Nature and magnitude of charges introduced under Henry VIII were of so far reaching importance and significance that his successors could have done little towards neutralising the results of his policy.
Protector Somerset wanted to right wrong but he had neither the singleness of purpose nor the freedom of action necessary to accomplish this significant task. His policy was fatally compromised by the new bankruptcy of his government. His reforms are further handicapped by the evil consequences of the further debrsement of the coinage introduced by him.
Henry’s Policy continued further:
The chantry lands earmarked for seizure by Henry VIII were taken up him and they followed the monastic lands into the hands of the well-to-do.
In 1549, he sanctioned the issue of large quantities of silver coins of the 1546 standard Exchange took a further plunge and cloth export went up taking domestic prices with them.
But although the new regime did nothing to check the dangers, it did allow people to speak their minds on this mounting economic change with a far greater concern. Though religion was the chief interest of the people writings concerning economic problems also drew attention of the masses. Most of them came in the form of applied religion.
Literature on Economic Problems:
Quite a few authors now began speaking and writing on common-weal and common wealth. These included Crowby, Binklow, Latimer and Hales To these men new technique of money-making was abhorrent, it stood condemned for its lust of gain. This tendency for gain was mord obvious in London than anywhere else. Here more than anywhere else, Christian virtues were surrendered to materialism and economics dominated religion.
Life in London distressing:
Life in London was unhealthy. Prices were rising high and food tuffs were everywhere costly. Everywhere there was great distress. We know that the distress was only giving birth to England’s economic leadership, but all that time these things were not evident.
Under Somerset :
This evil had to be abolished. Men like Hales brought out two items for these purposes which were of great importance. The one was the Subsidy Act, 1518; the other was the statute against enclosure.
The Subsidy Act noted the crown revenue from taxation and included a novel provision of tax on sheep. This new tax was meant to do away with purveyance the system by which the crown purchased supplies from its subjects at low prices. It was unpopular in the light of great price rises.
To compensate the crown for the loss of purveyance. Hales put forward the novel idea of tax on sheep and cloth, calculated in a brilliant statistical method to bring in 112,0C0-a sum equal to the whole of crown’s revenue. This scheme was not only a bold enlargement of the incidence of taxation but also showed the merit of taxation as en instrument of economic planning.
Hale’s view was that the cloth industry and the concomitant growth of pasture-farming were diverting more and more of country’s resources in one channel and this was making the economy lopsided. His plan was endorsed by the protector -and surprisingly enough, accepted by the Parliament.
Hale’s other achievements in the sphere of remedial action was the setting up of a commission to enquire into the progress of the enclosure movement. By 1548, four statutes had been passed against enclosure. The commission was a threat to the enclosure and a promise to the farmer that in the future he will get more than verbal protection. The protector saw this in the light of a crusade and was prepared to stake his authority on it.
Rebellion of Commoners:
When Somerset pledged his support to the “Poor Commoners” they were already staging the opening moves of a mass demonstration. With the operation of the commission, probably, more enthused than before the whole of South England rose in rebellion mainly against the economic evils like rising rent, enclosure etc, and with it came the doom of Somerset’s regime.
Policy was reversed:
Policy followed by. Somerset was reversed after his death. In fact after the death of protector all blame was thrown on him and he was held responsible for all national failures. Since there was none to defend the protector he was discredited before the nation. His economic policy, which protected the rights of the poor, was gradually reversed.
Under Warwick the Subsidy Act was repealed as a result of the vigorous lobbying of the clothiers and the sheep masters.
The Enclosure Commission lapsed and the Parliament for the first time encouraged enclosure in a positive way by re-enacting the statute of Merton which empowered landlords to appropriate common land. Organized opposition to it was made a felony.
To check further rebellion, greater number of soldiers was enrolled. Henry VIII had established Tudor Peace by abolishing retainers; it was now to be preserved by reviving them. But the press and the pulpit could not be silenced and the voice of the social conscience still spoke.
And yet it was Warwick’s government which made the first serious attempt at ending the monetary chaos which had cost the country so dear. Since 1549 when Somerset had further debased the coinage its value was more rapidly falling than ever before and in May 1551 the exchange value was fifteen shillings Flemish.
At home the prices were twice as high as in 1547 and the Government’s efforts resulted only in driving goods from the general to the black market Increasing production costs were already checking exports and over-production threatened. But the “loan” changed to a burst and between May and August 1551 the government carried out fifty percent devaluation of coinage by calling coins down into half their face value.
Blow to foreign trade:
This drastic deflation so necessary to maintain stability at home cleat a stunning blow to the export trade, or the dices of the English cloth now raised sharply and the Antwerp also began to fall alarmingly. From a record figure of 132,000 in 1550 dropped to 85,000 in 1552,
Country hit by depression:
The resulting slump in the cloth made industry meant great losses to the nation. The production costs were brought down and wages reduced and the quality of goods fell down. But due to poor purchasing capacity of the masses even at low costs the cloth was unsaleable and a serious depression seemed to be the offing.
Legislative measures with a view to rationalising production and stabilising trade were again tried. Many acts were passed by Parliament in 1552 to reduce the swollen cloth industry to manageable limits. Later on, measures like the Weaver’s Act, 1555 were passed to redress the imbalance between town and rural areas by peralising the latter and exempting the former.
Gresham ‘s attempt to improve balance of trade:
At about this time, Sir Thomas Gresham set about trying to improve England’s foreign trade position. His principal task at Antwerp was to manage the royal debt. His policy created great credit for England and after him Mary and Elizabeth could borrow money both easily and cheaply.
Gresham realised that the exchange rate was one of the most potent instruments of economic control and he tried to concern himself chiefly with the London-Antwerp rate.
He trade, were therefore, brought under the control of the English crown, Gresham increased customs duties on cloth trade. But the collapse of the Dutch trade helped England to find markets else were and this was the beginning of the English overseas enterprise.
It was a period in which the English economic and social fabric was stretched and distorted as perhaps never before. They saw the manufacture of cloth expand until of overshadowed all else in the economy and then catastrophically deflated.
They saw unparalled rise in prices. And as a result workers heard the rample of revolution. These were the years of ‘dangerous’ corn before the straight path of progress in English social history started.