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Conflicts of Personality and Principle The political and religious crisis in the English Franciscan Province, 1400—140Q. If the fifteenth century was, in Kingsford's phrase, an age of 'prejudice and promise,' a good deal of the prejudice was concentrated in the first decade of Henry Bolinbroke's reign as king of England. Heresy, schism and political intrigue combined to make these years a period of turmoil not to be surpassed until the great revolutions of the Tudor era. The part played by the English Franciscans in the early conspiracies against Henry IV is often enough mentioned in passing by historical writers. It is an interesting fact that the crisis which faced Henry IV during the first eight years or so of his reign was paralleled by a contemporary crisis within the English Province of the Franciscan Order. That the full import of this has not been generally recognised is due to the absence until now of detailed information. Hitherto, the evidence apprising us of the situation amongst the Friars Minor in these years has been based on a number of references from the record sources — from the official records in London's Public Record Office and in the Papal Registers, and from the chroniclers (always brief, with the important exception of the source used by the continuator of the Eulogium Historiarum) . It is with pleasure, therefore, that one is now able to bring forward a body of new evidence which throws into sharp relief the personal characters and aspirations of some of the leading figures among the English Franciscans of the early fifteenth century, and which may also prove a small mine of suggestive information on the lesser aspects of constitutional and administrative practice in the Order at this period. This evidence is provided by a series of letters written to the papal curia by one of the principal participants in the drama — the Provincial, John de la Zouche, who later became Bishop of Llandaff.1 These letters 1 The letters are contained in a manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Arch. Seid. B. 23, and are printed below with the permission of the Keeper of Western Manuscripts. Of Zouche's life before his election to the Provincialate in 1400 practically nothing is known; he is probably the Franciscan John Souche who was ordained acolyte in 1368 (reference communicated by Fr. Conrad Walmsley, O. F. M.). His career as Bishop of Llandaff, from 1408 to 1423, was undistinguished, and does not concern the present 21 Franciscan Studies, 195732 1 322D. W. WHITFIELD show that the years of Henry IVs struggle to establish his seat unchallenged upon the throne witnessed a corresponding struggle on the part of the Provincial to retain office and to effect drastic reforms in the face of vigorous opposition from his own brethren in religion. The King triumphed, the Provincial bowed before the storm; but the two trains of events were interrelated. Not only did the friars of England undergo a period of stress perhaps more difficult than any hitherto experienced in the history of the Province, but the problems which faced them had both direct and indirect bearings on the political troubles of Henry of Lancaster. Throughout the Lancastrian period, the politics in which the English Friars Minor were concerned were complex in nature, secular and ecclesiastical , external and internal. At the beginning of the century the religious outlook for Europe as a whole was grim indeed. The entire Western Church was rent by the Schism, the healing of which was a first demand upon the Christian conscience ; by 1400, under the guidance of leaders in both Church and State, the sinfulness of the Schism had been brought home to the multitudes in all its gravity.2 The Franciscan Order itself, although the great majority of its members adhered to the Roman pontiff, was rent internally by the struggle of the Observants' to assert themselves in face of the Conventuals, a struggle which (as will presently be seen) had its repercussions on a lesser scale in the English Province. And to these crises, in England was added another: the deposition of Richard II had within a year or so aroused considerable opposition to Henry IV, in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 321-362
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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