Power, Greed and Corruption


James Catron

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, lived a king named Henry Tudor, known to his subjects as Great Harry, and to us as Henry VIII. Henry was a big, big man and had great appetites. Harry lived to eat, to hunt, to joust, to sing and dance, and to marry.

All told, Henry had six wives, some of whom died naturally, and some of whom fell under the headsman's axe. Henry was a difficult man, and hard to please. His tastes were expensive and he needed ever more income to sastisfy them. England was already impoverished by the huge taxes imposed upon the people, but they were primitive revenue generators, like window and chimney taxes and too easy to avoid.

With the people too poor to bear any greater burden, and the aristocracy too resistant, Henry had to find a source of treasure that could not revolt, and had to find an excuse to loot it.

The Church at that time held huge tracts of productive land and huge numbers of abusive, worldly, greedy clerics, who were deeply resented by the laity for their hypocrisy. The Church had storehouses of gold and jewels, donated over the centuries by the faithful, with no army to defend them. She was indeed a fat hog, ready to be killed and rendered.

In the early years of his reign, Henry had despised his contemporary, Martin Luther. He actually had written thological tracts assailing Luther's Protestant Reformation. As the bills piled up, Henry began to see more clearly the evils of Catholicism, or at least, its riches. Ostensibly, his break with the Church came over his need to divorce his wife, Katerina, daughter of Spain's Ferdinand and Isabella. The Pope would not accept Henry's lawyers fictitious legal impediments to the validity of the marriage, so Henry retaliated by refusing to recognize the Pope as head of the English church and by granting himself that title, thus creating the Anglican church.

It was but a short step then to seizing the monasteries, their lands and treasures. The buildings were pulled down and the clerics turned out on the highways.

The monasteries had been central to the economies of the counties. Many country folk worked inside the monasteries as servants and scullions. The rural people with land sold their produce to the monks and nuns. Those peasants with no land rented and farmed church lands. When the monarch took the lands, he raised the rents, the peasants could not afford to farm, abandoned the country and moved to cities, creating horrible health and social problems.

The economic havoc wrought by this destruction of markets and labor pools was staggering. Even commentors of the time recognized that "for every plow idled, six men lost their jobs, and another seven were impoverished." Yet today unelected rulers change our religion to Earth-worship, seize productive lands, and destroy jobs and rural cultures.

Haven't we learned anything about power, greed and corruption the last five centuries?