History of England (Froude)/Chapter 16
THE SIX ARTICLES.
THE three centuries which have passed over the world since the Reformation have soothed the theological animosities which they have failed wholly to obliterate. An enlarged experience of one another has taught believers of all sects that their differences need not be pressed into mortal hatred; and we have been led forward unconsciously into a recognition of a broader Christianity than as yet we are able to profess, in the respectful acknowledgment of excellence wherever excellence is found. Where we see piety, continence, courage, self-forgetfulness, there, or not far off, we know is the spirit of the Almighty; and, as we look around us among our living contemporaries, or look back with open eyes into the history of the past, we see—we dare not in voluntary blindness say that we do not see—that God is no respecter of 'denominations,' any more than he is a respecter of persons. His highest gifts are shed abroad with an even hand among the sects of Christendom, and petty distinctions of opinion melt away and become invisible in the fulness of a larger truth.
Thus, even among the straitest sects whose theories least allow room for latitude, liberty of conscience has found recognition, and has become the law of modern thought. It is as if the ancient Catholic unity, which was divided in the sixteenth century into separate streams of doctrine, as light is divided by the prism, was again imperceptibly returning; as if the coloured rays were once more blending themselves together in a purer and more rich transparency.
In this happy change of disposition, we have a difficulty in comprehending the intensity with which the different religious parties in England, as well as on the Continent, once detested each other. The fact is manifest; but the understanding refuses to realize its causes. We can perceive, indeed, that there may have been a fiery antagonism between Catholics and Reformers; but the animosities which divided Protestant from Protestant, the feeling which led Barnes to prosecute Lambert, or the Landgrave of Hesse to urge Henry VIII. to burn the Anabaptists, is obscure and unintelligible. Nevertheless, the more difficult it may be to imagine the nature of such a feeling, the more essential is it to bear in mind the reality of its existence; and a consequent and corollary upon it of no small importance must also be carefully remembered, that in the descending scale of the movement no sect or party recognized any shadow of division among those who were more advanced than themselves. To the Romanist, schism and heresy were an equal crime. All who had separated from the Papal communion were alike outcasts, cut off from grace, children of perdition. The Anglican could extend the terms of salvation only to those who submitted to ordinances, to the apostolical succession, and the system of the sacraments; the Lutherans anathematized those who denied the real presence; the followers of Zuinglius and Calvin, judging others as they were themselves judged, disclaimed and murdered such as had difficulties on the nature of the Trinity; the Unitarians gave the same measure to those who rejected the inspiration of Scripture; and with the word 'heretic' went along the full passion of abhorrence which had descended the historical stream of Christianity in connection with the name.
Desiring the reader, then, to keep these points prominently before him, I must now describe briefly the position of the religious parties in England at the existing crisis.
First, there was the party of insurrection, the avowed or secret Romanists, those who denied the royal supremacy, who regarded the Pope as their spiritual sovereign, and retained or abjured their allegiance to their temporal prince as the Pope permitted or ordered. These were traitors in England, the hope of the Catholic powers abroad. When detected and obstinate they were liable to execution; but they were cowed by defeat and by the death of their leaders, and for the present were subsiding towards insignificance.
Secondly, there were the Anglicans, strictly orthodox in the speculative system of the faith, content to separate from Rome, but only that they might bear Italian fruit more profusely and luxuriantly when rooted in their own soil. Of these the avowed leaders were the majority of the bishops and the peers of the old creation, agreeing for the present to make the experiment of independence, but with a secret dislike to change, and a readiness, should occasion require, to return to the central communion. Weak in their reasoning, and selfish in their objects, the Anglicans were of importance only from the support of the conservative English instinct, which then as ever preferred the authority of precedent to any other guide, and defended established opinions and established institutions because they had received them from their fathers, and because their understandings were slow in entertaining new convictions.
To the third or Lutheran party belonged Cramner, Latimer, Barnes, Shaxton, Crome, Hilsey, Jerome, Barlow, all the Government Reformers of position and authority, adhering to the real presence, and, in a general sense, to the sacraments, but melting them away in the interpretation. The true creed of these men was spiritual, not mechanical. They abhorred idolatry, images, pilgrimages, ceremonies, with a Puritan fervour. They followed Luther in the belief in justification by faith, they rejected masses, they did not receive the sacerdotal system, they doubted purgatory, they desired that the clergy should be allowed to marry, they differed from the Protestants in the single but vital doctrine of transubstantiation. This party after a few years ceased to exist, developing gradually from the type of Wittenberg to that of Geneva.
Lastly, and still confounded in a common mass of abomination, lay Zuinglians, Anabaptists, sacramentarians, outcasts disowned and cursed by all the rest as a stigma and reproach; those whose hearts were in the matter, who supplied the heat which had melted the crust of habit, and had made the Reformation possible.
For the present the struggle in the State lay between the Anglicans and the Lutherans—the King and Cromwell lying again between them. Cromwell, on the whole orthodox in matters of speculation, cared, nevertheless, little for such matters; his true creed was a hatred of charlatans, and of the system which nursed and gave them power; and his sympathy was gradually bursting the bounds of a tradition which continued to hamper him. The King was constant to his place of mediator; he insisted on the sacraments, yet he abhorred the magical aspect of them. He differed from the Anglicans in his zeal for the dissemination of the Bible, in his detestation of the frauds, impostures, profligacies, idlenesses, ignorances, which had disgraced equally the secular and regular clergy, and in his fixed English resolution never more to tolerate the authority of the Pope. He differed from the Lutherans, and thus more and more from Cromwell, in his dislike of theoretic novelties, in an inability to clear himself from attaching a special character to the priesthood, in an adherence generally to the historical faith, and an anxiety to save himself and the country from the reproach of apostasy. A sharp line divided the privy council. Cranmer headed the Reformers, supported by the late-created peers, Cromwell, Lord Russell, and for a time Lord Southampton and the chancellor; opposed to these were the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, Sir Anthony Brown, Gardiner, Bonner who was now Bishop of London, the Bishops of Durham, Chichester, and Lincoln; and the two parties regarded each other across the board with ever-deepening hatred, with eyes watching for any slip which might betray their antagonists to the powers of the law, and were only prevented by the King's will from flying into open opposition.
In the country, the sympathy of the middle classes was, for the most part, with Henry in preference to either Cranmer or Gardiner, Norfolk or Cromwell. Even in the Pilgrimage of Grace the King had been distinguished from his advisers. A general approbation of the revolt from a foreign usurpation led the body of the nation to support him cordially against the Pope; and therefore, as long as there was danger from Paul or Paul's friends, in England or out of it, Cromwell remained in power as the chief instrument by which the Papal domination had been overthrown. But there was an understanding felt, if not avowed, both by sovereign and subjects, that even loyalty had its limits. If it were true—as the King had ever assured them that it was not true—that Cromwell was not only maintaining English independence and reforming practical abuses, but encouraging the dreaded and hated 'heresy,' then indeed their duties and their conduct might assume another aspect.
And seeing that this 'heresy,' that faith in God and the Bible, as distinguished from faith in Catholicism, was the root and the life of the whole change, that the political and practical revolution was but an alteration of season, necessary for the nurture of the divine seed which an invisible hand had sown—seeing that Cromwell himself was opening his eyes to know this important fact, and would follow fearlessly wherever his convictions might lead him, appearances boded ill for the terms on which he might soon be standing with the King, ill for the 'unity and concord' which the King imagined to be possible.
Twice already we have seen Henry pouring oil over the water. The 'Articles of Religion' and the 'Institution of a Christian Man' had contained, perhaps, the highest wisdom on the debated subjects which as yet admitted of being expressed in words. But they had fallen powerless. The decree had gone out, but the war of words had not ceased. The Gospel had brought with it its old credentials. It had divided nation against nation, house against house, child against father. It had brought, 'not peace, but a sword:' the event long before foretold and long before experienced. But Henry could not understand the signs of the times; and once again he appealed to his subjects in language of pathetic reproach.
'The King's Highness to all and singular his loving subjects sends his greeting. His Majesty, desiring nothing more than to plant Christ and his doctrine in all his people's hearts, hath thought good to declare how much he is offended with all them that wring and wrest his words, driving them to the maintenance of their fantasies, abuses, and naughty opinions; not regarding how his Highness, as a judge indifferent between two parties, whereof the one is too rash and the other too dull, laboureth for agreement. Seeing the breach of small matters to be cause of great dissension, his Highness had charged his subjects to observe such ceremonies and rites as have been heretofore used in his Church, giving therewith commandment to the bishops and curates to instruct the people what ceremonies are, what good they do when not misused, what hurt when taken to be of more efficacy and strength than they are. His Highness, being careful over all his people, is as loath that the dull party should fancy their ceremonies to be the chief points of Christian religion, as he is miscontent with the rash party which hunt down what they list without the consent of his Grace's authority. His Highness wills that the disobedience of them that seek their lusts and liberties shall be repressed, and they to bear the infirmity and weakness of their neighbours until such time as they, enstrengthened, may be able to go in like pace with them, able to draw in one yoke: for St Paul would a decent order in the Church; and, because God is a God of peace and not of dissension, it were meet that all they that would be his should agree on all points, and especially in matters of religion.
'God's will, love, and goodness ought, with all reverence, to be kept in memory; and therefore the old forefathers thought it well done that certain occasions might be devised to keep them in remembrance, and so invented signs and tokens which, being seen of the eye, might put the heart in mind of his will and promises. For, as the word is a token that warneth us by the ear, so the sacraments ordained by Christ, and ceremonies invented by men, are sensible tokens to warn us by the eye of that self-same will and pleasure that the word doth; and, as the word is but an idle voice without it be understood, so are all ceremonies but beggarly things, dumb and dead, if the meaning of them be not known. They are but means and paths to religion, made to show where Christian people must seek their comfort and where they must establish their belief, and not to be taken as savers or workers of any part of salvation. But his Grace seeth priests much readier to deal holy bread, to sprinkle holy water, than to teach the people what dealing or sprinkling showeth. If the priests would exhort their parishioners, and put them in remembrance of the things that indeed work all our salvation, neither the ceremonies should be dumb nor the people would take that that is the way of their journey, to be the end of their journey. Neither bread nor water nor any indifferent thing can be holy, but it be because it bringeth men to holy thoughts, to godly contemplations, and telleth them where they may and must seek holiness. Ceremonies cannot yet be put down, because the people are evil taught, and would be much offended with the sudden overthrow of them; but, if they be used, their meaning and signification not declared, they are nought else but shadows without a body—shells where there is no kernel—seals of decision without any writing—witnesses without any covenant, text, or promise. And for this cause the King's Highness commanded that ceremonies should be used, and used without superstition; and now, of late, some have blurted in the people's ears that their ceremonies be come home again, taking them as things in themselves necessary—slandering all such as, in their preaching, have reproved the misuse of them.
'The King's Highness being grounded upon a surer foundation than to waver or revoke any his former injunctions, might worthily punish such wresters of his words and changers of his will and pleasure; but for as much as his Grace is persuaded that clemency oftentimes worketh more than pain can, and seeing many of his loving subjects punished since his last proclamation, not only for evil opinions, but also for words spoken of long time past, his Grace, tendering nothing more than the wealth and comfort of his subjects, doth think it meet rather to heal all diseased, fearful, and hollow hearts, than by dread and fear to keep them still faint friends—faint to God, faint to the truth, faint to his Highness. And, in this consideration, his Highness granteth a general pardon and discharge to all and singular his loving subjects for all and singular causes, matters, suits, preachings, writings, and other things by them or any of them done, had, made, defended, or spoken, touching matters of Christian religion, whereby they might have been brought in danger of the law for siispicion of heresy. And his Highness trusteth that this his gracious pity shall more effectually work the abolishing of detestable heresies and fond opinions than shall the extreme punishment of the law. For, where fear of hurt should be a cause that they should less love his Highness than their duty bound them to do, now shall this be an occasion, his Grace thinketh, not only to make them tender his Highness's will and pleasure, but also to cause them, of honest love, quite to cast away all foolish, fond, evil, and condemned opinions, and joyfully to return to the elect number of Christ's Church.
'All that is past, as touching this matter, his Highness pardoneth and frankly forgetteth it wholly. But, as his Grace desireth the confusion of error, this way so failing of his purpose and expectation, his Highness will use, albeit much against his will, another way—that, when gentleness cannot work, then to provide what the laws and execution of them can do.'
What persuasion could effect this address would have effected; but kindness and menace were alike unavailing. A seed was growing and to grow, which the King knew not of; and it was to grow, as it were, in the disguise of error, with that abrupt violence which so often, among human beings, makes truth a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence. The young were generally on one side, the old on the other—an inversion of the order of nature when the old are wrong and the young are right. The learned, again, were on the wrong side, the ignorant were on the right—a false relation, also, fertile in evil. Peasant theologians in the public-houses disputed over their ale on the mysteries of justification, and from words passed soon to blows. The Bibles, which lay open in every parish church, became the text-books of self-instructed fanatics. The voluble orator of the village was chosen by his companions, or, by imagined superior intelligence, appointed himself, to read and expound; and, ever in such cases, the most forward was the most passionate and the least wise. Often, for the special annoyance of old-fashioned church-goers, the time of divine service was chosen for a lecture; and opinions were shouted out in 'loud high voices,' which, in the ears of half the congregation, were damnable heresy. The King's proclamations were but as the words of a man speaking in a tempest—blown to atoms as they are uttered. The bishops were bearded in their own palaces with insolent defiance; Protestant mobs would collect to overawe them on their tribunals; and Cromwell was constituted a referee, to whom victims of episcopal persecution rarely appealed without finding protection. Devout communities were scandalized by priests marrying their concubines, or bringing wives whom they had openly chosen to their parsonages. The celibacy of the clergy was generally accepted as a theory; and, though indulgence had been liberally extended to human weakness and frailty, the opinion of the world was less complacent when secret profligacy stepped forward into the open day under the apparent sanction of authority.
The mysteries of the faith were insulted in the celebration of the divine service. At one place, when the priest lifted up the host, a member of the congregation, 'a lawyer' and a gentleman, lifted up a little dog in derision. Another, who desired that the laity should be allowed communion in both kinds, taunted the minister with having drunk all the wine, and with having blessed the people with an empty chalice. The intensity of the indignation which these and similar outrages created in the body of the nation, may be gathered from a scene which took place when an audacious offender was seized by the law, and suffered at Ipswich. When the fire was lighted, a commissary touched the victim with his wand, and urged him to recant. The man spat at him for an answer, and the commissary exclaimed that forty days' indulgence would be granted by the Bishop of Norwich to every one who would cast a stick into the pile. 'Then Baron Curzon, Sir John Audeley, with many others of estimation, being there present, did rise from their seats, and with their swords cut down boughs and threw them into the fire, and so did all the multitude of the people.' It seems most certain that the country only refrained from taking the law into their own hands, and from trying the question with the Protestants, as Aske and Lord Darcy desired, by open battle, from a confidence that the Government would do their duties, that in some way the law would interfere, and these excesses would be put down with a high hand.
April.The meeting of Parliament could be delayed no longer; and it must be a Parliament composed of other members than those who had sat so long and so effectively. Two years before it had been demanded by the northern counties. The promise had been given, and the expectation of a fresh election had been formed so generally, that the country had widely prepared for it. The counties and towns had been privately canvassed; the intended representation had been arranged. The importance of the crisis, and the resolution of the country gentlemen to make their weight appreciated, was nowhere felt more keenly than in the court.
Letters survive throwing curious light on the history of this election. We see the Cromwell faction straining their own and the Crown's influence as far as it would bear to secure a majority—failing in one place, succeeding in another—sending their agents throughout the country, demanding support, or entreating it, as circumstances allowed; or, when they were able, coercing the voters with a high hand. Care was taken to secure the return of efficient speakers to defend the Government measures; and Cromwell, by his exertions and by his anxiety, enables us to measure the power of the Crown, both within Parliament and without; to conclude with certainty that danger was feared from opposition, and that the control of the cabinet over the representation of England was very limited.
The returns for the boroughs were determined by the chief owners of property within the limits of the franchise: those for the counties depended on the great landholders. In the late Parliament Cromwell wrote to some gentleman, desiring him to come forward as the Government candidate for Huntingdonshire. He replied that the votes of the county were already promised, and unless his competitors could be induced to resign he could not offer himself. In Shropshire, on the call of Parliament to examine the treasons of Anne Boleyn, there was a division of interest. 'The worshipful of the shire' desired to return a supporter of Cromwell: the sheriff, the under-sheriff, and the town's-people were on the other side. The election was held at Shrewsbury, and the inhabitants assembled riotously, overawed the voters, and carried the opposition member by intimidation. On the present occasion Lord Southampton went in person round Surrey, Sussex, and Hampshire, where his own property was situated. The election for Surrey he reported himself able to carry with certainty. At Guildford he manœuvred to secure both seats, but was only able to obtain one. He was anticipated for the other by a Guildford townsman, whom the mayor and burgesses told him that they all desired. Sir William Goring and Sir John Gage were standing on the court interest for Sussex. Sir John Dawtry, of Petworth, and Lord Maltravers, had promised their support, and Southampton hoped that they might be considered safe. Farnham was 'the Bishop of Winchester's town,' where he 'spared to meddle' without Cromwell's express orders. If the Bishop's good intentions could be relied upon, interference might provoke gratuitous ill feeling. He had friends in the town, however, and he could make a party if Cromwell thought it necessary. In Portsmouth and Southampton the Government influence was naturally paramount, through the dockyards, and the establishments maintained in them. So far nothing can be detected more irregular than might have been found in the efforts of any prime minister before the Reform Bill to secure a manageable House of Commons. More extensive interference was, however, indisputably practised, wherever interference was possible; at Oxford, we find Cromwell positively dictating the choice of a member, while at Canterbury, at the previous election, a case had occurred too remarkable for its arbitrary character to be passed over without particular mention. Directions had been sent down from London for the election of two Government nominees. An answer was returned, stating humbly that the order had come too late—that two members of the corporation of Canterbury were already returned. I have failed to discover Cromwell's rejoinder; but a week later the following letter was addressed to him by the mayor and burgesses:—
'In humble wise we certify you that the 20th day of this present month, at six o'clock in the morning, I, John Alcock, mayor of Canterbury, received your letter directed to me, the said mayor, sheriff, and commonalty of the said city, signifying to us thereby the King's pleasure and commandment, that Robert Sacknell and John Bridges should be burgesses of the Parliament for the same city of Canterbury; by virtue whereof, according to our bounden duty, immediately upon the sight of your said letter and contents thereof perceived, we caused the commonalty of the said city to assemble in the court hall, where appeared the number of four score and seventeen persons, citizens and inhabitants of the said city; and according to the King's pleasure and commandment, freely with one voice, and without any contradiction, have elected and chosen the said Robert Sacknell and John Bridges to be burgesses of the Parliament for the same city, which shall be duly certified by indenture under the seal of the said citizens and inhabitants by the grace of the blessed Trinity.'
The first election, therefore, had been set aside by the absolute will of the Crown, and the hope that so violent a proceeding might be explained tolerably through some kind of decent resignation is set aside by a further letter, stating that one of the persons originally chosen, having presumed to affirm that he was 'a true and proper burgess of the city,' he had been threatened into submission by a prospect of the loss of a lucrative office which he held under the corporation.
For the Parliament now elected, it is plain that the Privy Seal put out his utmost strength; and that he believed beforehand that his measures had been so well laid as to ensure the results which he desired. 'I and your dedicate councillors,' he wrote to the King, 'be about to bring all things so to pass that your Grace had never more tractable Parliament.' The event was to prove that he had deceived himself; a reaction set in too strong for his control, and the spirit which had dictated the Doncaster petition, though subdued and modified, could still outweigh the despotism of the minister or the intrigues of his agents.
The returns were completed; the members assembled in London, and with them as usual the Convocation of the clergy. As an evidence of the greatness of the occasion, the two provinces were united into one; the Convocation of York held its session with the Convocation of Canterbury; a synod of the whole English Church met together, in virtue of its recovered or freshly constituted powers, to determine the articles of its belief.
April 28.The opening was conducted by the King in person, on Monday, the 28th of April. The clerk of the House of Lords has recorded (either as if it was exceptional or as if the circumstances of the time gave to a usual proceeding an unusual meaning) the religious service with which the ceremony was accompanied, and the special prayers which were offered for the divine guidance. The first week passed in unexplained inactivity. May 5.On the Monday following the lord chancellor read the speech from the throne, declaring the object for which Parliament had been called. The King desired, if possible, to close the religious quarrels by which the kingdom was distracted. With opinions in so furious conflict, the mode of settlement would demand anxious consideration; his Majesty therefore proposed, if the lords saw no objection, that, preparatory to the general debate, a committee of the Upper House should compose a report upon the causes and character of the disagreement. The committee should represent both parties. The peers selected were Cromwell, the two Archbishops, the Bishops of Bath, Ely, Bangor, Worcester, Durham, and Carlisle. It was foreseen that a body, of which Cranmer and Latimer, Lee and Tunstall, were severally members, was unlikely to work in harmony. The committee proceeded, however, to their labours; and up to this time even the privy council seem to have been ignorant of the course which events would follow. On some points the King had either formed no intention till he had ascertained the disposition of the House of Commons, or else he had kept his intentions carefully to himself. A paper of suggestions, representing the views of the moderate Reformers, was submitted to him by some one in high authority; and the tone in which they were couched implied a belief in the writer that his advice would be favourably received. It was to the effect that a table of heresies should be drawn out; that the judgment of the bench of bishops and the ecclesiastical lawyers should be taken upon it; that it should then be printed, and copies sent to every justice of the peace, to be read aloud at every assizes, court leet, or sessions, and in the charges delivered to the grand juries. A court might be constituted composed of six masters of chancery, mixed of priests and laymen, to whom all accusations would be referred; and the composite character of the tribunal would be a security against exaggeration or fanaticism. Meanwhile a bill should be prepared to be laid before Parliament, relieving the clergy finally from the obligations of celibacy, legalizing the marriages which any among them had hitherto contracted, and for the future permitting them all 'to have wives and work for their living.' 'A little book,' in addition, should be compiled and printed, proving 'that the prayers of men that be here living for the souls of them that be dead could in no wise be profitable to them that were dead, and could not help them.'
It is hard to believe that the King's resolution was fixed, or even that his personal feelings were known to be decided against the marriage of the clergy, when a person evidently high in office could thus openly recommend to him the permission of it, and the reforming preachers at the Court had spoken freely to the same effect before him in their sermons. For the present, however, this matter with the rest waited the determination of the committee of religion, who had remained ten days over their labours, and so far had arrived at no conclusions. In the interval the history of the northern rebellion was laid before the Houses, with an account of the late conspiracy of the Marquis of Exeter and Lord Montague. Bills of attainder were presented against many of those who had suffered, and in the preambles their offences were stated, though with little detail. The omission in all but two instances is not important, for the Act of Parliament could have contained only what was proved upon the trials, and the substance of the accusations is tolerably well known. A more explicit statement might have been desired and expected when a parliamentary attainder was the beginning and end of the process. The Marchioness of Exeter and the Countess of Salisbury were not tried, but they were attainted in common, with the rest; and it can be gathered only from the language of the Act that circumstances were known to the Parliament of which the traces are lost.
Lady Salisbury, after her sentence, was removed from Cowdray to the Tower. A remarkable scene took place in the House of Lords on the last reading of the Act of Attainder. As soon as it was passed, Cromwell rose in his place, and displayed, in profound silence, a tunic of white silk, which had been discovered by Lord Southampton concealed amidst the countess's linen. On the front were embroidered the royal arms of England. Behind was the badge of the five wounds, which had been worn by the northern insurgents. Cromwell knew what he was doing in the exhibition. It was shown, and it was doubtless understood, as conclusive evidence of the disposition of the daughter of the Duke of Clarence and the mother of Reginald Pole. The bill was disposed of rapidly. It was introduced on the 10th of May; some faint voices were raised in opposition, but to no purpose; it was concluded on the 12th. The chief interest of both Houses was fastened on the great question before the committee.
The time passed on. No report was presented, and the peers grew impatient. May 16.On the 16th the Duke of Norfolk stated that, so far as he could perceive, no progress was being made in the proper business of the session, and, judging from a conversation which had passed when the committee of opinion was nominated, little progress was likely to be made in a body so composed. He therefore moved that the whole Parliament be invited to discuss freely the six ensuing articles. 1. In the eucharist after consecration does there, or does there not, remain any substance of bread and wine? 2. Is communion in both kinds necessary or permitted to the laity? 3. Are vows of chastity deliberately made of perpetual obligation? 4. Is there or is there not any efficacy in private masses to benefit the souls of the dead? 5. Are priests permitted to have wives? 6. Shall auricular confession be retained or be not retained in the Church? The Duke's own opinion on each and every of these points was well known; but the question was not only of the particular opinion of this or that person, but whether difference of opinion was any longer to be permitted; whether after discussion such positive conclusions could be obtained as might be enforced by a penal statute on all English subjects.
On the first no disagreement was anticipated. No member of either House, it is likely, and no member of Convocation—not even Latimer—had as yet consciously denied the real presence; but the five remaining articles on which an issue was challenged were the special points on which the Lutheran party were most anxiously interested—the points on which, in the preceding summer, negotiations with the Germans were broken off, and on which Cranmer was now most desirous to claim a liberty for the Church, as the basis of an evangelical league in Christendom. Norfolk, therefore, had opened the battle, and it was waged immediately in full fury in both Houses of Parliament—in both Houses of Convocation. There were conferences and counter-conferences. Cromwell, perhaps knowing that direct opposition was useless, was inclined to accept in words resolutions which he had determined to neutralize; Cranmer, more frank, if less sagacious, spoke fearlessly for three days in opposition; and the King himself took part in the debate, and argued with the rest. The settlement was long protracted. There were prorogations for further consideration, and intervals of other business, when Acts were passed which at any other moment would have seemed of immeasurable importance. The Romans, in periods of emergency, suspended their liberties and created a dictator. The English Parliament, frightened at the confusion of the country, and the peril of interests which they valued even more than liberty, extended the powers of the Crown. The preamble of the eighth of the thirty-first of Henry VIII.states that—
'Forasmuch as the King's most Royal Majesty, for divers considerations, by the advice of his council, hath heretofore set forth divers and sundry proclamations, as well concerning sundry articles of Christ's religion, as for an unity and concord among the loving and obedient subjects of his realm, which, nevertheless, divers and many froward and obstinate persons have contemned and broken, not considering what a king by his royal power may do, for lack of a direct statute, to cause offenders to obey the said proclamations, which, being suffered, should not only encourage offenders to disobedience, but also seem too much to the dishonour of the King's Majesty, who may full ill bear it, and also give too great heart to malefactors and offenders; considering also that sudden causes and occasions fortune many times, do require speedy remedies, and that by abiding for a Parliament in the meantime might happen great prejudice to the realm; and weighing also that his Majesty, which, by the kingly power given him by God, may do many things in such cases, should not be driven to extend the liberty and supremacy of his regal power and dignity by the wilfulness of froward subjects, it is thought in manner more than necessary that the King's Highness of this realm for the time being, with the advice of his honourable council, should make and set forth proclamations for the good and politic order of this his realm, as cases of necessity shall require, and that an ordinary law should be provided, by the assent of his Majesty and Parliament, for the due punishment, correction, and reformation of such offences and disobediences.
For these reasons the extraordinary privilege was conferred upon the Crown of being able, with the consent of the privy council, to issue proclamations which should have the authority of Acts of Parliament; and pains and penalties might be inflicted to enforce submission, provided the specific punishment to follow disobedience was described and defined in each proclamation. A slight limitation was imposed upon this dangerous prerogative. The Crown was not permitted to repeal or suspend existing statutes, or set aside the common law or other laudable custom. It might not punish with death, or with unlimited fines or imprisonments. Secondary penalties might be inflicted, on legitimate conviction in the Star Chamber; but they must have been previously defined, both in extent and character. These restrictions interfered with the more arbitrary forms of tyranny; yet the ordinary constitution had received a serious infringement, in order that it might not be infringed further by a compelled usurpation. A measure something larger than the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act—the most extreme violation of the liberty of the subject to which, in the happier condition of England, we can now be driven, a measure infinitely lighter than the 'declaration of a state of siege,' so familiar to the most modern experience of the rest of Europe, was not considered too heavy a sacrifice of freedom, in comparison with the evils which it might prevent.
While the Six Articles Bill was still under debate, the King at once availed himself of the powers conferred upon him, again to address the people. He spoke of the secret and subtle attempts which certain people were making to restore the hypocrite's religion—the evil and naughty superstitions and dreams which had been abolished and done away; while others, again, he said, were flying in the face of all order and authority, perverting the Scriptures, denying the sacraments, denying the authority of princes and magistrates, and making law and government impossible. He dwelt especially on his disappointment at the bad use which had been made of the Bible: 'His Majesty's intent and hope had been, that the Scriptures would be read with meekness, with a will to accomplish the effect of them; not for the purpose of finding arguments to maintain extravagant opinions—not that they should be spouted out and declaimed upon at undue times and places, and after such fashions as were not convenient to be suffered.' So far, it seemed as if the fruit which had been produced by this great and precious gift had been only quarrelling and railing, 'to the confusion of those that used the same, and to the disturbance, and in likelihood to the destruction, of all the rest of the King's subjects.'
Such shameful practices he was determined should be brought to an end. His 'daily study' was to teach his people to live together, not in rioting and disputing, but in unity, in charity, and love. He had therefore called his Parliament, prelates, and clergy to his help, with a full resolution to 'extinct diversities of opinion by good and just laws;' and he now gave them his last, solemn warning, if they would escape painful consequences, 'to study to live peaceably together, as good and Christian men ought to do.'
The great measure was now in motion; but its advance was still slow, and under the shadow of the absorbing interest which it created, two other statutes passed, without trace of debate or resistance; one of which was itself the closing scene of a mighty destruction; the other (had circumstances permitted the accomplishment of the design) would have constructed a fabric out of the ruins, the incompleteness of which, in these later days, the English Church is now languidly labouring to repair.
The thirteenth of the thirty-first of Henry VIII. confirmed the surrender of all the religious houses which had dissolved themselves since the passing of the previous Act, and empowered the King to extend the provisions of that Act, at his pleasure, to all such as remained standing. Monastic life in England was at an end, and for ever. A phase of human existence which had flourished in this island for ten centuries had passed out and could not be revived. The effort for the reform of the orders had totally failed; the sentiment of the nation had ceased to be interested in their maintenance, and the determined spirit of treason which the best and the worst conducted of the regular clergy had alike exhibited in the late rebellion, had given the finishing impulse to the resolution of the Government. The more sincerely 'religion' was professed, the more incurable was the attachment to the Papacy. The monks were its champions while a hope remained of its restoration. In the final severance from Rome the root of their life was divided; and the body of the nation, orthodox and unorthodox alike, desired to see their vast revenues applied to purposes of national utility. They were given over by Parliament, therefore, to the King's hands. The sacrifice to the old families, the representatives of the ancient founders, was not only in feeling and associations, but in many instances was substantial and tangible. They had reserved to themselves annual rents, services, and reliefs; they had influence in the choice of superiors; the retainers of the abbeys followed their standard, and swelled their importance and their power. All this was at an end; and although in some instances they repurchased, on easy terms, the estates which their forefathers had granted away, yet in general the confiscated lands fell in smaller proportions to the old-established nobility than we should have been prepared to expect. The new owners of these broad domains were, for the most part, either the rising statesmen—the novi homines who had been nursed under Wolsey, and grown to manhood in the storms of the Reformation, Cromwell, Russell, Audeley, Wriothesley, Dudley, Seymour, Fitzwilliam, and the satellites who revolved about them; or else city merchants, successful wool-dealers, or manufacturers: in all cases the men of progress—the men of the future—the rivals, if not the active enemies, of the hereditary feudal magnates.
To such persons ultimately fell by far the largest portion of the abbey lands. It was not, however, so intended. Another Act, which Henry drew with his own hand, stated that, inasmuch as the slothful and ungodly life of all sorts of persons, bearing the name of religious, was notorious to all the world, … in order that both they and their estates might be turned to some better account, that the people might be better educated, charity be better exercised, and the spiritual discipline of the country be in all respects better maintained, it was expedient that the King should have powers granted to him to create by letters patent, and endow, fresh bishoprics as he should think fit, and convert religious houses into chapters of deans and prebendaries, to be attached to each of the new sees, and to improve and strengthen those already in existence. The scheme, as at first conceived, was on a magnificent scale. Twenty-one new bishoprics were intended, with as many cathedrals and as many chapters; and in each of the latter (unless there had been gross cause to make an exception) the monks of the abbey or priory suppressed would continue on the new foundation, changing little but the name. Henry's intentions, could they have been executed, would have materially softened the dissolution. The twenty-one bishoprics, however, sunk into six; and eight religious houses only were submitted to the process of conversion. The cost of the national defences, followed by three years of ruinous war, crippled at its outset a generous project, and saved the Church from the possession of wealth and power too dangerously great.
On the 23rd of May Parliament was prorogued for a week; May 30.on the 30th the lord chancellor informed the peers that his Majesty, with the assistance of the bench of bishops, had come to a conclusion on the Six Articles; which, it was assumed—from the course possibly which the many debates had taken—would be acceptable to the two Houses. A penal statute would be required to enforce the resolutions; and it was for their lordships to determine the character and the extent of the punishment which would be necessary. To give room for differences of opinion, two committees were this time appointed—the first consisting of Cranmer, the Bishops of Ely and St David's, and Sir William Petre; the other of the Archbishop of York, the Bishops of Durham and Winchester, and Dr Tregonwell. The separate reports were drawn and presented; the peers accepted the second. The cruel character of the resolutions was attributed, by sound authority, to the especial influence of Gardiner. It was not, in its extreme form, the work of the King, nor did it express his own desires. His opinions on the disputed articles were wholly those contained in the body of the Act. He had argued laboriously in their maintenance, and he had himself drawn a sketch for a statute not unlike that which passed into law; but he had added two clauses, from which the bishops contrived to deliver themselves, which, if insisted upon, would have crippled the prosecutions and tied the hands of the Church officials. According to Henry's scheme, the judges would have been bound to deliver in writing to the party accused a copy of the accusation, with the names and depositions of the witnesses; and, if there was but one witness, let his reputation have stood as high as that of any man in the State, it would have been held insufficient for a conviction.
The slight effort of leniency was not approved by the House of Lords. In spite of Cranmer's unwearied and brave opposition, the harshest penalties which were recommended received the greatest favour; and 'the bloody Act of the Six Articles,' or 'the whip with six strings,' as it was termed by the Protestants, was the adopted remedy to heal the diseases of England.
June.After a careful preamble, in which the danger of divisions and false opinions, the peril both to the peace of the commonwealth and the souls of those who were ensnared by heresy, were elaborately dwelt upon, the King, the two Houses of Parliament, and the Convocations of the two provinces declared themselves, after a great and long, deliberate and advised disputation, to have adopted the following conclusions:—
1. That, in the most blessed sacrament of the altar, by the strength and efficacy of Christ's mighty word, it being spoken by the priest, was present really, under the form of bread and wine, the natural body and blood of Jesus Christ; and that, after consecration, there remained no substance of bread and wine, nor any other but the substance of Christ.
2. That communion in both kinds was not essential to salvation; that, under the form of bread, the blood was present as well as the body; and, under the form of wine, the flesh was present as well as the blood.
3. That it was not permitted to priests, after their ordination, to marry and have wives.
4. That vows of chastity made to God advisedly, by man or woman, ought to be observed, and were of perpetual obligation.
5. That private masses ought to be continued, as meet and necessary for godly consolation and benefit.
6. That auricular confession to a priest must be retained, and continue to be used in the Church.
The Lords and Commons, in accepting the articles, gave especial thanks to his Majesty for the godly pain, study, and travail with which he had laboured to establish them; and they 'prayed God that he might long reign to bring his godly enterprise to a full end and perfection;' and that by these means 'quiet, unity, and concord might be had in the whole body of the realm for ever.'
On their side they enacted against such persons as should refuse to submit to the resolutions:—
That whoever, by word or writing, denied the first article, should be declared a heretic, and suffer death by burning, without opportunity of abjuration, without protection from sanctuary or benefit of clergy. Whoever spoke or otherwise broke the other five articles, or any one of them, should, for the first offence, forfeit his property; if he offended a second time, or refused to abjure when called to answer, he should suffer death as a felon. All marriages hitherto contracted by priests were declared void. A day was fixed before which their wives were to be sent to their friends, and to retain them after that day was felony. To refuse to go to confession was felony. To refuse to receive the sacrament was felony. On every road on which the free mind of man was moving, the dark sentinel of orthodoxy was stationed with its flaming sword; and in a little time all cowards, all who had adopted the new opinions with motives less pure than that deep zeal and love which alone entitle human beings to constitute themselves champions of God, flinched into their proper nothingness, and left the battle to the brave and the good.
The feelings with which the bill was received by the world may be gathered most readily from two letters—one written by an English nobleman, who may be taken to have represented the sentiments of the upper classes in this country; the other written by Philip Melancthon, speaking in the name of Germany and of English Protestantism struggling to be born.
The signature and the address of the first are lost; but the contents indicate the writer's rank.
'For news here, I assure you, never prince showed himself so wise a man, so well learned, and so catholic, as the King hath done in this Parliament. With my pen I cannot express his marvellous goodness, which is come to such effect that we shall have an Act of Parliament so spiritual that I think none shall dare to say that in the blessed sacrament of the altar doth remain either bread or wine after the consecration; nor that a priest may have a wife; nor that it is necessary to receive our Maker sub utrâque specie; nor that private masses should not be used as they have been; nor that it is not necessary to have auricular confession. And notwithstanding my Lord Canterbury, my Lord of Ely, my Lord of Salisbury, my Lords of Worcester, Rochester, and St David's defended the contrary long time, yet, finally, his Highness confounded them all with God's learning. York, Durham, Winchester, London, Chichester, Norwich, and Carlisle have showed themselves honest and well-learned men. We of the temporalty have been all of one opinion; and my Lord Chancellor and my Lord Privy Seal as good as we can desire. My Lord of Canterbury and all the bishops have given over their opinions and come in to us, save Salisbury, who yet continueth a lewd fool. Finally, all England hath cause to thank God, and most heartily to rejoice, of the King's most godly proceedings.'
There spoke the conservative Englishman, tenacious of old opinions, believing much in established order, and little in the minds and hearts of living human beings—believing that all variation from established creeds could only arise from vanity and licentiousness, and from the discontent of an ill-regulated understanding.
We turn to Melancthon, and we hear the protest of humanity, the pleading of intellect against institutions, the voice of freedom as opposed to the voice of order—the two spirits 'between whose endless jar justice resides.'
He reminded the King of the scene described by Thucydides, where the Athenians awoke to their injustice and revoked the decree against Mytilene, and he implored him to reconsider his fatal determination. He was grieved, he said, for those who professed the same doctrines as himself; but he was more grieved for the King, who allowed himself to be the minister of tyranny. For them nothing could happen more glorious than to lose their lives in bearing witness to the truth; but it was dreadful that a prince, who could not plead the excuse of ignorance, should stain his hands with innocent blood. The bishops pretended that they were defending truth; but it was the truth of sophistry, not of God. In England, and through Europe, the defenders of truth were piecing old garments with new cloth, straining to reconcile truth with error, and light with darkness. He was not surprised. It was easy to understand with the reason how such things were; but his feelings recoiled, and pleaded passionately against their hard and cruel hearts. 'If that barbarous decree be not repealed,' he said, 'the bishops will never cease to rage against the Church of Christ without mercy and without pity; for them the devil useth as instruments and ministers of his fury and malice against Christ—he stirreth them up to kill and destroy the members of Christ. And you, O King! all the godly beseech most humbly that you will not prefer such wicked and cruel oppressions and subtle sophistries before their own just and honest prayers. God recompense you to your great reward if you shall grant those prayers. Christ is going about hungry and thirsty, naked and imprisoned, complaining of the rage and malice of the bishops, and the cruelty of kings and princes. He prays, He supplicates, that the members of His body be not rent in pieces, but that truth may be defended, and the Gospel preached among men; a godly king will hear His words, and obey the voice of His entreaty.'
The extremes of opinion were thus visible on either side. Between them the Government steered their arduous way, under such guidance as conscience and necessity could furnish. To pass a statute was one thing: to enforce the provisions of it was another. The peers and bishops expected to be indulged forthwith in the pleasures of a hot persecution. The King's first act was to teach them to moderate their ardour. In order to soothe the acrimonies which the debate had kindled, the lords spiritual and temporal were requested to repair to Lambeth to 'animate and comfort the archbishop,' and to bury the recollection of all differences by partaking of his hospitality. The history of their visit was, perhaps, diluted through Protestant tradition before it reached the pages of Foxe, and the substance only of the story can be relied upon as true. July.It is said, however, that on this occasion a conversation arose which displayed broadly the undercurrent of hatred between Cromwell and the peers. One of the party spoke of Wolsey, whom he called 'a stubborn and churlish prelate, and one that never could abide any nobleman;' 'and that,' he added, 'you know well enough, my Lord Cromwell, for he was your master.' Cromwell answered that it was true that he had been Wolsey's servant, nor did he regret his fortune. 'Yet was I never so far in love with him,' he said, 'as to have waited upon him to Rome, which you, my lord, were, I believe, prepared to have done.' It was not true, the first speaker said. Cromwell again insisted that it was true, and even mentioned the number of florins which were to have been paid him for his services. The other said 'he lied in his teeth, and great and high words rose between them.'
The King's peace-making prospered little. The impetus of a great victory was not to be arrested by mild persuasions. A commission was appointed by the Catholic leaders to reap the desired fruits. Such of the London citizens as had most distinguished themselves as opponents of reformation in all its forms—those especially who had resisted the introduction of the Bible—formed a court, which held its sittings in the Mercers' Chapel. They 'developed the statute' in what were termed 'branches of inference;' they interpreted 'speaking against masses' to comprehend 'coming seldom to mass.' Those who were slow in holding up their hands 'at sacring time,' or who did not strike their breasts with adequate fervour, were held to have denied the sacrament. In the worst temper of the Inquisition they revived the crippled functions of the spiritual courts: they began to inquire again into private conduct—who went seldom to church—who refused to receive holy bread or holy water who were frequent readers of the Bible, 'with a great many other such branches.' 'They so sped with their branches' that in a fortnight they had indicted five hundred persons in London alone. In their imprudent fanaticism they forgot all necessary discretion. There was not a man of note or reputation in the City who had so much as spoken a word against Rome, but was under suspicion, or under actual arrest. Latimer and Shaxton were imprisoned, and driven to resign their bishoprics. Where witnesses were not to be found, Hall tells us significantly, 'that certain of the clergy would procure some, or else they were slandered.' The fury which had been pent up for years, revenge for lost powers and privileges, for humiliations and sufferings, remorse of conscience reproaching them for their perjury in abjuring the Pope, whom they still reverenced, and to whose feet they longed to return, poured out from the reactionary churchmen in a concentrated lava stream of malignity.
The blindness of their rage defeated their object. The King had not desired articles of peace that worthless bigots might blacken the skies of England with the smoke of martyr- fires. The powers given to the Crown by the Act of Proclamations recoiled on those who bestowed them, and by a summary declaration of pardon the bishops' dungeon doors were thrown open; the prisoners were dismissed; and though Cromwell had seemed to yield to them in the House of Lords, their victims, they discovered, would not be permitted to be sacrificed so long as Cromwell was in power.
Not contented with granting an indemnity, Henry set the persecutors an example of the spirit in which to enforce the Six Articles. Next to Barnes and Latimer, the most obnoxious of all the reforming clergy, in high orthodox quarters, was Jerome, Vicar of Stepney. While the Parliament was in session this person preached in violent denunciation of their proceedings. He denied their authority to make laws to bind the conscience. He had used 'opprobrious words' against the members of the House of Commons, calling them 'butterflies, fools, and knaves;' and when the Act of Opinions was passed, he was seized by the committee at the Mercers'. We need not ask how he would have been dealt with there; but Henry took the cause out of their hands. He sent for the preacher, and as Jerome reported afterwards, 'so indifferently heard him, so gently used him, so mercifully forgave him, that there was never poor man received like gentleness at any prince's hand.' The preacher consented to revoke his words in the place where he had used them; and appearing again in the same pulpit, he confessed that he had spoken wrongly. The King had shown him that to restrain the power of the Government within the limits which he desired, would create confusion in the commonwealth, and that his declamation against the burgesses had been ill and slanderously spoken. He recanted, also, other parts of his sermon on questions of doctrine; but he added an explanation of his submission characteristic of the man and of the time. 'He was perplexed,' he said, 'but not confounded;' 'he was compelled to deny himself; but to deny himself was no more but when adversity should come, as loss of goods, infamies, and like trouble, to deny his own will, and call upon the Lord, saying, Fiat voluntas tua.' Catholics and Protestants combined to render the King's task of ruling them as arduous as it could be made.
The bill, nevertheless, though it might be softened in the execution, was a hard blow on the Reformation, and was bitterly taken. Good came at last out of the evil. The excesses of the moving party required absolutely to be checked; nor could this necessary result be obtained till the bishops for a time had their way uncontrolled; but the dismissal of Latimer from the bench, the loss of the one man in England whose conduct was, perhaps, absolutely straightforward, upright, and untainted with alloy of baser matter, was altogether irreparable.
We approach another subject of scarcely less importance than this famous statute, and scarcely less stern. Before we enter upon it we may pause for a moment over one of the few scenes of a softer kind which remain among the records of this iron age. It is but a single picture. Richard Cromwell, writing from the Court of some unimportant business which the King had transacted, closes his letter with adding: 'This done, his Grace went to the prince, and there hath solaced all the day with much mirth and with dallying with him in his arms a long space, and so holding him in a window to the sight and great comfort of all the people.' A saying is recorded of Henry: 'Happy those who never saw a king, and whom a king never saw.' It is something, though it be but for once, to be admitted behind the shows of royalty, and to know that he, too, the queller of the Pope, the terror of conspirators, the dread lord who was the pilot of England in the sharpest convulsion which as yet had tried her substance, was nevertheless a man like the rest of us, with a human heart and human tenderness.
But to go on with our story.
The English criminal law was in its letter one of the most severe in Europe: in execution it was the most uncertain and irregular. There were no colonies to draw off the criminals, no galley system, as in France and Spain, to absorb them in penal servitude; the country would have laughed to scorn the proposal that it should tax itself to maintain able-bodied men in unemployed imprisonment; and, in the absence of graduated punishments, there was but one step to the gallows from the lash and the branding-iron. But, as ever happens, the extreme character of the penalties for crime prevented the enforcement of them; and benefit of clergy on the one hand, and privilege of sanctuary on the other, reduced to a fraction the already small number of offenders whom juries could be found to convict. In earlier ages the terrors of the Church supplied the place of secular retribution, and excommunication was scarcely looked upon as preferable even to death. But in the corrupt period which preceded the Reformation the consequences were the worst that can be conceived. Spasmodic intervals of extraordinary severity, when twenty thieves, as Sir Thomas More says, might be seen hanging on a single gibbet, were followed by periods when justice was, perhaps, scarcely executed at all.
The State endeavoured to maintain its authority against the immunities of the Church by increasing the harshness of the code. So long as these immunities subsisted, it had no other resource; but judges and magistrates shrank from inflicting penalties so enormously disproportioned to the offence. They could not easily send a poacher or a vagrant to the gallows while a notorious murderer was lounging in comfort in a neighbouring sanctuary, or having just read a sentence from a book at the bar in arrest of judgment, had been handed over to an apparitor of the nearest archdeacon's court, and been set at liberty for a few shillings. I have met with many instances of convictions for deer stealing in the correspondence of the reign of Henry VIII.; I have met but one instance where the letter of the law was enforced against the offender, unless the minor crime had been accompanied with manslaughter or armed resistance—the leaders of a gang who had for many years infested Windsor Forest were at last taken and hanged. The vagrancy laws sound terribly severe; but in the reports of the judges on their assize, of which many remain in the State Paper Office, I have not found any one single account of an execution under them. Felons of the worst kind never, perhaps, had easier opportunities. The parish constables were necessarily inefficient as a police; many of them were doubtless shaped after the model of Dogberry; if they bid a man stand and he would not stand they would let him go, and thank God they were rid of a knave. There were sanctuaries within reach all over England, even under the very walls of Newgate, where escaped prisoners could secure themselves. The scarcely tolerable license of ordinary times had broken its last bonds during the agitations of the Reformation, and the audacity of the criminal classes had become so great that organized gangs of them assembled at the gaol deliveries and quarter sessions to overawe the authorities. Ambitious or violent knights and noblemen interfered to rescue or protect their own dependents. They alone were the guardians of the law, and they at their pleasure could suspend the law; while the habit of admitting plea of clergy, and of respecting the precincts of sanctuary, had sunk so deeply into the practice of the country that, although Parliament might declare such privileges curtailed, yet in many districts custom long continued stronger than law. The constables still respected the boundaries traced by superstition; felons were still 'saved by their book;' the English, like the Romans, were a people with whom legislation became strong only when it had. stiffened into habit, and had entered slowly and formally into possession of their hearts and understandings.
So many anomalies have at all times existed among English institutions, that the nation has been practised in correcting them; and, even at their worst, the old arrangements may have worked better in reality than under the naked theory might appear to be possible. In a free country each definite instinct or tendency represents itself in the general structure of society. When tendencies, as frequently happens, contradict each other, common sense comes in to the rescue, and, on the whole, justice is done, though at the price of consistency.
But at the period at which this history has now arrived, the evils of the system had obtained a conclusive preponderance. Superstition had become powerless to deter from violence, retaining only the means of preventing the punishment of it: I shall proceed to illustrate the actual condition of the criminal administration between the years 1535 and 1540, by specimens, not indeed selected at random, but such as exhibit, in a marked form, a condition of things which may be traced, in greater or less degree, throughout the judicial and magisterial correspondence of the time.
In the spring of 1535, the sescions at Taunton and Bridgewater were forcibly dissolved by an insurrection of 'wilful persons.' Lord Fitzwarren and a number of other gentlemen narrowly escaped being murdered; and the gang, emboldened by success, sent detachments round the country, thirty of whom the magistrates of Frome reported as having come thither for a similar purpose. The combination was of so serious a kind, that the posse comitatus of Somersetshire was called out to put it down. Circulars went round among the principal families, warning them all of what had taken place, and arranging plans for mutual action. Sir John Fitzjames came down from London; and at last, by great exertion, the ringleaders were arrested and brought to trial. The least guilty were allowed to earn their pardon by confession. Twelve who attempted to face out their offence were convicted and executed, four of them at Taunton, four at Bridgewater, and four at the village to which they belonged.
In 1536, 7, 8, or 9, a series of burglaries had been committed in the town and the neighbourhood of Chichester; and there had been a riot also, connected with the robberies, of sufficient importance to be communicated to the Government. The parties chiefly implicated were discovered and taken; the evidence against them was conclusive, and no attempt was made to shake it; but three 'froward persons' on the jury, one of whom was the foreman, refused to agree to a verdict. They were themselves, the magistrates were aware, either a part of the gang, or privately in league with them; and the help of the Crown was invited for 'the reformation of justice.' I do not find how this matter ended.
Benefit of clergy was taken from felons in 1531–2. At least five years later, when Cromwell was privy seal, three men were arraigned at the gaol delivery at Ipswich, 'upon three several indictments of several felonies.' They were convicted regularly, and their guilt does not seem to have been doubted; but 'every of them prayed their book.' The See of Norwich being vacant at the time, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction was suspended; no 'ordinary' was present in court to 'hear them read;' the magistrates thereupon 'reprieved the said felons, without any judgment upon the said verdict.' The prisoners were remanded to the gaol till the spiritual courts were ready to take charge of them: they were kept carelessly, and escaped.
The following extract from a letter written in 1539 will show, better than any general description, the nature of a sanctuary, and the spirit in which the protection was enjoyed. The number of sanctuaries had been limited by Act of Parliament previous to their final abolition; certain favoured spots were permitted for a time to absorb the villany of the country; and felons who had taken refuge elsewhere, were to be removed into some one of these. Bewley in Hampshire had been condemned to lose its privilege. Richard Layton, the monastic visitor, describes and pleads for it to the privy seal.
'There be sanctuary men here,' he says, 'for debt, felony, and murder, thirty-two; many of them aged, some very sick. They have all, within four, wives and children, and dwelling-houses, and ground, whereby they live with their families; which, being all assembled before us, and the King's pleasure opened to them, they have very lamentably declared that, if they be now sent to other sanctuaries, not only they, but their wives and children also, shall be utterly undone; and therefore have desired us to be mean unto your good lordship that they may remain here for term, of their lives, so that none others be received. And because we have certain knowledge that the great number of them, with their wives and children, shall be utterly cast away, their age, impotency, and other things considered, if they be sent to any other place, we have sent this bearer unto you, beseeching your lordship to know the King's pleasure herein.'
The nineteenth century believes, and believes with justice, that in its treatment of criminals it has made advances in humanity on the practice of earlier times; but the warmest of living philanthropists would scarcely consider so tenderly, in a correspondence with the home secretary, the domestic comforts of thirty-two debtors, felons, and murderers.
But the most detailed accounts of the lawlessness which had spread in the wilder districts of the country are to be found in the reports of the remarkable Rowlaud Lee, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, Lord Warden of the Welsh Marches, the last survivor of the old martial prelates, fitter for harness than for bishops' robes, for a court of justice than a court of theology; more at home at the head of his troopers, chasing cattle-stealers in the gorges of Llangollen, than hunting heretics to the stake, or chasing formulas in the arduous defiles of controversy. Three volumes are extant of Rowland Lee's letters. They relate almost wholly to the details of his administration on either side of the frontier line from Chester to the mouth of the Wye. The Welsh counties were but freshly organized under the English system. The Welsh customs had but just been superseded by the English common law. The race whose ancient hardihood the castles of Conway, Carnarvon, and Beaumaris remain to commemorate, whom only those stern towers, with their sterner garrisons, could awe into subjection, maintained a shadow of their independence in a wild lawlessness of character. But the sense of subjection had been soothed by the proud consciousness that they had bestowed a dynasty upon England; that a blood descendant of Cadwallader was seated on the throne of the Edwards. They had ceased to maintain, like the Irish, a feeling of national hostility. They were suffering now from the intermediate disorders which intervene when a smaller race is merging in a stronger and a larger; when traditional customs are falling into desuetude, and the laws designed to take their place have not yet grown actively into operation. Many of the Welsh gentlemen lived peacefully by honest industry; others, especially along the Border, preferred the character of Highland chieftains, and from their mountain fastnesses levied black rent on the English counties. Surrounded with the sentiment of pseudo-heroism, they revelled in the conceit of imaginary freedom; and with their bards and pedigrees, and traditions of Glendower and Prince Llewellyn, they disguised from themselves and others the plain prose truth, that they were but thieves and rogues.
These were the men whom Rowland Lee was sent to tame into civility—these, and their English neighbours, who, from close proximity and from acquired habits of retaliation for their own injuries, had caught the infection of a similar spirit.
From his many letters I must content myself with taking such extracts as bear most immediately on the working of the criminal law, and illustrate the extreme difficulty of punishing even the worst villanies. To strengthen the Bishop's hands a Council of the Marches had been established in 1534, with powers similar to those which were given subsequently to the Council of York.
In August, 1537, Lee wrote to Cromwell, 'These shall be to advertise you that where of late I sent unto your lordship a bill of such murders and manslaughters as were done in Cheshire which would not be found until this council set the same forward for condign punishment of the offenders, and although at the late assizes a great number of bills both for murders and riots were put into the great inquest, and good evidence given upon the same,—yet, contrary to their duties to our sovereign lord and their oath, neglecting the course and ministration of justice, they have found murders to be manslaughters, and riots to be misbehaviours. The council could do no less but see the same redressed. "We have called the said inquest before us, and committed them to ward for their lightness in the premises. And for as much as I think that suit will be made unto your lordship of my straitness and hard dealing herein, if your lordship will have that country in as good order and stay as we have set other parts, there must be punishment done, or else they will continue in their boldness as they have used heretofore. If your lordship will that I shall deal remissively herein, upon the advertisement of your lordship's mind by your letters, I shall gladly follow the same. Or else, if your lordship do mind reformation of the premises, write unto me a sharp letter to see justice ministered, and to punish such as shall be thought offenders according to this council's discretion for their misbehaviours by fines, strait imprisonment, and otherwise. For if we should do nothing but as the common law will, these things so far out of order will never be redressed.'
The Bishop's advice was approved. One caution only was impressed upon him by Cromwell—that 'indifferent justice must be ministered to poor and rich according to their demerits;' and gentlemen who were concerned in riots and robberies were not to be spared on account of their position. The Bishop obeyed the admonition, which was probably little needed; soon after, at a quarter sessions, in the presence of the Earl of Worcester, Lord Ferrars, and many gentlemen of the shire, 'four of the best blood in the county of Shropshire' were reported to have been hanged.
Carrying his discipline south, the bishop by-and-by wrote from Hereford:—
'By diligent search and pains we have tried out the greatest nest of thieves tnat was heard of this many years. They have confessed to the robbing of eighteen churches, besides other felonies, already. This nest was rooted in Gloucestershire at a place called Merkyll, and had recourse to a blind inn, to an old man, who, with his two sons, being arrant thieves, were the receitors. Of this affinity were a great number, of whom we have ten or twelve principals and accessories, and do make out daily for more where we can hear they be. Daily the outlaws submit themselves, or be taken. If he be taken he playeth his pageant. If he come and submit himself, I take him to God's mercy and the King's grace upon his fine.'
Once more, after mentioning the capture of two outlaws, whom he intended to despatch, and of a third, who had been killed in attempting to escape, brought in dead across a horse, and hanged on a market-day at Ludlow, the warden summed up, as a general result of his administration, 'What shall we say further? All the thieves in Wales quake for fear; and at this day we assure you there is but one thief of name, of the sort of outlaws, and we trust to have him shortly; so that now ye may boldly affinn that Wales is redact to that state that one thief taketh another, and one cow keepeth another.'
The Bishop's work was rough; but it was good of its kind, and was carried out in the manner which, in the long run, was most merciful—merciful to honest subjects, who were no longer the prey of marauders—merciful to those whom the impunity of these heroes of the Border might have tempted to imitate their example—merciful to the offenders themselves, who were saved by the gallows from adding to the list of their crimes.
But although order could be enforced where an active resolute man had been chosen to supersede the inefficiency of the local authorities, in other parts of England, in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somersetshire, Devonshire, and Cornwall especially, there was no slight necessity still remaining for discipline of a similar kind; the magistrates had been exhorted again and again in royal proclamations to discharge their duties more efficiently; but the ordinary routine of life was deranged by the religious convulsions; the mainspring of the social system was out of place, and the parts could no longer work in harmony. The expedient would have to be attempted which had succeeded elsewhere; but, before resorting to it, Henry would try once more the effect of an address, and a circular was issued in the ensuing terms:—
'The King to the justices of the peace. Trusty and well-beloved, we greet you well, and cannot a little marvel to hear that, notwithstanding our sundry advertisements lately made unto you for the doing of your duties in such offices as in our commonwealth are committed unto you, many things be nevertheless directed at will and pleasure, than either upon any just contemplation of justice, or with any regard to the good monitions which heretofore we have set forth for the advancement of the same. Minding, therefore, yet once again, before we shall correct the lewdness of the offenders with any extremity of law, to give a more general admonition, to the intent no man shall have colour by excuse of ignorance, we have thought meet to write these our letters unto you, and by the same to desire and pray you, and yet, nevertheless, to charge and command you, upon your duties of allegiance, that for the repairing of all things negligently passed, and for the avoiding of all such damages as may for lack thereof happen unto you, you shall have special care and study to the due and just observation of the points following:—
'First, where we have with our great study, travail, and labour expelled the usurped power of Rome, with all the branches and dependings upon the same, our pleasure is that you shall have a principal regard that the privy maintainers of that Papistical faction may be tried out and brought to justice. For by sundry arguments it is manifest unto us that there wanteth not a number that in that matter retain their old fond fantasies and superstitions, muttering in corners, as they dare, to the maintenance and upholding of them, what countenance soever they do show outwards for avoiding of danger of the law. These kind of men we would have tried out, as the most cankered and venomous worms that be in our commonwealth, both for that they be apparent enemies to God, and manifest traitors to us and to our whole realm, workers of all mischief and sedition within the same.
'Secondly, you shall have special regard that all sturdy vagabonds and valiant beggars may be punished according to the statute made for that purpose. Your default in the execution whereof, proceeding upon an inconsiderate pity to one evil person, without respect to the great multitude that live in honest and lawful sort, hath bred no small inconvenience in our commonwealth. And you shall also have special regard that no man be suffered to use any unlawful games; but that every man may be encouraged to use the long-bow, as the law requireth.
'Furthermore, our pleasure and most dread commandment is that, all respects set apart, you shall bend yourselves to the advancement of even justice between party and party, both that our good subjects may have the benefit of our laws sincerely administered unto them, and that evil doers may be punished, as the same doth prescribe and limit. To which points, if you shall upon this monition and advertisement give such diligent regard as you may satisfy your duty in the same, leaving and eschewing from henceforth all disguised corruption, we shall be content the more easily to put in oblivion all your former remissness and negligence. But if, on the other part, we shall perceive that this kind of gentle proceeding can work no kind of good effect in you, or any of you, whom we put in trust under us, assure yourselves that the next advice shall be of so sharp a sort as shall bring with it a just punishment of those that shall be found offenders in this behalf: requiring you, therefore, not only for your own part to wax each a new man, if you shall in your own conscience perceive that you have not done your duty as appertained, but also to exhort others of your sort and condition, whom you shall perceive to digress from the true execution of their offices, rather to reconcile and compose themselves than upon any affection, respect, or displeasure to do any such thing as will hereafter minister unto them further repentance, and will not percase, when it should light on their necks, lightly be redubbed. Wherein you shall show yourselves men of good instruction, and deserve our right hearty thanks accordingly.'
Menace, as usual, was but partially effectual. At length, in the midst of the general stir and excitement of the spring and summer of 1539, while the loyal portion of the country was still under arms, and the Government felt strong enough for the work, we trace the progress of special commissions through the counties where the irregularities had been the greatest, partly to sift to the bottom the history of the Marquis of Exeter's conspiracy, partly to administer discipline to gangs of rogues and vagabonds. Sir Thomas Blunt and Sir Robert Neville went to Worcester and Kidderminster. At the latter place ten felons were hanged. Sir Thomas Willoughby, with Lord Russell and others, was sent into the south and west, where, 'for wilful murders, heinous robberies, and other offences,' Willoughby wrote to Cromwell, that 'divers and many felons suffered.' In Somersetshire four men were hanged for rape and burglary. In Cornwall, Kendall and Quintrell were hanged, with confederates who had acted under them as recruiting agents for Lord Exeter. Other details are wanting; but a general tone of vigour runs through the reports, and the gentlemen had so far taken warning from the last proclamation, that the commissioners were able to conclude: 'I assure you, my lord, in every of these same shires there hath been a great appearance of gentlemen and men of worship who have endeavoured themselves, with much diligence, in executing the King's precepts and commandments.' Sir Thomas Wriothesley, who either accompanied the commission, or was in Hampshire independently of it, took advantage of a quarter sessions in that county to stimulate these symptoms of improvement a little further.
The King, he told the magistrates, desired most of all things that indifferent justice should be ministered to the poor and the rich, which, he regretted to say, was imperfectly done. Those in authority too much used their powers, 'that men should follow the bent of their bows,' a thing which 'did not need to be followed.' The chief cause of all the evils of the time was 'the dark setting forth of God's Word,' 'the humming and harking of the priests who ought to read it, and the slanders given to those that did plainly and truly set it forth.' At any rate, the fact was as he described it to be; and they would find, he added significantly, that, if they gave further occasion for complaint, 'God had given them a prince that had force and strength to rule the highest of them.' For the present no further notice was taken of their conduct. There is no evidence that any magistrates were deprived or punished. The work which they had neglected was done for them by others, and they were left again to themselves with a clearer field. One noticeable victim, however, fell in this year. There were three indeed, with equal claims to interest; but one, through caprice of fame, has been especially remembered. The great abbots, with but few exceptions, had given cause for suspicion during the late disturbances; that is to say, they had grown to advanced age as faithful subjects of the Papacy; they were too old to begin life again with a new allegiance. The Abbot of Colchester had refused to surrender his house, and concealed or made away with the abbey plate, and had used expressions of most unambiguous anxiety for the success of the rebellions, and of disappointment at their failure. On the first visitation of the monasteries, Whiting, Abbot of Glastonbury, received a favourable character from the visitors. He had taken the oaths to the King without objection, or none is mentioned. He had acquiesced generally, in his place in the House of Lords, in Cromwell's legislation; he had been present at one reading at least of the concluding statute against the Pope's authority. In the last Parliament he had been absent on plea of ill-health; but he appointed no proxy, nor sought apparently to use on either side his legitimate influence. Cromwell's distrust was awakened by some unknown reason. An order went out for an inquiry into his conduct, which was to be executed by three of the visitors, Layton, Pollard, and Moyle. SeptemberOn the 16th of September they were at Reading: on the 22nd they had arrived at Glastonbury. The Abbot was absent at a country house a mile and a half distant. They followed him, informed him of the cause of their coming, and asked him a few questions. His answers were 'nothing to the purpose;' that is to say, he confessed nothing to the visitors' purpose. He was taken back to the abbey; his private apartments were searched, and a book of arguments was found there against the King's divorce, pardons, copies of bulls, and a Life of Thomas à Becket—nothing particularly criminal, though all indicating the Abbot's tendencies. The visitors considered their discoveries 'a great matter.' The Abbot was again questioned; and this time his answers appeared to them 'cankered and traitorous.' He was placed in charge of a guard, and sent to London to the Tower, to be examined by Cromwell himself, when it was discovered that both he and the Abbot of Reading had supplied the northern insurgents with money. The occasion of his absence was taken for the dissolution of the house; and, as the first preliminary, an inventory was made of the plate, the furniture, and the money in the treasury. Glastonbury was one of the wealthiest of the religious houses. A less experienced person than Layton would have felt some surprise when he found that neither plate, jewels, nor ornaments were forthcoming sufficient for an ordinary parish church. But deceptions of this kind were too familiar to a man who had examined half the religious houses in England. He knew immediately that the abbey treasure was either in concealment or had been secretly made away with. Foreseeing the impending destruction of this establishment, the monks had been everywhere making use of their opportunities of plunder. The altar plate, in some few instances, may have been secreted from a sentiment of piety—from a desire to preserve from sacrilege vessels consecrated to holy uses. But plunder was the rule; piety was the exception. A confession of the Abbot of Barlings contains a frank avowal of the principles on which the fraternities generally acted. This good abbot called his convent into the chapter-house, and, by his own acknowledgment, addressed them thus:—
'Brethren, ye hear how other religious men be intreated, and how they have but forty shillings a piece given them and are let go. But they that have played the wise men amongst them have provided aforehand for themselves, and sold away divers things wherewith they may help themselves hereafter. And ye hear also this rumour that goeth abroad that the greater abbeys shall down also. Wherefore, by your advice, this shall be my counsel, that we do take such plate as we have, and certain of the best vestments and copes, and set them aside, and sell them if need be, and so divide the money coming thereof when the house is suppressed. And I promise you of my faith and conscience ye shall have your part, and of every penny that I have during my life; and thereupon,' he concluded, 'the brethren agreed thereunto.'
Had there been no discovery of treason, a less severe Government than that of Henry VIII. would have refused to tolerate conduct of this kind. Those who decline to recognize the authority of an Act of Parliament over the property of corporate bodies, cannot pretend that a right of ownership was vested in persons whose tenure, at its best and surest, was limited by their lives. For members of religious houses to make away their plate was justly construed to be felony; and the law, which was necessarily general, could not recognize exceptions on the ground of piety of motive, when such an exception would but have furnished a screen behind which indiscriminate pillage might have been carried on with impunity. The visitors had been warned to be careful, and practice had made them skilful in means of detection. On the first day of the investigation at Glastonbury, 'a fair chalice of gold' came to light, 'with divers other parcels of plate;' all of which the abbot had concealed, committing perjury in doing so, on their previous visitation. The next day brought out more; and the day after more again. Gold and silver in vessels, ornaments, and money were discovered 'mured up in walls, vaults, and other secret places,' some hidden by the Abbot, some by the convent. Two monks who were treasurers, with the lay clerks of the vestry, were found to have been 'arrant thieves.' At length as much treasure of various sorts was recovered as would have begun a new abbey. The visitors did not trouble themselves to speculate on the abbot's intentions. He had not perhaps imitated the behaviour of the Abbot of Barlings; but, like the northern abbots, he had been hoarding a fund to subsidize insurrection, preserving the treasures of the temple to maintain the temple's defenders. The letter communicating these discoveries to the Government was written on the 28th of September. Another followed on the 2nd of October, stating that, since the despatch of the last, the visitors 'had come to the knowledge of divers and sundry treasons committed and done by the Abbot of Glastonbury, the certainty whereof would appear in a Book of Depositions,' which they forwarded with the accusers' names attached to their statements, 'very haut and rank treason.' The Book perhaps contained details and proofs of the connection of the Abbot with the Pilgrimage of Grace; at all events, those who desire to elevate the Abbot of Glastonbury to the rank of the martyr, confess, in doing so, their belief that he was more faithful to the Church than to the State, that he was guilty of regarding the old ways as better than the new, and that he had acted in the spirit of his belief. The Pope by his latest conduct had embittered the quarrel to the utmost. He had failed to excite a holy war against England, but three English merchants had been burnt by the Inquisition in Spain. Five more had been imprisoned and one had been tortured only for declaring that they considered Henry VIII. to be a Christian. Their properties had been confiscated, they had borne faggots and candles in a procession as san benitos, and Paul had issued a promise of indulgence to all pious Catholics who would kill an English heretic.
Six weeks elapsed before the Abbot's fate was decided, part or the whole of which time he was in London. NovemberAt the beginning of November he was sent back into Somersetshire, already condemned at a tribunal where Cromwell sat as prosecutor, jury, and judge. His escape in a more regular court was not contemplated as a possibility; among loose papers of Cromwell still remaining there is a memorandum in his own hand for 'the trial and execution' of the Abbot of Glastonbury. But the appearance of unfair dealing was greater than the reality. Lord Russell, whose stainless character was worthy of his name, was one of the commissioners before whom the trial was conducted; and Russell has left on record his approval of, and acquiescence, in the conduct of the case, in plain and unmistakeable language. Nov. 14.Whiting was arraigned at Wells on Thursday, the I4th of November, with his treasurers, 'before as worshipful a jury as was charged there for many years.' The crime of which he was formally accused was robbing the abbey church; and there was no doubt that he was guilty of having committed that crime, to whatever the guilt may have amounted. But if the Government had prosecuted in every instance of abbey-church robbery, a monk would have hung in chains at all the cross roads in England. The Abbot of Glastonbury was tried and convicted of felony; his real offence was treason, as the word was interpreted by Cromwell. He was unpopular in the county, and among his dependents. 'There were many bills,' Lord Russell said, 'put up against the Abbot, by his tenants and others, for wrongs and injuries that he had done them.' He was sentenced to death, and the day following was fixed for the execution. Nov. 15.He was taken with the two monks from Wells to Glastonbury; he was drawn through the town in the usual manner, and thence to the top of the conical hill which rises out of the level plain of Somersetshire, called Glastonbury Torre. To the last he was tormented with questions, 'but he would accuse no man but himself;' he only requested the visitors' servants who were present on the Torre to entreat their masters and Lord Russell 'to desire the King's Highness of his merciful goodness and in the way of charity to forgive him his great offences by him committed and done against his Grace.' The modern student, to whom the passions and the difficulties of the time are as a long- for gotten dream, who sees only the bleak hill-top on the dreary November day, the gallows, and an infirm old man guilty of nothing which he can understand to be a crime, shudders at the needless cruelty. Cromwell, for his share in this policy of death, was soon to receive as he had given; a few more months, and he too on Tower Hill would pass to his account.
- Royal Proclamation: Rolls House MS. A 1, 10.
- In 'Lusty Juventus' the Devil is introduced, saying—'Oh, oh! full well I know the causeThat my estimation doth thus decay:
The old people would believe still in my laws,
But the younger sort lead them a contrary way.
They will not believe, they plainly say,
In old traditions made by men;
But they will live as the Scripture teacheth them.'
Hawkins's Old Plays, vol. i. p. 152.
- 'The King intended his loving subjects to use the commodity of the reading of the Bible humbly, meekly, reverently, and obediently; and not that any of them should read the said Bible with high and loud voices in time of the celebration of the mass, and other divine services used in the Church; or that any of his lay subjects should take upon them any common disputation, argument, or exposition of the mysteries therein contained.'—Proclamation of the Use of the Bible: Burnet's Collectanea, p. 138.
In a speech to the Parliament Henry spoke also of the abuse of the Bible: 'I am very sorry to know and hear how unreverendly that most precious jewel, the Word of God, is disputed, rhymed, sung, and jangled in every alehouse and tavern. I am even as much sorry that the readers of the same follow it in doing so faintly and coldly.'—Hall, p. 866.
- The Bishop of Norwich wrote to Cromwell, informing him that he had preached a sermon upon grace and freewill in his cathedral; 'the next day,' he said, 'one Robert Watson very arrogantly and in great fume came to my lodgings for to reason with me in that matter, affirming himself not a little to be offended with mine assertion of freewill, saying he would set his foot by mine, affirming to the death that there was no such freewill in man. Notwithstanding I had plainly declared it to be of no strength, but only when holpen by the grace of God; by which his ungodly enterprise, perceived and known of many, my estimation and credence concerning the sincere preaching of the truth was like to decay.' The Bishop went on to say that he had set Watson a day to answer for 'his temeranious opinions,' and was obliged to call in a number of the neighbouring county magistrates to enable him to hold his court, 'on account of the great number which then assembled as Watson's fautors.'—The Bishop of Norwich to Cromwell: MS. State Paper Office, first series, vol. x.
- For instance, in Watson's case he seems to have rebuked the Bishop.—Ibid.
- Very many complaints of parishioners on this matter remain among the State Papers. The difficulty is to determine the proportion of offenders (if they may be called such) to the body of the spiritualty. The following petition to Cromwell, as coming from the collective incumbents of a diocese, represents most curiously the perplexity of the clergy in the interval between the alteration of the law and the inhibition of their previous indulgences. The date is probably 1536. The petition was in connection with the commission of inquiry into the general morality of the religious orders:—
'May it please your mastership, that when of late we, your poor orators the clergy of the diocese of Bangor, were visited by the King's visitors and yours, in the which visitation many of us (to knowledge the truth to your mastership) be detected of incontinency, as it appeareth by the visitors' books, and not unworthy, wherefore we humbly submit ourselves unto your mastership's mercy, heartily desiring of you remission, or at least wise of merciful punishment and correction, and also to invent after your discreet wisdom some lawful and godly way for us your aforesaid orators, that we may maintain and uphold such poor hospitalities as we have' done hitherto, most by provision of such women as we have customably kept in our houses. For in case we be compelled to put away such women, according to the injunctions lately given us by the foresaid visitors, then shall we be fain to give up hospitality, to the utter undoing of such servants and families as we daily keep, and to the great loss and harms of the King's subjects, the poor people which were by us relieved to the uttermost of our powers, and we ourselves shall be driven to seek our living at alehouses and taverns, for mansions upon the benefices and vicarages we have none. And as for gentlemen and substantial honest men, for fear of inconvenience, knowing our frailty and accustomed liberty, they will in no wise board us in their houses.'—Petition of the Clergy of Bangor to the Right Hon. Thomas Cromwell: MS. State Paper Office, second series, vol. xxxvi.
- This story rests on the evidence of eye-witnesses.—Foxe, vol. v. p. 251, &c.
- The late Parliament had become a byword among the Catholics and reactionaries. Pole speaks of the 'Conventus malignantium qui omnia illa decreta contra Ecclesiæ unitatem fecit.'—Epist. Reg. Pol., vol. ii. p. 46.
- 'For your Grace's Parliament I have appointed (for a Crown borough) your Grace's servant, Mr Morison, to be one of them. No doubt he shall be able to answer or take up such as should crack on far with of learning.'—Cromwell to Henry VIII.: State Papers, vol. i. p. 603.
- Letter to Secretary Cromwell on the Election of the Knights of the Shire for the County of Huntingdon: Rolls House MS.
- Lady Blount to the King's Secretary: Rolls House MS.
- The Earl of Southampton to Cromwell: MS. Cotton. Cleopatra, E 4.
- The two persons whom Cromwell had previously named.
- Letters of the Mayor of Canterbury to Cromwell: MS. State Paper Office, second series, vol. v.
In my first edition this affair is referred to the election of 1539. We are left often to internal evidence to fix the dates of letters, and finding the second of those written by the Mayor of Canterbury, on this subject, addressed to Cromwell as lord privy seal, I supposed that it must refer to the only election conducted by him after he was raised to that dignity. I have since ascertained that the first letter, the cover of which I did not see, is addressed to Sir Thomas Cromwell, chief secretary, &c. It bears the date of the 2Oth of May, and though the year is not given, the difference of the two styles fixes it to 1536. The election was conducted while Cromwell was a commoner. He was made a peer and privy seal immediately on the meeting of Parliament on the 2nd of July.
- Cromwell to Henry VIII.: State Papers, vol. i. p. 693.
- 'The King's Highness desiring that such a unity might be established in all things touching the doctrine of Christ's religion, as the same so being established might be to the honour of Almighty God, and consequently redound to the commonwealth of this his Highness's most noble realm, hath therefore caused his most High Court of Parliament to be at this time summoned, and also a synod and Convocation of all the archbishops, bishops, and other learned men of the clergy of this his realm to be in like manner assembled.'—31 Henry VIII. cap. 14.
- 'Post missarum solemnia, decenter ac devote celebrata, divinoque auxilio humillimi implorato et invocato.'—Lords Journals, 31 Henry VIII.
- Lords' Journals, 31 Henry VIII.
- A Device for extirpating Heresies among the People: Rolls House MS.
- 'Nothing has yet been settled respecting the marriage of the clergy, although some persons have very freely preached before the King upon the subject.'—John Butler to Conrad Pellican, March 8, 1539: Original Letters on the Reformation, second series, p. 624.
- Lady Exeter was afterwards pardoned. Lady Salisbury's offences, whatever they were, seem to have been known to the world, even before Lord Southampton's visit of inspection to Warblington. The magistrates of Stockton in Sussex sent up an account of examinations taken on the 13th of September, 1538, in which a woman is charged with having said, 'If so be that my Lady of Salisbury had been a young woman as she was an old woman, the King's Grace and his council had burnt her.'—MS. State Paper Office, second series, vol. xxxix. The Act of Attainder has not been printed (31 Henry VIII. cap. 15: Rolls House MS.); so much of it, therefore, as relates to these ladies is here inserted:—
'And where also Gertrude Courtenay, wife of the Lord Marquis of Exeter, hath traitorously, falsely, and maliciously confederated herself to and with the abominable traitor Nicholas Carew, knowing him to be a traitor and a common enemy to his Highness and the realm of England; and hath not only aided and abetted the said Nicholas Carew in his abominable treasons, but also hath herself committed and perpetrated divers and sundry detestable and abominable treasons to the fearful peril of his Highness's royal person, and the loss and desolation of this realm of England, if God of His goodness had not in due time brought the same treason to knowledge:
'And where also Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, and Hugh Vaughan, late of Bekener, in the county of Monmouth, yeoman, by instigation of the devil, putting apart the dread of Almighty God, their duty of allegiance, and the excellent benefits received of his Highness, have not only traitorously confederated themselves with the false and abominable traitors Henry Pole, Lord Montague, and Reginald Pole, sons to the said countess, knowing them to be false traitors, but also have maliciously aided, abetted, maintained, and comforted them in their said false and abominable treason, to the most fearful peril of his Highness, the commonwealth of this realm, &c., the said marchioness and the said countess be declared attainted, and shall suffer the pains and penalties of high treason.' I find no account of Vaughan, or of the countess's connection with him. He was probably one of the persons employed to carry letters to and from the cardinal.
- 'Immediate post Billæ lectionem Dominus Cromwell palam ostendit quandam tunicam ex albo serico confectam inventam inter linteamina Comitissæ Sarum, in cujus parte anteriore existebant sola arma Angliæ; in parte vero posteriore insignia illa quibus nuper rebelles in aquilonari parte Angliæ in commotione suâ utebantur.'—Lord Journals, 31 Henry VIII.
- In quoting the preambles of Acts of Parliament I do not attach to them any peculiar or exceptional authority. But they are contemporary statements of facts and intentions carefully drawn, containing an explanation of the conduct of Parliament and of the principal events of the time. The explanation may be false, but it is at least possible that it may be true; and my own conclusion is that, on the whole, the account to be gathered from this source is truer than any other at which we are likely to arrive; that the story of the Reformation as read by the light of the statute book is more intelligible and consistent than, any other version of it, doing less violence to known principles of human nature, and bringing the conduct of the principal actors within the compass of reason and probability. I have to say, further, that the more carefully the enormous mass of contemporary evidence of another kind is studied, documents, private and public letters, proclamations, council records, State trials, and other authorities, the more they will be found to yield to these preambles a steady support.
- 31 Henry VIII. cap. 8.
- The limitation which ought to have been made was in the time for which these unusual powers should be continued; the bill, however, was repealed duly in connection with the treason Acts and the other irregular measures in this reign, as soon as the crisis had passed away, or when those who were at the head of the State could no longer be trusted with dangerous weapons.—See 1 Edward VI. cap. 7. The temporary character of most of Henry's acts was felt, if it was not avowed. Sir Thomas Wyatt, in an address to the privy council, admitted to having said of the Act of Supremacy, 'that it was a goodly Act, the King's Majesty being so virtuous, so wise, so learned, and so good a prince; but if it should fall unto an evil prince it were a sore rod:' and he added, 'I suppose I have not mis-said in that; for all powers, namely absolute, are sore rods when they fall into evil men's hands.'—Oration to the Council: Nott's Wyatt, p. 304.
- The same expressions had been used of the Lollards a hundred and fifty years before. The description applied absolutely to the Anabaptists; and Oliver Cromwell had the same disposition to contend against among the Independents. The least irregular of the Protestant sects were tainted more or less with anarchical opinions.
- A considerable part of this address is in Henry's own handwriting. See Strype's Memorials, voL ii. p. 434.
- See Fuller, vol. iii. p. 411.
- 31 Henry VIII. cap. 9.
- In some instances, if not in all, this was actually the case. See the Correspondence between Cromwell and the Prior of Christ Church at Canterbury: MS. State Paper Office, second series.
- Oxford, Peterborough, Bristol, Gloucester, Chester, and Westminster.
- Canterbury, Winchester, Ely, Norwich, Worcester, Rochester, Durham, and Carlisle.
- 'Per Dominum cancellarium declaratum est quod cum non solum proceres spirituales verum etiam regia majestas ad unionem in precedentibus articulis conficiendam multipliciter studuerunt et laboraverunt ita ut nunc unio in eisdem confecto sit regia igitur voluntatis esse ut penale aliquod statutum efficeretur ad coercendum suos subditos, ne contra determinationem in eisdem articulis confectam contradicerent, aut dissentirent, verum ejus majestatem proceribus formam hujusmodi malefactorum hujusmodi committere. Itaque ex eorum communi consensu concordatum est quod Archiepiscopus Cant., Episcopus Elien., Episcopus Menevensis et Doctor Peter, unam formam cujusdam actus, concernentem Punitionem hujusmodi malefactorum dictarent et componerent similiterque quod Archiepisc. Ebor., Episc. Dunelm., Episc. Winton et Doctor Tregonwell alteram ejusmodi efFectus dictitarent et componerent formam.'—Lords Journals, 31 Henry VIII.
- Foxe's rhetoric might be suspected, but a letter of Melancthon to Henry VIII. is a more trustworthy evidence: 'Oh, cursed bishops!' he exclaims; 'oh, wicked Winchester!'—Melancthon to Henry VIII.: printed in Foxe, vol. v.
- On the 9th of June Marillac writes to Francis:—'The bishops have had a grand struggle. Part desired to maintain the mass complete, part to make a new service. The majority were with the conservatives, who have carried the day. The King, as the leader of this party, said all which ought to have been said. He maintained that the Holy Sacrament ought to be believed and adored, and to be honoured with the ceremonies observed in the Church from immemorial time. Evil speaking, therefore, against the sacrament is prohibited under pain of death; and priests, to the great displeasure of the ambassador of Saxe, are forbidden to marry—so angry was he that he went off two days since in the worst imaginable humour.'
- 'The judge shall be bouuden, if it be demanded of him, to deliver in writing to the party called before him, the copy of the matter objected, and the names and depositions of the witnesses … and in such case, as the party called answereth and denyeth that that is objected, and that no proof can be brought against him but the deposition of one witness only, then and in that case, be that witness never of so great honesty and credit, the same party so called shall be without longer delay absolved and discharged by the judge's sentence freely without further cost or molestation.'—The Six Articles Bill as drawn by the King: Wilkins's Concilia, vol. iii. p. 848.
- Act for Abolishing Diversity of Opinions: 31 Henry VIII. cap. 14.
- Printed in Strype's Cranmer, vol. ii. p. 743.
- Philip Melancthon to Henry VIII.: Foxe, vol. v. The nation generally were on the side of the King. 'The King's declaration about the sacrament has given wide pleasure and satisfaction,' says Marillac. 'The people in general are inclined to the old religion, and only a few bishops support the new opinions. These bishops are in a bad humour. They wanted leave for the clergy to take wives, and they cannot get it. They desired to make Church preferment hereditary, and to convert the benefices into family estates. The gentlemen of Germany did their best to forward the business of priests' marriages, and they are sadly disturbed at their failure.'—Marillac to the Constable, June 9, 1539: MS. Bibliot. Impér. Paris.
- Foxe, vol. v. p. 265.
- Hall's Chronicle, p. 828. Hall is a good evidence on this point. He was then a middle-aged man, resident in London, with clear eyes and a shrewd, clear head, and was relating not what others told him, but what he actually saw.
- In Latimer's case, against Henry's will, or without his knowledge. Cromwell, either himself deceived or desiring to smooth the storm, told Latimer that the King advised his resignation; 'which his Majesty after wards denied, and pitied his condition.'—State Papers, vol. i. p. 849.
- Notes of Erroneous Doctrines preached at Paul's Cross by the Vicar of Stepney: MS. Rolls House.
- Henry Dowes to Cromwell: Ellis, third series, vol. iii. p. 258.
- Richard Cromwell to Lord Cromwell: MS. State Paper Office, second series, vol. vii. p. 188.
- More's Utopia, Burnet's translation, p. 13.
- Respectable authorities, as most of my readers are doubtless aware, inform us that seventy-two thousand criminals were executed in England in the reign of Henry VIII. Historians who are accustomed to examine their materials critically, have usually learnt that no statements must be received with so much caution as those which relate to numbers. Grotius gives, in a parallel instance, the number of heretics executed under Charles V. in the Netherlands as a hundred thousand. The Prince of Orange gives them as fifty thousand. The authorities are admirable, though sufficiently inconsistent, while the judicious Mr Prescott declares both estimates alike immeasurably beyond the truth. The entire number of victims destroyed by Alva in the same provinces by the stake, by the gallows, and by wholesale massacre, amount, when counted carefully in detail, to twenty thousand only. The persecutions under Charles, in a serious form, were confined to the closing years of his reign. Can we believe that wholesale butcheries were passed by comparatively unnoticed by any one at the time of their perpetration, more than doubling the atrocities which startled subsequently the whole world? Laxity of assertion in matters of number is so habitual as to have lost the character of falsehood. Men not remarkably inaccurate will speak of thousands, and, when cross-questioned, will rapidly reduce them to hundreds, while a single cipher inserted by a printer's mistake becomes at once a tenfold exaggeration. Popular impressions on the character of the reign of Henry VIII. have, however, prevented inquiry into any statement which reflects discredit upon this; the enormity of an accusation has passed for an evidence of its truth. Notwithstanding that until the few last years of the King's life no felon who could read was within the grasp of the law, notwithstanding that sanctuaries ceased finally to protect murderers six years only before his death, and that felons of a lighter cast might use their shelter to the last,—even these considerable facts have created no misgiving, and learned and ignorant historians alike have repeated the story of the 72,000 with equal confidence.
I must be permitted to mention the evidence, the single evidence, on which it rests.
The first English witness is Harrison, the author of the Description of Britain prefixed to Hollinshed's Chronicle. Harrison, speaking of the manner in which thieves had multiplied in England from laxity of discipline, looks back with a sigh to the golden days of King Hal, and adds, 'It appeareth by Cardan, who writeth it upon report of the Bishop of Lisieux, in the geniture of King Edward the Sixth, that his father, executing his laws very severely against great thieves, petty thieves, and rogues, did hang up three-score and twelve thousand of them.'
Referring to the Commentaries of Jerome Cardan, p. 412, I find a calculation of the horoscope of Edward VI., containing, of course, the marvellous legend of his birth, and after it this passage—
'Having spoken of the son, we will add also the scheme of his father, wherein we chiefly observe three points. He married six wives; he divorced two; he put two to death. Venus being in conjunction with Cauda, Lampas partook of the nature of Mars; Luna in occiduo cardine was among the dependencies of Mars; and Mars himself was in the ill-starred constellation Virgo and in the quadrant of Jupiter Infelix. Moreover, he quarrelled with the Pope, owing to the position of Venus and to influences emanating from her. He was affected also by a constellation with schismatic properties, and by certain eclipses, and hence, and from other causes, arose a fact related to me hy the Bishop of Lisieux, namely, that two years before his death as many as seventy thousand persons were found to have perished hy the hand of the executioner in that one island during his reign.'
The words of some unknown foreign ecclesiastic discovered imbedded in the midst of this abominable nonsense, and transmitted through a brain capable of conceiving and throwing it into form, have been considered authority sufficient to cast a stigma over one of the most remarkable periods in English history, while the contemporary English Records, the actual reports of the judges on assize, which would have disposed effectually of Cardan and his bishop, have been left unstudied in their dust.
- As we saw recently in the complaints of the Marquis of Exeter. But in this general sketch I am giving the result of a body of correspondence too considerable to quote.
- In healthier times the Pope had interfered. A bull of Innocent VIII. permitted felons repeating their crimes, or fraudulent creditors, to be taken forcibly out of sanctuary.—Wilkins's Concilia, vol. iii. p. 621.
- The Magistrates of Frome to Sir Henry Long: MS. Cotton. Titus, B 1, 102. Mr Justice Fitzjames to Cromwell: MS. State Paper Office, second series, vol. xi. p. 43.
- The letter which I quote is addressed to Cromwell as 'My Lord Privy Seal,' and dated July 17. Cromwell was created privy seal on the 2nd of July, 1536, and Earl of Essex on the 17th of April, 1540. There is no other guide to the date
- The Magistrates of Chichester to my Lord Privy Seal; MS. State Paper Office, second series, vol. x.
- 23 Henry VIII. cap. 1.
- Humfrey Wingfield to my Lord Privy Seal: MS. State Paper Office, second series, vol. li.
- Richard Layton to Cromwell: MS. State Paper Office, second series, vol. xx.
- MS. State Paper Office, second series.
- Correspondence of the Warden and Council of the Welsh Marches with the Lord Privy Seal: MS. State Paper Office, second series.
- MS. Rolls House, first series, 494.
- At the execution, Latimer's chaplain, Doctor Tailor, preached a sermon. Among the notes of the proceedings I find a certain Miles Denison called up for disrespectful language.
'The said Miles did say: The Bishop sent one yesterday for to preach at the gallows, and there stood upon the vicar's colt and made a foolish sermon of the new learning, looking over the gallows. I would the colt had winced and cast him down.' 'Also during the sermon he did say, I would he were gone, and I were at my dinner.'—MS. State Paper Office.
- Sir Thomas Willoughby to Cromwell: MS. Cotton. Titus, B 1, 386.
- The Sheriff of Hampshire to Cromwell: MS. State Paper Office, first series, vol. ix.
- The traditions of severity connected with this reign are explained by these exceptional efforts of rigour. The years of license were forgotten; the seasons recurring at long intervals, when the executions might be counted by hundreds, lived in recollection, and when three or four generations had passed, became the measure of the whole period.
- 'These three abbots had joined in a conspiracy to restore the Pope.'—Traherne to Bullinger: Original Letters on the Reformation, second series, p. 316.
- 'Yesterday I was with the Abbot of Colchester, who asked me how the Abbot of St Osith did as touching his house; for the bruit was the King would have it. To the which I answered, that he did like an honest man, for he saith, I am the King's subject, and I and my house and all is the King's; wherefore, if it be the King's pleasure, I, as a true subject, shall obey without grudge. To the which the Abbot answered, the King shall never have my house but against my will and against my heart; for I know, by my learning, he cannot take it by right and law. Wherefore, in my conscience, I cannot be content; nor he shall never have it with my heart and will. To the which I said beware of such learning; for if ye hold such learning as ye learned in Oxenford when ye were young ye will be hanged; and ye are worthy. But I will advise you to conform yourself as a good subject, or else you shall hinder your brethren and also yourself.'—Sir John St Clair to the Lord Privy Seal: MS. State Paper Office, second series, vol. xxxviii. The Abbot did not take the advice, but ventured more dangerous language.
'The Abbot of Colchester did say that the northern men were good men and mokell in the mouth, and 'great crackers' and 'nothing worth in their deeds.' Further, the said Abbot said, at the time of the insurrection, 'I would to Christ that the rebels in the north had the Bishop of Canterbury, the lord chancellor, and the lord privy seal amongst them, and then I trust we should have a merry world again.'—Deposition of Edmund——: Rolls House MS. second series, No. 27.
But the Abbot must have committed himself more deeply, or have refused to retract and make a submission: for I find words of similar purport sworn against other abbots, who suffered no punishment.
- Lords Journals, 28 Henry VIII.
- 'The Abbot of Glastonbury appeareth neither then nor now to have known God nor his prince, nor any part of a good Christian man's religion. They be all false, feigned, flattering hypocrite knaves, as undoubtedly there is none other of that sort.'—Layton to Cromwell: Ellis, third series, vol. iii. p. 247.
- 'For the holy religious abbots of Reading and Glastonbury had conjured the said Cardinal Pole's elder brother, named the Marquis Montague, with the other Marquis of Exeter; and so far was the matter gone from hand to hand, that some of the King's most familiar friends, and of his Majesty's privy chamber, and of his council; were corrupted with that malicious person. Yea, and moreover, it passed conspiracy to come to effect. For part of these rebels, to the number of 800, in the second insurrection in the North, were paid with money sent them from those abbots out of the South. How say you now? Was it time, trow you, for the King to look about him?'—Pilgrim, p. 65.
- Confession of the Abbot of Barlings: MS. Cotton. Cleopatra, E 4.
- 'And for as much as experience teacheth that many of the heads of such houses, notwithstanding their oaths, taken upon the holy evangelists, to present to such the King's Majesty's commissioners as have been addressed unto them, true and perfect inventories of all things belonging to their monasteries, many things have been left out, embezzled, stolen, and purloined—many rich jewels, much rich plate, great store of precious ornaments, and sundry other things of great value and estimation, to the damage of the King's Majesty, and the great peril and danger of their own souls, by reason of their wilful and detestable perjury: the said commissioners shall not only at every such house examine the head and convent substantially, of all such things so concealed or unlawfully alienated, but also shall give charge to all the ministers and servants of the same houses, and such of the neighbours dwelling near about them as they shall think meet, to detect and open all such things as they have known or heard to have been that way misused, to the intent the truth of all things may the better appear accordingly.'—Instructions to the Monastic Commissioners: MS. Tanner, 105, Bodleian Library.
- Pollard, Moyle, and Layton to Cromwell: Burnet's Collectanea, p. 499.
- Same to the same: State Papers, vol. i. p. 619.
- State Papers, vol. i. p, 621.
- Butler, Elliot, and Traherne to Conrad Pellican: Original Letters, second series, p. 624.
- Thomas Perry to Ralph Vane: Ellis, second series, vol. ii. p. 140.
- I should have distrusted the evidence, on such a point, of excited Protestants (see Original Letters on the Reformation, p. 626), who could invent and exaggerate as well as their opponents; but the promise of these indulgences was certainly made, and Charles V. prohibited the publication of the brief containing it in Spain or Flanders. 'The Emperor,' wrote Cromwell to Henry, 'hath not consented that the Pope's mandament should be published neither in Spain, neither in any other his dominions, that Englishmen should be destroyed in body, in goods, wheresoever they could be found, as the Pope would they should be.'—State Papers, vol. i. p. 608.
- MS. Cotton.
- Lord Russell to Cromwell: MS. Cotton. Cleopatra, E 4.
- Lord Russell to Cromwell: MS. Cotton. Cleopatra, E 4.
- Pollard to Cromwell: Suppression of the Monasteries, p. 261.