Peddlers of Paradise

The Sale of Indulgences and Confraternity by the English Austin Friars in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries

in Church History and Religious Culture
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This study investigates the activities of the Austin Friars in England in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries regarding the sale of expurgatory services. Through an analysis of their letters of confraternity and indulgences, this study argues that around the end of the fifteenth century, the Austin Friars experienced a change in attitude in the sale of their religious services. They exponentially increased their efforts in selling indulgences and letters of confraternity and in advertising their popular Scala Coeli services, an attitude that reached its zenith in 1516 when Pope Leo X licensed the Austin Friars to sell and promote a lucrative plenary indulgence. This change has significant consequences for considerations of the actions of English Augustinian reformers in the sixteenth century, primarily Robert Barnes, whose criticisms of clerical wealth are put into relief when examined within this monastic context.

Church History and Religious Culture

Formerly: Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis




R.N. Swanson, “Mendicants and Confraternity in Late-Medieval England,” in The Religious Orders in Pre-Reformation England, ed. James Clark (Woodbridge, 2002), 121–141 at 121.


Ibid., 121–141.


W.G. Clark-Maxwell, “Some Further Letters of Fraternity,” Archaeologia 79 (1929), 19–60, there 44.


London, British Library, Add. Charter 6054.


W.G. Clark-Maxwell, “Some Letters of Confraternity,” Archaeologia 75 (1926), 179–216, there 211.


London, British Library, Add. Charter 6054.


Ibid., 122. The guild’s records are found in London, British Library, MS Egerton 2886.


Ibid., 375.


Morgan, “The Scala Coeli Indulgence,” 91. As Morgan points out, in 1511, it was not mentioned among the privileges of the guild in a letter of admission of a guild member, so it must have been established after this time.


J.M. Hayden, “Religious Reform and Religious Orders in England, 1490–1540: The Case of the Crutched Friars,” The Catholic Historical Review 86:3 (2000): 420–438, there 432.


Swanson, “Mendicants and Confraternity (see above, n. 8),” 126.


Ibid., 135.


Ibid., 134.


Brendan Bradshaw, “George Browne, first Reformation archbishop of Dublin, 1536–1554,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 21:4 (1970), 301–326.


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