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Crime And Punishment In The Renaissance

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The Renaissance, a time of cultural changes and evolution spanning nearly four decades, lead to reformation and expansion within the churches and England. With the era being reformed came new rules, regulations, and laws, and with these came new leaders. There were new ideas relating to humanism and individualism, which developed in front of a Catholic background. Art was influenced heavily and dedicated to the church, and people's thoughts and relationship as to Man and God increased enormously. However, the era of the Renaissance was a time of both ethical and moral corruption within the Catholic churches; this evilness heavily influenced the crimes committed and the punishments placed upon the people.

In the 1500's, hypocrisy and corruption in the Catholic Church was uncontrollable. As defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word corruption means "guilty of dishonest practices, as bribery; lacking integrity; wicked, and evil. The people involved in the Catholic Church were supposed to set an example for the rest of Europe; they did not. Many claimed that the monks had between eight and ten girlfriends or wives apiece (Trueman). Many monks involved in the Roman Catholic Church were very lazy. They did not help the community, instead, they made more problems for the church and all the people in it. All the monks seemed to do was take money from the poor rather than give it to the ones in need. This caused the poor to do things that they would later regret. With this going on in the churches, the people turned to individualism and humanism. "Individualism and humanism were coming to the fore as citizens started looking towards themselves for answers, rather than to God or any Religious institutions" (Berard). Individualism, the belief that one's goals and desires bring self-reliance and independence, steered the people in the wrong direction religiously. In addition, humanism focused solely on humans being the primary source of importance, neglecting God, the Church, and everything in between. Church became less and less important to the people of England, as they simply stopped attending. It did not help when the King Henry VIII officially declared that he would no longer be associating himself with the Roman Catholic Church.

The era of the Renaissance was a time of expansion and exploration, as well as a period of battles between King Henry VIII and the Roman Catholic Church. The English reformation began with the reign of King Henry VIII, as he sought for a divorce with his first wife Catherine of Aragon. King Henry VIII had already known whom he wanted as his second wife, Anne Boleyn (Trueman). King Henry VIII requested for a divorce in the Roman Catholic Church and was denied by the Pope. This request caused uproar in the community. The faith of the Roman Catholic Church is that it believes in marriage for life and does not support divorce (Trueman). Divorce was something that went against the Catholic Church and the Pope could possibly excommunicate him. If Henry VIII was excommunicated, it meant that after death, his soul had no chance of making it to heaven and being successful in the afterlife. The church used this threat to keep the people in the Catholic Church under control, leading the church to gain power. This request that was denied lead King Henry VIII to break away from the Roman Catholic Church and place himself as the head of the Protestant Church. With King Henry VIII leaving the Roman Catholic Church, he was left with the job of creating different laws, "Reformation in Parliament." Though it did not settle the matter all at once, it steadily granted powers over the church clergy to the king (Hooker). He also passed a law called "Submission of the Clergy." Under this law, the clergy was placed under King Henry's VIII control. King Henry ordered Bibles to be published in English because many people could not read and understand Latin and took much money and land from the church. Despite all of this non-sense, the English church and the religion they practiced stayed the same. A person attending King Henry's Protestant church would obtain nothing different than those in the Roman Catholic Church. The adoption of Protestantism was a political move rather than a religious move on King Henry VIII behalf. This tore apart European society and separated it even more; the poor people stayed with the poor and the rich and wealthy stayed with the rich and wealthy.

Many people were proven guilty with unfair trials caused by the churches and the power they obtained. The power and wealth in the Catholic Church was extremely high and the population in England was very angry at what the church was doing. The Roman Catholic Church used their people as a source of money rather than people ready to praise God. In order to get baptized, people had to pay. People even had to pay if they were going to bury a lost loved one. Many of these duties people had to pay for were duties that had to be done in order to reach Heaven (Trueman). With this being said, the Catholic Church was very wealthy, causing many problems with the poor. While the Catholic Church was getting rich, the poor people were staying poor. The poor people's money was just being sent to the church through donations rather than being used to put food on the table. With the poor people not having enough money to support their family, they were forced to partake in various crimes. Begging was a serious crime during the Renaissance and with the poor people not obtaining the amount of food needed, they were beaten as a harsh punishment ("Elizabethan Crime and Punishment"). Stealing was

a very serious crime as well: this usually resulted in hanging or the death sentence. For example, if someone tried stealing a bird's egg to feed the innocent, starving children were impacted by a loved one dying ("Elizabethan Crime and Punishment"). Money was also needed to travel and in order to travel you needed to have a license. Any person that would have liked to travel during this time had to get a license from the bailiff. It was a serious crime to leave home without it ("Elizabethan Crime and Punishment"). The poor people in England were never really able to see their family and friends out of the state or country because he or she did not have enough money to pay for food and a traveling license; let alone the transportation needed. The people that were charged with different crimes were never faced with true and honest trials; they were all unfair. All the trials that went on during this time were all in favor of the prosecutors ("Elizabethan Crime and Punishment"). This was a very violent and unfair time in history where all the harsh punishments and executions were a normal day-to-day activity. These executions and harsh punishments were witnessed by thousands of people. The lower class and the poor treated these events as their day outs ("Elizabethan Crime and Punishment"). These harsh treatments were new meditations and were instruments for social and political control in absolutist regimes' hands (Merback, 1999). The church enjoyed obtaining all of this power among the people and having it in their hands.

The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned nearly 300 years, originating during the late Middle Ages and spreading to Europe, specifically England, towards the end. With this three century long era came both ups and downs, including the beginning of new art and architecture, as well as ethical and moral corruption surrounding the Catholic Churches. With this ethical and moral corruption came crime and poverty, leading to harsh and severe punishment for crimes committed. Whether it was unfair trials or hypocrisy, the corruption of the time and church steered the region into the future and eventually led England to new beginnings and the end of the Renaissance.

Jena Boudreau

Ms. Jakubus

Brit. Lit (1)

19 April 2010

Works Consulted

"Crime and Punishment in Elizabethan England," http://EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesshistory.com (2001).

"Henry, VIII." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998.

Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010.

Hinds, K. Life in Elizabethan England and The Church. Benchmark: Marshall Cavendish Coorp., 2008. Print.

"History of Catholic Church - Renaissance and Reformation." Essortment Articles: Free Online Articles on Health, Science, Education & More.. Web. 18 Apr. 2010. <http://www.essortment.com/all/historycatholic_rfxp.htm>.

Merback, M. The Theif, The Cross, and The Wheel. Pain and the spectacle of punishment in Medieval and Renaissance Europe. London: Reaktion Books, 1999. Print.

"Reformation: Protestant England." Washington State University - Pullman, Washington. Web. 18 Apr. 2010. <http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/REFORM/ENGLAND.HTM>.

Trueman, C. "Medieval Law and Order." 2000 n.page.web. 25 Mar 2010. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval_law_and_order.htm


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