed An Act Concerning the Archbishop of Canterbury, declaring that the power of dispensation formerly belonging to the Pope was now derived from the King’s authority and was to be exercised by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It further decreed that the King was to be given 2/3 of any revenue from dispensations. That same spring it then taxed the clergy ten percent of their income to the Crown. The Act of Supremacy passed in November 1534 and generally considered the definitive break with Rome granted the Crown all monies formerly sent to Rome. By this point, Henry had squeezed the Dioceses and secular clergy dry and so he then turned to the religious with the suppression of the monasteries.