religious houses by making them absentee priors or abbots. The abbots and priors did not have to be members of the religious orders, and they could hold several of these benefices at the same time. The reward was the large income benefices generated once the expenses of the priory or abbey had been paid. Richelieu, for instance, earned roughly a third of his immense revenue from such benefices in the early seventeenth century, and in the eighteenth century, the King of France had rights to nominate nearly a thousand absentee abbots, plus over one hundred bishops and numerous pension holders as well.
Monarchs were not the only ones in Catholic lands with control over benefices - far from it. In the Holy Roman Empire, families from the upper Catholic aristocracy had power over many cathedral chapters. They used the canonries (and other benefices too) to support their kin and to advance their interests and those of princely families to whom they were allied. Nobles in many parts of Italy could also appropriate the income from benefices, even though the Counter-Reformation papacy managed to impose a bit of meritocracy in appointments to the church livings it controlled. Not that the income from the Catholic Church's assets was all squandered on political spoils. It supported nuns who worked in hospitals and regular clergymen who taught in schools and colleges, and it provided charity for the poor and a refuge for unmarried women in societies that offered little place for ladies without husbands - all this even when absentee benefice holders were skimming much of the revenue off from the top. Nor was the Catholic Church alone in having such problems, for there were in fact parallels within the Lutheran and Anglican Churches. In Scandinavia and Germany, a young Lutheran cleric usually needed a patron, such as a local lord or a city councillor, to get a better paying post, for otherwise he risked being out in the countryside, where he was likely to subsist on a modest stipend. Similarly, in England, patronage in the Anglican Church was often used for political purposes, and the income from the tithe and glebe lands did not all end up in the pockets of the parson it was meant to support. Instead, much of it went to bishops, cathedral chapters, or the local gentry who often controlled clerical appointments.
Beyond using church assets as political plums, Catholic rulers also sought to tax the church's wealth, even though in theory its property was tax exempt. Needless to say, the pope and clergy struggled to resist, but they were far from completely successful. The kings of Spain taxed church property, as did the Habsburgs, notably when they had to defend their Austrian lands from the Turks. In France, the clergy developed a representative body that offered the king what was called a 'free gift' but in reality it was little different from taxation. If Catholic rulers were limited in the taxes they could impose on
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