Prologue: Why the English came to America

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Pilgrimage of Grace

Pilgrimage of Grace

Henry VIII created the social upheaval which ultimately fueled people colonizing America.  In his quest for peace and stability, he created extreme instability which, at its height, led 40,000 people to rise against him in one year.

This was the defining moment of the social groups who would ultimately clash within England, and push each other out of England, over the next couple centuries.  Catholics and Nobility opposed the Protestant (future Puritan) middle class, while the majority of society just wanted calm and enough prosperity to live a good life.

They got neither, though, because as English farmland was turned to pasture, thousands of peasants were pushed off their land to live in squalor in the cities.  London’s population doubled at this point in time.

When Henry died, he left his sickly son Edward on the throne, and when Edward died, he was unable to prevent his sister, Mary, from taking it.  Edward was a protestant whose reign saw dire poverty and exploitation.  Mary was a Catholic who made it her mission to stamp out the Protestant Reformation completely – but whose attempts only solidified England’s conversion.

At the end of their collective reigns, there were Catholics and Protestants vying for religious power, while Nobles and Gentry vied for political influence.  Anyone who wasn’t rich was very poor, and even people who were rich couldn’t guarantee they could build the lives they wanted.

Learn more:

My favorite books on this topic are:

The English and their History by Robert Tombs

A History of the English Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill

Articles and primary source documents I mentioned during the show:

Bishop Latimer’s Sermon of the Plough – The most famous sermon decrying the enclosures and abuses of the peasantry.

In times past, when any rich man died in London, they were wont to help the poor scholars of the Universities with exhibition. When any man died, they would bequeath great sums of money toward the relief of the poor. When I was a scholar in Cambridge myself, I heard very good report of London, and knew many that had relief of the rich men of London: but now I can hear no such good report, and yet I inquire of it, and hearken for it; but now charity is waxen cold, none helpeth the scholar, nor yet the poor. And in those days, what did they when they helped the scholars? Marry, they maintained and gave them livings that were very papists, and professed the pope’s doctrine: and now that the knowledge of God’s word is brought to light, and many earnestly study and labour to set it forth, now almost no man helpeth to maintain them.

Here’s an enjoyable song performed by Rowan Atkinson, acting as Henry VIII singing about the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  It’s for a British kid’s show, but it’s clever!

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