Illustrated English Social History - Vol. 1

By G. M. Trevelyan | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
ENGLAND DURING THE ANTI-CLERICAL
REVOLUTION

THE advent of the first English antiquary, John Leland, may, if we wish, be taken for a sign that the Middle Ages were indeed passing away and becoming matter for retrospect. For nearly ten years ( 1534-1543) Leland travelled through the length and breadth of Henry VIII's kingdom, diligently seeking out and observing things new and old.1 He noted much that was flourishing, but he had also a loving and learned eye for the past, to discern

'by Time's fell hand defaced The rich-proud cost of outworn buried age.'

Many 'lofty towers' he saw 'downrazed,' especially three kinds of ruin--dilapidated castles, crumbling walls of towns, and the housebreakers beginning their work upon the roofs of the Abbeys.

Many castles, indeed, Leland saw that had been adapted to the domestic uses of a later age, and had long years of splendour still before them. But many others (like royal Berkhamstead where the Black Prince kept court) had after the Wars of the Roses been abandoned by the frugal policy of Henry VII; while private owners often condemned their ancestral fortresses as fit neither to withstand cannon planted on a neighbouring eminence, nor to house nobles and gentlemen with modern comfort. Leland, therefore, reports on many a feudal stronghold that 'tendith to ruin,' some stripped of their roofs, their walls a quarry for the village or the new manor-house, the slighted remains sheltering poor husbandmen and their cattle.

In the Middle Ages, the glory and safety of every town had been its encircling walls, but military, political and economic reasons had combined to bring about their decay. The thin stone curtain, such as can still be seen in the grounds of New College, Oxford, could no longer avail to protect a town against the cannon of

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1
The Itinerary of John Leland. Edited by Lucy Toulmin Smith, 1906-1910.

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