In the years of expanding state authority following the Black
Death, English common law permitted the leasing of parishes by
their rectors and vicars, who then pursued interests elsewhere and
left the parish in the control of lay lessees. But a series of
statutes enacted by Henry VIII between 1529 and 1540 effectively
reduced such clerical absenteeism. Robert Palmer examines this
transformation of the English parish and argues that it was an
important part of the English Reformation.
Palmer analyzes an extensive set of data drawn from common law
records to reveal a vigorous and effective effort by the laity to
enforce the new statutes. Motivated by both economic and
traditional ideals, the litigants made the commercial activities of
leaseholding and buying for resale and profit the exclusive domain
of the laity and acquired the power to regulate the clergy.
According to Palmer, these parish-level reformations presaged and
complemented other initiatives of the crown that have long been
considered central to the reign of Henry VIII.