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Seventeenth Century

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Works of Sir Thomas More

Holbein's sketch of Thomas More

Excerpt from Supplication of Souls.


        But now to the poor beggars. What remedy findeth their proctor for them? to make hospitals? Nay ware of it, thereof he will none in no wise. For thereof he sayeth the more the worse, because they be profitable to priests. What remedy then? Give them any money? Nay, nay, not a groat. What other thing then? Nothing in the world will serve but this, that if the king's grace will build a sure hospital, it never shall fail to relieve all the sick beggars for ever. Let him give nothing to them, but look what the clergy hath, and take all that from them. Is not here a goodly mischief for a remedy? Is not this a royal feat, to leave these beggars meatless, and then send more to dinner to them? Oh the wise! Here want we voice and eloquence to set out an exclamation in the praise and commendation of this special high provision. This bill putteth he forth in the poor beggars' name. But we verily think if themselves have as much wit as their proctor lacketh, they had liever see their bill-maker burned, than their supplication sped.
        For they may soon perceive that he mindeth not their almoise,1 but only the spoil of the clergy. For so that the clergy lose it, he neither deviseth further, nor further forceth who have it. But it is easy to see, whereof springeth all his displeasure. He is angry and fretteth at the spiritual jurisdiction for the punishment of heretics and burning of their erroneous books: for ever upon that string he harpeth: very angry with the burning of Tyndale's testament. For these matters he calleth them blood suppers, drunken in the blood of holy saints and martyrs. Ye marvel peradventure which holy saints and martyrs he meaneth. Surely by his holy saints and martyrs he meaneth their holy schismatics and heretics, for whose just punishment these folk that are of the same sect, fume, fret, frote2 and foam, as fierce and as angerly as a new hunted sow. And for the rancour conceived upon this displeasure, cometh up all his complaint of the possessions of the clergy. Wherein he spareth and forbeareth the nuns yet, because they have no jurisdiction upon heretics: for else he would have cried out upon their possessions too. But this is now no new thing, nor the first time that heretics have been in hand with the matter, For first was there in the eleventh year of King Henry IV., one John Badby burned for heresy. And forthwith thereupon was there at the next parliament holden the same year, a bill put in, declaring how much temporal land was in the church, which reckoning the maker thereof guessed at by the number of knight's fees of which he had weened he had made a very just account. And in this bill was it devised to take their possessions out again. Howbeit by the bill it appeared well unto them which well understood the matter, that the maker of the bill neither wist what land there was, nor how many knight's fees there was in the church, nor well what thing a knight's fee is: but the bill devised of rancour and evil will by some such as favoured Badby that was burned, and would have his heresies fain go forward. And so the bill such as it was, such was it esteemed and set aside for naught. So happed it then soon after that in the first year of the king's most noble progenitor King Henry V. those heresies secretly creeping on still among the people; a great number of them had first covertly conspired and after openly gathered and assembled themselves, purposing by open war and battle to destroy the king and his nobles and subvert the realm. Whose traitorous malice that good Catholic king prevented, withstood, overthrew, and punished; by many of them taken in the field, and after for their traitorous heresies both hanged and burned. Whereupon, forthwith at the parliament holden the same year, likewise as that royal prince, his virtuous nobles, and his good Christian commons, devised good laws against heretics: so did some of such as favoured them, eftsoons put in the bill against the spirituality. Which, eftsoons considered for such as it was, and coming of such malicious purpose as it came, was again rejected and set aside for nought. Then was there long after that, one Richard Houndon burned for heresy. And then forthwith were there a rabble of heretics gathered themselves together at Abingdon: which not intended to lose any more labour by putting up of bills in the parliaments, but to make an open insurrection and subvert all the realm, and then to kill up the clergy and sell priests' heads as good cheap as sheep's heads, three for a penny, buy who would. But God saved the church and the realm both, and turned their malice upon their own heads. And yet after their punishment then were there some that renewed the bill again. And yet long after this, was there one John Goose roasted at the Tower Hill. And thereupon forthwith some other John Goose began to bear that bill abroad again and made some gaggling3 awhile, but it availed him not. And now because some heretics have been of late abjured, this gosling therefore hath made this beggars' bill, and gaggleth again upon the same matter, and yet as he thinketh by another invention likely to speed now, because he maketh his bill in the name of the beggars, and his bill couched as full of lies as any beggar swarmeth full of lice. We neither will nor shall need to make much business about this matter. We trust much better in the goodness of good men, than that we should need for this thing to reason against an unreasonable body. We be sure enough that good men were they that gave this gear into the church, and therefore nought should they be of likelihood that would pull it out thence again. To which ruin and sacrilege Our Lord, we trust, shall never suffer this realm to fall.

1. almoise, alms; relief.
2. frote, chafe.
3. gaggling, cackling.

Craik, Henry, ed. English Prose. Vol I.
New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916. 172-174.

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