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SOCIAL CHANGES IN ENGLAND
IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY.
AS REFLECTED IN CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE.
PART I.-RURAL CHANGES.
CHAPTER I.-THE OLD RÉGIME.
THE period which extended from the close of the fifteenth century through the whole of the sixteenth was a time of rapid change in many aspects of society. In the political and the intellectual world, in the domain of men's material and of their spiritual interests, there were new influences, new ideas, and new institutions. It was the transitional century from the Middle Ages to modern times. One of the most prominent characteristics of this period, and one which strikes us with a certain surprise, is the widespread and continued suffering of the great mass of the people. The contemporary literature, prose and poetry, sermons, pamphlets, private letters, court records, and statutes, reflect "the manifold complayntes of men, touchinge the decaie of this Commonwealthe and Realme of England, that we be now in, moved more at this present then of long time hathe bene had, some imputinge it to one thinge, and some to an other." 1
We hear that "the state of England was never so miserable as it is at this present";2 and again, "England hath been
1 A Discourse of the Common Weal of this Realme of England, p. 10. Lamond's ed., 1893. First printed 1581 and attributed to W. S., but recently shown to have been written in 1549, probably by John Hales.
2 Thomas Becon, Jewel of Joy, Becon's Works, Parker Society ed., p. 435.