Peter`s Pence or Romescot.
Peter`s pence or Romescot began as a monetary donation to the coffers of the Church of Rome. It arose as an act of piety by King Ina, king of the West Saxons (AD 688-723) who granted one penny from every fire – house ( a house with a fireplace) throughout his kingdom. Later in his reign he retired, went to Rome and became a monk. Under King Offa of Mercia (AD 755-794) the Peter Pence was paid to St Peter`s Church in Rome.
The payment was intended to defray the costs of English students attending
the school in Rome. But the various Popes pretended that it was a tribute
paid to St Peter and his successors. Thus for some seven hundred and forty
years from Offa`s grant to its abolition by Henry VIII, avarice and greed
stemmed from the very top.
In AD 856 King Ethelwolf
extended the payment all over England but forgot about the duties of a
prince in his submission to Rome. Ethelwolf took his son, Alfred, to Rome where the young prince was handed over to the Pope who undertook his education. At this time the English school in Rome was renovated following a fire and the scope of payments to Rome extended to a total of 300 marks – 100 marks each to St Peter`s Church for lighting (candles); St Paul`s Church the same, and 100 marks for the Pope.
During the periods of Danish invasion they burned the monasteries and
demolished the churches. But under the Saxons there was once again an
acceptance of devotions, priests and monks, with cloisters, penances and
pilgrimages. William the Conqueror was explicit in his attitude
declaring that he would pay no fealty to the Pope; and plainly told him
that he would not make his crown dependant on any person living.
Thus the custom and practice continued
intermittently for centuries before Henry II in AD 1165 , in a dispute with
Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Pope in Rome,
directed that the payment should be made into his coffers and disposal was
by his direction. By the reign of King John, in AD 1215 the Cardinal Pandulph was diligently collecting the Peter Pence as of right and a payment due to Rome. For his zeal he was made Bishop of Norwich, thereby increasing both his dignity and the expenses payable to him.
A firm resistance to the payment emerged under Edward I (Longshanks) in 1318 when two Papal Legates came ostensibly to mediate in the war between Scotland and England. The legates sought to collect a levy of 4 pence per mark (of the benifice) of each cleric to pay for their journey. The clergy greatly resented the new levy and complained to Edward. Matters were made worse when the legates were robbed of everything in Northumberland. Returning to London they sought to increase the levy to eight pence in the mark to compensate for their losses. Edward promptly wrote to the legates and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and other bishops explicitly forbidding such impositions. Edward followed this up with a prohibition on the collection of the Peter Pence.
The payment of the Peter Pence , and many other types of levy and ecclesiastical taxes ( called the Annates or annual levy) continued until Henry VIII`s rupture with Rome, In January 1534 Parliament enacted that these payments ” should utterly surcease”. The wide range of levies that went to the coffers of Rome are illustrated in that legislation:
” Moreover, against all other whatsoever intolerable exactions and great sums of money used to be paid out of this realm to the Bishop of Rome, in pensions,censures. Peterpence, procurations, fruits, suits for provisions, and expeditions of bulls, for archbishops and bishops, for delegacies and rescripts in causes of contention and appeals, jurisdictions legative; also for dispensations, licenses, faculties, grants, relaxation, writs called `perinde valere,’ rehabilitations, abolition, canonizations, and other infinite sorts of bulls, breves, and instruments of sundry nature, the number whereof were tedious particularly to be recited : in the said parliament It was ordained, that all such uncharitable usurpations, exactions, pensions, censures, portions, and Peterpence, wont to be paid to the see of Rome, should utterly surcease, and never more be levied: so that the king, with his honourable council, should have power and authority from time to time, for the ordering, redress, and reformation of all manner of indulgences, privileges, &c., within this realm.”
Return to English Reformation, introduction.