1902 Encyclopedia > England > [English History] England and the Tudors: Henry VII-VIII; Edward VI; Mary I.

England
(Part 26)




SECTION II: HISTORY (cont.)

Part 26: England and the Tudors: Henry VII-VIII; Edward VI; Mary I.


It was to this state of things England was tending during the whole of this time. The stir of civil war alternated with the repose of despotism. It might almost be said that the two went on side by side; for the War of the Roses were not a period of anarchy like the wars of Stephen and Matilda. The crown was fought for by contending princes at the head of great armies ; but there was little or nothing of the wasting local and personal warfare of the earlier time. Except where the actual strife was waging, things went on much as usual. The king in possession was obeyed wherever his enemies were not in military occupation. After each revolution a parliament was ready to approve the change, to acknowledge the conqueror, to regulate the succession according to his pleasure, and commonly to attaint the defeated prince and his supporters. It marks that the age of revolution was drawing to an end when the famous statute of Henry VII. declared that no man would be called in question for adhering to a king in possession, be his title good or bad. The care taken by every claimant of the crown to obtain a parliamentary acknowledgment of his right was at once a homage paid to the formal authority of parliaments and a heavy blow struck at their moral weight. The parliaments of this time were fast losing the spirit of the elder parliaments. The number of the temporal lords was lessened by battles, executions, and banishments. The spiritual lords had become more thoroughly servants of the crown than at any time since the twelfth century. The lower house had also undergone a change. In one sense its position had risen. The place of representative of a city or borough was now sought for by men who were not actual citizens or burgesses. And, owing to the restrictive statute of Henry VI. and to the change in the constitutions of the boroughs, both knights and burgesses were now chosen them in earlier times. Yet, low as parliaments had fallen from their ancient standard, they still kept virtue enough for kings to dread them. Every king of this age who deemed himself safe on his throne tried to reign without a parliament. During the first reign of Edward IV., parliament met, formally at least, with one exception, every year. In the latter part of his reign five years passed without a parliament. So it was with Henry VII. Parliaments were frequent while insurrections were frequent. The last eleven years of Henry’s reign saw only a single parliament. On the other hand, Richard III., whose throne was not safe during a moment of his short reign, was the least unconstitutional king of this period. He had time only for a single parliament, but that was a parliament rich in legislation, and which passed one great law restraining a special abuse of royal power. Edward IV., in the times when he dispensed with parliaments, brought in a practice of gathering what were called benevolences, gifts to the crown which were nominally freewill offerings, but which it was dangerous for the subject to refuse. These benevolences were expressly declared illegal by the statue of Richard. But Richard himself broke his own law ; and later kings found it convenient to follow his practice rather than his legislation. And when the statute of Richard was quoted against them, They were not ashamed to plead that the act of the usurper was of itself null.

This then was the time of trial for England and her liberties. She and they were now full grown, and their strength had to be proved. Her probation went on for more than two hundred years ; but now it began. In the end the nation and its liberties proved too strong for the kings. Parliament were bullied, packed, and corrupted; their sittings were stopped for years together ; but they were never abolished. The great laws which secured freedom were often broken, but they were never repealed or set aside. At the beginning of this period the distinction between an absolute and a limited monarchy was as clearly drawn out by a minister of Henry VI. as it could be by any modern political writer. And, if the practice did not always conform to the model traced by Sir John Fortescue, the law always did. The old principles of freedom were never so utterly forgotten, never so utterly trodden under foot, that they could not be called to life again when the favourable moment came. In this, it is plain, the history of England differs from the history of France, of Spain, of most continental countries. And certainly one reason for the difference was that they were continental countries, while England is insular. Constant rivalries, constant warfare with immediate neighbours, gave better pretexts for the maintenance of standing armies than could be found in England. The only immediate neighbour of England was Scotland. And the wars with Scotland, though working constant damage to the border shires, were not so dangerous to the kingdom in general that either prince or people would have dreamed of keeping up a standing army on their account. And, after Henry VII’s treaty, war with Scotland ceased to be the regular state of things. Our kings therefore, without a standing army, could not utterly root out freedom as their continental brethren did. In the worst times they were driven to summon parliaments from time to time, and those parliaments now and then showed traces of the old spirit. Still from this time onward the administration becomes highly arbitrary. The king and his council were guilty of constant illegal interference with the liberty of the subjects. The court of Star-Chamber, an offshot from the Privy Council and so from the old curia regis, though sometimes useful in punishing offenders who were too strong for the ordinary course of law, became a terrible engine of oppression. It is characteristic of the time that judicial torture, unknown at all times to English law, and unknown to English practice at all times before the fifteenth century and after the seventeenth, now began to be freely used. But it was used in every case by a special and illegal exercise of prerogative. No man was ever tortured to extort confession in any of the regular courts of English law._

The age which brought in the rack could hardly fail to be a merciless age. In fact the civil struggles of each age had, from the twelfth century onwards, been getting more and more bloodthirsty. During the Wars of the Roses each revolution, each battle, was followed by something that might be called a massacre, by a general slaughter of the leading men on both sides. On the other hand, the slaughter was mainly confined to the leading men. But the murders or executions wrought at every stage of these wars undoubtedly had a political effect in lessening the numbers of the old nobility to a degree which mere slaughter in battle could never have done. In this age too began the general practice of attainder by Act of Parliament. That is, a man is placed by a legislative act in the same position as if he had been convicted after a regular trial. This process was now freely used, not only against the living, but sometimes against the dead. The main object in the latter case was of course the confiscation of the estate of the attainted person. It at sight seems singular that the man who stands out as the foremost actor in the cruelties of this time was the man who was also foremost as a scholar and patron of learning. This was John Tiploft, earl Worcester, who in the one character was bewailed by Caxton, while in the other he gained the popular surname of the Butcher. But Tiptoft brought his learning from Italy ; he was fact the first-fruits of the Italian Renaissance in England. And the Italian Renaissance, if it was a school of taste and learning, was hardly a school of either justice or mercy. Arbitrary power cruelly exercised can easily exist alongside of learning and refinement. This truth England began to learn it the present period. It learned it yet more thoroughly in the next.

The Italian studies of the earl of Worcester were certainly not shared by many of the contemporary nobles. Yet before this time, Humfrey duke of Gloucester had appeared as a patron of learning, and the foundation of colleges in both universities went on through the whole of the fifteenth century. But the new learning, as it was called, that wider field of study of which Greek learning was the most easily recognized outward badge, hardly took root in England till quite the end of this period, under Henry VII. Caxton had already begun to print under Edward IV., at a time when the native literature of England had sunk lower than it ever sank before or after. Yet signs were not wanting that the practice of writing, and writing in English, was now widely spread. The Paston Letters, which let us into the inmost life of the knightly family of Norfolk, are worth any amount of courtly Latin. But are they hardly literature. Mediaeval art too now entered on its latest phase immediately before its final overthrow. The architectural style of this time loses the aspiring lines of earlier times, and gives us instead a lavishness and intricacy of ornament, such as we see at St George’s at Windsor and in Henry VIII.’s chapel at Westminster. But the architectural details are still for the most part pure. It is in tombs and woodwork that the Renaissance details first creep in, and that hardly till the reign of Henry VIII. But, just at the end of this period and the beginning of the next, English domestic architecture reached its highest perfection. Houses had now quite outstripped the alternatives of the period immediately before when the choice lay between the fortress and the simple manor-house. In the latter part of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth, we come to palaces, as distinguished from castles. Vast houses arose, where fortification was quite secondary or in truth had come to be a mere survival, and where we see the true English style just before it became corrupted. From Haddon Hall the series goes on, till in days which chronologically belong to our next period, we get such piles as Cowdray, Hampton Court, and the unfinished castle of Thornbury. These are buildings of the reign of Henry VIII. ; but the architectural periods cannot be made exactly to fit in with the more obvious divisions of our history. The buildings of Henry VIII.’s reign must be classed with those of the fifteenth century, rather than with those of the latter half of the sixteenth. The Renaissance did not affect architecture, as distinguished from furniture and decorations, till the time of Edward VI.

While two of the three great discoveries were causing a revolution in the words of warfare and literature, the third, the compass, was no less doing its work in its own region. Under Edward and Richard the commerce of England advanced swiftly. From the north-western seas it was now spread over the whole Mediterranean. At no time did it make greater advances than under Edward IV., who was a considerable merchant in his own person. In Henry VII.’s days the New World was thrown open to the adventurers of the Old. As far as mere discovery went, England had, before the end of the fifteenth century, her full share in the work through the American discoveries of Sebastian Cabot. But, as far as England was concerned, it was as yet mere discovery. The time for English settlements beyond the ocean, or even for English enterprise in those distant waters, had not yet come. The path towards them was shown, and that was all.

We have seen that the civil wars really end, and that the time of unrestrained Tudor domination begins, in the middle of the reign of Henry VII. His later rule was the rule of a despot, who strove as far as might be to reign without a parliament. His desire to be independent of his people led to the rule of grasping avarice which has caused his rule to be chiefly remembered for the endless shifts by which his greed of money was satisfied. His reign is important chiefly as leading the way to the more brilliant time which followed, a time which can be understood only if we throw ourselves into the point of view from which men looked upon it at the time. The next king, Henry VIII., began his reign in two characters which at once marked it off from any reign since that of Henry V., we might almost say from any reign since that of Edward III. After a long time during the strength of England had been wasted in deciding in arms between rival pretenders to the crown, England had again a king whose title was undisputed, and who led Englishmen to conquest beyond the sea. That was the first aspect in which Henry VIII. Appeared to England and to Europe. The real historical characteristics of his reign are different. The special features of his reign are the working of a despotism of a very peculiar kind, and the application of that despotism to work a great ecclesiastical revolution. But, though this last is the special characteristic of the age and the reign of Henry, yet it did not become a characteristic of his reign till he had already been many years on the throne. The acts which his name first suggests to the popular mind, the suppression of monasteries and the beheading of wives, do indeed effectually distinguish his reign from any other ;but they are features which belong to the years of his reign only. They no more make up the whole of Henry’s reign than the Scottish wars make up the whole of the reign of Edward I. During the greater part of Henry’s reign the characteristic feature of the time seemed to be the unusually high place which England held in the general affairs of Europe.

There was much in the general character of the age which helped to give England this special European importance. It was a transitional age ; new ideas had come in, but the old ideas had not been wholly forgotten. The powers of Europe were now beginning to put on some approach to the shape and the relations to one another which they kept down to very modern times. We have come to the beginning of the long rivalry between France and the house of Austria. France had, on different grounds, hereditary enmities both with the empire and with the houses of Burgundy and Aragon. The pretensions of the French to the kingdom of Naples and the duchy of Milan were the chief cause of the long struggles in Italy in which all the neighbouring powers had their share. Henry stood apart, and was eagerly sought by all as ally or as arbiter. Here is a wholly new state of things, the beginning of that wider system of European policy which dreams that no European state is wholly without interest in the affairs of any other. We are on the road to the days of the doctrine of the balance of power. On the other hand, the old enmity between England and France had not died out, nor had the old grounds for that enmity been forgotten. The memories of the days of Edward III. and Henry V. are at this time strangely mingled up with political ideas which might be a century or two later. Henry is called in as the arbiter of Italy and Europe. He is the defender of the pope and the enemy of the Turk. He dreams of the empire for himself, and of the papacy for his great minister. Negotiations and changes of side are endless. Of the two successive kings of France, Lewis XII. and Francis I., he is alternately the friend and the enemy. He has wars with both ; yet he becomes the brother-in law of Lewis and the sworn brother of Francis. When the empire and the powers of Castile, Burgundy, and Aragon were all united in the person of Charles V., the old alliance between England and Burgundy, and the far older alliance between England and the empire, united Charles and Henry for several against Francis. Henry’s very failure to obtain the imperial crown seems not so much to have embittered him against the successful candidate as to have turned his thoughts towards the crown which he professed to claim by hereditary right. From 1519 to 1525, Henry and his imperial nephew seemed steady friends. From about this time till quite the end of Henry’s reign, foreign affairs are almost sunk in the surpassing interest of events at home. But, as those events depended on the divorce of the emperor’s aunt, the friendship of England at this stage leaned to Francis against Charles. But, amidst all these shiftings of friendship and enmity, the only real warfare in which England either did or suffered anything was waged with the two old enemies France and her firm ally Scotland. The two periods of really active warfare under Henry come at the two ends of his reign. From 1512 to 1514 was a time of war, a time of victory on the part of England. The one year 1513 saw the defeat of the part of England. The one year 1513 saw the defeat of the invading Scots at Flodden, and the conquest of Terouanne and Tournay by the king of England in person, with the emperor-elect as his ally, almost as his mercenary. All this within the space of a few weeks seemed to bring back the most triumphant days of Edward III. Again in 1522 and 1523 Scotland and France were both successfully invaded. Eighteen year later, in 1541, the Scottish was began again ; two years later England and the empire were again allied against France and Scotland. In 1544 England was again successful over both enemies ; while the king in person took Boulogne, his brother-in-law burned Edinburgh and laid waste Scotland, as far as came under his power, with a barbarity which can certainly not be laid to the charge of Edward I. It is certain that England in the end gained nothing by either the negotiations or the warfare of the reign of Henry. But they are enough to account for the fact, which to us seems strange, that Henry was, on the whole, popular during his life, and that his memory was cherished after his death. He was the last native king who in his own person waged war, and that successful war, on mainland. His victories were useless ; but they were victories; and, as such, they fed the national imagination. After the dreary time of the civil wars, England again stood forth as a great power, a conquering power, a power in some sort greater than it had ever been before. To the conqueror much was forgiven to the king who at last accomplished the work which Henry II. had begun but was not able to finish.





The traditions of arbitrary power and unscrupulous shedding of blood had been handed on the Henry by his predecessors, as far back as his Yorkist grandfather. It was the peculiar direction which was given to despotism and slaughter in the latter part of his reign which was wholly his own. The darkest side of Henry’s character came more and more into prominence in his later years ; but his rule was arbitrary, and on occasion bloody, from the beginning. He could from the beginning put men to death, either to gratify a popular cry or to shield himself from purely imaginary dangers. Empson and Dudley, the ministers of his father, had fully deserved the hatred of the peope ; but their execution, almost the first act of Henry’s reign, could be justified on no possible ground of law. In the midst of Henry’s French wars, in 1521, Edward Stafford, duke of Buckingham, was put to death, rather because his royal descent was deemed to make him dangerous than on account of any proved crime. But, in these and in all Henry’s acts, we see that attention to formal legality which is the special characteristic of his reign. At no time, unless during the first years of the Conquest, was so much wrong done under legal form, and the Conqueror at least did not send those whom he despoiled to the scaffold. It would be going deal too far too say that all Henry’s acts could be justified by the letter of the law of England ; but it may be fairly said that he could always plead either law or precedent. For his worst acts he was always able to show at least some pretence of legal sanction ; his tyranny never became a reign of mere violence. In his days law emphatically became unlaw. Parliaments legislated as he thought good ; judges and juries gave such judgments and verdicts as he thought good ; and, when their action was too slow, parliament was ready to attaint, even without a hearing, any one whom the king wished to destroy. When Henry’s mind turned to ecclesiastical change, parliaments and convocations alike were ready to shape the creed of the nation according to the caprice of its ruler. That such a tyranny could in this way be carried out, never by mere force, often under strictly legal forms, makes the character both of the man and of the time of study of special character both of the man and of the time a study of special interest. It is a time which specially deserves and needs an historian._ Here nothing more can be done than to trace its most general features.

The ecclesiastical work of Henry’s reign was not religious reformation in the sense in which those words have been understood by Wickliffe or Luther. Henry now and then, in the endless shifting of his course, looked in the direction of the German Reformers, but it was rather for political than for religious ends. One or two his theological productions at one stage do indeed show a slight Protestant tendency on one or two points._ But this was only fro a moment ; Henry’s later legislation went towards the establishment of the most rigid orthodoxy, according to the Roman type, in all matters of dogma. To the end of his days Henry and his prelates, Cranmer conspicuously among them, look care to send to the flames any who swerved in the least degree from the received doctrine of transubstantiation. Henry’s scheme was to carry out in the fulness that after which earlier king had so often striven, the complete emancipation of England from the power of the Roman see, and the transfer of the highest ecclesiastical jurisdiction to the crown. In this he did little more than put into a more distinct shape the authority which the Conqueror had exercised, and which Henry II. had striven to win back. The ancient king had allowed the authority of the pope to be exercised only so far as they thought good ; Henry threw if off altogether. The acts of 1534, which swept away the Roman supremacy, were the climax of the legislation which had been begun in the Constitutions of Clarendon, and which had been carried on in the statutes of Provisors and of praemunire. A few special points of Henry’s legislation which were likely to give special offence lasted only during his own reign and that of his son. Such were the title of Head of the Church, and that personal jurisdiction in ecclesiastical matters which Henry claimed to exercise either by himself or though his vicar-general. Such again were the commissions form the crown which were taken out by bishops under Henry and Edward. These things formed no essential part of the royal supremacy. They were abolished under Mary, and they were not re-established under Elizabeth. The essence of the change which Henry wrought was the abolition of all foreign jurisdiction within the island realm. And it must not be forgotten that, though the Roman bishop was chiefly aimed at, the Roman emperor was aimed at also. It was not without reason that the ancient imperial style of England now reappears. Since the Conquest the use of that style had been rare, and the instances of its use always mark some special need of the time. Its increased frequency under Henry marks a special need of his time. When the imperial power was in the hands of Charles V., and when Charles V. was an enemy, it was not without reason that it was declared that the kingdom of England was an empire, and that its crown was an imperial crown. Separation from the see of Rome was not meant to carry with it any change of doctrine, or to imply any breach of communion with the Churches which remained in the Roman obedience. It was strictly a scheme of ecclesiastical independence, and no more. But the acts of Henry put on a peculiar character from the circumstances which led to his ecclesiastical changes, and from the way in which many of them were carried out. And, when ecclesiastical change had once begun, it could not fail to ally itself with other influences, however little such alliance formed any part of the scheme of Henry himself.

In strictness of speech, the English Reformation, if by those words we understand changes in doctrine and ritual, is quite distinct from Henry’s assertion of the ecclesiastical independence of England. In idea the two things stand quite separate. Practically the two stages in a great series of cause and effect. The system of Henry has been epigrammatically described as Popery without the Pope. And the experience of few years showed that Popery without the Pope was a visionary scheme. But the various stages which are often confounded under the one name of "the Reformation" must be carefully distinguished. There was not in England, as there was in some foreign countries, a particular act of a particular year which might fairly be called "the Reformation." In England, if the formula " the Reformation" has any meaning at all, it means the whole period of ecclesiastical change which was spread over a time of about forty years. It was forwards ; its result was that, by the middle of the reign of Elizabeth, there was an established state of things wholly different from the established state of thing which there had been in the middle of the reign of Henry VIII. But in the development of her political constitution, there was no moment when an old state of things was altogether swept away, and when a wholly new state of things was set up in its place. The ecclesiastical development was far swifter, far more violent, than the political development, but the two were essentially of the same kind. Both were brought about by the gradual working of causes and their effects. As the political development of England was something wholly unlike the violent change of the French Revolution, so the ecclesiastical development of England was wholly unlike the violent change of the Reformation in the Swiss Protestant cantons.

The English Reformation the, including in that name the merely ecclesiastical changes of Henry as well as the more strictly religious changes of the next reign, was not in its beginning either a popular or a theological movement. In this it differs from the Reformation in many continental countries part of Britain. The Scottish Reformation began much later ; but, when it began, its course was far swifter and fiercer. That is to say, it was essentially popular and essentially theological. The result was that of all the nations which threw off the dominion of the Roman see, Scotland undoubtedly made the most._ In England change began form above. Buty there is no reason to doubt that the acts with which the period of change began received the general approbation of the nation. It is plain that there was no general desire among Englishmen for strictly theological change. The old Lollard teaching, which had never quite died out, began to be of increased importance in the early days of Henry. There can be little doubt that this revival of strictly theological dissent was part of the same general movement which gave life to the new learning. But the men of the new learning, the English friends of Erasmus. Colet and More, with their patron Archbishop Warham, were not, strictly, theological reformers.

They aimed at general enlightened and at the reform of practical abuses and superstitions ; but they designed no change in dogma or ritual. Their more strictly intellectual movement merged in the wider theological movement; but in the beginning they were so far distinct that the author of Utopia showed himself in the strangely incongruous reform undoubtedly welcomed the changes of Henry, as being likely the existing system, whatever it was, was the only system that was allowed. Every other form of worship was for bidden under penalties, heavier or lighter. And there was always some form or degree of theological error which sent its professors to the flames. And, besides burnings for heresey, as was understood at each successive stage, this period of English history is especially distinguished for the cloaking of what was really religious persecution under the guise of punishment for political offences. During the reign of Henry, every man who would now be deemed a conscientious Catholic was liable to die the death of a traitor. Every man who would now be deemed a conscientious. Protestant was liable to die the death of a heretic. Under Edward and Elizabeth the standard of belief was changed, so changed that only a few extreme sectaries were now in danger of the flames. But the difference simply was that the line was drawn at a different point. Those who went beyond that point were burned by those who a few years before might have been might have been burned themselves.

For twenty years after his accessions, Henry was famous, not only for strict orthodoxy of dogma, but for special devotion to the Roman see. He had received a learned education, and he believed himself to be a special master of theology. His writings in that character, as a defender of Roman doctrine against Luther, won him in 1521 the title of Defender of the Faith, which by a singular irony was conferred by Leo X. Though all this first period of him reign the series of ecclesiastical statesmen still goes on. For fourteen years, from 1515 to 1529, ecclesiastical statesmanship was in truth at its highest pitch in the person of Thomas Wolsey, archbishop, cardinal, and chancellor. During the administration of this famous man, we are instinctively reminded of the joint rule of an earlier Henry and an earlier Thomas ; but the fate of the two great chancellors was widely different. No English minister before Wolsey, and few after him, ever attained so great an European position. He dreamed of the popedom, while his master dreamed of the empire. It his home administration Wolsey carried out the policy which had become usual since Edward IV., and summoned parliament as seldom as possible. On the other hand, his administration of justice won the highest general confidence, and his hand was from heavy on the maintainers of the new religious doctrines. On the whole his position is rather European than English. He is the minister of Henry in his earlier character as warrior, conqueror, and arbiter of Europe. He is more like the great cardinals who ruled in other lands than anything to which we are used in England. The purely English work of Henry’s reign was done by the hand of men of another kind. The aera of the lay statesmen now begins in the mightiest and most the highest offices are still occasionally held by churchmen, even as late as the middle of the seventeenth century. But the holding of office by churchmen now becomes exceptional ; lay administration is the rule.





There is no need to go though the endless tale of Henry’s marriages, divorces, and beheadings or ecclesiastical bearing. The mere number of Henry’s wives is unparalleled in our history, and has not many parallels in any history; and the king was, to say the least, unlucky, who, out of six wives found himself obliged to divorce two and behead two other. But, even in these matters, the peculiar character of Henry’s tyranny stands forth. Everything is done with some show of legal form. When he wished to get rid of a wife, or to exchange one wife for another, the first is divorced or beheaded by some process which has at least the show of legal authority.

"Non nisi legitime vult nubere."
(Source: Juvenal, Tenth Satire. English translation: "But the lady will not wed save with all the due forms." §)


Of all Henry’s doings in this way, the long story of the divorce of Katherine of Aragon is the first, and the most remarkable in its historical bearings. We may pass by details and points of controversy ; but it is plain that the validity of the marriage of Henry and Katherine was on any showing doubtful, and that doubts had been from time to time raised on the point before the great contime to time raised on the point before the great controversy arose. It is further plain that it was most desirable for the kingdom to have an heir whose legitimacy could not be called in question. It is also plain that it is quite in the character of Henry, if he wished to get rid of Katherine and to marry Anne, to seize upon every shadow either of political expediency or of cononical subtlety which might help him to put a fair show on the course to which his own fancy led him. What he did he would do with some shadow of legal rights, even though such shadow of legal right was to be had only by devising a new jurisprudence, by upsetting the relations of Church and State as they were then understood, by jeoparding the relations of his kingdoms with foreign powers, and by shedding any amount of innocent blood, provided always that it could be shed in legal form. It is enough for our purpose that Henry’s wish to put Anne in the place of Katharine led to the endless disputes as to the validity of Katherine’s marriage, and, as its first great result in England, to the fall of the great cardinal in 1529, followed by his death in the next year. Events now follow fast on one another. In 1531, by one of the meanest tricks that ever king played, the whole estate of the clergy was held to have fallen into a praemunire by admitting the legatine authority of Wolsey, which he had exercised with the king’s full sanction. Their pardon was bought only by an enormous subsidy, and by acknowledging the king as Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England, a form of words now heard for the first time. In 1532, when all hope of a favourable sentence from Rome had passed by, Henry is believed to have privately married Anne. In 1533 the death of Archbishop Warham made room for the promotion of Thomas Cranmer to the see of Canterbury, a promotion which was still made by papal authority. The first act of the new primate was to hold a court which declared the marriage of Katharine null and the marriage of Anne lawful Then came the great legislation of the year 1534. By which the papal authority was wholly abolished, while the Act of Submission on the part of the clergy subordinated all ecclesiastical legislation within the kingdom to the royal will. The succession to the crown was settled in favour of the issue of Anne, to the exclusion of the issue of Katherine, and the punishment of treason was denounced against all who refused to swear to the succession so ordained. The title of Supreme Head of the Church, already voted by the clergy, was now bestowed by parliament, and full ecclesiastical powers were annexed to it. These powers were allowed to be exercised by deputy, and in 1535 Cromwell was made vicegerent for the king in ecclesiastical matters, with precedence in the ecclesiastical convocation over the metropolitan himself. On the other hand, a strict statute was passed for the suppression of heresy. The scheme of Henry was now fully established; the religion of England was Popery without the Pope.

It was only in indirect way that such a change as this could give any encouragement to the professors of the reformed doctrines. It was only in a still more indirect way that it could tend to the establishment of religious toleration or the acknowledgment of liberty of conscience. Still, however indirectly, the first steps were now taken towards change in the received doctrines of the Church, and towards the toleration of dissent from those doctrines. So great a change could not fail to lead to further changes, and the next six years of Henry’s reign were a time in which all the influences at work were in the direction of further change. It was the time of the administration of Cromwell, and of the highest influence of Cranmer. The new state of things was ushered in by beheading of Sir Thomas More and of John Fisher, bishop of Rochester. No greater mockery of all the forms of justice was ever done in any age or in any land. But the execution of these two worthies calls for a special notice on account of the great constitutional point which it involves. They were called on to swear both to the succession to the crown, as settled on the issue of Anne, and also to the preamble of the Act which declared the marriage of Katharine invalid. This latter oath involved a theological proposition of which their consciences disapproved; to the succession they were perfectly ready to swear. That is to say, More, the great thinker of his generation, utterly cast aside the whole figment of hereditary right. In his view the children of Henry and Anne would be illegitimate; but, in his view, it was within the power of parliament to settle the crown on the king’s illegitimate children or on any persons whatsoever. To the succession therefore, which was all that was of any practical moment, he would swear; to a proposition which he held to be doctrinally false he would not swear. On these grounds Henry sent his wisest and greatest subject to the scaffold.

Cromwell’s reign of terror, as it has been well called, now sets in. It is specially remarkable for the constant use of acts of attainder, acts sometimes passed without giving the accused person the opportunity of making any defence. Not that in Henry’s reign a defence went for anything, even when the regular forms of trial by a man’s peers were observed. It was deemed for the king’s honour that those whom the king accused should be convicted, and the Lords or the jury convicted accordingly. In more than one case, entries were found in Cromwell’s papers, directing that such and such a person should be "tried and executed." Meanwhile new treasons and other crimes were invented. Martyrs were made on both sides; the supposed traitor and the supposed heretic were sometimes drawn to death on the same hurdle. Tow of the martyrdoms of this periods deserve special notice. In one case at least, but seemingly in one only, the penalties of heresy were held to attach to the denial of the king’s supremacy. For this crime a friar, Forrest by name, was buried with special circumstances of brutal mockery. On the other side, the case of Lambert in 1538 well illustrates both the new jurisprudence and the peculiar position of some of the actors at the time. The men who were afterwards burned themselves were the foremost in burning others. Lambert was denounced by Taylor and Barnes, and condemned by Cranmer, for the denial of transubstantiation. He appealed to the king in his character of Head of the Church. Henry heard the cause in person, and, when his own arguments and those of Cranmer failed to convince the heretic, he was sentenced to the stake by the voice of Cromwell1. About the same time a general persecution took place of all who were guilty of having the blood of kings in their veins. Margaret countess of Salisbury was the daughter of George duke of Clarence, the mother of Reginald Pole. Pole was in theology the very opposite to Henry. As the system of Henry was Popery without the Pope. So Pole might be said to be inclined to the Pope without Popery. With a distinct leaning to the Reformers on some strictly theological points, he was a zealot for the papal supremacy. On this point, and on all the practical points which flowed from it. Pole was a vigorous disputant against his royal kinsman. But he was beyond the sea, safe from the grasp of Henry, Cromwell, or Cranmer. The head of his aged mother, sentenced to die by act of attainder, paid the penalty of his crime.

This last deed of blood was specially Henry’s own. The attainder of the countess was indeed passed while Cromwell was still in power, but she was not put to death till after his fall. But the deaths of particular persons seem but a small matter beside the great revolution which Cromwell wrought over the whole face of the country by his great work of the suppression of the monasteries. This work indeed incidentally supplied him with not a few personal victims. That the power of the state was supreme, as over everything else, so over ecclesiastical foundations, no man in England could doubt. Monasteries had been suppressed on occasion from the earliest times. Special attention has been already called to the suppression under Henry V.; and during Henry’s own reign Wolsey had suppressed a considerable number of small monasteries to supply endowments for his colleges at Ipswich and Oxford. A general suppression of all the monasteries in the kingdom was clearly within the power of parliament, and strong reasons might have been brought for such a course. We must however remember that at this stage Protestant objections to the monastic life do not apply. Henry, while destroying the monasteries, enforced the obligation of the chief monastic vow. But it might well be argued that the number and wealth of these institutions were excessive, that they had ceased to fulfil their original purposes, that on any showing they needed a sweeping reform, and that possibly reform could not be carried out without suppression. For the measure itself then much might be said. The way in which it was carried out was characteristic of Henry VIII. Mere violence was inconsistent with his character; something of the form of law must be had. In 1536 the smaller monasteries were regularly suppressed by act of parliament, a course against which nothing can be said. But the greater monasteries were surrendered one by one into the king’s hands by their actual occupants, an act of most doubtful legality. Where a surrender was refused, as at Reading, Colchester, and Glastonbury, the abbots were ordered, according to Cromwell’s formula, to be "tried and executed" on such charges as were thought good. In these cases, by a strange construction of law, the monastery was held to fall by the attainder of its abbot. The suppression was justified by the reports of visitors, which in most cases charged the monks with crimes of various kinds. No one will believe that such a report was either wholly true or wholly false; but it is to be noted that monasteries which were reported to be wholly blameless, and fro whose preservation the visitors themselves pleaded, were suppressed with the rest. It is to be further noted that, where abbots and priors surrendered easily, of whatever crimes they had been accused, their compliance was rewarded either with considerable pensions or with church preferment.2 Of no monastery in England was a worse character given than of the priory of Christ Church at Canterbury, that which was attached to the metropolitan church. Yet then that church was refounded as a secular chapter, Henry and Cranmer chose most of the canons and other officers of the church out of the body of men who had just before branded with the blackest crimes. In the suppression under Henry V., nearly the whole of the confiscated revenues was applied to works of general usefulness, chiefly to the great educational foundations which were then rising. In the suppression under Henry VIII., by far the greater part of the vast revenues of the monastic houses was squandered or gambled away among Henry’s courtiers. Churches and churchyards were granted to private men, to be destroyed or desecrated at their pleasure. The tithe which the monasteries had taken to themselves, to the great wrong of the parish priests and their flocks, was now seized with their other property, and was granted away to lay rectors. Cranmer, who gave up several estates of his see to he king, did not scruple to receive grants of lands and tithe for the enrichment of his own family. Only a small portion of the monastic revenues was saved for public purposes of any kind. A little was spent on the defence of the coasts. Of a magnificent scheme for the foundation of new bishoprics, a small part only was carried out in the foundation of six slenderly endowed sees. Those cathedral churches which had been served by monks, and which therefore came into the king’s hands with the other monasteries, were, with the expressions of Bath and Coventry, refounded as churches of secular canons. Henry also gained the reputation of a benefactor in both universities. At Oxford his claim rests on several suppressions and refoundations of the college which had been begun by Wolsey, and on his charging the chapters of Oxford and Westminster with the maintenance of certain professors. At Cambridge the like reputation was gained by rolling several small colleges into one large one. The statutes of Henry’s various foundations, drawn up in some cases by his own hand, breathe a spirit of piety and zeal worthy of Alfred or St Lewis. Here again there is no need to suspect conscious hypocrisy. It only makes the character of Henry a more wonderful moral study. Besides the suppression of monasteries, a great deal of wealth, to be squandered in the like sort, was brought in by the destruction of shrines and by the seizure of the movable ornaments of many churches which were not suppressed. On the other hand, most of the inmates of the suppressed monasteries1 received pensions, small in many cases, but enough for their maintenance; and these pensions seem to have been honesty paid. With the usual long life of annuitants, some of them still received their pensions in the reign of James I.

The foundations and refoundation just spoken of went on to the very end of Henry’s reign. An Act of 1545 placed the secular foundations, the colleges and hospitals, at his mercy; and he destroyed, refounded, or left untouched, according to his pleasure. But the two great suppressions, the suppression of the great and of the lesser monasteries, were all done under the rule of Cromwell and in his time came their immediate political results .

It is not easy to say what was the general feeling of the nation towards the suppressed monasteries. It doubtless differed widely in different places, according to the character of particular houses. It is certain that in 1536 the whole north of England rose in revolt on occasion of the suppression of the lesser monasteries. This revolt, called the Pilgrimage of Grace, was distinctly a religious movements; but it was a political movement as well. We seem to have gone back to the days of Edward the Confessor, when we find the northern insurgents demanding that no man north of Trent should be compelled to appear in the ordinary course of justice anywhere but at York. They demanded also the holding of a parliament at York, which Henry promised, but neglected to summon. The revolt began again, and it was suppressed with a large amount of hanging, beheading, and burning of the abbots, lay lords, ladies, and others who were concerned. A Lord President and Council of the North were now appointed to keep that dangerous region in order.

But after all, in Henry’s reign it is the marriages, the divorces, and the beheadings of his several queens which forms, if not the causes, at least the occasions, of the greatest changes. Henry’s dissatisfaction with one marriage had led to the fall of Wolsey and the rise of Cromwell; his dissatisfaction with another marriage led to the fall of Cromwell himself. England and Europe had been turned upside down in order that Henry might marry Anne Boleyn. Three years after her marriage, she was got rid of by the twofold process of a divorce pronounced by Cranmer which declared the nullity of her marriage, and of a conviction for adultery by the House of Lords which implied its validity. Anne was beheaded, and the next morning Henry, acting, as we have been told, from the severest principles of public duty, married her maid Jane Seymour. It was now made treasonable to assert the validity of Anne’s marriage, as before it had been treasonable to deny it. Anne’s daughter Elizabeth was declared illegitimate, as Katherine’s daughter Mary had been declared illegitimate, and the crown was settled on the issue of Jane only. The new queen, by unusual good luck, died, neither divorced nor beheaded at the birth of her only child, Henry’s only legitimate son, the future Edward VI. except as regards the succession of the crown, all this is little more than an episode. Henry’s fourth marriage was of greater political importance. Katherine, Anne, and Jane had been at least his own choice. Anne of Cleves was chosen for him by his vicegerent. Her marriage was part of a political scheme for an union between Henry and the Protestant princes of Germany against the emperor. Cromwell, it is plain, went further than the king approved in advances towards these heretical allies, and the queen whom he found for Henry among them found no favour in Henry’s eyes. Cromwell had in fact chosen his time badly for any advances in a Protestant direction. While his negotiations with the German princes were going on the statute of six articles was passed by the parliament of 1539, which enforced the old belief under the deadliest penalties. The marriage took place at the very beginning of 1540. In the course of the year Cromwell was created Earl of Essex, arrested, attained without a hearing, and beheaded. In the interval between his attainder and his execution, the marriage which he had brought about was annulled by convocation, and on the day of his beheading Henry married his fifth wife Katherine Howard.

The administration of Cromwell, remarkable as it is in other ways, derives its greatest constitutional importance from the new relations between crown and parliament which now begin. Wolsey, after the example of Edward IV. and Henry VII., had shrunk from meeting the assembly of the nation. Under his rule parliaments were summoned as seldom as might be. Cromwell, on the other hand, never feared to face parliament. From the time of his accession to power till the end of Henry’s reign, parliaments were constantly held. And from this time, a practice which had been already followed sometimes rose into special importance. The king’s powers of prorogation and dissolution of parliament now come into notice. The early parliaments met; they did the business for which they were summoned, and then they went home again. The prolongation of the life of the assembly beyond the time of its session was not thought of. Each meeting implied a new election of the House of Commons. But it was gradually found that a parliament which suited the king’s purposes might be kept in being by prorogations from one session to another. This practice began to be used under Henry VI. and Edward IV., in which last reign the practice became usual; under Henry VIII. it became systematic. Some of his parliament lived in this way for four successive years. Cromwell was thoroughly master of the art of packing and managing parliaments, an art to which the succeeding reigns added the practice of summoning members from a crowd of petty places, with the express object of securing subservient returns. The parliaments of Henry’s time passed, though not always without opposition, whatever the king wanted, even to the act which gave the king’s proclamation, with certain exceptions, the force of a statute. But in the fact that parliaments for a while became so slavish lat the hope of the final revival of freedom. It was under the despotism of Henry exactly as it had been under the despotism of the Conqueror. There was no need to abolish institutions which could so easily be turned to work the despot’s will. There was no need seriously to encroach upon their formal powers. The institutions and their powers thus remained, to be again quickened into full life in the seventeenth century, as they had before been quickened in the thirteenth century. Had Henry met with a stronger parliamentary opposition, our liberties might have passed away, like the liberties of the lands which went to make up the monarchies of France and Spain. Parliaments went on, because parliaments voted whatever the king wished. Juries went on, because they convicted whomever the king wished. But, because they were allowed to go on, a time came when parliaments learned to pass measures which kings did not wish to have passed, and when juries learned to acquit men whom kings wished to destroy. In this way, as William the Conqueror in one age, so Thomas Cromwell in another, may be looked on as the indirect preserver of English freedom.

After the fall of Cromwell the reign of Henry loses much of its interest; or at least the interest is, as at the beginning of his reign, again transferred to the wars with France and Scotland. But these wars, with their momentary successes, are of little importance, except that in the course of the Scottish war we see the beginning of the train of events which sixty years later united the English and Scottish crowns. James V. of Scotland, it must be remembered, was Henry’s nephew, the son of his sister Margaret. According to genealogical notions, he was next in succession to the crown after Henry’s own children. The prospect of this contingent succession was dangled by Henry before the eves of James. And when James died leaving an infant daughter, the famous Queen Mary, Henry’s schemes now took the form of a marriage between her and his son Edward. This was exactly the same scheme which had been proposed by Edward I. when Scotland had an earlier child queen. In neither case did the scheme bear immediate fruit. The marriage of Edward and Mary formed one of the terms of a momentary peace between England and Scotland in 1543. But the war began again, and was carried on, in connexion with the reforming party in Scotland, both during this reign and during the early years of the next, with the avowed object of bring about the marriage. It is needless to say that the marriage was never carried out. But Mary came to be, on other grounds, a claimant of the crown of England, and her son come to possess it.

During these later years of Henry, no commanding figure stands out like those of Wolsey and Cromwell. Henry himself towards the end of his reign, lost much of his energy. Martyrdoms on both sides still went on, though, as compared with the slaughter of later times, they were rare on both sides. There is yet no open change; but the gap between the two parties gets wider and wider. Katherine Howard, married in 1540, was beheaded early in 1542. In the next year Henry married his last wife, a third Katharine, commonly called Katherine Parr, but who was then the widow of Neville Lord Latimer. Her leaning was to the new doctrines, and at one time she was in danger on their account. On the whole, the tendency was now in favour of change. Things seemed to sway backwards and forwards between Bishop Gardiner and the duke of Norfolk on one side and Cranmer and Edward earl of Hertford, a brother of Queen Jane Seymour, on the other side. At the moment of Henry’s death the reforming party had the greater influence. The last who were sentenced to die in his time were Norfolk himself and his son the famous earl of Surrey. The son perished; the father was saved by the king’s death. But though the reforming party had politically the upper hand, no step was taken as long as Henry lived in the direction of strictly religious reformation.

The most importance question during these later years was the settlement of the succession. By the statute passed in 1514, the crown was to pass to Henry’s three children in order, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth. Both the king’s daughters had been declared illegitimate; but now, without any reversal of their illegitimacy, they were placed in the succession to the crown. On no theory could Mary and Elizabeth both be legitimate; the law had declared that neither of them was. The point is of importance, because in truth neither Mary nor Elizabeth reigned by any right of birth, but by a purely parliamentary title. But the statute went on further to bestow on Henry a power which never was bestowed on any other king before or after. In default of the issue of his own children, the crown was to pass to such persons as he might himself appoint by his last will signed with his own hand. By his last will he exercised this power by leaving the crown in remainder to the issue of his younger sister. Mary the French queen, who, after the death of Lewis XII., had married Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk. He thus passed by the queen of Scots and the other issue of his elder sister Margaret. The provisions of this will become of great importance at a latter time; and it shows on what small accidents great questions may depend, that it is matter of controversy whether the will was signed by the king’s own hand, according to the statute, or whether it was merely signed with a stamp.

In this memorable reign then, though no strictly religious reformation was wrought, yet a step was taken which made religious reformation inevitable. One marked feature of the fully developed English character was now added. England was from this time, with a momentary interruption, the enemy of the Roman see. But the reign of Henry helped in another way towards the welding together of the whole isle of Britain. Wales was now fully incorporated with the kingdom of England. It was brought wholly under English law and was fully represented in the English parliament. Ireland too was brought into more complete submission than it had ever been before, and in 1542 Henry exchanged his title of Lord of Ireland for that of King, or, as an Irish Act words it, "King and Emperor of the realm of England and of the land of Ireland." Ireland was a dependent kingdom; still from this time it was a kingdom attached to the crown of England, and by making it such a distinct step was taken towards the union of the British islands.


Footnotes

FOOTNOTE (p.330)
1 Torture strictly so called, torture to bring the prisoner to confess, was never known to English law. It must not be confounded either with the painful form of death which formed the penalty of treason, or with the peine—more accurately prisone—forte et dure, the pressing to death, which was the fate of those who refused to plead.

FOOTNOTE (p. 332)
(1) The historian had been found—though the history is not generally accessible, and not complete—in Mr Brewer, who has traced the story of a large part of Henry’s reign in the Prefaces to the Calendars of State Papers. The general character of Henry is well sketched by Hallam, who prophesies beforehand against some modern delusions.
(2)As for instance, in the "Book of Articles," and the "Godly and Pious Institution of a Christian Man," put forth in 1536. Here is a certain amount of wavering as to the number of sacraments. That is about the whole advance in a Protestant direction ; the six articles of 1541 enforce the Roman theology on pain of death.

FOOTNOTE (p. 333)
(1) On the whole, because, in some points of sacramental doctrine and ritual,t the Lutheran Churches, especially in Sweden, have made less change than the Church of England has. But nowhere did the general ecclesiastical system go on with so little change as it did in England.
(2) These names are used, without any attempt at theological accuracy, as those which will most generally be understood, to put out the two opposite tendencies which ate this stage were no more than tendencies.

FOOTNOTES (page 335)
(1) A modern writer thus comments on the death of Lambert:—"In a country which was governed by law, not by the special will of a despot, the supreme magistrate was neither able, nor desired, so long as a law remained unrepealed by parliament, to suspend the action of it." This singular argument forgets, among several other things, the royal prerogative of mercy.
(2) Thus the last abbot of Peterborough became the first bishop, and the prior of St Andrews at Northampton, who, in the act of surrender, had drawn a dark picture of the doings of himself and his monks, became the first dean.

FOOTNOTE (page.336)
1 All perhaps, except the nuns of the lesser monasteries, who were sent away with only a gown apiece.


§ Note by David Paul Wagner. Translation from the Loeb Juvenal and Persius (1918), original text with translation by George Gilbert Ramsay.


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