History of England (Froude)/Chapter 4
CHURCH AND STATE.
THE authorities of the Church, after the lesson which they had received from the Parliament in its first session, were now allowed a respite of two years, during which they might re-consider the complaints of the people, and consult among themselves upon the conduct which they would pursue with respect to those complaints. They availed themselves of their interval of repose in a manner little calculated to recover the esteem which they had forfeited, or to induce the legislature further to stay their hand. Instead of reforming their own faults, they spent the time in making use of their yet uncur tailed powers of persecution; and they wreaked the bitterness of their resentment upon the unfortunate heretics, who paid with their blood at the stake for the diminished revenues and blighted dignities of their spiritual lords and superiors. During the later years of Wolsey's administration, the Protestants, though threatened and imprisoned, had escaped the most cruel consequences of their faith. Wolsey had been a warm-hearted and genuine man, and although he had believed as earnestly as his brother bishops, that Protestantism was a pernicious thing, destructive alike to the institutions of the country and to the souls of mankind, his memory can be reproached with nothing worse than assiduous but humane efforts for the repression of it. In the three years which followed his dismissal, a far more bloody page was written in the history of the reformers; and under the combined auspices of Sir Thomas More's fanaticism, and the spleen of the angry clergy, the stake re-commenced its hateful activity. This portion of my subject requires a full and detailed treatment; I reserve the account of it, therefore, for a separate chapter, and proceed for the present with the progress of the secular changes.
Although, as I said, no further legislative measures were immediately contemplated against the clergy, yet they were not permitted to forget the alteration in their position which had followed upon Wolsey's fall; and as they had shown, in the unfortunate document which they had submitted to the King, so great a difficulty in comprehending the nature of that alteration, it was necessary clearly and distinctly to enforce it upon them. Until that moment they had virtually held the supreme power in the State. The nobility, crippled by the wars of the Roses, had sunk into the second place; the Commons were disorganized, or incapable of a definite policy and the chief offices of the Government had fallen as a matter of course to the only persons who for the moment were competent to hold them. The jealousy of ecclesiastical encroachments, which had shown itself so bitterly under the Plantagenets, had been superseded from the accession of Henry VII. by a policy of studied conciliation, and the position of Wolsey had but symbolized the position of his order. But Wolsey was now gone, and the ecclesiastics who had shared his greatness while they envied it, were compelled to participate also in his change of fortune.
This great minister, after the failure of a discreditable effort to fasten upon him a charge of high treason,—a charge which, vindictively pressed through the House of Lords, was wisely rejected by the Commons,—had been prosecuted with greater justice for a breach of the law, in having exercised the authority of papal legate within the realm of England. His policy had broken down: he had united against him in a common exasperation all orders in the State, secular and spiritual; and the possible consequences of his adventurous transgression had fallen upon him. The Parliaments of Edward I., Edward III., Richard II., and Henry IV. had by a series of statutes pronounced illegal all presentations by the Pope to any office or dignity in the Anglican Church, under penalty of a premunire; the provisions of these Acts extending not only to the persons themselves who accepted office under such conditions, but comprehending equally whoever acknowledged their authority, 'their executors, procurators, fautors, maintainers, and receivers.' The importance attached to these laws was to be seen readily in the frequent re-enactment of them, with, language of increasing vehemence; and although the primary object was to neutralize the supposed right of the Pope to present to English benefices, and although the office of Papal legate is not especially named in any one of the prohibitory clauses, yet so acute a canonist as Wolsey could not have been ignorant that it was comprehended under the general denunciation. The 5th of the 16th of Richard II. was in fact explicitly universal in its language, and dwelt especially on the importance of prohibiting the exercise of any species of jurisdiction which could encroach on the royal authority. He had therefore consciously violated a law on his own responsibility, which he knew to exist, but which he perhaps trusted had fallen into desuetude, and would not again be revived. It cannot be denied that in doing so, being at the time the highest law officer of the realm, he had committed a grave offence, and was justly liable to the full penalties of the broken statute. He had received the royal permission, but it was a plea which could not have availed him, and he did not attempt to urge it. The contingency of a possible violation of the law by the King himself had been expressly foreseen and provided against in the Act under which he was prosecuted, and being himself the King's legal adviser, it was his duty to have kept his sovereign informed of the true nature of the statute. He had neglected this, his immediate obligation, in pursuit of the interests of the Church, and Henry, when his eyes were opened, did not consider himself called upon to interfere to shield his minister from the penalties which he had incurred, nor is it likely that in the face of the irritation of the country he could have done so if he had desired. It was felt, indeed, that the long services of Wolsey, and his generally admirable administration, might fairly save him (especially under the circumstances of the case) from extremity of punishment; and if he had been allowed to remain unmolested in the affluent retirement which was at first conceded to him, his treatment would not have caused the stain which we have now to lament on the conduct of the administration which succeeded his fall. He indeed himself believed that the final attack upon him was due to no influence of rival statesmen, but to the hatred of Anne Boleyn; and perhaps he was not mistaken. This, however, is a matter which does not concern us here, and I need not pursue it. It is enough that he had violated the law of England, openly and knowingly, and on the revival of the national policy by which that law had been enacted, he reaped the consequences in his own person.
It will be a question whether we can equally approve of the enlarged application of the statute which immediately followed. The guilt of Wolsey did not rest with himself; it extended to all who had recognized him in his capacity of legate; to the archbishops and bishops, to the two Houses of Convocation, to the Privy Council, to the Lords and Commons, and indirectly to the nation itself. It was obvious that such a state of things was not contemplated by the Act under which he was tried, and where in point of law all persons were equally guilty, in equity they were equally innocent; the circumstances of the case, therefore, rendered necessary a general pardon, which was immediately drawn out. The Government, however, while granting absolution to the nation, determined to make some exceptions in their lenity; and harsh as their resolution appeared, it is not difficult to conjecture the reasons which induced them to form it. The higher clergy had been encouraged by Wolsey's position to commit those excessive acts of despotism which had created so deep animosity among the people. The overthrow of the last ecclesiastical minister was an opportunity to teach them that the privileges which they had abused were at an end; and as the lesson was so difficult for them to learn, the letter of the law which they had broken was put in force to quicken their perceptions. They were to be punished indirectly for their other evil doings, and forced to surrender some portion of the unnumbered exactions which they had extorted from the helplessness of their flocks.
December.In pursuance of this resolution, therefore, official notice was issued in December, 1530, that the clergy lay all under a premunire, and that the Crown intended to prosecute. Convocation was to meet in the middle of January, and this comforting fact was communicated to the bishops in order to divert their attention to subjects which might profitably occupy their deliberations. The Church legislature had sat in the preceding year contemporaneously with the sitting of Parliament, at the time when their privileges were being discussed, and when their conduct had been so angrily challenged: but these matters had not disturbed their placid equanimity: and while the bishops were composing their answer to the House of Commons, Convocation had been engaged in debating the most promising means of persecuting heretics and preventing the circulation of the Bible. The session had continued into the spring of 1529–30, when the King had been prevailed upon to grant an order in council prohibiting Tyndale's Testament, in the preface of which the clergy were spoken of disrespectfully. His consent had been obtained with great difficulty, on the representation of the bishops that the translation was faulty, and on their undertaking themselves to supply the place of it with a corrected version. But in obtaining the order, they supposed themselves to have gained a victory; and their triumph was celebrated in St Paul's Churchyard with an auto da fé, over which the Bishop of London consented to preside; when such New Testaments as the diligence of the apparitors could discover, were solemnly burned.
From occupation such as this a not unwholesome distraction was furnished by the intimation of the premunire; and that it might produce its due effect, it was accompanied with the further information that the clergy of the province of Canterbury would receive their pardon only upon payment of a hundred thousand pounds—a very considerable fine, amounting to more than a million of our money. Eighteen thousand pounds was required simultaneously from the province of York; and the whole sum was to be paid in instalments spread over a period of five years. The demand was serious, but the clergy had no alternative but to submit or to risk the chances of the law; and feeling that, with the people so unfavourably disposed towards them, they had no chance of a more equitable construction of their position, they consented with a tolerable grace, the Upper House of Convocation first, the Lower following. Their debates upon the subject have not been preserved. It was probably difficult to persuade them that they were treated with anything but the most exquisite injustice; since Wolsey's legatine faculties had been the object of their general dread; and if he had remained in power, the religious orders would have been exposed to a searching visitation in virtue of these faculties, from which they could have promised themselves but little advantage. But their punishment, if tyrannical in form, was equitable in substance, and we can reconcile ourselves without difficulty to an act of judicial confiscation.
The money, however, was not the only concession which the threat of the premunire gave opportunity to extort; and it is creditable to the clergy that the demand which they showed most desire to resist was not that which most touched their personal interests. In the preamble of the subsidy bill, under which they were to levy their ransom, they were required by the council to designate the King by the famous title which gave occasion for such momentous consequences, of 'Protector and only Supreme Head of the Church and Clergy of England.' February.It is not very easy to see what Henry proposed to himself by requiring this designation, at so early a stage in the movement. The breach with the Pope was still distant, and he was prepared to make many sacrifices before he would even seriously contemplate a step which he so little desired. It may have been designed as a reply to the Papal censures: it may have been to give effect to his own menaces, which Clement to the last believed to be no more than words; or perhaps (and this is the most likely) he desired by some emphatic act, to make his clergy understand the relation in which thenceforward they were to be placed towards the temporal authority. It is certain only that this title was not intended to imply what it implied when, four years later, it was conferred by Act of Parliament, and when virtually England was severed by it from the Roman communion.
But whatever may have been the King's motive, he was serious in requiring that the title should be granted io him. Only by acknowledging Henry as Head of the Church should the clergy receive their pardon, and the longer they hesitated, the more peremptorily he insisted on their obedience. The clergy had defied the lion, and the lion held them in his grasp; and they could but struggle helplessly, supplicate and submit. Archbishop Warham, just drawing his life to a close, presided for the last time in the miserable scene, imagining that the clouds were gathering for the storms of the latter day, and that Antichrist was coming in his power.
There had been a debate of three days, whether they should or should not consent, when, on the 9th of Feb. 9.February, a deputation of the judges appeared in Convocation, to ask whether the Houses were agreed, and to inform, them finally that the King had determined to allow no qualifications. The clergy begged for one more day, and the following morning the bishops held a private meeting among themselves, to discuss some plan to turn aside the blow. They desired to see Cromwell, to learn, perhaps, if there was a chance of melting the hard heart of Henry; and after an interview with the minister which could not have been encouraging, they sent two of their number, the Bishops of Exeter and Lincoln, to attempt the unpromising task. It was in vain; the miserable old men were obliged to return with the answer that the King would not see them—they had seen only the judges, who had assured them, in simple language, that the pardon was not to be settled until the supremacy was admitted. The answer was communicated to the House, and again 'debated.' Submission was against the consciences of the unhappy clergy; to obey their consciences involved forfeiture of property; and naturally in such a dilemma they found resolution difficult. They attempted another appeal, suggesting that eight of their number should hold a conference with the privy council, and 'discover, if they might, some possible expedient.' But Henry replied, as before, that he would have a clear answer, 'yes, or no.' They might say, 'yes,' and their pardon was ready. They might say 'no'—and accept the premunire and its penalties. And now, what should the clergy have done? No very great courage was required to answer, 'This thing is wrong; it is against God's will, and therefore it must not be, whether premunire come or do not come.' They might have said it, and if they could have dared this little act of courage, victory was in their hands. With the cause against them so doubtful, their very attitude would have commanded back the sympathies of half the nation, and the King's threats would have exploded as an empty sound. But Henry knew the persons with whom he had to deal—forlorn shadows, decked in the trappings of dignity—who only by some such rough method could be brought to a knowledge of themselves. 'Shrink to the clergy'—I find in a State paper of the time—'Shrink to the clergy, and they be lions; lay their faults roundly and charitably to them, and they be as sheep, and will lightly be reformed, for their consciences will not suffer them to resist.'
They hesitated for another night. Feb. 10.The day following, the Archbishop submitted the clause containing the title to the Upper House, with a saving paragraph, which, as Burnet sententiously observes, the nature of things did require to be supposed. 'Ecclesiæ et cleri Anglicani,' so it ran, 'singularem protectorem, et unicum et supremum Dominum, et quantum per legem Christi licet, etiam supremum caput ipsius Majestatem agnoscimus—We recognize the King's Majesty to be our only sovereign lord, the singular protector of the Church and clergy of England, and as far as is allowed by the law of Christ, also as our Supreme Head.' The words were read aloud by the Archbishop, and were received in silence. 'Do you assent?' he asked. The House remained speechless. 'Whoever is silent seems to consent,' the Archbishop said. A voice answered out of the crowd, 'Then are we all silent.' They separated for a few hours to collect themselves. In the afternoon sitting they discussed the sufficiency of the subterfuge; and at length agreeing that it saved their consciences, the clause was finally passed, the Bishop of Rochester among the rest, giving his unwilling acquiescence.
So for the present terminated this grave matter. The pardon was immediately submitted to Parliament, where it was embodied in a statute; and this act of dubious justice accomplished, the Convocation was allowed to return to its usual occupations, and continue the prosecutions of the heretics.
The House of Commons, during their second session, had confined themselves meanwhile to secular business. They had been concerned chiefly with regulations affecting trade and labour; and the proceedings on the premunire being thought for the time to press sufficiently on the clergy, they deferred the further prosecution of their own complaints till the following year. Two measures, however, highly characteristic of the age, must not be passed over, one of which concerned a matter that must have added heavily to the troubles of the Bishop of Rochester at a time when he was in no need of any addition to his burdens.
Fisher was the only one among the prelates for whom it is possible to feel respect. He was weak, superstitious, pedantical; towards the Protestants he was even cruel; but he was a singlehearted man, who lived in honest fear of evil, so far as he understood what evil was; and he alone could rise above the menaces of worldly suffering, under which his brethren on the bench sank so Feb. 18.rapidly into meekness and submission. We can therefore afford to compassionate him in the unexpected calamity by which he was overtaken, and which must have tried his failing spirit in no common manner.
He lived, while his duties required his presence in London, at a house in Lambeth, and being a hospitable person, he opened his doors at the dinner hour for the poor of the neighbourhood. Shortly after the matter which I have just related, many of these people who were dependent on his bounty were reported to have become alarmingly ill, and several gentlemen of the household sickened also in the same sudden and startling manner. One of these gentlemen died, and a poor woman also died; and it was discovered on inquiry that the yeast which had been used in various dishes had been poisoned. The guilty person was the cook, a certain Richard Rouse; and inasmuch as all crimes might be presumed to have had motives, and the motive in the present instance was undiscoverable, it was conjectured by Queen Catherine's friends that he had been bribed by Anne Boleyn, or by some one of her party, to remove out of the way the most influential of the English opponents of the divorce. The story was possibly without foundation, although it is not unlikely that Fisher himself believed it. The shock of such an occurrence may well have unsettled his powers of reasoning, and at all times he was a person whose better judgment was easily harassed into incapacity. The origin of the crime, however, is of less importance than the effect of the discovery upon the nation, in whom horror of the action itself absorbed every other feeling. Murder of this kind was new in England. Ready as the people ever were with sword or lance—incurably given as they were to fighting in the best ordered times—an Englishman was accustomed to face his enemy, man to man, in the open day; and the Italian crime (as it was called) of poisoning had not till recent years been heard of. Even revenge and passion recognized their own laws of honour and fair play; and the cowardly ferocity which would work its vengeance in the dark, and practise destruction by wholesale to implicate one hated person in the catastrophe, was a new feature of criminality. Occurring in a time so excited, when all minds were on the stretch, and imaginations were feverish with fancies, it appeared like a frightful portent, some prodigy of nature, or enormous new birth of wickedness, not to be received or passed by as a common incident, and not to be dealt with by the process of ordinary law. Parliament undertook the investigation, making it the occasion, when the evidence was completed, of a special statute, so remarkable that I quote it in its detail and wording. The English were a stern people—a people knowing little of compassion where no lawful ground existed for it; but they were possessed of an awful and solemn horror of evil things,—a feeling which, in proportion as it exists, inevitably and necessarily issues in tempers of iron. The stern man is ever the most tender when good remains amidst evil, and is still contending with it; but we purchase compassion for utter wickedness only by doubting in our hearts whether wickedness is more than misfortune.
'The King's royal Majesty,' says the 9th of the 22nd of Henry VIII., 'calling to his most blessed remembrance that the making of good and wholesome laws, and due execution of the same against the offenders thereof, is the only cause that good obedience and order hath been preserved in this realm; and his Highness having most tender zeal for the same, considering that man's life above all things is chiefly to be favoured, and voluntary murders most highly to be detested and abhorred; and specially all kinds of murders by poisoning, which, in this realm hitherto, our Lord be thanked, hath been most rare and seldom committed or practised: and now, in the time of this present Parliament, that is to say, on the eighteenth day of February, in the twenty-second year of his most victorious reign, one Richard Rouse, late of Rochester, in the county of Kent, cook, otherwise called Richard Cook, of his most wicked and damnable disposition, did cast a certain venom or poison into a vessel replenished with yeast or barm, standing in the kitchen of the reverend father in God, John Bishop of Rochester, at his place in Lambeth Marsh; with which yeast or barm, and other things convenient, porridge or gruel was forthwith made for his family there being; whereby not only the number of seventeen persons of his said family, which did eat of that porridge, were mortally infected or poisoned, and one of them, that is to say, Bennet Curwan, gentleman, is thereof deceased; but also certain poor people which resorted to the said bishop's place, and were there charitably fed with the remains of the said porridge and other victuals, were in like wise infected; and one poor woman of them, that is to say, Alice Tryppitt, widow, is also thereof now deceased: Our said sovereign lord the King, of his blessed disposition inwardly abhorring all such abominable offences, because that in manner no person can live in surety out of danger of death by that means, if practices thereof should not be eschewed, hath ordained and enacted by authority of this present Parliament, that the said poisoning be adjudged and deemed as high treason; and that the said Richard, for the said murder and poisoning of the said two persons, shall stand and be attainted of high treason.
'And because that detestable offence, now newly practised and committed, requireth condign punishment for the same, it is ordained and enacted by authority of this present Parliament, that the said Richard Rouse shall be therefore boiled to death, without having any advantage of his clergy; and that from henceforth every wilful murder of any person or persons hereafter to be committed or done by means or way of poisoning, shall be reputed, deemed, and judged in the law to be high treason; and that all and every person or persons which shall hereafter be indicted and condemned by order of the law of such treason, shall not be admitted to the benefit of his or their clergy, but shall be immediately after such attainder or condemnation, committed to execution of death by boiling for the same.'
The sentence was carried into effect in Smithfield, 'on the tenebra Wednesday following, to the terrible example of all others.' The spectacle of a living human being boiled to death, was really witnessed three hundred years ago by the London citizens, within the walls of that old cattle-market; an example terrible indeed, the significance of which is not easily to be exhausted. For the poisoners of the soul there was the stake, for the poisoners of the body, the boiling cauldron,—the two most fearful punishments for the most fearful of crimes. The stake at which the heretic suffered was an inherited institution descending through the usage of centuries; the poisoner's cauldron was the fresh expression of the judgment of the English nation on a novel enormity; March.and I have called attention to it because the temper which this Act exhibits is the key to all which has seemed most dark and cruel in the rough years which followed; a temper which would keep no terms with evil, or with anything which, rightly or wrongly, was believed to be evil, but dreadfully and inexorably hurried out the penalties of it.
Following the statute against poisoning, there stands 'an Act for the banishment out of the country of divers outlandish and vagabond people called Egyptians;' and attached to it another of analogous import, 'for the repression of beggars and vagabonds,' the number of whom, it was alleged, was increasing greatly throughout the country, and much crime and other inconveniences were said to have been occasioned by them. We may regard these two measures, if we please, as a result of the energetic and reforming spirit in the Parliament, which was dragging into prominence all forms of existing disorders, and devising remedies for those disorders. But they indicate something more than this: they point to the growth of a disturbed and restless disposition, the interruption of industry, and other symptoms of approaching social confusion; and at the same time they show us the Government conscious of the momentous nature of the struggle into which it was launched; and with timely energy bracing up the sinews of the nation for its approaching trial. The Act against the gipsies, especially, illustrates one of the most remarkable features of the times. The air was impregnated with superstition; in a half-consciousness of the impending changes, all men were listening with wide ears to rumours and prophecies and fantastic foreshadowings of the future; and fanaticism, half deceiving and half itself deceived, was grasping the lever of the popular excitement to work out its own ends. The power which had ruled the hearts of mankind for ten centuries was shaking suddenly to its foundation. The Infallible guidance of the Church was failing; its light gone out, or pronounced to be but a mere deceitful ignis fatuus; and men found themselves wandering in darkness, unknowing where to turn or what to think or believe. It was easy to clamour against the spiritual courts. From men smarting under the barefaced oppression of that iniquitous jurisdiction, the immediate outcry rose without ulterior thought; but unexpectedly the frail edifice of the Church itself threatened under the attack to crumble into ruins; and many gentle hearts began to tremble and recoil when they saw what was likely to follow on their light beginnings. It was true that the measures as yet taken by the Parliament and the Crown professed to be directed, not to the overthrow of the Church, but to the re-establishment of its strength. But the exulting triumph of the Protestants, the promotion of Latimer to a royal chaplaincy, the quarrel with the Papacy, and a dim but sure perception of the direction in which the stream was flowing, foretold to earnest Catholics a widely different issue; and the simplest of them knew better than the Court knew, that they were drifting from the sure moorings of the faith into the broad ocean of uncertainty. There seems, indeed, to be in religious men, whatever be their creed, and however limited their intellectual power, a prophetic faculty of insight into the true bearings of outward things,—an insight which puts to shame the sagacity of statesmen, and claims for the sons of God, and only for them, the wisdom even of the world. Those only read the world's future truly who have faith in principle, as opposed to faith in human dexterity; who feel that in human things there lies really and truly a spiritual nature, a spiritual connection, a spiritual tendency, which the wisdom of the serpent cannot alter, and scarcely can affect.
Excitement, nevertheless, is no guarantee for the understanding; and these instincts, powerful as they are, may be found often in minds wild and chaotic, which, although they vaguely foresee the future, yet have no power of sound judgment, and know not what they foresee, or how wisely to estimate it. Their wisdom, if we may so use the word, combines crudely with any form of superstition or fanaticism. Thus in England, at the time of which we are speaking, Catholics and Protestants had alike their horoscope of the impending changes, each nearer to the truth than the methodical calculations of the statesmen; yet their foresight did not affect their convictions, or alter the temper of their hearts. They foresaw the same catastrophe, yet their faith still coloured the character of it. To the one it was the advent of Antichrist, to the other the inauguration of the millennium. The truest-hearted men on all sides were deserted by their understandings at the moment when their understandings were the most deeply needed: and they saw the realities which were round them transfigured into phantoms through the mists of their hopes and fears. The present was significant only as it seemed in labour with some gigantic issue, and the events of the outer world flew from lip to lip, taking as they passed every shape most wild and fantastical. Until 'the King's matter' was decided, there was no censorship upon speech, and all tongues ran freely on the great subjects of the day. Every parish pulpit rang with the divorce, or with the perils of the Catholic faith; at every village ale-house, the talk was of St Peter's keys, the sacrament, or of the Pope's supremacy, or of the points in which a priest differed from a layman. Ostlers quarrelled over such questions as they groomed their masters' horses; old women mourned across the village shopboards of the evil days which were come or coming; while every kind of strangest superstition, fairy stories and witch stories, stories of saints and stories of devils, were woven in and out and to and fro, like quaint, bewildering arabesques, in the tissue of the general imagination.
These were the forces which were working on the surface of the English mind; while underneath, availing themselves skilfully of the excitement, the agents of the disaffected among the clergy, or the friars mendicant, who to a man were devoted to the Pope and to Queen Catherine, passed up and down the country, denouncing the divorce, foretelling ruin, disaster, and the wrath of God; and mingling with their prophecies more than dubious language on the near destruction or deposition of a prince who was opposing God and Heaven. The soil was manured by treason, and the sowers made haste to use their opportunity. Thus especially was there danger in those wandering encampments of 'outlandish people,' whose habits rendered them the ready-made missionaries of sedition; whose swarthy features might hide a Spanish heart, and who in telling fortunes might readily dictate policy. Under the disguise of gipsies, the emissaries of the Emperor or the Pope might pass unsuspected from the Land's End to Berwick-upon-Tweed, penetrating the secrets of families, tying the links of the Catholic organization: and in the later years of the struggle, as the intrigues became more determined and a closer connection was established between the Continental powers and the disaffected English, it became necessary to increase the penalty against these irregular wanderers from, banishment to death. As yet, however, the milder punishment was held sufficient, and even this was imperfectly enforced. The tendencies to treason were still incipient—they were tendencies only, which, had as yet shown themselves in no decisive acts; the future was uncertain, the action of the Government doubtful. The aim was rather to calm down the excitement of the people, and to extinguish with as little violence as possible the means by which it was fed.
Ominous symptoms of eccentric agitation, however, began to take shape in the confusion. A preacher, calling himself the favourite of the Yirgin Mary, had started up at Edinburgh, professing miraculous powers of abstinence from food. This man was sent by James V. to Rome, where, after having been examined by Clement, and having sufficiently proved his mission, he was furnished with a priest's habit and a certificate under leaden seal. Thus equipped he went a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and loaded himself with palm-leaves and with stones from the pillar at which Christ was scourged; and from thence making his way to England, he appeared at Paul's Cross an evident saint and apostle, cursing the King and his divorce, denouncing his apostasy, and threatening the anger of Heaven. He was arrested and thrown into prison, where he remained, as it was believed, fifty days without food, or fed in secret by the Virgin. At the close of the time the Government thought it prudent to send him back to Scotland,, without further punishment.
Another more famous prophetess was then in the zenith of her reputation—the celebrated Nun of Kent—whose cell at Canterbury, for some three years, was the Delphic shrine of the Catholic oracle, from which the orders of Heaven were communicated even to the Pope himself. This singular woman seems for a time to have held in her hand the balance of the fortunes of England. By the Papal party she was universally believed to be inspired. Wolsey believed it, Warham believed it, the bishops believed it, Queen Catherine believed it, Sir Thomas More's philosophy was no protection to him against the same delusion; and finally, she herself believed the world, when she found the world believed in her. Her story is a psychological curiosity; and, interwoven as it was with the underplots of the time, we cannot observe it too accurately.
In the year 1525, there lived in the parish of Aldington, in Kent, a certain Thomas Cobb, bailiff or steward to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who possessed an estate there. Among the servants of this Thomas Cobb was a country girl called Elizabeth Barton—a decent person, so far as we can learn, but of mere ordinary character, and until that year having shown nothing unusual in her temperament. She was then attacked, however, by some internal disease; and after many months of suffering, she was reduced into that abnormal and singular condition, in which she exhibited the phenomena known to modern wonder-seekers as those of somnambulism or clairvoyance. The scientific value of such phenomena is still undetermined, but that they are not purely imaginary is generally agreed. In the histories of all countries and of all times, we are familial with accounts of young women of bad health and irritable nerves, who have exhibited at recurring periods certain unusual powers; and these exhibitions have had especial attraction for superstitious persons, whether they have believed in God, or in the devil, or in neither. A further feature also uniform in such cases, has been that a small element of truth may furnish a substructure for a considerable edifice of falsehood; human credulity being always an insatiable faculty, and its powers being unlimited when once the path of ordinary experience has been transcended. We have seen in our own time to what excesses occurrences of this kind may tempt the belief, even when defended with the armour of science. In the sixteenth century, when demoniacal possession was the explanation usually received even of ordinary insanity, we can well believe that the temptation must have been great to recognize supernatural agency in a manifestation far more uncommon; and that the difficulty of retaining the judgment in a position of equipoise must have been very great not only to the spectators but still more to the subject of the phenomenon herself. To sustain ourselves continuously under the influence of reason, even when our faculties are preserved in their natural balance, is a task too hard for most of us. We cannot easily make too great allowance for the moral derangement likely to follow, when a weak girl suddenly found herself possessed of powers which she was unable to understand. Bearing this in mind, for it is only just that we should do so, we continue the story.
This Elizabeth Barton, then, 'in the trances, of which she had divers and many, consequent upon her illness, told wondrously things done and said in other places whereat she was neither herself present, nor yet had heard no report thereof.' To simple-minded people who believed in Romanism and the legends of the saints, the natural explanation of such a marvel was, that she must be possessed either by the Holy Ghost or by the devil. The Archbishop's bailiff, not feeling himself able to decide in a case of so much gravity, called in the advice of the parish priest, one Richard Masters; and together they observed carefully all that fell from her. The girl had been well disposed, as the priest probably knew. She had been brought up religiously; and her mind running upon what was most familiar to it, 'she spake words of marvellous holyness in rebuke of sin and vice;' or, as another account says, 'she spake very godly certain things concerning the seven deadly sins and the Ten Commandments.' This seemed satisfactory as to the source of the inspiration. It was clearly not a devil that spoke words against sin, and therefore, as there was no second alternative, it was plain that God had visited her. Her powers were assuredly from heaven; and it was plain, also, by a natural sequence of reasoning, that she held some divine commission, of which her clairvoyance was the miracle in attestation.
An occurrence of such moment was not to be kept concealed in the parish of Aldington. The priest mounted his horse, and rode to Lambeth with the news to the Archbishop of Canterbury; and the story having lost nothing of its marvel by the way, the Archbishop, who was fast sinking into dotage, instead of ordering a careful inquiry, and appointing some competent person to conduct it, listened with greedy interest; he assured Father Richard that 'the speeches which she had spoken came of God; and bidding him keep him diligent account of all her utterances, directed him to inform her in his name that she was not to refuse or hide the goodness and works of God.' Cobb, the bailiff, being encouraged by such high authority, would not keep any longer in his kitchen a prophetess with the Archbishop's imprimatur upon her; and as soon as the girl was sufficiently recovered from her illness to leave her bed, he caused her to sit at his own mess with his mistress and the parson. The story spread rapidly through the country; inquisitive foolish people came about her to try her skill with questions; and her illness, as she subsequently confessed, having then left her, and as only her reputation was remaining, she bethought herself whether it might not be possible to preserve it a little longer. 'Perceiving herself to be much made of, to be magnified and much set by, by reason of trifling words spoken unadvisedly by idleness of her brain, she conceived in her mind that having so good success, and furthermore from so small an occasion and nothing to be esteemed, she might adventure further to enterprise and essay what she could do, being in good advisement and remembrance.' Her fits no longer recurred naturally, but she was able to reproduce either the reality or the appearance of them; and she continued to improvise her oracles with such ability as she could command, and with tolerable success.
In this undertaking she was speedily provided with an efficient coadjutor. The Catholic Church had for some time been unproductive of miracles, and as heresy was raising its head and attracting converts, so opportune an occurrence was not to be allowed to sleep. The Archbishop sent his comptroller to the Prior of Christ Church at Canterbury, with directions that two monks whom he especially named, Doctor Bocking, the cellarer, and Dan William Hadley, should go to Aldington to observe. At first, not knowing what was before them, both prior and monks were unwilling to meddle with the matter. They submitted, however, 'from the obedience which they owed unto their lord;' and they had soon reason to approve the correctness of the Archbishop's judgment. Booking, selected no doubt from previous knowledge of his qualities, was a man devoted to his order, and not over- scrupulous as to the means by which he furthered the interests of it. With instinctive perception he discovered material in Elizabeth Barton too rich to be permitted to waste itself in a country village. Perhaps he partially himself believed in her, but he was more anxious to ensure the belief of others, and he therefore set himself to assist her inspiration towards more effective utterance. Conversing with her in her intervals of quiet, he discovered that she was wholly ignorant, and unprovided with any stock of mental or imaginative furniture; and that consequently her prophecies were without body, and too indefinite to be theologically available. This defect he remedied by instructing her in the Catholic legends, and by acquainting her with the revelations of St Brigitt and St Catherine of Sienna. In these women she found an enlarged reflection of herself; the details of their visions enriched her imagery; and being provided with these fair examples, she was able to shape herself into fuller resemblance with the traditionary model of the saints.
As she became more proficient, Father Booking extended his lessons to the Protestant controversy, initiating his pupil into the mysteries of justification, sacramental grace, and the power of the keys. The ready damsel redelivered his instructions to the world in her moments of possession; and the world discovered a fresh miracle in the inspired wisdom of the untaught peasant. Lists of these pregnant sayings were forwarded regularly to the Archbishop, which still possibly lie mouldering in the Lambeth library, to be discovered by curious antiquaries. It is idle to inquire how far she was yet conscious of her falsehood. Conscious wilful deception lies far down the road in a course of this kind; and supported by the assurance of an archbishop, she was in all likelihood deep in lying before she actually knew it. Fanaticism and deceit are strangely near relations to each other, and the deceiver is often the person first deceived, and the last who is aware of the imposture.
The instructions of the Father had made her acquainted with many stories of miraculous cures. The Catholic saints followed the type of the apostles, and to heal diseases by supernatural means was a more orthodox form of credential than clairvoyance or second sight. Being now cured of her real disorder, yet able to counterfeit the appearance of it, she could find no difficulty in arranging in her own case a miracle of the established kind, and so striking an incident would answer a further end. In the parish was a chapel of the Virgin, which was a place of pilgrimage; the pilgrims added something to the income of the priest; and if, by a fresh demonstration of the Virgin's presence at the favoured spot, the number of these pilgrims could be increased, they would add more. For both reasons, therefore, the miracle was desired; and the priest and the monk were agreed that any means were justifiable which would encourage the devotion of the people. Accordingly, the girl announced, in one of her trances, that 'she would never take health of her body till such time as she had visited the image of our Lady' in that chapel. The Virgin had herself appeared to her, she said, and had fixed a day for her appearance there, and had promised that on her obedience she would present herself in person and take away her disorder. The day came; and as (under the circumstances) there was no danger of failure, the holy fathers had collected a vast concourse of people to witness the marvel. The girl was conducted to the chapel by a procession of more than two thousand persons, headed by the monk, the clergyman, and many other religious persons, the whole multitude 'singing the litany and saying divers psalms and orations by the way.'
'And when she was brought thither and laid before the image of our Lady, her face was wonderfully disfigured, her tongue hanging out, and her eyes being in a manner plucked out and laid upon her cheeks, and so greatly deformed. There was then heard a voice speaking within her belly, as it had been in a tonne, her lips not greatly moving: she all that while continuing by the space of three hours or more in a trance. The which voice, when it told of anything of the joys of heaven, spake so sweetly and so heavenly, that every man was ravished with the hearing thereof; and contrarywise, when it told anything of hell, it spake so horribly and terribly, that it put the hearers in a great fear. It spake also many things for the confirmation of pilgrimages and trentals, hearing of masses and confession, and many other such things. And after she had lyen there a long time, she came to herself again, and was perfectly whole. So this miracle was finished and solemnly sung; and a book was written of all the whole story thereof, and put into print; which ever since that time was commonly sold, and went abroad among the people.'
The miracle successfully accomplished, the residence at Aldington was no longer adapted for an acknowledged and favoured saint. The Virgin, informed her that she was to leave the bailiff and devote herself to her exclusive service. She was to be Sister Elizabeth, and her especial favourite; and Father Bocking was to be her spiritual father. The Priory of St Sepulchre's, Canterbury, was chosen for the place of her profession; and as soon as she was established in her cell, she became a recognized priestess or prophetess, alternately communicating revelations, or indulging the curiosity of foolish persons, and for both services consenting to be paid. The Church had by this time spread her reputation through England. The book of her oracles, which extended soon to a considerable volume, was shown by Archbishop Warham to the King, who sent it to Sir Thomas More, desiring him to look at it. More's good sense had not yet forsaken him; he pronounced it 'a right poor production, such as any simple woman might speak of her own wit;' and Henry himself 'esteemed the matter as light as it afterwards proved lewd.' But the world were less critical censors: the saintly halo was round her head, and her most trivial words caught the reflection of the glory, and seemed divine. 'Divers and many, as well great men of the realm as mean men, and many learned men, but specially many religious men, had great confidence in her, and often resorted to her.' They 'consulted her much as to the will of God touching the heresies and schisms in the realm;' and when the dispute arose between the bishops and the House of Commons, they asked her what judgment there was in heaven 'on the taking away the liberties of the Church;' to which questions her answers, being dictated by her confessor, were all which the most eager Churchman could desire. Her position becoming more and more determined, the eccentric periods of her earlier visions subsided into regularity. Once a fortnight she was taken up into heaven into the presence of God and the saints, with heavenly lights, heavenly voices, heavenly melodies and joys. The place of ascent was usually the priory chapel, to which it was essential, therefore, that she should have continual access: and she was allowed, in consequence, to pass the dormitory door when she pleased—a privilege of which the Statute uncharitably hints that she availed herself for a less respectable purpose. But whatever was her secret conduct, her outward behaviour was in full keeping with her language and profession. She related many startling stories, not always of the most decent kind, of the attempts which the devil made to lead her astray. The devil and the angels were in fact alternate visitors to her cell, and the former, on one occasion, burnt a mark upon her hand, which she exhibited publicly, and to which the monks were in the habit of appealing, when there were any signs of scepticism in the visitors to the priory. On the occasion of these infernal visits, 'great stinking smokes' were seen to issue from her chamber, 'savouring grievously through all the dorture; ' with which, however, it was suspected subsequently that a paper of brimstone and assafœtida, found among her property after her arrest, had been in some way connected. We smile at these stories, looking back at them with eyes enlightened by scientific scepticism; but they furnished matter for something else than smiles when the accounts of them could be exhibited by the clergy as a living proof of the credibility of the Aurea Legenda,—when the subject of them could be held up as a witness, accredited by miracles, to the truth of the old faith, a living evidence to shame the incredulity of the Protestant sectaries. She became a figure of great and singular significance; a 'wise woman,' to whom persons of the highest rank were not ashamed to have recourse to inquire of her the will of God, and to ask the benefit of her intercessory prayers, for which also they did not fail to pay at a rate commensurate with their credulity.
This position the Nun of Kent, as she was now called, had achieved for herself, when the divorce question was first agitated. The monks at the Canterbury priory, of course, eagerly espoused the side of the Queen, and the Nun's services were at once in active requisition. Absurd as the stories of her revelations may seem to us, she had already given evidence that she was no vulgar impostor, and in the dangerous career on which she now entered, she conducted herself with the utmost skill and audacity. Far from imitating the hesitation of the Pope and the bishops, she issued boldly, 'in the name and by the authority of God,' a solemn prohibition against the King; threatening that, if he divorced his wife, he should not 'reign a month, but should die a villain's death.' Burdened with this message, she forced herself into the presence of Henry himself; and when she failed to produce an effect upon Henry's obdurate scepticism, she turned to the hesitating ecclesiastics, and roused their nagging spirits. The Archbishop bent under her denunciations, and at her earnest request introduced her to Wolsey, then tottering on the edge of ruin. He, too, in his confusion and perplexity, was frightened, and doubted. She made herself known to the Papal ambassadors, and through them she took upon herself to threaten Clement, assuming, in virtue of her divine commission, an authority above all principalities and powers. If it were likely that she could have heard the story of the Maid of Orleans, it might be supposed that her imagination tempted her to play again a similar career on an English stage, and that she fancied herself the destined saviour of the Church of Christ, as the Maid had been the saviour of France.
It would indeed be a libel on the fair fame of Joan of Arc, if she were to be compared to a confessed impostor; but Joan of Arc might have been the reality which the Nun attempted to counterfeit; and the history of the true heroine might have suggested easily to the imitator the outline of her part. A revolution had been effected in Europe by a somnambulist peasant girl; another peasant girl, a somnambulist also, might have seen in the achievement which had been already accomplished, an earnest of what might be done by herself. While we call the Nun, too, an impostor, we are bound to believe that she first imposed upon herself, and that her wildest adventures into falsehood were compatible with a belief that she was really and truly inspired. Nothing short of such a conviction would have enabled her to play a part among kings and queens, and so many of the ablest statesmen of that most able age. Nothing else could have tempted her, on the failure of her prophecies, into the desperate career of treason into which we are soon to see her launched.
Her proceedings were known partially, but partially only, to the King; and the King seems to have been the only person whose understanding was proof against her influence. To him she appeared nothing worse than an excited fanatic, and he allowed her to go her own way, as the best escapement of a frenzy. Until Parliament had declared it illegal to discuss the marriage question further, he interfered with no one, and therefore not with her. If her own word was to be taken, he even showed her much personal kindness, having offered to make her an abbess, which is difficult to believe, especially as she said that she had refused his offer. She stated also that at the time of Lord Wiltshire's mission to the Emperor, the Countess of Wiltshire endeavoured to persuade her to accept a place at the Court, as a companion to Anne; which again is unsupported by other evidence, and sounds improbable. But it is plain, that until she was found to be meditating treason, she experienced no treatment from the Government of which she had cause to complain; and thus for the present we may leave her pursuing her machinations with the Canterbury friars, and return to the Parliament.
March 30.The second session had been longer than the first; it had commenced on the 16th of January, and continued for ten weeks. On the 30th of March, which was to be its last day, Sir Thomas More came down to the House of Commons, and there read aloud to the members the decision of the various universities on the Papal power, and the judgment of European learning on the general question of the King's divorce. The country, he said, was much disturbed, and the King desired them each to report what they had heard in their several counties and towns, 'in order that all men might perceive that he had not attempted this matter of his own will or pleasure, as some strangers reported, but only for the discharge of his conscience and surety of the succession of his realm.' This appears to have been the first time that the subject was mentioned before Parliament, and the occasion was reasonably and sensibly chosen. The clergy having possession of the pulpits, had used their opportunity to spread a false impression where the ignorance of the people would allow them to venture the experiment; the King having resolved to fall back upon the support of his subjects, naturally desired the assistance of the country gentlemen and the nobles to counteract the eiforts of disaffection, and provided them with accurate information in the simplest manner which he could have chosen.
But the desire expressed by Henry was no more than an unnecessary form, for, as a body, the educated laity were as earnestly bent upon the divorce as the King himself could be, and might have been trusted to use all means by which to further it. The Parliament was prorogued, but the Lords, shortly after the separation, united with such of the Commons as remained in London, to give a proof of their feeling by a voluntary address to the Pope. The meaning of this movement was not to be mistaken. On one side, the Nun of Kent was threatening Clement, speaking, perhaps, the feelings of the clergy and of all the women in England; on the other side, the Parliament thought well to threaten him, speaking for the great body of English men, for all persons of substance and property, who desired above all things peace and order and a secured succession.
The language of this remarkable document was as follows:—
July 13.'To the Most Holy Lord our Lord and Father in Christ, Clement, by Divine Providence, the seventh of that name, we desire perpetual happiness in our Lord Jesus Christ.
'Most blessed Father, albeit the cause concerning the marriage of the most invincible prince, our sovereign lord, the King of England and of France, Defender of the Faith, and Lord of Ireland, does for sundry great and weighty reasons require and demand the aid of your Holiness, that it may be brought to that brief end and determination which we with so great and earnest desire have expected, and which we have been contented hitherto to expect, though so far vainly, at your Holiness's hands; we have been unable, nevertheless, to keep longer silence herein, seeing that this kingdom and the affairs of it are brought into so high peril through the unseasonable delay of sentence. His Majesty, who is our head, and by consequence the life of us all, and we through him as subject members by a just union annexed to the head, have with great earnestness entreated your Holiness for judgment; we have however entreated in vain: we are by the greatness of our grief therefore forced separately and distinctly by these our letters most humbly to demand a speedy determination. There ought, indeed, to have been no need of this request on our part. The justice of the cause itself, approved to be just by the sentence of so many learned men, by the suffrage of the most famous universities in England, France, and Italy, should have sufficed alone to have induced your Holiness to confirm the sentence given by others; especially when the interests of a king and kingdom are at stake, which in so many ways have deserved well of the apostolic see. This we say ought to have been motive sufficient with you, without need of petition on our part; and if we had added our entreaties it should have been but as men yielding to a causeless anxiety, and wasting words for which there was no occasion. Since, however, neither the merit of the cause nor the recollection of the benefits which you have received, nor the assiduous and diligent supplications of our prince, have availed anything with your Holiness; since we cannot obtain from you what it is your duty as a father to grant; the load of our grief, increased as it is beyond measure by the remembrance of the past miseries and calamities which have befallen this nation, makes vocal every member of our commonwealth, and compels us by word and letter to utter our complaints.
'For what a misfortune is this,—that a sentence which our own two universities, which the University of Paris, and many other universities in France, which men of the highest learning and probity everywhere, at home and abroad, are ready to defend with word and pen, that such sentence, we say, cannot be obtained from the apostolic see by a prince to whom that see owes its present existence. Amidst the attacks of so many and so powerful enemies, the King of England ever has stood by that see with sword and pen, with voice and with authority. Yet he alone is to reap no benefit from his labours. He has saved the Papacy from ruin, that others might enjoy the fruits of the life which he has preserved for it. We see not what answer can be made to this; and meanwhile we perceive a flood of miseries impending over the commonwealth, threatening to bring back upon us the ancient controversy on the succession, which had been extinguished only with so much blood and slaughter. We have now a King most eminent for his virtues, and reigning by unchallenged title, who will secure assured tranquillity to the realm if he leave a son born of his body to succeed him. The sole hope that such a son may be born to him lies in the being found for him some lawful marriage into which he may enter; and to such marriage the only obstacle lies with your Holiness. It cannot be until you shall confirm the sentence of so many learned men on the character of his former connection. This if you will not do, if you who ought to be our father have determined to leave us as orphans, and to treat us as castaways, we shall interpret such conduct to mean only that we are left to care for ourselves, and to seek our remedy elsewhere. We do not desire to be driven to this extremity, and therefore we beseech your Holiness without further delay to assist his Majesty's just and reasonable desires. We entreat you to confirm the judgment of these learned men; and for the sake of that love and fatherly affection which your office requires you to show towards us, not to close your bowels of compassion against us, your most dutiful, most loving, most obedient children. The cause of his Majesty is the cause of each of ourselves; the head cannot suffer, but the members must bear a part. We have all our common share in the pain and in the injury; and as the remedy is wholly in the power of your Holiness, so does the duty of your fatherly office require you to administer it. If, however, your Holiness will not do this, or if you choose longer to delay to do it, our condition hitherto will have been so much the more wretched, that we have so long laboured fruitlessly and in vain. But it will not be wholly irremediable; extreme remedies are ever harsh of application; but he that is sick will by any means be rid of his distemper; and there is hope in the exchange of miseries, when, if we cannot obtain what is good, we may obtain a lesser evil, and trust that time may enable us to endure it.
'These things we beseech your Holiness, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to consider with yourself. You profess that on earth you are His vicar. Endeavour, then, to show yourself so to be, by pronouncing your sentence to the glory and praise of God, and giving your sanction to that truth which has been examined, approved, and after much deliberation confirmed, by the most learned men of all nations. We meanwhile will pray the all-good God, whom we know by most sure testimony to be truth itself, that He will deign so to inform and direct the counsels of your Holiness, that we obtaining by your authority what is holy, just, and true, may be spared from seeking it by other more painful methods.'
Thus was the great crisis steadily maturing itself, and the cause by this petition was made to rest upon its proper merits. The justification of the demand for the divorce was the danger of civil war; and into civil war the nation had no intention of permitting themselves to be drifted by Papal imbecility. Whatever was the origin of Henry's resolution, it was acted out with calmness, and justified by sober reason; and backed by the good sense of his lay subjects, he proceeded bravely, in spite of excommunication, interdict, and the Nun of Kent, towards the object which his country's interests, as well as his own, required.
It would have been well if his private behaviour as a man had been as unobjectionable as his conduct as a sovereign. Hitherto he had remained under the same roof with Queen Catherine, but with that indelicacy which was the singular blemish on his character, he had maintained her rival in the same household with the state of a princess, and needlessly wounded feelings which he was bound to have spared to the utmost which his duty permitted. The circumstances of the case, if they were known to us, though they could never excuse such a proceeding, might perhaps partially palliate it. Catherine was harsh and offensive, and it was by her own determination, and not by Henry's desire, that she was unprovided with an establishment elsewhere. There lay, moreover, as I have said, behind the scenes a whole drama of contention and bitterness, which now is happily concealed from us; but which being concealed, leaves us without the clue to these painful doings. Indelicate, however, the position given to Anne Boleyn could not but be; and, if it was indelicate in Henry to grant such a position, what shall we say of the lady who consented, in the presence of her sovereign and mistress, to wear such ignominious splendour?
But in these most offensive relations there was henceforth to be a change. June.In June, 1531, two months after the prorogation of Parliament, a deputation of the privy council went to the apartments of Catherine at Greenwich, and laying before her the papers which had been read by Sir Thomas More to the two Houses, demanded formally, whether, for the sake of the country, and for the quiet of the King's conscience, she would withdraw her appeal to Rome, and submit to an arbitration in the kingdom. It was, probably, but an official request, proposed without expectation that she would yield. After rejecting a similar entreaty from the Pope himself, she was not likely, inflexible as she had ever been, to yield when the Pope had admitted her appeal, and the Emperor, victorious through Europe, had promised her support. She refused, of course, like herself, proudly, resolutely, gallantly, and not without the scorn which she was entitled to feel. The nation had no claims upon her, and 'for the King's conscience,' she answered, 'I pray God send his Grace good quiefc therein, and tell him I say I am his lawful wife, and to him lawfully married; and in that point I will abide till the Court of Rome, which was privy to the beginning, hath made thereof a determination and a final ending.' The learned councillors retired with their answer. A more passive resistance would have been more dignified; but Catherine was a queen, and a queen she chose to be; and in defence of her own high honour, and of her daughter's, by no act of hers would she abate one tittle of her dignity, or cease to assert her claim to it. Her reply, however, appears to have been anticipated, and the request was only preparatory to ulterior measures. For the sake of public decency, and certainly in no unkind spirit towards herself, a retirement from the Court was now to be forced upon her. At Midsummer she accompanied the King to Windsor; July.in the middle of July he left her there, and never saw her again. She was removed to the More, a house in Hertfordshire, which had been originally built by George Neville, Archbishop of York, and had belonged to Wolsey, who had maintained it with his usual splendour. Once more an attempt was made to persuade her to submit; but with no better result, and a formal establishment was then provided for her at Ampthill, a large place belonging to Henry not far from Dunstable. There at least she was her own mistress, surrounded by her own friends, who were true to her as Queen, and she attracted to her side from all parts of England those whom sympathy or policy attached to her cause. The Court, though keeping a partial surveillance over her, did not dare to restrict her liberty; and as the measures against the Church became more stringent, and a separation from the Papacy more nearly imminent, she became the nucleus of a powerful political party. Her injuries had deprived the King and the nation of a right to complain of her conduct. She owed nothing to England. Her allegiance, politically, was to Spain; spiritually she was the subject of the Pope; and this dubious position gave her an advantage which she was not slow to perceive. Rapidly every one rallied to her who adhered to the old faith, and to whom the measures of the Government appeared a sacrilege. Through herself, or through her secretaries and confessors, a correspondence was conducted which brought the Courts of the continent into connection with the various disaffected parties in England, with the Nun of Kent and her friars, with the Poles, the Nevilles, the Courtenays, and all the remaining faction of the White Rose. And so first the great party of sedition began to shape itself, which for sixty years, except in the shortlived interlude of its triumph under Catherine's daughter, held the nation on the edge of civil war. We shall see this faction slowly and steadily organizing itself, starting from scattered and small beginnings, till at length it overspread all England and Ireland and Scotland, exploding from time to time in abortive insurrections, yet ever held in check by the tact and firmness of the Government, and by the inherent loyalty of the English to the land of their birth. There was a proverb then current that 'the treasons of England should never cease.' It was perhaps fortunate that the Papal cause was the cause of a foreign power, and could only be defended by a betrayal of the independence of the country. In Scotland and Ireland the insurrectionists were more successful, being supported in either instance by the national feeling. But the strength of Scotland had been broken at Flodden; and Ireland, though hating 'the Saxons' with her whole heart, was far off and divided. The true danger was at home; and when the extent and nature of it is fairly known and weighed, we shall understand better what is called the 'tyranny' of Henry VIII. and of Elizabeth; and rather admire the judgment than condemn the resolution which steered the country safe among those dangerous shoals. Elizabeth's position is more familiar to us, and is more reasonably appreciated because the danger was more palpable. Henry has been hardly judged because he trampled down the smouldering fire, and never allowed it to assume the form which would have justified him with the foolish and the unthinking. Once and once only the flame blazed out; but it was checked on the instant, and therefore it has been slighted and forgotten. But with despatches before his eyes, in which Charles V. was offering James of Scotland the hand of the Princess Mary, with the title for himself of Prince of England and Duke of York—with Ireland, as we shall speedily see it, in flame from end to end, and Dublin castle the one spot left within the island on which the banner of St George still floated—with a corps of friars in hair shirts and chains, who are also soon to be introduced to us, and an inspired prophetess at their head preaching rebellion in the name of God—with his daughter and his daughter's mother in league against him, some forty thousand clergy to be coerced into honest dealing, and the succession to the crown floating in uncertainty—finally, with excommunication hanging over himself, and at length falling, and his deposition pronounced,—Henry, we may be sure, had no easy time of it, and no common work to accomplish; and all these things ought to be present before our minds, as they were present before his mind, if we would see him as he was, and judge him as we would be judged ourselves.
Leaving disaffection to mature itself, we return to the struggle between the House of Commons and the bishops, which recommenced in the following winter; first pausing to notice a clerical interlude of some illustrative importance which took place in the close of the summer. The clergy, as we saw, were relieved of their premunire on engaging to pay 118,000 pounds within five years. They were punished for their general offences; the formal offence for which they were condemned being one which could not fairly be considered an offence at all. When they came to discuss therefore the manner in which the money was to be levied, they naturally quarrelled among themselves as to where the burden of the fine should fairly rest, and a little scene has been preserved to us by Hall, through which, with momentary distinctness, we can look in upon those poor men in their perplexity. The bishops had settled among themselves that each diocese should make its own arrangements; and some of these great persons intended to spare their own shoulders to the utmost decent extremity. With this object, Stokesley, Bishop of London, who was just then very busy burning heretics, and therefore in bad odour with the people, resolved to call a meeting of five or six of his clergy, on whom he could depend; and passing quietly with their assistance such resolutions as seemed convenient, to avoid in this way the more doubtful expedient of a large assembly.
Sept. 1.The necessary intimations were given, and the meeting was to be held on the ist of September, in the Chapter-house of St Paul's. The Bishop arrived at the time appointed, but unhappily for his hopes, not only the chosen six, but with them six hundred of the clergy of Middlesex, accompanied by a mob of the London citizens, all gathered in a crowd at the Chapter-house door, and clamouring to be admitted.
The Bishop, trusting in the strength of the chains and bolts, and still hoping to manage the affair officially, sent out a list of persons who might be allowed to take part in the proceedings, and these with difficulty made their way to the entrance. A rush was made by the others as they were going in, and there was a scuffle, which ended for the moment in the victory of the officials; but the triumph was of brief duration; the excluded clergy were now encouraged by the people; they returned vigorously to the attack, broke down the doors, 'struck the Bishop's officers over the face,' and the whole crowd, priests and laity, rushed together, storming and shouting, into the Chapter-house. The scene may be easily imagined; dust flying, gowns torn, heads broken, well-fed faces in the hot September weather steaming with anger and exertion, and every voice in loudest outcry. At length the clamour was partially subdued, and the Bishop, beautifully equal to the emergency, arose bland and persuasive.
'My brethren,' he said, 'I marvel not a little why ye be so heady. Ye know not what shall be said to you, therefore I pray you keep silence, and hear me patiently. My friends, ye all know that we be men, frail of condition and no angels; and by frailty and lack of wisdom we have misdemeaned ourselves towards the King our sovereign lord and his laws; so that all we of the clergy were in premunire, by reason whereof all our promotions, lands, goods, and chattels were to him forfeit, and our bodies ready to be imprisoned. Yet his Grace, moved with pity and compassion, demanded of us what we could say why he should not extend his laws upon us.
'Then the fathers of the clergy humbly besought his Grace for mercy, to whom he answered he was ever inclined to mercy. Then for all our great offences we had but little penance; for when he might, by the rigour of his laws, have taken all our livelihoods, he was contented with one hundred thousand pounds, to be paid in five years. And though this sum may be more than we may easily bear, yet, by the rigour of his law, we should have borne the whole burden; whereupon, my brethren, I charitably exhort you to bear your parts of your livelihood and salary towards payment of this sum granted.'
The ingenuity of this address deserved all praise; but the beauty of the form was insufficient to disguise the inconclusiveness of the reasoning. It confessed an offence which the hearers knew to be none; the true provocation which had led to the penalty—the unjust extortion of the High Church officials—was ignored. The crowd laughed and hooted. The clergy fiercely tightened their purse-strings, and the Bishop was heard out with hardly restrained indignation. 'My lord,' it was shortly answered by one of them, 'twenty nobles a year is but a bare living for a priest. Victual and all else is now so dear that poverty enforceth us to say nay. Besides that, my lord, we never meddled with the Cardinal's faculties. Let the bishops and abbots which have offended pay.' Loud clamour followed and shouts of applause. The Bishop's officers gave the priests high words. The priests threw back the taunts as they came; and the London citizens, delighting in the scandalous quarrel, hounded on the opposition. From words they passed to blows; the bedell and vergers tried to keep order, but 'were buffeted and stricken,' and the meeting broke up in wild uproar and confusion. For this matter five of the lay crowd and fifteen London curates were sent to the Tower by Sir Thomas More; but the undignified manœuvre had failed, and the fruit of it was but fresh disgrace. United, the clergy might have defied the King and the Parliament; but in the race of selfishness the bishops and high dignitaries had cared only for their own advantage. They had left the poorer members of their order with no interest in common with that of their superiors, beyond the shield which the courts consented to extend over moral delinquency; and in the hour of danger they found themselves left naked and alone to bear the storm as they were able.
This incident, and it was perhaps but one of many,, is not likely to have softened the disposition of the Commons, or induced them to entertain more respectfully the bishops' own estimate of their privileges. Jan. 15.The Convocation and the Parliament met simultaneously, on the of January, and the conflict, which had been for two years in abeyance, recommenced. The initial measure was taken by Convocation, and this body showed a spirit still unsubdued, and a resolution to fight in their own feebly tyrannical manner to the last. A gentleman in Gloucestershire had lately died, by name Tracy. In his last testament he had bequeathed his soul to God through the mercies of Christ, declining the mediatorial offices of the saints, and leaving no money to be expended in masses. Such notorious heresy could not be passed over with impunity, and the first step of the assembled clergy was to issue a commission to raise the body and burn it. Their audacity displayed at once the power which they possessed, and the temper in which they were disposed to use it. The Archbishop of Canterbury seems to have been responsible for this monstrous order, which unfortunately was carried into execution before Henry had time to interfere. It was the last act of the kind, however, in which he was permitted to indulge, and the legislature made haste to take away such authority from hands so incompetent to use it. From their debates upon burning the dead Tracy, Convocation were proceeding to discuss the possibility of burning the living Latimer, when they were recalled to their senses by a summons to prepare some more reasonable answer than that which the bishops had made for them on their privilege of making laws. Twenty more years of work were to be lived by Latimer before they were to burn him, and their own delinquencies were for the present of a more pressing nature. The House of Commons at the same time proceeded to frame necessary bills on the other points of their complaint.
The first act upon the roll recalls the Constitutions of Clarendon and the famous quarrel between Becket and the Crown. When Catholicism was a living belief, when ordained priests were held really and truly to possess those awful powers which the mystery of tranfcubstantiation assigns to them, they were acknowledged by common consent to be an order apart from the rest of mankind, and being spiritual men, to be amenable only to spiritual jurisdiction. It was not intended that, if they committed crimes, they should escape the retributive consequences of those crimes: offenders against the law might (originally at least) be degraded, if the bishops thought good, and stripped of their commission be delivered thus to the secular arm. But the more appropriate punishment for such persons was of a more awful kind, proportioned to the magnitude of the fault; and was conveyed or held to be conveyed in the infliction of the spiritual death of excommunication. Excommunication was, in real earnest, the death of the soul, at a time when communion with the Church was the only means by which the soul could be made partaker of the divine life; and it was a noble thing to believe that there was something worse for a man than legal penalties on his person or on his mortal body; it was beautiful to recognize in an active living form, that the heaviest ill which could befall a man was to be cut off from God. But it is only for periods that humanity can endure the atmosphere of these high altitudes of morality. The early Christians attempted a community of goods, but they were unequal to it for more than a generation. The discipline of Catholicism was assisted by superstition,—it remained vigorous for many hundreds of years, but it languished at last; and although there was so great virtue in a living idea, that its forms preserved the reverence of mankind unabated, even when in their effect and working they had become as evil as they once were noble; yet reverence and endurance were at length exhausted, and these forms were to submit to alteration in conformity with the altered nature of the persons whom they affected.
I have already alluded to the abuse of 'benefit of clergy;' we have arrived at the first of those many steps by which at length it was finally put away,—a step which did not, however, as yet approach the heart of the evil, but touched only its extreme outworks. The clergy had monopolized the learning of the middle ages, and few persons external to their body being able to read or write, their privileges became co-extensive, as I above stated, with these acquirements. The exemption from secular jurisdiction, which they obtained in virtue of their sacred character, had been used as a protection in villany for every scoundrel who could write his name. Under this plea, felons of the worst kind might claim, till this time, to be taken out of the hands of the law judges, and to be tried at the bishops' tribunals; and at these tribunals, such a monstrous solecism had Catholicism become, the payment of money was ever welcomed, as the ready expiation of crime. To prevent the escape of the Bishop of Rochester's cook, who was a 'clerk,' Parliament had specially interfered, and sentenced him without trial, by attainder. They now passed a general Act, remarkable alike in what it provided as in what, for the present, it omitted to provide. The preamble related the nature of the evil which was to be remedied, and the historical position of it. It dwelt upon the assurances which had been given again and again by the ordinaries that their privileges should not be abused; but these promises had been broken as often as they had been made; so that 'continually manifest thieves and murderers, indicted and found guilty of their misdeeds by good and substantial inquests, and afterwards, by the usages of the common lawes of the land, delivered to the ordinaries as clerks convict, were speedily and hastily delivered and set at large by the ministers of the said ordinaries for corruption and lucre; or else because the ordinaries enclaiming such offenders by the liberties of the Church would in no wise take the charges in safe keeping of them, but did suffer them to make their purgation by such as nothing knew of their misdeeds, and by such fraud did annull and make void the good and provable trial which was used against such offenders by the King's law; to the pernicious example, increase, and courage of such offenders, if the King's Highness by his authority royal put not speedy remedy thereto.'
To provide such necessary remedy, it was enacted that thenceforward no person under the degree of subdeacon, if guilty of felony, should be allowed to plead 'his clergy' any more, but should be proceeded against by the ordinary law. So far it was possible to go—an enormous step if we think of what the evil had been; and in such matters to make a beginning was the true difficulty—it was the logical premise from which the conclusion could not choose but follow. Yet such was the mystical sacredness which clung about the ordained clergy, that their patent profligacy had not yet destroyed it—a priest might still commit a murder, and the profane hand of the law might not reach him.
The measure, however, if imperfect, was excellent in its degree; and when this had been accomplished, the House proceeded next to deal with the Arches Court—the one enormous grievance of the time. The petition of the Commons has already exhibited the condition of this institution; but the Act by which the power of it was limited added more than one particular to what had been previously stated, and the first twenty lines of the statute which was now passed may be recommended to the consideration of the modern censors of the Reformation. The framer of the resolution was no bad friend to the bishops, if they had possessed the faculty of knowing who their true friends were, for the statement of complaint was limited, mild, and moderate. Again, as with the 'benefit of clergy,' the real ground for surprise is that any fraction of a system so indefensible should have been permitted to continue. The courts were nothing else but the vicious sources of unjust revenue; and with the opportunity so fairly offered, it is strange indeed that they were not swept utterly away. But sweeping measures have never found favour in England. There has ever been in English legislation, even when most reforming, that temperate spirit of equity which has refused to visit the sins of centuries upon a single generation. The statute limited its accusations to the points which it was designed to correct, and touched these with a hand firmly gentle.
'Whereas great numbers of the King's subjects,' says the preamble, 'as well men, wives, servants, or others dwelling in divers dioceses of the realm of England and Wales, heretofore have been at many times called by citations and other processes compulsory to appear in the Arches, Audience, and other high Courts of the archbishops of this realm, far from and out of the dioceses where such persons are inhabitant and dwelling; and many times to answer to surmised and feigned causes and matters, which have been sued more for vexation and malice than from any just cause of suit; and when certificate hath been made by the sumners, apparitors, or any such light litterate persons, that the party against whom such citations have been awarded hath been cited or summoned; and thereupon the same party so certified to be cited or summoned hath not appeared according to the certificate, the same party therefore hath been excommunicated, or, at the least, suspended from, all divine service; and thereupon, before that he or she could be absolved, hath been compelled, not only to pay the fees of the court whereunto he or she was so called, amounting to the sum of two shillings, or twenty pence at the least; but also to pay to the sumner, for every mile distant from the place where he or she then dwelled unto the same court whereunto he or she was summoned to appear, twopence; to the great charge and impoverishment of the King's subjects, and to the great occasion of misbehaviour of wives, women, and servants, and to the great impairment and diminution of their good names and honesties—be it enacted——' We ask what?—looking with impatience for some large measure to follow these solemn accusations; and we find Parliament contenting itself with forbidding the bishops, under heavy penalties, to cite any man out of his own diocese, except for specified causes (heresy being one of them), and with limiting the fees which were to be taken by the officers of the courts. It could hardly be said that in this Parliament there was any bitter spirit against the Church. This Act only showed mild forbearance and complacent endurance of all tolerable evil.
Another serious matter was dealt with in the same moderate temper. The Mortmain Act had prohibited the Church corporations from further absorbing the lands; but the Mortmain Act was evaded in detail, the clergy using their influence to induce persons on their deathbeds to leave estates to provide a priest for ever 'to sing for their souls.' The arrangement was convenient possibly for both parties, or if not for both, certainly for one; but to tie up lands for ever for a special service was not to the advantage of the country; and it was held unjust to allow a man a perpetual power over the disposition of property to atone for the iniquities of his life. But the privilege was not abolished altogether; it was submitted only to reasonable limitation. Men might still burden their lands to find a priest for twenty years. After twenty years the lands were to relapse for the service of the living, and sinners were expected in equity to bear the consequence in their own persons of such offences as remained after that time unexpiated.
Thus, in two sessions, the most flagrant of the abuses first complained of were in a fair way of being remedied. The exorbitant charges for mortuaries, probate duties, legacy duties, the illegal exactions for the sacraments, the worst injustices of the ecclesiastical courts, the non-residence, pluralities, neglect of cures, the secular occupations, and extravagant privileges of the clergy, were either terminated or brought within bounds. There remained yet to be disposed of the legislative power of the Convocation and the tyrannical prosecutions for heresy. The last of these was not yet ripe for settlement; the former was under reconsideration by the Convocation itself, which at length was arriving at a truer conception of its position; and this question was not therefore to be dealt with by the legislature.
One more important measure, however, was passed by Parliament before it separated, and it is noticeable as the first step which was taken in the momentous direction of a breach with the See of Rome. A practice had existed for some hundreds of years in all the churches of Europe, that bishops and archbishops, on presentation to their sees, should transmit to the Pope, on receiving their bulls of investment, one year's income from their new preferments. It was called the payment of annates, or firstfruits, and had originated in the time of the Crusades, as a means of providing a fund for the holy wars. Once established, it had settled into custom, and was one of the chief resources of the Papal revenue. From England alone, as much as 160,000 pounds had been paid out of the country in fifty years; and the impost was alike oppressive to individuals and injurious to the State. Men were appointed to bishoprics frequently at an advanced age, and dying, as they often did, within two or three years of their nomination, their elevation had sometimes involved their families and friends in debt and embarrassment; while the annual export of so much bullion was a serious evil at a time when the precious metals formed the only currency, and were so difficult to obtain. Before a quarrel with the Court of Rome had been thought of as a possible contingency, the King had laboured with the Pope to terminate the system by some equitable composition; and subsequently cessation of payment had been mentioned more than once in connection with the threats of a separation. The Pope had made light of these threats, believing them to be no more than words; there was an opportunity, therefore, of proving that the English Government was really in earnest, in a manner which would touch him in a point where he was naturally sensitive, and would show him at the same time that he could not wholly count on the attachment even of the clergy themselves. For, in fact, the Church itself was fast disintegrating, and the allegiance even of the bishops and the secular clergy to Rome had begun to waver: they had a stronger faith in their own privileges than in the union of Christendom; and if they could purchase the continuance of the former at the price of a quarrel with the Pope, some among them were not disinclined to venture the alternative. The Bishop of Rochester held aloof from such tendencies, and Warham, though he signed the address of the House of Lords to the Pope, regretted the weakness to which he had yielded: but in the other prelates there was little seriousness of conviction; and the constitution of the bench had been affected also by the preferment of Gardiner and Edward Lee to two of the sees made vacant by the death of Wolsey. Both these men had been active agents in the prosecution of the divorce; and Gardiner, followed at a distance by the other, had shaped out, as the Pope grew more intractable, the famous notion that the English Church could and should subsist as a separate communion, independent of foreign control, self governed, self organized, and at the same time adhering without variation to Catholic doctrine. This principle (if we may so abuse the word) shot rapidly into popularity: a party formed about it strong in Parliament, strong in Convocation, strong out of doors among the country gentlemen and the higher clergy—a respectable, wealthy, powerful body, trading upon a solecism, but not the less, therefore, devoted to its maintenance, and, in their artificial horror of being identified with heresy, the most relentless persecutors of the Protestants. This party, unreal as they were, and influential perhaps in virtue of their unreality, became for the moment the arbiters of the Church of England; and the bishops belonging to it, and each rising ecclesiastic who hoped to be a bishop, welcomed the resistance of the annates as an opportunity for a demonstration of their strength. On this question, with a fair show of justice, they could at once relieve themselves of a burden which pressed upon their purses, and, as they supposed, gratify the King. The conservatives were still numerically the strongest, and for a time remained in their allegiance to the Papacy, but their convictions were too feeble to resist the influence brought to bear upon them, and when Parliament re-assembled after the Easter recess, the two Houses of Convocation presented an address to the Crown for the abolition of the impost, and with it of all other exactions, direct and indirect—the indulgences, dispensations, delegacies, and the thousand similar forms and processes by which the privileges of the Church of England were abridged for the benefit of the Church of Rome, and weighty injury of purse inflicted both on the clergy and the laity.
That they contemplated a conclusive revolt from Rome as a consequence of the refusal to pay annates, appears positively in the close of their address: 'May it please your Grace,' they concluded, after detailing their occasions for complaint,—'may it please your Grace to cause the said unjust exactions to cease, and to be foredone for ever by Act of your high Court of Parliament; and in case the Pope will make process against this realm for the attaining those annates, or else will retain bishops' bulls till the annates be paid; forasmuch as the exaction of the said annates is against the law of God and the Pope's own laws, forbidding the buying or selling of spiritual gifts or promotions; and forasmuch as all good Christian men be more bound to obey God than any man; and forasmuch as St Paul willeth us to withdraw from all such as walk inordinately; may it please your Highness to ordain in this present Parliament that the obedience of your Highness and of the people be withdrawn from the See of Rome.'
It was perhaps cruel to compel the clergy to be the first to mention separation—or the language may have been furnished by the Erastian party in the Church, who hoped to please the King by it, and save the annates for themselves; but there was no intention, if the battle was really to be fought, of decorating the clergy with the spoils. The bill was passed, but passed conditionally, leaving power to the Crown if the Pope would consent to a compromise of settling the question by a composition. There was a Papal party in the House of Commons whose opposition had perhaps to be considered, and the annates were left suspended before Clement at once as a menace and a bribe.
'Forasmuch,' concluded the statute, 'as the King's Highness and this his high Court of Parliament neither have nor do intend in this or any other like cause any manner of extremity or violence, before gentle courtesy and friendly ways and means be first approved and attempted, and without a very great urgent cause and occasion given to the contrary; but principally coveting to disburden this realm of the said great exactions and intolerable charges of annates and firstfruits: [the said Court of Parliament] has therefore thought convenient to commit the final order and determination of the premises unto the King's Highness, so that if it may seem to his high wisdom, and most prudent discretion meet to move the Pope's Holiness and the Court of Rome, amicably, charitably, and reasonably, to compound either to extinct the said annates, or by some friendly, loving, and tolerable composition to moderate the same in such way as may be by this his realm easily borne and sustained, then those ways of composition once taken shall stand in the strength, force, and effect of a law.'
The business of the session was closing. It remained to receive the reply of Convocation on the limitation of its powers. The Convocation, presuming, perhaps, upon its concessions on the annates question, and untamed by the premunire, had framed their answer in the same spirit which had been previously exhibited by the bishops. They had re-asserted their claims as resting on divine authority, and had declined to acknowledge the right of any secular power to restrain or meddle with them. The second answer, as may be supposed, fared no better than the first. It was returned with a peremptory demand for submission; and taught by experience the uselessness of further opposition, the clergy with a bad grace complied. The form was again drawn by the bishops, and it is amusing to trace the workings of their humble spirit in their reluctant descent from their high estate. They still laboured to protect their dignity in the terms of their concession:—
'As concerning such constitutions and ordinances provincial,' they wrote, 'as shall be made hereafter by your most humble subjects, we having our special trust and confidence in your most excellent wisdom, your princely goodness, and fervent zeal for the promotion of God's honour and Christian religion, and specially in your incomparable learning far exceeding in our judgment the learning of all other kings and princes that we have read of; and not doubting but that the same should still continue and daily increase in your Majesty; do offer and promise here unto the same, that from henceforth we shall forbear to enact, promulge, or put in execution any such constitutions and ordinances so by us to be made in time coming, unless your Highness by your Royal assent shall license us to make, promulge, and execute such constitutions, and the same so made be approved by your Highness's authority.
'And whereas your Highness's most honourable Commons do pretend that divers of the constitutions provincial, which have been heretofore enacted, be not only much prejudicial to your Highness's prerogative royal, but be also overmuch onerous to your said Commons, we, your most humble servants, for the consideration before said, be contented to refer all the said constitutions to the judgment of your Grace only. And whatsoever of the same shall finally be found prejudicial and overmuch onerous as is pretended, we offer and promise your Highness to moderate or utterly to abrogate and annul the same, according to the judgment of your Grace. Saving to us always such liberties and immunities of this Church of England as hath been granted unto the same by the goodness and benignity of your Highness and of others your most noble progenitors; with such constitutions provincial as do stand with the laws of Almighty God and of your realm heretofore made, which we most humbly beseech your Grace to ratify and approve by your most Royal assent for the better execution of the same in times to come.'
The acknowledgment appeared to be complete, and might perhaps have been accepted without minute examination, except for the imprudent acuteness of the Lower House of Convocation. As it passed through their hands, they discovered—what had no doubt been intended as a loophole for future evasion—that the grounds which were alleged to excuse the submission were the virtues of the reigning King: and therefore, as they sagaciously argued, the submission must only remain in force for his life. They introduced a limitation to that effect. Some further paltry dabbling was also attempted with the phraseology: and at length, impatient with such dishonest trifling, and weary of a discussion in which they had resolved to allow but one conclusion, the King and the legislature thought it well to interfere with a high hand, and cut short such unprofitable folly. The language of the bishops was converted into an Act of Parliament; a mixed commission was appointed to revise the canon law, and the clergy with a few brief strokes were reduced for ever into their t position of subjects. Thus with a moderate hand this great revolution was effected, and, to outward appearance, with offence to none except the sufferers, whose misuse of power when they possessed it deprived them of all sympathy in their fall.
But no change of so vast a kind can be other than a stone of stumbling to those many persons for whom the beaten ways of life alone are tolerable, and who, when these ways are broken, are bewildered and lost. religion, when men are under its influence at all, so absorbs their senses, and so pervades all their associations, that no faults in the ministers of it can divest their persons of reverence; and just and necessary as all these alterations were, many a pious and noble heart was wounded, many a man was asking himself in his perplexity where things would end, and still more sadly, where, if these quarrels deepened, would lie his own duty. Now the Nun of Kent grew louder in her Cassandra wailings. Now the mendicant friars mounted the pulpits exclaiming sacrilege; bold men, who feared nothing that men could do to them, and who dared in the King's own presence, and in his own chapel, to denounce him by name. The sacred associations of twelve centuries were tumbling into ruin; and hot and angry as men had been before the work began, the hearts of numbers sank in them when they 'saw what was done;' and they fell away slowly to doubt, disaffection, distrust, and at last treason.
The first outward symptom of importance pointing in this direction, was the resignation of the seals by Sir Thomas More. More had not been an illiberal man; when he wrote the Utopia, he seemed even to be in advance of his time. None could see the rogue's face under the cowl clearer than he, or the proud bad heart under the scarlet hat; and few men had ventured to speak their thoughts more boldly. But there was in More a want of confidence in human nature, a scorn of the follies of his fellow-creatures which, as he became more earnestly religious, narrowed and hardened his convictions, and transformed the genial philosopher into the merciless bigot. 'Heresy' was naturally hateful to him; his mind was too clear and genuine to allow him to deceive himself with the delusions of Anglicanism; and as he saw the inevitable tendency of the Reformation to lead ultimately to a change of doctrine, he attached himself with increasing determination to the cause of the Pope and of the old faith. As if with an instinctive prescience of what would follow from it, he had from the first been opposed to the divorce; and he had not concealed his feeling from the King at the time when the latter had pressed the seals on his unwilling acceptance. In consenting to become Chancellor, he had yielded only to Henry's entreaties; he had held his office for two years and a half—and it would have been well for his memory if he had been constant in his refusal—for in his ineffectual struggles against the stream, he had attempted to counterpoise the attack upon the Church by destroying the unhappy Protestants. At the close of the session, however, the acts of which we have just described, he felt that he must no longer countenance, by remaining in an office so near to the Crown, measures which he so intensely disapproved and deplored; it was time for him to retire from a world not moving to his mind; and in the fair tranquillity of his family prepare himself for the evil days which he foresaw. May.In May, 1532, he petitioned for permission to resign, resting his request unobtrusively on failing health; and Henry sadly consented to lose his services.
Parallel to More's retirement, and though less important, yet still noticeable, is a proceeding of old Archbishop Warham under the same trying circumstances. In the days of his prosperity, Warham had never reached to greatness as a man. He had been a great ecclesiastic, successful, dignified, important, but without those highest qualities which command respect or interest. The iniquities of Warham's spiritual courts were greater than those of any other in England. He had not made them what they were. They grew by their own proper corruption; and he was no more responsible for them than every man is responsible for the continuance of an evil by which he profits, and which he has power to remedy. We must look upon him as the leader of the bishops in their opposition to the reform; and he was the probable author of the famous answer to the Commons' petition, which led to such momentous consequences. These consequences he had lived partially to see. Powerless to struggle against the stream, he had seen swept away one by one those gigantic privileges to which he had asserted for his order a claim divinely sanctioned; and he withdrew himself, heartbroken, into his palace at Lambeth, and there entered his solemn protest against all which had been done. Too ill to write, and trembling on the edge of the grave, he dictated to his notaries from his bed these not unaffecting words:—
'In the name of God, Amen. We, William, by Divine Providence Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England, Legate of the Apostolic See, hereby publicly and expressly do protest for ourselves and for our Holy Metropolitan Church of Canterbury, that to any statute passed or hereafter to be passed in this present Parliament, begun the third of November, 1529, and continued until this present time; in so far as such statute or statutes be in derogation of the Pope of Rome or the Apostolic See, or be to the hurt, prejudice, or limitation of the powers of the Church, or shall tend to the subverting, enervating, derogating from, or diminishing the laws, customs, privileges, prerogatives, pre-eminence of liberties of our Metropolitan Church of Canterbury; we neither will, nor intend, nor with clear conscience are able to consent to the same, but by these writings we do dissent from, refuse, and contradict them.'
Thus formally having delivered his soul, he laid himself down and died.
- 35 Ed. I.; 25 Ed. III. stat. 4; stat. 5, cap. 22; 27 Ed. III. stat. 1; 13 Ric. II. stat. 2. cap. 2; 16 Ric. II. cap. 5; 9 Hen. IV. cap. 8.
- Cavendish, p. 276.
Gardiner has left some noticeable remarks on this subject.
'Whether,' he says, 'a king may command against a common law or an act of parliament, there is never a judge or other man in the realm ought to know more by experience of that the laws have said than I.
'First, my Lord Cardinal, that obtained his legacy by our late Sovereign Lord's requirements at Rome, yet, because it was against the laws of the realm, the judges concluded the offence of premunire, which matter I bare away, and took it for a law of the realm, because the lawyers said so, but my reason digested it not. The lawyers, for confirmation of their doings, brought in the case of Lord Tiptoft. An earl he was, and learned in the civil laws, who being chancellor, because in execution of the King's commandment he offended the laws of the realm, suffered on Tower Hill. They brought in examples of many judges that had fines set on their heads in like cases for transgression of laws by the King's commandment, and this I learned in that case.
'Since that time being of the council, when many proclamations were devised against the carriers out of corn, when it came to punish the offender, the judges would answer it might not be by the law, because the Act of Parliament gave liberty, wheat being under a price. Whereupon at last followed the Act of Proclamations, in the passing whereof were many large words spoken.'
After mentioning other cases, he goes on:—
'I reasoned once in the Parliament House, where there was free speech without danger, and the Lord Audely, to satisfy me, because I was in some secret estimation, as he knew, 'Thou art a good fellow, Bishop,' quoth he; 'look at the Act of Supremacy, and there the King's doings be restrained to spiritual jurisdiction; and in another act no spiritual law shall have place contrary to a common law, or an act of parliament. And this were not,' quoth he, 'you bishops would enter in with the King, and by means of his supremacy order the laws as ye listed. But we will provide,' quoth he, 'that the premunire shall never go off your heads.' This I bare away then, and held my peace.'—Gardiner to the Protector Somerset: MS. Harleian, 417.
- 13 Ric. II. stat. 2, cap. 2. Et si le Roi envoie par lettre ou en autre maniere a la Courte du Rome al excitacion dascune person, parount que la contrarie de cest estatut soit fait touchant ascune dignité de Sainte Eglise, si celuy qui fait tiel excitacion soit Prelate de Sainte Eglise, paie au Roy le value de ses temporalitees dun an. The petition of Parliament which occasioned the statute is even more emphatic: Perveuz tout foitz que par nulle traite ou composition a faire entre le Seinte Pere le Pape et notre Seigneur le Roy que riens soit fait a contraire en prejudice de cest Estatute a faire. Et si ascune Seigneur Espirituel ou Temporel ou ascune persone quiconque de qu'elle condition qu'il soit, enforme, ensence ou excite le Roi ou ses heirs, l'anientiser, adnuller ou repeller cest Estatut a faire, et de ceo soit atteint par due proces du loy que le Seigneur Espirituel eit la peyne sus dite, &c.—Rolls of Parliament, Ric. II. 13.
- Even further, as chancellor, the particular duty had been assigned to him of watching over the observance of the Act.
Et le chancellor que pur le temps serra a quelle heure que pleint a luy ou a conseill le Roy soit fait d'ascunes des articles sus ditz par ascune persone que pleindre soy voudra granta briefs sur le cas ou commissions a faire au covenables persones, d'oier et terminer les ditz articles sur peyne de perdre son office et jamais estre mys en office le Roy et perdre mille livres a lever a l'oeps le Roy si de ce soit atteint par du proces.—Rolls of Parliament, Ric. II. 13.
- Burnet, vol. iii. p. 77. See a summary of the acts of this Convocation in a sermon of Latimer's preached before the two Houses in 1536. Latimer's Sermons, p. 45.
- The King, considering what good might come of reading of the New Testament and following the same; and what evil might come of the reading of the same if it were evil translated, and not followed; came into the Star Chamber the five-and-twentieth day of May; and then communed with his council and the prelates concerning the cause. And after long debating, it was alleged that the translations of Tyndal and Joy were not truly translated, and also that in them were prologues and prefaces that sounded unto heresy, and railed against the bishops uncharitably. Wherefore all such books were prohibited, and commandment given by the King to the bishops, that they, calling to them the best learned men of the Universities, should cause a new translation to be made, so that the people should not be ignorant of the law of God.—Hall, p. 771. And see Warham's Register for the years 1529–1531. MS. Lambeth.
- 22 Hen. VIII. cap. 15.
- Burnet, vol. iii. p. 78.
- For Henry's reasons, see Divorce of Catherine of Aragon, p. 166, &c.
- State Papers, vol. vii. 457.
- Memoranda relating to the Clergy: Rolls House MS.
- Burnet, vol. iii. p. 80; Divorce of Catherine of Aragon, p. 180.
- The King's Highness, having always tender eyes with mercy and pity and compassion towards his spiritual subjects, minding of his high goodness and great benignity so always to impart the same unto them, as justice being duly administered, all rigour be excluded; and the great benevolent minds of his said subjects [having been] largely and many times approved towards his Highness, and specially in their Convocation and Synod now presently being in the Chapter House of Westminster, his Highness, of his said benignity and high liberality, in consideration that the said Convocation has given and granted unto him a subsidy of one hundred thousand pounds, is content to grant his general pardon to the clergy and the province of Canterbury, for all offences against the statute and premunire.—22 Hen. VIII. cap. 15.
- BURNET, vol. 1. p. 185.
- An instance is reported in the Chronicle of the Grey Friars ten years previously. The punishment was the same as that which was statutably enacted in the case of Rouse.
- Hall, p. 781.
- Most shocking when the wrong persons were made the victims; and because clerical officials were altogether incapable of detecting the right persons, the memory of the practice has become abhorrent to all just men. I suppose, however, that, if the right persons could have been detected, even the stake itself would not have been too tremendous a penalty for the destroying of human souls.
- 22 Hen. VIII. cap. 10.
- See a very curious pamphlet on this subject, by Sir Francis Palgrave. It is called The Confessions of Richard Bishop, Robert Seymour, and Sir Edward Neville, before the Privy Council, touching Prophecie, Necromancy, and Treasure-trove.
- Miscellaneous Depositions on the State of the Country: Rolls House MS.
- See the Preamble of the Bill against conjurations, witchcraft, sorceries, and enchantments. 33 Hen. VIII. cap. 8.
Also 'the Bill touching Prophecies upon Arms and Badges.' 33 Hen. VIII. cap. 14.
A similar edict expelled the gipsies from Germany. At the Diet of Spires, June 10, 1544.
Statutum est ne vagabundum hominum genus quos vulgo Saracenos vocant per Germaniam oberrare sinatur, usu enim compertum est eos exploratores et proditores esse.—State Papers, vol. ix. p. 705.
- Ellis, first series, vol. ii. p. 101.
- Bulla pro Johanne Scot, qui sine cibo et potu per centum et sex dies vixerat.—Rymer, vol. vi. part 2, p. 176.
- Buchanan, History of Scotland, vol. ii. p. 156.
- Letter of Archbishop Cranmer.—Ellis, second series, vol. ii. p. 314.
- Statutes of the Realm. 25 Hen. VIII. cap. 12.
- Extracts from a Narrative containing an Account of Elizabeth Barton: Rolls House MS.
- Statutes of the Realm.
- Rolls House MS.
- Suppression of the Monasteries, p. 19.
- Suppression of the Monasteries, p. 19.
- Proceedings connected with Elizabeth Barton: Rolls House MS.
- 25 Hen. VIII. cap. 12.
- 25 Hen. VIII. cap. 12.
- Cranmer's Letter, Ellis, third series, vol. iii. p. 315.
- More to Cromwell: Burnet's Collectanea, p. 350.
- 25 Hen. VIII. cap. 12.
- Confessions of Elizabeth Barton: Rolls House MS. Sir Thomas More gave her a double ducat to pray for him and his. Burnet's Collectanea, p. 352. Moryson, in his Apomaxis, declares that she had a regular understanding with the confessors at the Priory. When penitents came to confess, they were detained while a priest conveyed what they had acknowledged to the Nun; and when afterwards they were admitted to her presence, she amazed them with repeating their own confessions.
- The said Elizabeth subtilly and craftily conceding the opinion and mind of the said Edward Bocking, willing to please him, revealed and showed unto the said Edward that God was highly displeased with our said sovereign lord the King for this matter; and in case he desisted not from his proceeding in the said divorce and separation, but pursued the same and married again, that then within one month after such marriage, he should no longer be King of this realm; and in the reputation of Almighty God he should not be a king one day nor one hour, and that he should die a villain's death. Saying further, that there was a root with three branches, and till they were plucked up it should never be merry in England: interpreting the root to be the late Lord Cardinal, and the first branch to be the King our sovereign lord, the second the Duke of Norfolk, the third the Duke of Suffolk.—25 Hen. VIII. cap. 12.
- Revelations of Elizabeth Barton: Rolls House MS. In the epitome of the book of her Revelations it is stated that there was a story in it 'of an angel that appeared, and bade the Nun go unto the King, that infidel prince of England, and say that I command him to amend his life, and that he leave three things which he loveth and pondereth upon, i.e., that he take none of the Pope's right nor patrimony from him; the second, that he destroy all these new folks of opinion and the works of their new learning; the third, that if he married and took Anne to wife, the vengeance of God should plague him; and as she sayth she shewed this unto the King.'—Paper on the Nun of Kent: MS. Cotton. Cleopatra, E 4.
- Ellis, third series, vol. ii. p. 137. Warham had promised to marry Henry to Anne Boleyn. The Nun frightened him into a refusal by a pretended message from an angel.—MS. ibid.
- The Nun hath practised with two of the Pope's ambassadors within this realm, and hath sent to the Pope that if he did not his duty in reformation of kings, God would destroy him at a certain day which he had appointed. By reason whereof it is supposed that the Pope hath showed himself so double and deceivable to the King's Grace in his great cause of marriage as he hath done, contrary to all truth, justice and equity. As likewise the late Cardinal of England, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, being very well-minded to further and set at an end the marriage which the King's Grace now enjoyeth, according to their spiritual duty, were prevented by the false revelations of the said Nun. And that the said Bishop of Canterbury was so minded may be proved by divers which knew then his towardness.—Narrative of the Proceedings of Elizabeth Barton: Rolls House MS.
- Note of the Revelations of Elizabeth Barton; Rolls House MS.
- Hall, p. 780.
- Rymer, vol. vi. p. 160. We are left to collateral evidence to fix the place of this petition, the official transcriber having contented himself with the substance, and omitted the date. The original, as appears from the Pope's reply (Lord Herbert, p. 145), bore the date of July 13; and unless a mistake was made in transcribing the papal brief, this was July, 1530. I have ventured to assume a mistake, and to place the petition in the following year, because the judgment of the universities, to which it refers, was not completed till the winter of 1530, they were not read in parliament till March 30, 1531; and it seems unlikely that a petition of so great moment would have been presented on an incomplete case, or before the additional support of the House of Commons had been secured. I am far from satisfied, however, that I am right in making the change. The petition must have been drawn up (though it need not have been presented) in 1530; since it bear.ithe signature of Wolsey, who died in the November of that year.
- Mademoiselle de Boleyn est venue; et 'a le Roy logée en fort beau logis; et qu'il a faict bien accoustrer tout auprés du sien. Et luy est la cour faicte ordinairement tous les jours plus grosse que de long temps elle ne fut faicte a la Royne. Je crois bien qu'on veult accoutumer par les petie ce peuple a l'endurer, afin que quand ivendra á donner les grands coups, il ne les trouve si estrange. Toutefois il demeure tous jours endurcy, et croy bien qu'il feroit plus qu'il ne faict si plus il avoit de puissance; mais grand ordre se donne par tout.—Bishop of Bayonne to the Grand Master: Legrand, vol. iii. p. 231.
- Hall, p. 781.
- It seems to have been his favourite place of retirement. The gardens and fishponds were peculiarly elaborate and beautiful.—Sir John Russell to Cromwell: MS. State Paper Office.
- Also it is a proverb of old date—'The pride of France, the treason of England, and the war of Ireland, shall never have end.'—State Papers, vol. ii p. 11.
- There was a secret ambassador with the Scots King from the Emperour, who had long communicated with the King alone in his privy chamber. And after the ambassador's departure the King, coming out into his outer chamber, said to his chancellor and the Earl Bothwell, 'My lords, how much are we bounden unto the Emperour that in the matter concerning our style, which so long he hath set about for our honour, that shall be by him discussed on Easter day, and that we may lawfully write ourself Prince of England and Duke of York.' To which the chancellor said, 'I pray God the Pope confirm the same.' The Scots King answered, 'Let the Emperour alone.'—Earl of Northumberland to Henry VIII.: State Papers, vol. iv. p. 599.
- Hall, p. 783.
- 'The Bishop was brought in desperation of his life.'—Rolls House MS., second series, 532. This paper confirms Hall's account in every point.
- Hall, p. 796.
- Burnet, vol. iii. p. 115.
- Warham was however fined 300l. for it.—Hall, 796. A letter of Richard Tracy, son of the dead man, is in the MS. State Paper Office, first series, vol. iv. He says the King's Majesty had committed the investigation of the matter to Cromwell.
- Latimer's Sermons, p. 46.
- Chap. iii.
- 23 Hen. VIII. cap. 1.
- 23 Hen. VIII. cap. 9.
- Be it further enacted that no archbishop or bishop, official, commissary, or any other minister, having spiritual jurisdiction, shall ask, demand, or receive of any of the King's subjects any sum or sums of money for the seal of any citizen, but only threepence sterling.—23 Hen. VIII. cap. 9.
- 23 Hen. VIII. cap. 10.—By a separate clause all covenants to defraud the purposes of this Act were declared void, and the Act itself was to be interpreted 'as beneficially as might be, to the destruction and utter avoiding of such uses, intents, and purposes.'
- Anuates or firstfruits were first suffered to be taken within the realm for the only defence of Christian people against infidels; and now they be claimed and demanded as mere duty only for lucre, against all right and conscience.—23 Hen. VIII. cap. 20.
- 23 Hen. VIII, cap. 20.
- It hath happened many times by occasion of death unto archbishops or bishops newly promoted within two or three years after their consecration, that their friends by whom they have been holpen to make payment have been utterly undone and impoverished.—23 Henry VIII. cap. 20.
- M. de la, Pomeroy to Cardinal Tournon.
'London, March 23, 1531–2.
'My Lord, I sent two letters to your lordship on the 20th of this month. Since that day Parliament has been prorogued, and will not meet again till after Easter.
'It has heen determined that the Pope's Holiness shall receive no more annates, and the collector's office is to he abolished. Everything is turning against the Holy See, but the King has shown no little skill, the Lords and Comnons have left the final decision cf the question at his personal pleasure, and the Pope is to understand that if he will do nothing for the King,, the King has the means of makinghim suffer. The clergy in Convocation have consented to nothing, nor will they, till they know the pleasure of their master the Holy Father; but the other estates being agreed, the refusal of the clergy is treated as of no consequence.
'Many other rights and privileges of the Church are abolished also, too numerous to mention.'—MS. Bibliot. Impér. Paris.
- Strype, Eccles. Mem., vol. i. part 2 p. 158.
- Strype, Eccles. Mem., vol. i. part 2, p. 158.
- Sir George Throgmorton, Sir William Essex, Sir John Giffard, Sir Marmaduke Constable, with many others, spoke and voted in opposition to the Government. They had a sort of club at the Queen's Head by Temple Bar, where they held discussions in secret, 'and when we did commence,' said Throgmorton, 'we did bid the servants of the house go out, and likewise our own servants, because we thought it not convenient that they should hear us speak of such matters.'—Throgmorton to the King: MS. State Paper Office.
- 23 Hen. VIII. cap. 20.
- Printed in Strype, Eccles. Mem., vol. i. p. 201. Strype, knowing nothing of the first answer, and perceiving in the second an allusion to one preceding, has supposed that this answer followed the third and last, and was in fact a retractation of it. All obscurity is removed when the three replies are arranged in their legitimate order.
- Strype, Eccles. Mem., vol. i. p. 199, &c.
- 23 Henry VIII. cap. 20.
- Stow, p. 562.
- 'In connection with the Annates Act, the question of appeals to Rome had been discussed in the present sesion. Sir George Throgmorton had spoken on the Papal side, and in his subsequent confession he mentioned a remarkable interview Avhich he had had with More.
'After I had reasoned to the Bill of Appeals,' he said, 'Sir Thomas More, then being chancellor, sent for me to come and speak with him in the Parliament chamber. And when I came to him he was in a little chamber within the Parliament chamber, where, as I remember, stood an altar, or a thing like unto an altar, whereupon he did lean, and, as I do think, the same time the Bishop of Bath was talking with him. And then he said this to me, I am very glad to hear the good report that goeth of you, and that ye be so good a Catholic man as ye be. And if ye do continue in the same way that ye begin, and be not afraid to say your conscience, ye shall deserve great reward of God, and thanks of the King's Grace at length, and much worship to yourself.'—Throgmorton to the King: MS. State Paper Office.
- In part of it he speaks in his own person. Vide supra, cap. 3.
- Burnet's Collectanea, p. 435.