History of England (Froude)/Chapter 9
THE CATHOLIC MARTYRS.
WHILE the disturbance in Ireland was at its height, affairs in England had been scarcely less critical. The surface indeed remained unbroken. The summer of 1534 passed away, and the threatened invasion had not taken place. 1534.The disaffection which had appeared in the preceding year had been smothered for a time; Francis I. held the Emperor in check by menacing Flanders, and through French influence the rupture with Scotland had been seemingly healed. In appearance the excommunication had passed off as a brutum fulmen, a flash of harmless sheet lightning, serving only to dazzle feeble eyes. The oath of succession, too, had been taken generally through the country; Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher having alone ventured to refuse. The Pope had been abjured by the Universities and by the Convocation in both the provinces, and to these collective Acts the bishops and the higher clergy had added each their separate consent.
But the Government knew too well the temper of the clergy to trust to outward compliance, or to feel assured that they acquiesced at heart either in the separation from Rome, or in the loss of their treasured privileges. The theory of an Anglican Erastianism found favour with some of the higher Church dignitaries, and with a section perhaps of the secular priests; but the transfer to the Crown of the first-fruits, which, in their original zeal for a free Church of England, the ecclesiastics had hoped to preserve for themselves, the abrupt limitation of the powers of Convocation, and the termination of so many time-honoured and lucrative abuses, had interfered with the popularity of a view which might have been otherwise broadly welcomed; and while growing vigorously among the country gentlemen and the middle classes in the towns, among the clergy it throve only within the sunshine of the Court. The rest were overawed for the moment, and stunned by the suddenness of the blows which had fallen upon them. As far as they thought at all, they believed that the storm would be but of brief duration, that it would pass away as it had risen, and that for the moment they had only to bend. The modern Englishman looks back upon the time with the light of after-history. He has been inured by three centuries of division to the spectacle of a divided Church, and sees nothing in it either embarrassing or fearful. The ministers of a faith which had been for fifteen centuries as the seamless vesture of Christ, the priests of a Church supposed to be founded on the everlasting rock against which no power could prevail, were in a very different position. They obeyed for the time the strong hand which was upon them, trusting to the interference of accident or providence. They comforted themselves with the hope that the world would speedily fall back into its old ways, that Christ and the saints would defend the Church against sacrilege, March.and that in the mean time there was no occasion for them to thrust themselves upon voluntary martyrdom. But this position, natural as it was, became difficult to maintain when they were called upon not only themselves to consent to the changes, but to justify their consent to their congregations, and to explain to the people the grounds on which the Government had acted. The kingdom was by implication under an interdict, yet the services went on as usual; the King was excommunicated; doubt hung over the succession; the facts were imperfectly known; and the never-resting friars mendicant were busy scattering falsehood and misrepresentation. It was of the highest moment that on all these important matters the mind of the nation should if possible be set at rest; and the clergy, whose loyalty was presumed rather than trusted, furnished the only means by which the Government could generally and simultaneously reach the people. The clergy therefore, as we have seen, were called upon for their services; the Pope's name was erased from the mass books; the Statute of Appeals and the Statute of Succession were fixed against the doors of every parish church in England, and the rectors and curates were directed to explain the meaning of these Acts every week in their sermons. The bishops were held responsible for the obedience of the clergy; the sheriffs and the magistrates had been directed to keep an eye upon the bishops; and all the machinery of centralization was put in force to compel the fulfilment of a duty which was well known to be unwelcome.
That as little latitude as possible might be left for resistance or evasion, books were printed by order of council, and distributed through the hands of the bishops, containing a minute account of the whole proceedings on the divorce, the promises and falsehoods of the Pope, the opinions of the European universities, and a general epitome of the course which had been pursued. These were to be read aloud to the congregations; and an order for preaching was at the same time circulated, in which the minuteness of the directions is as remarkable as the prudence of them. Every preacher was to deliver one sermon at least ('and after at his liberty') on the encroachments and usurpations of the Papal power. He was to preach against it, to expose and refute it to the best of his ability, and to declare that it was done away, and might neither be obeyed nor defended further. Again, in all places 'where the King's just cause in his matter of matrimony had been detracted, and the incestuous and unjust [matrimony] had been set forth [and extolled],' the clergy were generally directed 'to open and declare the mere verity and justness' of the matter, declaring it 'neither doubtful nor disputable, but to be a thing of mere verity, and so to be allowed of all men's opinions.' They were to relate in detail the Pope's conduct, his many declarations in the King's favour; the first decretal, which was withheld by Campeggio, in which he had pronounced the marriage with Catherine invalid; his unjust avocation of the cause to Rome; his promises to the King of France; and finally, his engagement at Marseilles to pronounce in the King of England's favour, if only he would acknowledge the Papal jurisdiction. They were therefore to represent the King's conduct as the just and necessary result of the Pope's duplicity. These things the clergy were required to teach, not as matters of doubt and question, but as vital certainties on which no difference of opinion could be tolerated. Finally, there were added a few wholesome admonitions on other subjects, which mark the turning of the tide from Catholic orthodoxy. The clergy were interdicted from indulging any longer in the polemics of theology. 'To keep unity and quietness in the realm it' was 'ordained that no preachers' should 'contend openly in the pulpit one against another, nor uncharitably deprave one another in open audience. If any of them' were 'grieved one with another,' they were to 'complain to the King's Highness or the Archbishop or Bishop of the diocese.' They were 'purely, sincerely, and justly' to 'preach the Scripture and words of Christ, and not mix them with men's institutions, or make men believe that the force of God's law and man's law was the like.' On subjects such as purgatory, worship of saints and relics, marriage of the clergy, justification by faith, pilgrimages and miracles, they were to keep silence for one whole year, and not to preach at all.
These instructions express distinctly the convictions of the Government. It would have been well if the clergy could have accepted them as they were given, and submitted their understandings once for all to statesmen who were wiser than themselves. The majority (of the parish clergy at least) were perhaps outwardly obedient; but the surveillance which the magistrates were directed to exercise proves that the exceptions were expected to be extensive; and in many quarters these precautions themselves were rapidly discovered to be inadequate. Several even of the most trusted among the bishops attempted an obstructive resistance. The clergy of the north were notoriously disobedient. The Archbishop of York was reported to have talked loosely of 'standing against' the King 'unto death.' The Bishop of Durham fell under suspicion, and was summoned to London. His palace was searched and his papers examined in his absence; and the result, though inconclusive, was unsatisfactory. The religious orders again (especially the monks of such houses as had been implicated with the Nun of Kent) were openly recusant. At the convent at Sion, near Richmond, a certain Father Ricot preached as he was commanded, 'but he made this addition, that he which commanded him to preach should discharge his conscience: and as soon,' it was said, 'as the said Ricot began to declare the King's title,' 'nine of the brethren departed from the sermon, contrary to the rule of their religion, to the great slander of the audience.' Indeed it soon became evident that among the regular clergy no compliance whatever was to be looked for; and the agents of the Government began to contemplate the possible consequences, with a tenderness not indeed for the prospective sufferers, but for the authorities whom they would so cruelly compel to punish them. 'I am right sorry,' wrote Cromwell's secretary to him, 'to see the foolishness and obstinacy of divers religious men, so addict to the Bishop of Rome and his usurped power, that they contemn counsel as careless men and willing to die. If it were not for the opinion which men had, and some yet have, in their apparent holiness, it made no great matter what became of them, so their souls were saved. And for my part, I would that all such obstinate persons of them as be ready to die for the advancement of the Bishop of Rome's authority were dead indeed by God's hand, that no man should run wrongfully into obloquy for their just punishment.'
But the open resistance of mistaken honesty was not the danger which the Government most feared. Another peril threatened their authority, deeper and more alarming by far. The clergy possessed in the confessional a power of secret influence over the masses of the people, by which they were able at once (if they so pleased) to grant their penitents licenses for insincerity, to permit them to perjure themselves under mental reservations, and to encourage them to expiate a venial falsehood by concealed disaffection. The secrets of confession were inviolable. Anathemas the most fearful forbade their disclosure; and, secured behind this impenetrable shield, the Church might defy the most stringent provisions, and baffle every precaution.
From the nature of the case but little could transpire of the use or the abuse which was made at such a time of so vast a power; but Cromwell, whose especial gift it was to wind himself into the secrets of the clergy, had his sleuth-hounds abroad, whose scent was not easily baffled. The long tyranny of the priesthood produced also its natural retribution in the informations which were too gladly volunteered in the hour of revenge; and more than one singular disclosure remains among the State Papers, of language used in this mysterious intercourse. Every man who doubted whether he might lawfully abjure the Pope, consulted his priest. Haughton, the Prior of Charterhouse, in all such cases, declared absolutely that, the abjuration might not be made. He himself refused openly; and it is likely that he directed others to be as open as himself. But Haughton's advice was as exceptional as his conduct. Father Forest, of Greenwich, who was a brave man, and afterwards met nobly a cruel death, took the oath to the King as he was required; while he told a penitent that he had abjured the Pope in the outward, but not in the inward man, that he 'owed an obedience to the Pope which he could not shake off,' and that it was 'his use and practice in confession, to induce men to hold and stick to the old fashion of belief.'
Here, again, is a conversation which a treacherous penitent revealed to Cromwell; the persons in the dialogue being the informer, John Staunton, and the confessor of Sion Monastery, who had professed the most excessive loyalty to the Crown. The informer, it must be allowed, was a good-for-nothing person. He had gone to the confessor, he said, to be shriven, and had commenced his confession with acknowledging 'the seven deadly sins particularly,' 'and next the misspending of his five wits.' As an instance of the latter, he then in detail had confessed to heresy; he could not persuade himself that the priest had power to forgive him. 'Sir,' he professed to have said to the confessor, 'there is one thing in my stomach which grieveth my conscience very sore; and that is by reason of a sermon I heard yesterday of Master Latimer, saying that no man of himself had authority to forgive sins, and that the Pope had no more authority than another bishop; and therefore I am in doubt whether I shall have remission of my sins of you or not, and that the pardon is of no effect.'
The priest answered, 'That Latimer is a false knave;' and seven or eight times he called him false knave, and said he was an eretycke. 'Marry, this I heard Latimer say,' the confessor continued, 'that if a man come to confession, and be not sorry for his sins, the priest hath no power to forgive him. I say the Pope's pardon is as good as ever it was; and he is the head of the Universal Church, and so I will take him. Here in England the King and his Parliament hath put him out; but be of good comfort, and steadfast in your faith; this thing will not last long, I warrant you. You shall see the world change shortly.'
To this the informer said that he had replied, 'You know how that we be sworn unto the King's Grace, and he hath already abjured the Pope.'
'As for that,' said the priest, 'an oath loosely made may be loosely broken; and by this example be ye in ease. I had an enemy come unto this church, and one of his friends and mine came unto me and said, 'Sir, I pray you let us go drink with yonder man.' And the said friend maketh such importunate suit unto me to drink with my enemy, that I promise him by my faith that I will go and drink with him; and so indeed doth drink with him. But what then,' said the priest; 'though I go and drink with him upon this promise, trow you that I will forgive him with my heart? Nay, nay, I warrant you. And so in like wise in this oath concerning the abjuration of the Pope. I will not abjure him in my heart,' said the priest, 'for these words were not spoken unto Peter for nought—'I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven'—and the Pope is Peter's successor. Of this matter,' said the priest, 'I communed once with the Bishop of Canterbury, and I told the Bishop I would pray for the Pope as the chief and Papal head of Christ's Church. And the Bishop told me it was the King's pleasure that I should not. I said unto him I would do it; and Chough I did it not openly, yet would I do it secretly. And he said I might pray for him secretly, but in any wise do it not openly.'
Trifles of this kind may seem unimportant; but at the time they were of moment, for their weight was cumulative; and we can only now recover but a few out of many. Such as they are, however, they show the spirit in which the injunctions were received by a section at least of the English clergy. Nor was this the worst. We find language reported, which shows that many among the monks were watching for symptoms of the promised Imperial invasion, and the progress of the Irish insurgents. A Doctor Maitland, of the order of Black Friars in London, had been 'heard divers times to say, he trusted to see every man's head that was of the new learning, and the maintainers of them, to stand upon a stake, and Cranmer's to be one of them. The King,' he hoped, might suffer 'a violent and shameful death;' and 'the Queen, that mischievous whore, might be brent.' 'He said further, that he knew by his science, which was nigromancy, that all men of the new learning should be suppressed and suffer death, and the people of the old learning should be set up again by the power of the King's enemies from the parts beyond the sea.'
In the May weather of 1534, two Middlesex clergy, 'walking to and fro in the cloyster garden at Sion, were there overheard compassing sedition and rebellion.' John Hale, an eager, tumultuous person, was prompting his brother priest, Robert Feron, with matter for a pamphlet, which Feron was to write against the King. 'Syth the realm of England was first a realm,' said Hale, 'was there never in it so great a robber and piller of the commonwealth read of nor heard of as is our King.… He is the most cruellest capital heretic, defacer and treader under foot of Christ and of his Church, continually applying and minding to extinct the same; whose death, I beseech God, may be like to the death of the most wicked John, sometime King of this realm, or rather to be called a great tyrant than a King; and that his death may be not much unlike to the end of that manqueller Richard, sometime usurper of this imperial realm. And if thou wilt deeply look upon his life, thou shalt find it more foul and more stinking than a sow wallowing and defiling herself in any filthy place.'
These words were spoken in English; Feron translated them into Latin, and wrote them down. Hale then continued: 'Until the King and the rulers of this realm be plucked by the pates, and brought, as we say, to the pot, shall we never live merrily in England, which, I pray God, may chance, and now shortly come to pass. Ireland is set against him, which will never shrink in their quarrel to die in it; and what think ye of Wales? The noble and gentle Ap Ryce, so cruelly put to death, and he innocent, as they say, in the cause. I think not contrary, but they will join and take part with the Irish, and so invade our realm. If they do so, doubt ye not but they shall have aid and strength enough in England. For this is truth: three parts of England be against the King, as he shall find if he need. For of truth, they go about to bring this realm into such miserable condition as is France; which the commons see, and perceive well enough a sufficient cause of rebellion and insurrection in this realm. And truly we of the Church shall never live merrily until that day come.
These informations may assist us in understanding, if we cannot forgive, the severe enactments—severely to be executed—which were passed in the ensuing Parliament.
It is a maxim of sound policy, that actions only are a proper subject of punishment—that to treat men as offenders for their words, their intentions, or their opinions, is not justice, but tyranny. But there is no rule which is universally applicable. The policy of a state of war is not the policy of a state of peace. And as a soldier in a campaign is not at liberty to criticise openly the cause for which he is fighting; as no general, on his army going into action, can permit a subordinate to decline from his duty in the moment of danger, on the plea that he is dissatisfied with the grounds of the quarrel, and that his conscience forbids him to take part in it; so there are times when whole nations are in a position analogous to that of an army so circumstanced; when the safety of the State depends upon unity of purpose, and when private persons must be compelled to reserve their opinions to themselves; when they must be compelled neither to express them in words, nor to act upon them in their capacity of citizens, except at their utmost peril. At such times the salus populi overrides all other considerations; and the maxims and laws of calmer periods for awhile consent to be suspended. The circumstances of the year 1848 will enable us, if we reflect, not upon what those circumstances actually were, but on what they easily might have been, to understand the position of Henry VIII.'s Government at the moment of the separation from Rome. If the danger in 1848 had ceased to be imaginary—if Ireland had broken into a real insurrection—if half the population of England had been Socialist, and had been in secret league with, the leaders of the Revolution in Paris for a combined attack upon the State by insurrection and invasion—the mere passing of a law, making the use of seditious language an act of treason, would not have been adequate to the danger. Influential persons would have been justly submitted to question on their allegiance, and insufficient answers would have been interpreted as justifying suspicion. Not the expression, only, of opinions subversive of society, but the holding such opinions, however discovered, would have been regarded and treated as a crime, with the full consent of what is called the common sense and educated judgment of the nation.
If for 'opinions subversive of society,' we substitute allegiance to the Papacy, the parallel is complete between the year 1848, as it would then have been, and the time when tne penal laws which are considered the reproach of the Tudor Governments were passed against the Roman Catholics. I assume that the Reformation was in itself right; that the claims of the Pope to an English supremacy were unjust; and that it was good and wise to resist those claims. If this be allowed, those laws will not be found to deserve the reproach ot tyranny. We shall see in them but the natural resource of a vigorous Government placed in circumstances of extreme peril. The Romanism of the present day is a harmless opinion, no more productive of evil than any other superstition, and without tendency, or shadow of tendency, to impair the allegiance of those who profess it. But we must not confound a phantom with a substance; or gather from modern experience the temper of a time when words implied realities, when Catholics really believed that they owed no allegiance to an heretical sovereign, and that the first duty of their lives was to a foreign potentate. This perilous doctrine was waning, indeed, but it was not dead. By many it was actively professed; and among those by whom it was denied there were few except the Protestants whom it did not in some degree embarrass and perplex.
The Government, therefore, in the close of 1534, having clear evidence before them of intended treason, determined to put it down with a high hand; Nov. 3.and with this purpose Parliament met again on the 3rd of November. The first Act of the session was to give the sanction of the legislature to the title which had been conceded by Convocation, and to declare the King supreme Head of the Church of England. As affirmed by the legislature, this designation meant something more than when it wad granted three years previously by the clergy. It then implied that the spiritual body were no longer to be an imperium in imperio within the realm, but should hold their powers subordinate to the Crown. It was now an assertion of independence of foreign jurisdiction; it was the complement of the Act of Appeals, rounding off into completeness the constitution in Church and State of the English nation. The Act is short, and being of so great importance, I insert it entire.
'Albeit,' it runs, 'the King's Majesty justly and rightfully is and ought to be the supreme Head of the Church of England, and so is recognized by the clergy of this realm in their Convocation, yet nevertheless, for corroboration and confirmation thereof, and for increase of virtue in Christ's religion within this realm of England, and to repress and extirp all errours, heresies, and other enormities and abuses heretofore used in the same: Be it enacted, by authority of this present Parliament, that the King our Sovereign Lord, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted, and reputed the only supreme Head in earth of the Church of England, called Anglicana Ecclesia, and shall have and enjoy, annexed and united to the imperial crown of this realm, as well the title and style thereof as all the honours, dignities, pre-eminences, jurisdictions, authorities, immunities, profits, and commodities, to the said dignity belonging and appertaining; and that our said Sovereign Lord, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall have full power and authority to visit, repress, redress, reform, order, correct, restrain, and amend all such errours, heresies, abuses, contempts, and enormities, whatsoever they be, which by any manner of spiritual authority or jurisdiction ought or may lawfully be reformed—most to the pleasure of Almighty God, the increase of virtue in Christ's religion, and for the conservation of the peace, unity, and tranquillity of this realm—any usage, custom, foreign lawes, foreign authority, prescription, or any other thing or things to the contrary hereof notwithstanding.'
Considerable sarcasm has been levelled at the assumption by Henry of this title; and on the accession of Elizabeth, the Crown, while reclaiming the authority, thought it prudent to retire from the designation. Yet it answered a purpose in marking the nature of the revolution, and the emphasis of the name carried home the change into the mind of the country. It was the epitome of all the measures which had been passed against the encroachments of the spiritual powers within and without the realm; it was at once the symbol of the independence of England, and the declaration that thenceforth the civil magistrate was supreme within the English dominions over Church as well as State.
Whether the King was or was not Head of the Church, became now therefore the rallying point of the struggle; and the denial or acceptance of his title the test of allegiance or disloyalty. To accept it was to go along with the movement heartily and completely; to deny it was to admit the rival sovereignty of the Pope, and with his sovereignty the lawfulness of the sentence of excommunication. It was to imply that Henry was not only not Head of the Church, but that he was no longer lawful King of England, and that the allegiance of the country must be transferred to the Princess Mary when the Pope and the Emperor should give the word. There might be no intention of treason; the motive of the opposition might be purely religious; but from the nature of the case opposition of any kind would abet the treason of others; and no honesty of meaning could render possible any longer a double loyalty to the Crown and to the Papacy.
The Act conferring the title was in consequence followed by another, declaring the denial of it to be treason. It was necessary to stop the tongues of the noisy mutinous monks, to show them once for all that these high matters were no subjects for trifling. The oath to the succession of the Princess Elizabeth partially answered this purpose; and the obligation to take that oath had been extended to all classes of the King's subjects; but to refuse to swear to the succession was misprision of treason only, not high treason; and the ecclesiastics (it had been seen) found no difficulty in swearing oaths which they did not mean to observe. The Parliament therefore now attached to the Statute of Supremacy the following imperious corollary:—
'Forasmuch as it is most necessary, both for common policy and duty of subjects, above all things to prohibit, provide, restrain, and extinct all manner of shameful slanders, perils, or imminent danger or dangers, which might grow, happen, or arise to their sovereign lord the King, the Queen, or their heirs, which, when they be heard, seen, or understood, cannot be but odible and also abhorred of all those sorts that be true and loving subjects, if in any point they may, do, or shall touch the King, the Queen, their heirs or successors, upon which dependeth the whole unity and universal weal of this realm; without providing wherefore, too great a scope should be given to all cankered and traitorous hearts, willers and workers of the same; and also the King's loving subjects should not declare unto their sovereign lord now being, which unto them both hath been and is most entirely beloved and esteemed, their undoubted sincerity and truth: Be it therefore enacted, that if any person or persons, after the first day of February next coming, do maliciously wish, will, or desire, by words or writing, or by craft imagine, invent, practise, or attempt any bodily harm to be done or committed to the King's most royal person, the Queen's, or their heirs apparent, or to deprive them or any of them of the dignity, title, or name of their royal estates, or slanderously and maliciously publish and pronounce by express writing or words that the King our sovereign lord should be heretic, schismatic, tyrant, infidel, or usurper of the crown, &c., &c., that all such persons, their aiders, counsellors, concertors, or abettors, being thereof lawfully convict according to the laws and customs of the realm, shall be adjudged traitors, and that every such offence in any of the premises shall be adjudged high treason.'
The terrible powers which were thus committed to the Government lie on the surface of this language; but comprehensive as the statute appears, it was still further extended by the interpretation of the lawyers. In order to fall under its penalties it was held not to be necessary that positive guilt should be proved in any one of the specified offences; it was enough if a man refused to give satisfactory answers when subjected to official examination. At the discretion of the King or his ministers the active consent to the supremacy might be required of any person on whom they pleased to call, under penalty to the recusant of the dreadful death of a traitor. So extreme a measure can only be regarded as a remedy for an evil which was also extreme; and as on the return of quiet times the Parliament made haste to repeal a law which was no longer required, so in the enactment of that law we are bound to believe that they were not betraying English liberties in a spirit of careless complacency; but that they believed truly that the security of the State required unusual precautions. The nation was standing with its sword half drawn in the face of an armed Europe, and it was no time to permit dissensions in the camp. Toleration is good—but even the best things must abide their opportunity; and although we may regret that in this grand struggle for freedom, success could only be won by the aid of measures which bordered upon oppression, yet here also the even hand of justice was but commending the chalice to the lips of those who had made others drink it to the dregs. They only were likely to fall under the Treason Act who for centuries had fed the rack and the stake with sufferers for 'opinion.'
Having thus made provision for public safety, the Parliament voted a supply of money for the fortifications on the coast and for the expenses of the Irish war; and after transferring to the Crown the first-fruits of Church benefices, which had been previously paid to the See of Rome, and passing at the same time a large and liberal measure for the appointment of twenty- six suffragan bishops, they separated, not to meet again for more than a year.
Meanwhile, at Rome a change had taken place which for the moment seemed to promise that the storm after all might pass away. The conclave had elected as a successor to Clement a man who, of all the Italian ecclesiastics, was the most likely to recompose the quarrels in the Church; and who, if the genius or the destiny of the Papacy had not been too strong for any individual will, would perhaps have succeeded in restoring peace to Christendom. In the debates upon the divorce the Cardinal Farnese had been steadily upon Henry's side. He had maintained from the' first the general justice of the King's demands. After the final sentence was passed, he had urged, though vainly, the reconsideration of that fatal step; and though slow and cautious, although he was a person who, as Sir Gregory Cassalis described him, 'would accomplish little, but would make few mistakes,' he had allowed his opinion upon this, as on other matters connected with the English quarrel, to be generally known. He was elected therefore by French influence as the person most likely to meet the difficulties of Europe in a catholic and conciliating spirit. He had announced his intention, immediately on Clement's death, of calling a general council at the earliest moment, in the event of his being chosen to fill the Papal chair; and as he was the friend rather of Francis I. than of the Emperor, and as Francis was actively supporting Henry, and was negotiating at the same moment with the Protestant princes in Germany, it seemed as if a council summoned under such auspices would endeavour to compose the general discords in a temper of wise liberality, and that some terms of compromise would be discovered where by mutual concessions Catholic and Protestant might meet upon a common ground.
The moment was propitious for such a hope; for the accession of a moderate Pope coincided with the reaction in Germany which followed the scandals at Munster and the excesses of John of Leyden; and Francis pictured to himself a coalition between France, England, and the Lutherans, which, if the Papacy was attached to their side, would be strong enough to bear down opposition, and reconstitute the Churches of Europe upon the basis of liberality which he seemed to have secured for the Church of France. The flattering vision in the autumn of the following year dazzled the German princes. Perhaps in the novelty of hope it was encouraged even by the Pope, before he had felt the strong hand of fate which ruled his will.
To Charles V. the danger of some such termination of the great question at issue appeared most near and real. Charles, whose resentment at the conduct of England united with a desire to assert his authority over his subjects in Germany, beheld with the utmost alarm a scheme growing to maturity which menaced alike his honour, his desire of revenge, his supremacy in Europe, and perhaps his religious convictions. A liberal coalition would be fatal to order, to policy, to truth; and on the election of Cardinal Farnese, the Count de Nassau was sent on a secret mission to Paris with overtures, the elaborate condescension of which betrays the anxiety that must have dictated them. The Emperor, in his self-constituted capacity of the Princess Mary's guardian, offered her hand with the English succession to the Duke of Angoulesme. From the terms on which he was supposed to stand with Anne Boleyn, it was thought possible that Henry might consent; he might not dare, as D'Inteville before suggested, to oppose the united demands of France and the Empire. To Margaret de Valois the Count was to propose the splendid temptation of a marriage with Philip. If Francis would surrender the English alliance, the Emperor would make over to him the passionately coveted Duchy of Milan, to be annexed to France on the death of the reigning Duke. In the mean time he would pay to the French King, as 'tribute for Milan,' a hundred thousand crowns a year, as an acknowledgment of the right of the house of Yalois. Offers such as these might well have tempted the light ambition of Francis. If sincere, they were equivalent to a surrender of the prize for which the Emperor's life had been spent in contending, and perilous indeed it would have been for England if this intrigue had been permitted to succeed. But whether it was that Francis too deeply distrusted Charles, that he preferred the more hazardous scheme of the German alliance, or that he supposed he could gain his object more surely with the help of England, the Count de Nassau left Paris with a decisive rejection of the Emperor's advances; and in the beginning of January, De Bryon, the High Admiral of France, was sent to England, to inform Henry of what had passed, and to propose for Elizabeth the marriage which Charles had desired for the Princess Mary.
De Bryon's instructions were remarkable. To consolidate the alliance of the two nations, he was to entreat Henry at length to surrender the claim to the Crown of France, which had been the cause of so many centuries of war. In return for this concession, Francis would make over to England, Gravelines, Newport, Dunkirk, a province of Flanders, and 'the title of the Duke of Lorrayne to the town of Antwerp, with sufficient assistance for the recovery of the same.' Henry was not to press Francis to part from the Papacy; and De Bryon seems to have indicated a hope that the English King might retrace his own steps. The weight of French influence, meanwhile, was to be pressed, to induce the Pope to revoke and denounce, voyd and frustrate the unjust and slanderous sentence given by his predecessor; and the terms of this new league were to be completed by the betrothal of the Princess Elizabeth to the Duke of Angoulesme.
There had been a time when these proposals would have answered all which Henry desired. In the early days of his reign he had indulged himself in visions of empire, and of repeating the old glories of the Plantagenet kings. But in the peace which was concluded after the defeat of Pavia, he showed that he had resigned himself to a wiser policy, and the surrender of a barren designation would cost him little. In his quarrel with the Pope, also, he had professed an extreme reluctance to impair the unity of the Church; and the sacrifices which he had made, and the years of persevering struggle which he had endured, had proved that in those professions he had not been insincere. But Henry's character was not what it had been when he won his title of Defender of the Faith. In the experience of the last few years he had learnt to conceive some broader sense of the meaning of the Reformation; and he had gathered from Cromwell and Latimer a more noble conception of the Protestant doctrines. He had entered upon an active course of legislation for the putting away the injustices, the falsehoods, the oppressions of a degenerate establishment; and in the strong sense that he had done right, and nothing else but right, in these measures, he was not now disposed to submit to a compromise, or to consent to undo anything which he was satisfied had been justly done, in consideration of any supposed benefit which he could receive from the Pope. He was anxious to remain in communion with the See of Rome. He was willing to acknowledge in some innocuous form the Roman supremacy. But it could be only on his own terms. The Pope must come to him; he could not go to the Pope. And the Papal precedency should only again be admitted in England on conditions which should leave untouched the Act of Appeals, and should preserve the sovereignty of the Crown unimpaired.
He replied, therefore, to the overtures of Francis, that he was ready to enter into negotiations for the resignation of his title to the crown of France, and for the proposed marriage. Before any other step was taken, however, he desired his good brother to insist that 'the Bishop of Rome' should revoke the sentence, and 'declare his pretended marriage with the Lady Catherine naught;' 'which to do,' Henry wrote (and this portion of his reply is written by his own hand), 'we think it very facile for our good brother; since we do perceive by letters [from Rome] both the opinions of the learned men there to be of that opinion that we be of; and also a somewhat disposition to that purpose in the Bishop of Rome's self, according to equity, reason, and the laws both positive and divine.' If there was to be a reconciliation with the Holy See, the first advance must be made on the Bishop of Rome's side; and Cromwell, in a simultaneous despatch, warned Francis not 'to move or desire his Grace to the violation of any laws recently passed, as a thing whereunto he would in no wise condescend or agree.'
Henry, however, felt no confidence either in the sincerity of the Pope, or in the sincerity of the French King, as he haughtily showed. He did not even trust De Bryon's account of the rejection of the overtures of the Emperor. 'If it happeneth,' he wrote, 'that the said Bishop will obstinately follow the steps of his predecessor, and be more inclined to the maintenance of the actions and sentences of his See than to equity and justice, then we trust that our good brother—perceiving the right to stand on our side, and that not only the universities of his whole realm and dominions hath so denned, but also the most part of the rest of Christendom, and also the best learned men of the Bishop of Rome's own council, now being called for that purpose—will fully and wholly, both he and his whole realm, adhere and cleave to us and our doings in this behalf; and we herein desire shortly to have answer, which we would be right loth should be such as whereupon we might take any occasion of suspicion; trusting, further, that our said good brother will both promise unto us upon his word, and indeed perform, that in the mean time, before the meeting of our deputies, he nor directly nor indirectly shall practise or set forth any mean or intelligence of marriage, or of other practices with the Emperour.'
So cold an answer could have arisen only from deep distrust; it is difficult to say whether the distrust was wholly deserved. Analogous advances made indirectly from the Pope were met with the same reserve. Sir Gregory Cassalis wrote to Cromwell, that Farnese, or Paul III., as he was now called, had expressed the greatest desire to please the King. He had sent for lawyers out of Tuscany, on whose judgment he had great reliance, and these lawyers had given an opinion that the Pope might ex officio annul the first marriage as Henry desired, and pronounce the second valid. This was well, but it did not go beyond words; and of these there had been too many. Jan.The English Government had fed upon 'the cameleon's dish,' 'eating the air promise crammed,' till they were weary of so weak a diet, and they desired something more substantial. If the Pope, replied Cromwell, be really well disposed, let him show his disposition in some public manner, 'of his own accord, with a desire only for the truth, and without waiting till the King's Majesty entreat him.' It would have been more courteous, and perhaps it would have been more just, if the French overtures had been met in a warmer spirit; for the policy of Francis required for the time a cordial understanding with England; and his conduct seems to prove that he was sincerely anxious to win the Pope to complacency. But Henry's experience guided him wisely with the Roman Bishop; and if he had been entangled into confidence in Farnese, he would have been entangled to his ruin.
The spring of 1535 was consumed in promises, negotiations, and a repetition of the profitless story of the preceding years. Suddenly, in the midst of the unreality, it became clear that one man at least was serious. Henry, with an insurgent Ireland and a mutinous England upon his hands, had no leisure for diplomatic finesse; he had learnt his lesson with Clement, and was not to be again deceived. The language of the Roman See had been inconsistent, but the actions of it had been always uniform. From the first beginning of the dispute to the final break and excommunication, in the teeth of his promises, his flatteries, his acknowledgments, Clement had been the partisan of Catherine. When the English agents were collecting the opinions of the Italian universities, they were thwarted by his emissaries. He had intrigued against Henry in Scotland; he had tampered with Henry's English and Irish subjects; he had maintained a secret correspondence with Catherine herself. And so well had his true feelings and the true position of the question been understood by the Papal party in England, that at the very time when at Marseilles and elsewhere the Pope himself was admitting the justice of the King's demand, the religious orders who were most unwavering in their allegiance to the Papacy, were pressing their opposition to the divorce into rebellion.
When, therefore, the Chair of St Peter was filled by a new occupant, and language of the same smooth kind began again to issue from it, the English Government could not for so light a cause consent to arrest their measures, or suspend the action of laws which had been passed from a conviction of their necessity. Whatever might become of French marriages, or of the cession of a corner of the Netherlands and a few towns upon the coast in exchange for a gaudy title, the English Reformation must continue its way; the nation must be steered clear among the reefs and shoals of treason. The late statutes had not been passed without a cause; and when occasion came to enforce them, were not to pass off, like the thunders of the Yatican, in impotent noise.
Here, therefore, we are to enter upon one of the grand scenes of history; a solemn battle fought out to the death, yet fought without ferocity, by the champions of rival principles. Heroic men had fallen, and were still fast falling, for what was called heresy; and now those who had inflicted death on others were called upon to bear the same witness to their own sincerity. England became the theatre of a war between two armies of martyrs, to be waged, not upon the open field, in open action, but on the stake and on the scaffold, with the nobler weapons of passive endurance. Each party were ready to give their blood; each party were ready to shed the blood of their antagonists; and the sword was to single out its victims in the rival ranks, not as in peace among those whose crimes made them dangerous to society, but, as on the field of battle, where the most conspicuous courage most challenges the aim of the enemy. It was war, though under the form of peace; and if we would understand the true spirit of the time, we must regard Catholics and Protestants as gallant soldiers, whose deaths, when they fall, are not painful, but glorious; and whose devotion we are equally able to admire, even where we cannot equally approve their cause. Courage and self-sacrifice are beautiful alike ia an enemy and in a friend. And while we exult in that chivalry with which the Smithfield martyrs bought England's freedom with their blood, so we will not refuse our admiration to those other gallant men whose high forms, in the sunset of the old faith, stand transfigured on the horizon, tinged with the light of its dying glory.
Secretary Bedyll, as we saw above, complained to Cromwell of the obstinacy of certain friars and monks, who, he thought, would confer a service on the country by dying quietly, lest honest men should incur unmerited obloquy in putting them to death. Among these, the brethren of the London Charterhouse were especially mentioned as recalcitrant, and they were said at the same time to bear a high reputation for holiness. In a narrative written by a member of this body, we are brought face to face, at their time of trial, with one of the few religious establishments in England which continued to deserve the name; and we may see, in the scenes which are there described, the highest representation of struggles which graduated variously according to character and temper, and, without the tragical result, may have been witnessed in very many of the monastic houses. The writer was a certain Maurice Channey, probably an Irishman. He went through the same sufferings with the rest of the brethren, and was one of the small fraction who finally gave way under the trial. He was set at liberty, and escaped abroad; and in penance for his weakness, he left on record the touching story of his fall, and of the triumph of his bolder companions.
He commences with his own confession. He had fallen when others stood. He was, as he says, an unworthy brother, a Saul among the prophets, a Judas among the apostles, a child of Ephraim turning himself back in the day of battle—for which his cowardice, while his brother monks were saints in heaven, he was doing penance in sorrow, tossing on the waves of the wide world. The early chapters contain a loving lingering picture of his cloister life—to him the perfection of earthly happiness. It is placed before us, in all its superstition, its devotion, and its simplicity, the counterpart, even in minute details, of the stories of the Saxon recluses when monasticism was in the young vigour of its life. St Bede or St Cuthbert might have found himself in the house of the London Carthusians, and he would have had few questions to ask, and no duties to learn or to unlearn. The form of the buildings would have seemed more elaborate; the notes of the organ would have added richer solemnity to the services; but the salient features of the scene would have been all familiar. He would have lived in a cell of the same shape, he would have thought the same thoughts, spoken the same words in the same language. The prayers, the daily life, almost the very faces with which he was surrounded, would have seemed all unaltered. A thousand years of the world's history had rolled by, and these lonely islands of prayer had remained still anchored in the stream; the strands of the ropes which held them, wearing now to a thread, and very near their last parting, but still unbroken. What they had been they were; and, if Maurice Channey's description had come down to us as the account of the monastery in which Offa of Mercia did penance for his crimes, we could have detected no internal symptoms of a later age.
His pages are filled with the old familiar stories of visions and miracles; of strange adventures befalling the chalices and holy wafers; of angels with wax candles; innocent phantoms which flitted round brains and minds fevered by asceticism. There are accounts of certain fratres reprobi et eorum terribilis punitio—frail brethren and the frightful catastrophes which ensued to them. Brother Thomas, who told stories out of doors, apud sæculares, was attacked one night by the devil; and the fiend would have strangled him but for the prayers of a companion. Brother George, who craved after the fleshpots of Egypt, was walking one day about the cloister when he ought to have been at chapel, and the great figure upon the cross at the end of the gallery turned its back upon him as it hung, and drove him all but mad. Brother John Daly found fault with his dinner, and said that he would as soon eat toads—Mira res! Justus Deus non fraudavit eum desiderio suo—his cell was for three months filled with toads. If he threw them into the fire, they hopped back to him unscorched; if he killed them, others came to take their place.
But these bad brothers were rare exceptions. In general the house was perhaps the best ordered in England. The hospitality was well sustained, the charities were profuse, and whatever we may think of the intellect which could busy itself with fancies seemingly so childish, the monks were true to their vows, and true to their duty, as far as they comprehended what duty meant. Among many good, the prior John Haughton was the best. He was of an old English family, and had been educated at Cambridge, where he must have been the contemporary of Latimer. At the age of twenty-eight he took the vows as a monk, and had been twenty years a Carthusian at the opening of the troubles of the Reformation. He is described as 'small in stature, in figure graceful, in countenance dignified.' 'In manner he was most modest; in eloquence most sweet; in chastity without stain.' We may readily imagine his appearance; with that feminine austerity of expression which, as has been well said, belongs so peculiarly to the features of the mediæval ecclesiastics.
Such was the society of the monks of the Charterhouse, who, in an era too late for their continuance, and guilty of being unable to read the signs of the times, were summoned to wage unequal battle with the world. From the commencement of the divorce cause they had espoused instinctively the Queen's side; they had probably, in common with their affiliated house at Sion, believed unwisely in the Nun of Kent; and, as pious Catholics, they regarded the reforming measures of the Parliament with dismay and consternation. The year 1533, says Maurice, was ushered in with signs in heaven and prodigies upon earth, as if the end of the world was at hand; as indeed of the monks and the monks' world the end was truly at hand. And then came the spring of 1534, when the Act was passed cutting off the Princess Mary from the succession, and requiring of all subjects of the realm an oath of allegiance to Elizabeth, and a recognition of the King's marriage with Queen Anne. Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher went to the Tower, as we saw, rather than swear; and about the same time the royal commissioners appeared at the Charterhouse to require the submission of the brethren. The regular clergy through the kingdom had bent to the storm. The conscience of the London Carthusians was less elastic; they were the first and, with the exception of More and Fisher, the only recusants. 'The prior did answer to the commissioners,' Maurice tells us, 'that he knew nothing of such matters, and could not meddle with them; and they continuing to insist, and the prior being still unable to give other answer, he was sent with Father Humphrey, our proctor, to the Tower.' There he remained for a month; and at the end of it he was persuaded by 'certain good and learned men' that the cause was not one for which it was lawful to suffer. He undertook to comply, sub conditione, with some necessary reservations, and was sent home to the cloister. As soon as he returned the brethren assembled in their chapter-house 'in confusion and great perplexity,' and Haughton told them what he had promised. He would submit, he said, and yet his misgivings foretold to him that a submission so made could not long avail. 'Our hour, dear brethren,' he continued, 'is not yet come. In the same night in which we were set free I had a dream that I should not escape thus. Within a year I shall be brought again to that place, and then I shall finish my course.' If martyrdom was so near and so inevitable, the remainder of the monks were at first reluctant to purchase a useless delay at the price of their convictions. The commissioners came with the lord mayor for the oath, and it was refused. They came again, with the threat of instant imprisonment for the whole fraternity; 'and then,' says Maurice, 'they prevailed with us. We all swore as we were required, making one condition, that we submitted only so far as was lawful for us so to do. Thus, like Jonah, we were delivered from the belly of this monster, this immanis ceta, and began again to rejoice like him, under the shadow of the gourd of our home. But it is better to trust in the Lord than in princes, in whom is no salvation; God had prepared a worm that smote our gourd and made it to perish.'
This worm, as may be supposed, was the Act of Supremacy, with the Statute of Treasons which was attached to it. It was ruled, as I have said, that inadequate answers to ofncial inquiry formed sufficient ground for prosecution under these Acts. But this interpretation was not generally known; nor among those who knew it was it certain whether the Crown would avail itself of the powers which it thus possessed, or whether it would proceed only against such offenders as had voluntarily committed themselves to opposition. In the opening of the following year  the first uncertainty was at an end; it was publicly understood that persons who had previously given cause for suspicion might be submitted to question. When this bitter news was no longer doubtful, the prior called the convent together, and gave them notice to prepare for what was coming. They lay already under the shadow of treason; and he anticipated, among other evil consequences of disobedience, the immediate dissolution of the house. Even he, with all his forebodings, was unprepared for the course which would really be taken with them. 'When we were all in great consternation,' writes our author, 'he said to us:—
''Very sorry am I, and my heart is heavy, especially for you, my younger friends, of whom I see so many round me. Here you are living in your innocence. The yoke will not be laid on your necks, nor the rod of persecution. But if you are taken hence, and mingle among the Gentiles, you may learn the works of them, and having begun in the spirit you may be consumed in the flesh. And there may be others among us whose hearts are still infirm. If these mix again with the world, I fear how it may be with them; and what shall I say, and what shall I do, if I cannot save those whom God has trusted to my charge?'
'Then all who were present,' says Channey, 'burst into tears, and cried with one voice, 'Let us die together in our integrity, and heaven and earth shall witness for us how unjustly we are cut off.'
'The Prior answered, sadly—'Would, indeed, that it might be so; that so dying we might live, as living we die—but they will not do to us so great a kindness, nor to themselves so great an injury. Many of you are of noble blood; and what I think they will do is this: Me and the elder brethren they will kill; and they will dismiss you that are young into a world which is not for you. If, therefore, it depend on me alone—if my oath will suffice for the house—I will throw myself for your sakes on the mercy of God. I will make myself anathema; and to preserve you from these dangers, I will consent to the King's will. If, however, they have determined otherwise—if they choose to have the consent of us all—the will of God be done. If one death will not avail, we will die all.'
'So then, bidding us prepare for the worst, that the Lord when he knocked might find us ready, he desired us to choose each our confessor, and to confess our sins one to another, giving us power to grant each other absolution.
'The day after he preached a sermon in the chapel on the 59th Psalm,—' God, Thou hast cast us off, Thou hast destroyed us;' concluding with the words, 'It is better that we should suffer here a short penance for our faults, than be reserved for the eternal pains of hell hereafter;'—and so ending, he turned to us and bade us all do as we saw him do. Then rising from his place he went direct to the eldest of the brethren, who was sitting nearest to himself, and kneeling before him, begged his forgiveness for any offence which in heart, word, or deed, he might have committed against him. Thence he proceeded to the next, and said the same; and so to the next, through us all, we following him and saying as he did, each from each imploring pardon.'
Thus, with unobtrusive nobleness, did these poor men prepare themselves for their end; not less beautiful in their resolution, not less deserving the everlasting remembrance of mankind, than those three hundred who in the summer morning sat combing their golden hair in the passes of Thermopylæ. We will not regret their cause; there is no cause for which any man can more aobly suffer than to witness that it is better for him to die than to speak words which he does not mean. Nor, in this their hour of trial, were they left without higher comfort.
'The third day after,' the story goes on, 'was the mass of the Holy Ghost, and God made known his presence among us. For when the host was lifted up, there came as it were a whisper of air, which breathed upon our faces as we knelt. Some perceived it with the bodily senses; all felt it as it thrilled into their hearts. And then followed a sweet, soft sound of music, at which our venerable father was so moved, God being thus abundantly manifest among us, that he sank down in tears, and for a long time could not continue the service—we all remaining stupified, hearing the melody, and feeling the marvellous effects of it upon our spirits, but knowing neither whence it came nor whither it went. Only our hearts rejoiced as we perceived that God was with us indeed.'
Comforted and resolute, the brotherhood awaited patiently the approach of the commissioners; and they waited long, for the Crown was in no haste to be severe. The statutes had been passed in no spirit of cruelty; they were weapons to be used in case of extremity; and there was no attempt to enforce them until forbearance was misconstrued into fear. Sir Thomas More and the Bishop of Rochester remained unquestioned in the Tower, and were allowed free intercourse with their friends. The Carthusian monks were left undisturbed, although the attitude which they had assumed was notorious, and although the prior was known to forbid his penitents in confession to acknowledge the King's supremacy. If the Government was at length driven to severity, it was because the clergy forced them to it in spite of themselves.
The clergy had taken the oath, but they held themselves under no obligation to observe it; or if they observed the orders of the Crown in the letter, they thwarted those orders in the spirit. The Treason Act had for awhile overawed them; but finding that its threats were confined to language, that months passed away, and that no person had as yet been prosecuted, they fell back into open opposition, either careless of the consequences, or believing that the Government did not dare to exert its powers. The details of their conduct during the spring months of this year I am unable to discover; but it was such as at length, on the 17th of April, provoked the following circular to the lords-lieutenant of the various counties:—
April 17.Right trusty and well-beloved cousin, we greet you well; and whereas it has come to our knowledge that sundry persons, as well religious as secujar priests and curates in their parishes and in divers places within this our realm, do daily, as much as in them is, set forth and extol the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, otherwise called the Pope; sowing their seditious, pestilent, and false doctrines; praying for him in the pulpit and making him a god; to the great deceit of our subjects, bringing them into errours and evil opinions; more preferring the power, laws, and jurisdiction of the said Bishop of Rome than the most holy laws and precepts of Almighty God: We therefore, minding not only to proceed for an unity and quietness among our said subjects, but also greatly coveting and desiring them to be brought to a knowledge of the mere verity and truth, and no longer to be seduced with any such superstitious and false doctrines of any earthly usurper of God's laws—will, therefore, and command you, that whensoever ye shall hear of any such seditious persons, ye indelayedly do take and apprehend them, or cause them to be apprehended and taken, and so committed to ward, there to remain without bail or main-prize, until, upon your advertisement thereof to us and to our council, ye shall know our further pleasure.
In obvious connection with the issue of this publication, the monks of the Charterhouse were at length informed that they would be questioned on the supremacy. The great body of the religious houses had volunteered an outward submission. The London Carthusians, with other affiliated establishments, had remained passive, and had thus furnished an open encouragement to disobedience. We are instinctively inclined to censure an interference with persons who at worst were but dreamers of the cloister; and whose innocence of outward offences we imagine might have served them for a shield. Unhappily, behind the screenwork of these poor saints a whole Irish insurrection was blazing in madness and fury; and in the northern English counties were some sixty thousand persons ready to rise in arms. In these great struggles men are formidable in proportion to their virtues. The noblest Protestants were chosen by the Catholics for the stake. The fagots were already growing which were to burn Tyndal, the translator of the Bible. It was the habit of the time, as it is the habit of all times of real danger, to spare the multitude but to strike the leaders, to make responsibility the shadow of power, to choose for punishment the most efficacious representatives of the spirit which it was necessary to subdue.
The influence of the Carthusians, with that of the two great men who were following the same road to the same goal, determined multitudes in the attitude which they would assume, and in the duty which they would choose. The Carthusians, therefore, were to be made to bend; or if they could not be bent, to be made examples in their punishment, as they had made themselves examples in their resistance. They were noble and good; but there were others in England good and noble as they, who were not of their fold; and whose virtues, thenceforward more required by England than cloistered asceticisms, had been blighted under the shadow of the Papacy. The Catholics had chosen the alternative, either to crush the free thought which was bursting from the soil, or else to be crushed by it; and the future of the world could not be sacrificed to preserve the exotic graces of mediæval saints. They fell, gloriously and not unprofitably. They were not allowed to stay the course of the Reformation; but their sufferings, nobly borne, sufficed to recover the sympathy of after-ages for the faith which they professed. Ten righteous men were found in the midst of the corruption to purchase for Romanism a few more centuries of tolerated endurance.
To return to the narrative of Maurice Channey. Notice of the intention of the Government having been signified to the Order, Father Webster and Father Lawrence, the priors of the two daughter houses of Axholm and Belville, came up to London three weeks after Easter, and, with Haughton, presented themselves before Cromwell with an entreaty to be excused the submission. For answer to their petition they were sent to the Tower, where they were soon after joined by Father Reynolds, one of the recalcitrant monks of Sion. These four were brought on the 26th of April before a committee of the privy council, of which Cromwell was one. The Act of Supremacy was laid before them, and they were required to signify their acceptance of it. Wednesday,
April 28.They refused, and two days after Wednesday, they were brought to trial before a special commission. They pleaded all 'not guilty.' They had of course broken the Act; but they would not acknowledge that guilt could be involved in disobedience to a law which was itself unlawful. Their words in the Tower to the privy council formed the matter of the charge against them. It appears from the record that on their examination, 'they, treacherously machinating and desiring to deprive the King our sovereign lord of his title of supreme Head of the Church of England, did openly declare, and say, the King our sovereign lord is not supreme Head on earth of the Church of England.'
But their conduct on the trial, or at least the conduct of Haughton spared all difficulty in securing a conviction. The judges pressed the prior 'not to show so little wisdom as to maintain his own opinion against the consent of the realm.' He replied, that he had resolved originally to imitate the example of his Master before Herod, and say nothing. 'But since you urge me,' he continued, 'that I may satisfy my own conscience and the consciences of these who are present, I will say that our opinion, if it might go by the suffrages of men, would have more witnesses than yours. You can produce on your side but the Parliament of a single kingdom; I, on mine, have the whole Christian world except that kingdom. Nor have you all even of your own people. The lesser part is with you. The majority, who seem to be with you, do but dissemble, to gain favour with the King, or for fear they should lose their honours and their dignities.'
Cromwell asked him of whom he was speaking. 'Of all the good men in the realm,' he replied; 'and when his Majesty knows the truth, I know well he will be beyond measure offended with those of his bishops who have given him the counsel which he now follows.'
'Why,' said another of the judges, 'have you, contrary to the King's authority within the realm, persuaded so many persons as you have done to disobey the King and Parliament?'
'I have declared my opinion,' he answered, 'to no man living but to those who came to me in confession, which in discharge of my conscience I could not refuse. But if I did not declare it then, I will declare it now, because I am thereto obliged to God.' He neither looked for mercy nor desired it. A writ was issued for the return of a petty jury the following day. Thursday,
April 29.The prisoners were taken back to the Tower, and the next morning were brought again to the bar. Feron and Hale, the two priests whose conversation had been overheard at Sion, were placed on their trial at the same time. The two latter threw themselves on the mercy of the court. A verdict of guilty was returned against the other four. The sentence was for the usual punishment of high treason. Feron was pardoned; I do not find on what account. Hale and the Carthusians were to suffer together. When Haughton heard the sentence, he merely said, 'This is the judgment of the world.'
An interval of five days was allowed after the trial. May 4.On the 4th of May, the execution took place at Tyburn, under circumstances which marked the occasion with peculiar meaning. The punishment in cases of high treason was very terrible. I need not dwell upon the form of it. The English were a hard, fierce people; and with these poor sufferers the law of the land took its course without alleviation or interference. But another feature distinguished the present execution. For the first time in English history, ecclesiastics were brought out to suffer in their habits, without undergoing the previous ceremony of degradation. Thenceforward the world were to know, that as no sanctuary any more should protect traitors, so the sacred office should avail as little; and the hardest blow which it had yet received was thus dealt to superstition, shaking from its place in the minds of all men the key-stone of the whole system.
To the last moment escape was left open, if the prisoners would submit. Several members of the council attended them to the closing scene, for a final effort of kindness; but they had chosen their course, and were not to be moved from it. Haughton, as first in rank, had the privilege of first dying. When on the scaffold, in compliance with the usual custom, he spoke a few touching and simple words to the people. 'I call to witness Almighty God,' he said, 'and all good people, and I beseech you all here present to bear witness for me in the day of judgment, that being here to die, I declare that it is from no obstinate rebellious spirit that I do not obey the King, but because I fear to offend the Majesty of God. Our holy mother the Church has decreed otherwise than the King and the Parliament have decreed, and therefore, rather than disobey the Church, I am ready to suffer. Pray for me, and have mercy on my brethren, of whom I have been the unworthy prior.' He then knelt down, repeating the first few verses of the 31st Psalm, and after a few moments delivered himself to the executioner. The others followed, undaunted. As one by one they went to their death, the council, at each fresh horrible spectacle, urged the survivors to have pity on themselves; but they urged them in vain. The faces of these men did not grow pale; their voices did not shake; they declared themselves liege subjects of the King, and obedient children of holy Church; 'giving God thanks that they were held worthy to suffer for the truth.' All died without a murmur. The stern work was ended with quartering the bodies; and the arm of Haughton was hung up as a bloody sign over the archway of the Charterhouse, to awe the remaining brothers into submission.
But the spirit of the old martyrs was in these friars. One of them, like the Theban sister, bore away the honoured relic and buried it; and all resolved to persist in their resigned opposition. Six weeks were allowed them to consider. June 10.At the end of that time three June 10. more were taken, tried, and hanged; and this still proving ineffectual, Cromwell hesitated to proceed.
The end of the story is very touching and may be told briefly, that I may not have occasion to return to it. Maurice's account is probably exaggerated, and is written in a tone of strong emotion; but it has all the substantial features of truth. The remaining monks were left in the house; and two secular priests were sent to take charge of the establishment, who starved and ill-used them; and were themselves, according to Maurice, sensual and profligate. From time to time they were called before the privy council. Their friends and relatives were ordered to work upon them. No effort either of severity or kindness was spared to induce them to submit; as if their attitude, so long as it was maintained, was felt as a reproach by the Government. At last, four were carried down to Westminster Abbey, to hear the Bishop of Durham deliver his famous sermon against the Pope; and when this rhetorical inanity had also failed, and as they were thought to confirm one another in their obstinacy, they were dispersed among other houses the temper of which could be depended upon. Some were sent to the north; others to Sion, where a new prior had been appointed of zealous loyalty; others were left at home to be disciplined by the questionable seculars. But nothing answered. Two found their way into active rebellion, and being concerned in the Pilgrimage of Grace, were hung in chains at York. Ten were sent to Newgate, where nine died miserably of prison fever and filth; the tenth survivor was executed. The remainder, of whom Maurice was one, went through a form of submission, with a mental reservation, and escaped abroad.
So fell the monks of the London Charterhouse, splintered to pieces—for so only could their resistance be overcome—by the iron sceptre and the iron hand which held it. They were, however, alone of their kind. There were many perhaps who wished to resemble them, who would have imitated their example had they dared. But all bent except these. If it had been otherwise, the Reformation would have been impossible, and perhaps it would not have been needed. Their story claims from us that sympathy which is the due of their exalted courage. But we cannot blame the Government. Those who know what the condition of the country really was, must feel their inability to suggest, with any tolerable reasonableness, what else could have been done. They may regret so hard a necessity, but they will regret in silence. The King, too, was not without feeling. It was no matter of indifference to him that he found himself driven to such stern courses with his subjects; and as the golden splendour of his manhood was thus suddenly clouding, May 8.'he commanded all about his Court to poll their heads,' in public token of mourning; 'and to give them example, he caused his own head to be polled; and from thenceforth his beard to be knotted, and to be no more shaven.'
The friars of Charterhouse suffered for the Catholic faith, as Protestants had suffered, and were still to suffer, for a faith fairer than theirs. In this same month of May, in the same year, the English annals contain another entry of no less sad significance. The bishops, as each day they parted further from their old allegiance, and were called in consequence by the hateful name of heretics, were increasingly anxious to prove by evident tokens their zeal for the true faith; and although the late act of heresy had moderated their powers, yet power enough remained to enable them to work their will upon all extreme offenders. Henry, also, it is likely, was not sorry of an opportunity of showing that his justice was even-handed, and that a schism from the Papacy was not a lapse into heterodoxy. His mind was moving. Latimer and Shaxton, who three years before had been on trial for their lives, were soon to be upon the bench; and in the late injunctions, the Bible, and not the decrees of the Church, had been held up as the canon of truth. But heresy, though the definition of it was changing, remained a crime; and although the limits of permitted belief were imperceptibly enlarging, to transgress the recognized boundaries was an offence enormous as ever.
If we can conceive the temper with which the reasonable and practical English at present regard the Socialists of the continent, deepened by an intensity of conviction, of which these later ages have had but little experience, we can then imagine the light in which the Anabaptists of the Netherlands appeared in the eyes of orthodox Europe. If some opinions, once thought heretical, were regarded with less agitated repugnance, the heresy of these enemies of mankind was patent to the world. On them the laws of the country might take their natural course, and no voice was raised to speak for them.
We find, therefore, in Stow's Chronicle, the following brief entry: May 25.'The five and twentieth day of May were, in St Paul's church, London, examined nineteen men and six women, born in Holland, whose opinions were—first, that in Christ is not two natures, God and man; secondly, that Christ took neither flesh nor blood of the Virgin Mary; thirdly, that children born of infidels may be saved; fourthly, that; baptism of children is of none effect; fifthly, that the sacrament of Christ's body is but bread only; sixthly, that he who after baptism sinneth wittingly, sinneth deadly, and cannot be saved. Fourteen of them were condemned: a man and a woman were burnt at Smithfield. The remaining twelve were scattered among other towns, there to be burnt.' The details are gone—the names are gone. Poor Hollanders they were, and that is all. Scarcely the fact seemed worth the mention, so shortly it is told in a passing paragraph. For them no Europe was agitated, no Courts were ordered into mourning, no Papal hearts trembled with indignation. At their deaths the world looked on complacent, indifferent, or exulting. Yet here, too, out of twenty-five common men and women were found fourteen who, by no terror of stake or torture, could be tempted to say that they believed what they did not believe. History for them has no word of praise; yet they, too, were not giving their blood in vain. Their lives might have been as useless as the lives of most of us. In their deaths they assisted to pay the purchase-money for England's freedom.
After the execution of the Carthusians, it became a question what should be done with the Bishop of Rochester and Sir Thomas More. They had remained for a year in the Tower, undisturbed; and there is no reason to think that they would have been further troubled, except for the fault of one, if not of both. It appeared, however, on the trial of Father Reynolds, that Fisher's imprudence or zeal had tempted him again to meddle with dangerous matters. A correspondence had passed between the Bishop and the King, on the Act of Supremacy, or on some subject connected with it. The King had taken no public notice of Fisher's words, but he had required a promise that the letter should not be shown to any other person. The unwise old man gave his word, but he did not observe it; he sent copies both of what he had himself written and of the King's answer to the Sion monks, furnishing them at the same time with a copy of the book which he had written against the divorce, and two other books, written by Abel, the Queen's confessor, and the Spanish ambassador. Whether he was discovered to have held any other correspondence, or whether anything of an analogous kind was proved against More, I am unable to discover. Both he and Fisher had been treated with greater indulgence than was usual with prisoners. Their own attendants had waited on them; they were allowed to receive visits from their relatives within the Tower walls, and to correspond with their families and friends. As a matter of course, under such circumstances, they must have expressed their opinions on the great subject of the day; and those opinions were made known throughout England, and, indeed, throughout Europe. Whether they did more than this, or whether they had only indirectly allowed their influence to be used against the Government, must be left to conjecture. But the language of a document under the King's hand speaks of their having given some cause of provocation, of no common kind; and this is confirmed by Cromwell, who, was once deeply attached to More. 'When they were in strait keeping,' say the instructions to the Bishop of Hereford, 'having nevertheless the prison at their liberties, they ceased not both to practise an insurrection within the realm, and also to use all the devices to them possible in outward parts, as well to defame and slander his Majesty, and his most virtuous doings and proceedings, as also to procure the impeachment and other destruction of his most royal person.' Cromwell speaks also of their having been engaged in definite schemes, the object of which was rebellion; and although we have here the ex parte statement of the Government, and although such a charge would have been held to be justified by a proof that they had spoken generally against the Act of Supremacy, it may be allowed to prove that so far they were really guilty; and it is equally certain that for these two men to have spoken against the Act was to have lent encouragement to the party of insurrection, the most powerful which that party could have received.
Thus, by another necessity, Fisher and More, at the beginning of May, were called upon for their submission. It was a hard case, for the Bishop was sinking into the grave with age and sickness, and More had the highest reputation of any living man. But they had chosen to make themselves conspicuous as confessors for Catholic truth; though prisoners in the Tower, they were in fact the most effectual champions of the Papal claims; and if their disobedience had been passed over, the statute could have been enforced against no one.
The same course was followed as with the Carthusian monks. May 7.On the 7th of May a deputation of the council waited on the prisoners in the Tower, for an acknowledgment of the supremacy. They refused: Fisher, after a brief hesitation, peremptorily; More declining to answer, but also giving an indirect denial. After repeated efforts had been made to move them, and made in vain, their own language, as in the preceding trials, furnished material for their indictment; and the law officers of the Crown who were to conduct the prosecution were the witnesses under whose evidence they were to be tried. It was a strange proceeding, to be excused only, if excused at all, by the pressure of the times.
Either the King or his ministers, however, were slow in making up their minds. With the Carthusians, nine days only were allowed to elapse between the first examination and the final close at Tyburn. The case against More and Fisher was no less clear than against the monks; June.yet five weeks elapsed and the Government still hesitated. Perhaps they were influenced by the high position of the greater offenders—perhaps there was some fear of the world's opinion, which, though, it might be indifferent to the sacrifice of a few obscure ecclesiastics, yet would surely not pass over lightly the execution of men who stood out with so marked preeminence. The council-board was unevenly composed. Cromwell, who divides with the King the responsibility of these prosecutions, had succeeded, not to the authority only of Wolsey, but to the hatred with which the ignoble plebeian was regarded by the patricians who were compelled to stoop before him. Lord Exeter was already looking with a cold eye on the revolution; and Norfolk and Suffolk, though zealous as the King himself for the independence of England, yet had all the instincts of aristocratic conservatism. Even Cromwell may have desired the triumph of winning over converts so distinguished, or may have shrunk from the odium which their deaths would bring upon him. Whatever was the cause of the delay, the privy council, who had been contented with a single examination of Haughton and his companions, struggled with their present difficulty week after week; and it is possible that, except from an extraneous impulse, some mode of escape might have been discovered. But as the sentence of Clement sealed the fate of the Nun of Kent, so the unwisdom of his successor bore similarly fatal fruits.
Paul III. had throughout the spring nattered Henry with expressions of sympathy, and had held out hopes of an approaching change of policy. He chose the present unfortunate juncture to expose the vanity of these professions; and as an intimation of the course which lie intended to follow, he named the Bishop of Rochester, the one Bishop who remained attached to Catherine's cause, a Cardinal. Henry had appealed to a council, which the Pope had promised to call; and Fisher, of all Englishmen, was chosen as the person whom the Pope desired to represent the nation on its assembly. Even the very conclave at Rome were taken by surprise, and expressed themselves in no measured terms at the impolicy of this most foolish action. Cassalis, aware of the effect which the news would produce in England, hurried to such friends as he possessed in the conclave to protest against the appointment. The King, he said, would inevitably regard it as injurious to the realm and insulting to himself; and it was madness at such a moment to trifle with Henry's displeasure.
The Pope, alarmed at the expressions which he was told that Cassalis had used, sent in haste to urge him, if possible, to allay the storm. He was not ashamed to stoop to falsehood—but falsehood too awkward to deceive even the most willing credulity. He had thought, he said, of nothing but to please Henry. He had been urged by the King of France to seek a reconciliation with England, and in sending a hat to an English bishop he had meant nothing but a compliment. The general council would be held immediately; and it was desirable, according to the constitution of the Church, that a cardinal of every nation should be present. He had no especial reason for choosing the Bishop of Rochester, except that he had a high reputation for learning, and he imagined, therefore, that the King would be gratified. 'He implored me,' Cassalis wrote, 'to make his excuses to his Majesty, and to assure him how deeply he regretted his mistake, especially when I assured him that the step was of a kind which admitted of no excuse.'
Cassalis himself was afterwards disposed to believe that the appointment was made in thoughtlessness, and that the Pope at the moment had really forgotten Fisher's position. But this could gain no credit in England. The news reached the Government in the middle of June, and determined the fate of the unfortunate Bishop; and with it the fate, also, of his nobler companion. To the King, the Pope's conduct appeared a defiance; and as a defiance he accepted it. In vain Fisher declared that he had not sought his ill-timed honours, and would not accept them. Neither his ignorance nor his refusal could avail him. Once more he was called upon to submit, with the intimation, that if he refused he must bear the consequences. His reply remained what it had been; June 17.and on the 17th of June he was taken down in a boat to Westminster Hall, where the special commission was sitting. The proceedings at his trial are thus briefly summed up in the official record:—'Thursday after the feast of St Barnabas, John Fisher was brought to the bar by Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower. Pleads not guilty. Venire awarded. Verdict—guilty. Judgment as usual in cases of treason.'
It was a swift sentence, and swiftly to be executed. Five days were allowed him to prepare himself; and the more austere features of the penalty were remitted with some show of pity. He was to die by the axe.
Mercy was not to be hoped for. It does not seem to have been sought. He was past eighty. The earth on the edge of the grave was already crumbling under his feet; and death had little to make it fearful. June 22.When the last morning dawned, he dressed himself carefully—as he said, for his marriage-day. The distance to Tower Hill was short. He was able to walk; and he tottered out of the prison-gates, holding in his hand a closed volume of the New Testament. The crowd flocked about him, and he was heard to pray that, as this book had been his best comfort and companion, so in that hour it might give him some special strength, and speak to him as from his Lord. Then opening it at a venture, he read: 'This is life eternal, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.' It was the answer to his prayer; and he continued to repeat the words as he was led forward. On the scaffold he chanted the Te Deum, and then, after a few prayers, knelt down, and meekly laid his head upon a pillow where neither care nor fear nor sickness would ever vex it more. Many a spectacle of sorrow had been witnessed on that tragic spot, but never one more sad than this; never one more painful to think or speak of. When a nation is in the throes of revolution, wild spirits are abroad in the storm; and poor human nature presses blindly forward with the burden which is laid upon it, tossing aside the obstacles in its path with a recklessness which, in calmer hours, it would fear to contemplate.
Sir Thomas More followed, his fortunes linked in death as in life to those of his friend. He was left to the last—in the hope, perhaps, that the example might produce an effect which persuasion could not. But the example, if that was the object, worked to far other purpose. From More's high-tempered nature, such terrors fell harmless, as from enchanted armour. Death to him was but a passing from one country to another; and he had all along anticipated that his prison was the antechamber of the scaffold. He had, indeed, taken no pains to avoid it. The King, according to the unsuspicious evidence of his daughter, Margaret Roper, had not accused him without cause of exciting a spirit of resistance. He had spent his time in encouraging Catholics to persevere to martyrdom for their faith. In his many conversations with herself, he had expressed himself with all freedom, and to others he had doubtless spoken as plainly as to her.
On the 7th of May he was examined by the same persons who examined Fisher; and he was interrogated again and again in subsequent interviews. His humour did not allow him to answer questions directly: he played with his catechists, and did not readily furnish them with materials for a charge. He had corresponded with Fisher in prison, on the conduct which he meant to pursue. Some of these letters had heen burnt; but others were in the hands of the Government, and would have been sufficient to sustain the prosecution, but they preferred his own words from his own lips. June 26.At length sufficient evidence was obtained. On the 26th of June, a true bill was found against him by the grand jury of Middlesex; and on the 1st of July the High Commission sat again in Westminster Hall, to try the most illustrious prisoner who ever listened to his sentence there. July 1.He walked from the Tower—feebly, however, and with a stick, for he was weak from long confinement. On appearing at the bar, a chair was brought for him, and he was allowed to sit. The indictment was then read by the attorney-general. It set forth that Sir Thomas More, traitorously imagining and attempting to deprive the King of his title as supreme Head of the Church, did, on the 7th of May, when examined before Thomas Cromwell, the King's principal secretary, and divers other persons, whether he would accept the King as Head on earth of the Church of England, pursuant to the statute, refuse to give a direct answer, but replied, 'I will not meddle with any such matters, for I am fully determined to serve God and to think upon His passion, and my passage out of this world.' He was then charged with having written to Fisher that 'The Act of Parliament was like a sword with two edges; for if a man answered one way it would confound his soul, and if the other way it would confound his body.' Finally and chiefly, he had spoken treasonable words in the Tower to Rich, the solicitor-general. Rich had endeavoured to persuade him, as Cranmer had endeavoured in his previous difficulty at Lambeth, that it was his duty as a subject to obey the law of the land. 'Supposing it was enacted by Act of Parliament,' the solicitor-general had said, 'that I, Richard Rich, should be King, and that it should be treason to deny it, what would be the offence if you, Sir Thomas More, were to say that I was King?' More had answered that, in his conscience, he would be bound by the Act of Parliament, and would be obliged to accept Rich as King. He would put another case, however. 'Suppose it should be enacted by Parliament, Quod Deus non esset Deus, and that opposing the Act should be treason, if it were asked of him, Richard Rich, whether he would say Quod Deus non erat Deus, according to this statute, and if he we're to say No, would he not offend?' Rich had replied, 'Certainly, because it is impossible, Quod Deus non esset Deus; but why, Master More, can you not accept the King as chief Head of the Church of England, just as you would that I should be made King, in which case you agree that you would be obliged to acknowledge me as King?' 'To which More, persevering in his treasons, had answered to Rich, that the cases were not similar, because the King could be made by Parliament and deprived by Parliament; but in the first case the subject could not be obliged, because his consent could not be given for that in Parliament.'
This was the substance of the indictment. As soon as it was read, the lord chancellor rose, and told the prisoner that he saw how grievously he had offended the King; it was not too late to ask for mercy, however, which his Majesty desired to show.
'My lord,' More replied, 'I have great cause to thank your honour for your courtesy, but I beseech Almighty God that I may continue in the mind that I am in through His grace unto death.' To the charges against him he pleaded 'not guilty,' and answered them at length. He could not say indeed that the facts were not true; for although he denied that he had 'practised' against the supremacy, he could not say that he had consented to it, or that he ever would consent; but like the prior of the Charterhouse, he could not admit himself guilty when he had only obeyed his conscience. The jury retired to consider, and in a quarter of an hour returned with their verdict. The chancellor, after receiving it, put the usual question, what the prisoner could say in arrest of judgment. More replied, but replied with a plea which it was impossible to recognize, by denouncing the statute under which he was tried, and insisting on the obligation of obedience to the See of Rome. Thus the sentence was inevitable. It was pronounced in the ordinary form; but the usual punishment for treason was commuted, as it had been with Fisher, to death upon the scaffold; and this last favour was communicated as a special instance of the royal clemency. Morels wit was always ready. 'God forbid,' he answered, 'that the King should show any more such mercy unto any of my friends; and God bless all my posterity from such pardons.'
The pageant was over, for such a trial was little more. As the procession formed to lead back the 'condemned traitor' to the Tower, the commissioners once more adjured him to have pity on himself, and offered to re-open the court if he would reconsider his resolution. More smiled, and replied only a few words of graceful farewell.
'My lords,' he said, 'I have but to say that, like as the blessed Apostle St Paul was present at the death of the martyr Stephen, keeping their clothes that stoned him, and yet they be now both saints in heaven, and there shall continue friends for ever, so I trust, and shall therefore pray, that though your lordships have been on earth my judges, yet we may hereafter meet in heaven together to our everlasting salvation; and God preserve you all, especially my sovereign lord the King, and grant him faithful councillors.'
He then left the Hall, and to spare him the exertion of the walk he was allowed to return by water. At the Tower stairs one of those scenes occurred which have cast so rich a pathos round the closing story of this illustrious man. 'When Sir Thomas,' writes the grandson, 'was now come to the Tower wharf, his best beloved child, my aunt Roper, desirous to see her father, whom she feared she should never see in this world after, to have his last blessing, gave there attendance to meet him; whom as soon as she had espied she ran hastily unto him, and without consideration or care for herself, passing through the midst of the throng and guard of men, who with bills and halberts compassed him round, there openly in the sight of them all embraced him, and took him about the neck and kissed him, not able to say any word but 'Oh, my father! oh, my father!' He, liking well her most natural and dear affection towards him, gave her his fatherly blessing; telling her that whatsoever he should suffer, though he were innocent, yet it was not without the will of God; and that He knew well enough all the secrets of her heart, counselling her to accommodate her will to God's blessed pleasure, and to be patient for his loss.
'She was no sooner parted from him, and had gone scarce ten steps, when she, not satisfied with the former farewell, like one who had forgot herself, ravished with the entire love of so worthy a father, having neither respect to herself nor to the press of people about him, suddenly turned back, and ran hastily to him, and took him about the neck and divers times together kissed him; whereat he spoke not a word, but carrying still his gravity, tears fell also from his eyes; yea, there were very few in all the troop who could refrain hereat from weeping, no, not the guard themselves. Yet at last with a full heart she was severed from him, at which time another of our women embraced him; and my aunt's maid Dorothy Collis did the like, of whom he said after, it was homely but very lovingly done. All these and also my grandfather witnessed that they smelt a most odoriferous smell to come from him, according to that of Isaac, ' The scent of my son is as the scent of a field which the Lord has blessed.'
More's relation with, this daughter forms the most beautiful feature in his history. His letters to her in early life are of unequalled grace, and she was perhaps the only person whom he very deeply loved. He never saw her again. The four days which remained to him he spent in prayer and in severe bodily discipline. On the night of the 5th of July, although he did not know the time which had been fixed for his execution, yet with an instinctive feeling that it was near, he sent her his hair shirt and whip, as having no more need for them, with a parting blessing of affection.
He then lay down and slept quietly. At daybreak he was awakened by the entrance of Sir Thomas Pope, who had come to confirm his anticipations, and to tell him it was the King's pleasure that he should suffer at nine o'clock that morning. He received the news with utter composure. 'I am much bounden to the King,' he said, 'for the benefits and honours he has bestowed upon me; and so help me God, most of all am I bounden to him that it pleaseth his Majesty to rid me so shortly out of the miseries of this present world.'
Pope told him the King desired that he would not 'use many words on the scaffold.' 'Mr Pope,' he answered, 'you do well to give me warning, for otherwise I had purposed somewhat to have spoken; but no matter wherewith his Grace should have cause to be offended. Howbeit, whatever I intended, I shall obey his Highness's command.'
He afterwards discussed the arrangements for his funeral, at which he begged that his family might be present; and when all was settled, Pope rose to leave him. He was an old friend. He took More's hand and wrung it, and, quite overcome, burst into tears.
'Quiet yourself, Mr Pope,' More said, 'and be not discomfited, for I trust we shall once see each other full merrily, when we shall live and love together in eternal bliss.'
As soon as he was alone, he dressed in his most elaborate costume. It was for the benefit, he said, of the executioner who was to do him so great a service. Sir William Kingston remonstrated, and with some difficulty induced him to put on a plainer suit; but that his intended liberality should not fail, he sent the man a gold angel in compensation, 'as a token that he maliced him nothing, but rather loved him extremely.'
'So about nine of the clock he was brought by the lieutenant out of the Tower, his beard being long, which fashion he had never before used, his face pale and lean, carrying in his hands a red cross, casting his eyes often towards heaven.' He had been unpopular as a judge, and one or two persons in the crowd were insolent to him; but the distance was short and soon over, as all else was nearly over now.
The scaffold had been awkwardly erected, and shook as he placed his foot upon the ladder. 'See me safe up,' he said to Kingston. 'For my coming down I can shift for myself.' He began to speak to the people, but the sheriff begged him not to proceed, and he contented himself with asking for their prayers, and desiring them to bear witness for him that he died in the faith of the holy Catholic Church, and a faithful servant of God and the King. He then repeated the Miserere psalm on his knees; and when he had ended and had risen, the executioner, with an emotion which promised ill for the manner in which his part in the tragedy would be accomplished, begged his forgiveness. More kissed him. 'Thou art to do me the greatest benefit that I can receive,' he said. 'Pluck up thy spirit, man, and be not afraid to do thine office. My neck is very short. Take heed therefore that thou strike not awry for saving of thine honesty.' The executioner offered to tie his eyes. 'I will cover them myself,' he said; and binding them in a cloth which he had brought with him, he knelt and laid his head upon the block. The fatal stroke was about to fall, when he signed for a moment's delay while he moved aside his beard. 'Pity that should be cut,' he murmured; 'that has not committed treason.' With which strange words, the strangest perhaps ever uttered at such a time, the lips most famous through Europe for eloquence and wisdom closed for ever.
'So,' concludes his biographer, 'with alacrity and spiritual joy he received the fatal axe, which no sooner had severed the head from the body, but his soul was carried by angels into everlasting glory, where a crown of martyrdom was placed upon him which can never fade nor decay; and then he found those words true which he had often spoken, that a man may lose his head and have no harm.'
This was the execution of Sir Thomas More, an act which was sounded out into the far corners of the earth, and was the world's wonder as well for the circumstances under which it was perpetrated, as for the preternatural composure with which it was borne. Something of his calmness may have been due to his natural temperament, something to an unaffected weariness of a world which in his eyes was plunging into the ruin of the latter days. But those fair hues of sunny cheerfulness caught their colour from the simplicity of his faith; and never was there a Christian's victory over death more grandly evidenced than in that last scene lighted with its lambent humour.
History will rather dwell upon the incidents of the execution than attempt a sentence upon those who willed that it should be. It was at once most piteous and most inevitable. The hour of retribution had come at length, when at the hands of the Roman Church was to be required all the righteous blood which it had shed, from the blood of Raymond of Toulouse to the blood of the last victim who had blackened into ashes at Smithfield. The voices crying underneath the altar had been heard upon the throne of the Most High, and woe to the generation of which the dark account had been demanded.
In whatever light, however, we may now think of these things, the effect in Europe was instantaneous and electrical. The irritation which had accompanied the excommunication by Clement had died away in the difficulty of executing the censures. The Papal party had endeavoured to persuade themselves that the King was acting under a passing caprice. They had believed that the body of the people remained essentially Catholic; and they had trusted to time, to discontent, to mutiny, to the consequences of what they chose to regard as the mere indulgence of criminal passion, to bring Henry to his senses. To threats and and anathemas, therefore, had again succeeded fair words and promises, and intrigues and flatteries; and the Pope and his advisers, so long accustomed themselves to promise and to mean nothing, to fulminate censures in form, and to treat human life as a foolish farce upon the stage, had dreamed that others were like themselves. In the rough awakening out of their delusion, as with a stroke of lightning, popes, cardinals, kings, emperors, ambassadors, were startled into seriousness; and, the diplomatic meshwork all rent and broken, they fell at once each into their places, with a sense suddenly forced upon them that it was no child's play any longer. TheKing of England was in earnest, it seemed. The assumption of the supremacy was a fixed purpose, which he was prepared to make a question of life and death; and with this resolution they must thenceforward make their account.
On the 1st of June, Cassalis wrote from Rome that the French ambassador had received a letter concerning certain friars who had been put to death in England for denying the King to be Head of the Church. The letter had been read in the consistory, and was reported to be written in a tone of the deepest commiseration. There had been much conversation about it, the French bishops having been louder than any in their denunciations; and the form of the execution was described as having been most barbarous. Some of the cardinals had said that they envied the monks their deaths in such a cause, and wished that they had been with them. 'I desired my informant,' Cassalis said, 'to suggest to these cardinals, that if they were so anxious on the subject, they had better pay a visit to England.' And he concluded, in cipher, 'I cannot tell very well what to think of the French. An Italian told me he had heard the Most Christian King himself say, that although he was obliged to press upon the Pope the requests of the King of England, yet that these requests were preposterous, and could not be granted.'
The deaths of a few poor monks would soon have been forgiven; the execution of Fisher first really revealed the truth. No sooner was the terrible reply of Henry to his promotion to the cardinalate made known than the conclave was instantly summoned. Cardinal Tournon described the scene upon the scaffold in language which moved all his audience to tears. The Pope, in a paroxysm of anger, declared that if he had seen his own nephews murdered in his presence, it would not have so much affected him; and Cassalis said he heard, from good authority, that they would do their worst, and intended to make the Bishop of Rochester's death of more account than that of the martyr St Thomas.
Nor was the anger or the surprise confined to Rome. Through England, through France, through Flanders, even among the Protestants of Germany, there rose a simultaneous outcry of astonishment. Rumour flew to and fro with a thousand falsehoods; and the unfortunate leaven of the Anne Boleyn marriage told fatally to destroy that appearance of probity of motive so indispensable to the defence of the Government. Even Francis I. forgot his caution, and dared to remonstrate. He wrote to entreat his good brother to content himself for the future with banishing such offenders, and sparing the extremity of his penalties.
Unfortunately, the question which was at issue was European as well as English; and every exile who was driven from England would have become, like Reginald Pole, a missionary of a holy war against the infidel King. Whatever else might have been possible, banishment was more perilous than pardon.
But the indignation was so general and so serious, that Henry thought it well to offer an explanation of his conduct, both at home and abroad. With his own people, he communicated through the lay authorities, not choosing to trust himself on this occasion to the clergy. The magistrates at the quarter sessions were directed 'to declare to the people the treasons committed by the late Bishop of Rochester and Sir Thomas More; who thereby, and by divers secret practices, of their malicious minds intended to seminate, engender, and breed a most mischievous and seditious opinion, not only to their own confusion, but also of divers others, who have lately suffered execution according to their demerits.' To Francis, Cromwell instructed Gardiner, who was ambassador in Paris, to reply very haughtily. The English Government, he said, had acted on clear proof of treason; treason so manifest, and tending so clearly to the total destruction of the commonwealth of the realm, that the condemned persons 'were well worthy, if they had a thousand lives, to have suffered ten times a more terrible death and execution than any of them did suffer.' The laws which the King had made were 'not without substantial grounds;' but had been passed 'by great and mature advice, counsel, and deliberation of the whole policy of the realm, and' were 'indeed no new laws, but of great antiquity, now renovate and renewed in respect to the common weal of the same realm.'
With respect to the letter of the King of France, Gardiner was to say, it was 'not a little to his Highness's marvel that the French King would ever counsel or advise him, if in case hereafter any such like offenders should happen to be in the realm, that he should rather banish them, than in such wise execute them, … supposing it to be neither the office of a friend nor a brother, that he would counsel the King's Highness to banish his traitors into strange parts, where they might have good occasion, time, place, and opportunity to work their feats of treason and conspiracy the better against the King and this his realm. In which part,' concluded Cromwell, 'ye shall somewhat engrieve the matter, after such sort that it may well appear to the French King that the King's Highness may take those his counsels both strangely and unkindly.'
With the German princes Henry was scarcely less imperious; and it is noteworthy, that the most elaborate defence which he condescended to make, is that which was sent to Sir Gregory Cassalis, to be laid before the Pope. He chose that the Roman Court should understand distinctly the grounds on which he had acted; and this despatch (which was written by Cromwell) shows more clearly than any other state paper which remains to us, the light in which the reforming party desired their conduct to be regarded.
It was written in reply to the letter in which Cassalis reported the irritation of the Roman Court, and enters into the whole ground of complaint against More and Fisher.
'I have signified,' wrote Cromwell, 'to the King's Highness the purport of your late letters, and as they contained many things which were very welcome to his Majesty, so he could not sufficiently marvel that the Pope should have conceived so great offence at the deaths of the Bishop of Rochester and Sir Thomas More. And albeit his Majesty is not bound to render account of his actions except to God, whom in thought and deed he is ever desirous to obey; nevertheless, that his royal name may not be evil spoken of by malicious tongues, from want of knowledge of the truth, I will tell you briefly what has been done in this matter.
'After that his Majesty, with the favour and assistance of Almighty God, had brought his cause to an end, by the consent and authority of unprejudiced persons of the most approved learning in Christendom,—and after he had confirmed it by the very rule of truth, these men, who had looked to see a far different conclusion, finding now no hopes of disturbing the settlement thus made, began to meditate other purposes. And when our good King, according to his princely duty, was devising measures for the quiet and good order of the realm, and for the correction of manners now largely fallen to decay, this, so great a benefit to the commonweal, they did, so far as in them lay, endeavour, though without effect, under pretence of dissembled honesty, to obstruct and oppose. Manifest proofs of their wicked designs were in the hands of the King's Grace; but his Majesty consented rather to pass over their offence without notice, hoping to recall them to a better mind, as having before been in some good estimation with him.
'But they in whom ambition, love of self, and a peculiar conceit of wisdom had bred another persuasion, obstinately abused this kindness of their most noble prince. And when on a certain day there was order issued for the assembly of the great council of the realm, they made secret inquiry to learn the measures which would there be treated of. Whatsoever they discovered or conjectured, forthwith they debated in private council among themselves, arriving upon each point at conclusions other than those which the interests of the realm did require; and they fortified those conclusions with such array of arguments and reasons, that with no great labour the ignorant people might have been dangerously deceived.
'At length knowing that they had incurred the King's displeasure, and fearing lest they might fail of accomplishing their purposes, they chose out persons on whose courage, readiness, and devotion to themselves they could depend; and taking these men into their councils, they fed them with the poison which they had conceived, forgetting their allegiance to their King, and their duty to their country. Thus were their seditious opinions scattered over the country. And when his Highness began to trace this impious conspiracy to its source, Sir Thomas More and the Bishop of Rochester were found to be the undoubted authors of the same; and their guilt was proved against them by the evidence of their own handwrit, and the confessions of their own lips. For these causes, therefore, and for many others of like kind, our most gracious sovereign was compelled to imprison them as rebellious subjects, as disturbers of the public peace, and as movers of sedition and tumult. Nor was it possible for him to do other than punish them, unless, after their crimes had been detected, he had so far forgotten his duty as to leave the contagion to spread unchecked, to the utter destruction of the nation. They were in consequence thrown into the Tower, where, however, their treatment was far diiferent from what their demerits had deserved; they were allowed the society of their friends; their own servants were admitted to attend upon them, and they received all such indulgences in food and dress as their families desired. Clemency, however, produced no effect on persons in whom duty and allegiance had given place to treason and malice. They chose rather to persist in their wicked courses than to make trial by repentance of the King's goodness. For after that certain laws had been decreed by authority of Parliament, and had been by the whole nation admitted and accepted as expedient for the realm, and agreeable to true religion, they alone refused their consent to these laws, hoping that something might occur to sustain them in their impiety; and while professing to have left all care and thought for human things, they were considering by what arguments, in furtherance of their seditious purposes, they might, to the common hurt, elude, refute, and disturb the said laws.
'Of this their treason there are proofs extant—letters written, when ink failed them, with chalk or charcoal, and passed secretly from one to the other. Our most merciful King could therefore no longer tolerate their grievous faults. He allowed them to be tried by process of ordinary law. They were found guilty of high treason, and sentenced to death. Their punishment was milder than that which the law prescribed, or which their crimes had deserved; and many persons have by this example been brought to a better mind.'
To Cromwell evidently the case appeared so clear as to require no apology. To modern writers it has appeared so clear as to admit of none. The value of the defence turns upon the point of the actual danger to the State, and the extent to which the conduct of the sufferers imperilled the progress of the Reformation. As written for the eyes of the Pope and cardinals, however, such a letter could be understood only as daring them to do their worst. It ignored the very existence of such rules of judgment as the heads of the Roman Church would alone acknowledge, and represented the story as it appeared from the position which England had assumed on its revolt from its old allegiance.
There were no more false efforts at conciliation, and open war thenceforth appeared to be the only possible relation between the Papacy and Henry VIII. Paul III. replied, or designed to reply, with his far-famed bull of interdict and deposition, which, though reserved at the moment in deference to Francis of France, and not issued till three years later, was composed in the first burst of his displeasure. The substance of his voluminous anathemas may be thus briefly epitomized.
The Pope, quoting and applying to himself the words of Jeremiah, 'Behold, I have set thee over nations and kingdoms, that thou mayest root out and destroy, and that thou mayest plant and build again,' addressed Henry as a disobedient vassal. Already lying under the censures of the Church, he had gone on to heap crime on crime; and therefore, a specific number of days being allowed him to repent and make his submission, at the expiration of this period of respite the following sentence was to take effect.
The King, with all who abetted him in his crimes, was pronounced accursed cut off from the body of Christ, to perish. When he died, his body should lie without burial; his soul, blasted with anathema, should be cast into hell for ever. The lands of his subjects who remained faithful to him were laid under an interdict; their children were disinherited, their marriages illegal, their wills invalid; only by one condition could they escape their fate—by instant rebellion against the apostate prince. All officers of the Crown were absolved from their oaths; all subjects, secular or ecclesiastic, from their allegiance. The entire nation, under penalty of excommunication, was commanded no longer to acknowledge Henry as their sovereign. No true son of the Church should hold intercourse with him or his adherents. They must neither trade with them, speak with them, nor give them food. The clergy, leaving behind a few of their number to baptize the new-born infants, were to withdraw from the accursed land, and return no more till it had submitted. If the King, trusting to force, persevered in his iniquity, the lords and commons of England, dukes, marquises, earls, and all other persons, were required, under the same penalty of excommunication, to expel him from the throne; and the Christian princes of Europe were called on to show their fidelity to the Holy See, by aiding in so godly a work.
In conclusion, as the King had commanded his clergy to preach against the Pope in their churches, so the Pope commanded them to retaliate upon the King, and with bell, book, and candle declare him cursed.
This was loud thunder; nor, when abetted by Irish massacres and English treasons, was it altogether impotent. If Henry's conceptions of the royal supremacy were something imperious, the Papal supremacy was not more modest in its self-assertion; and the language of Paul III. went far to justify the rough measures by which his menaces were parried. If any misgiving had remained in the King's mind on the legitimacy of the course which he had pursued, the last trace of it must have been obliterated by the perusal of this preposterous bombast.
For the moment, as I said, the bull was suspended through the interference of Francis. But Francis remained in communion with the See of Rome: Francis was at that moment labouring to persuade the Lutheran States in Germany to return to communion with it: and Henry knew that, although in their hearts the European powers might estimate the Pope's pretences at their true value, yet the bull of excommunication might furnish a convenient and dangerous pretext against him in the event of a Catholic combination. His position was full of peril; and in spite of himself, he was driven once more to seek for an alliance among the foreign Protestants before the French intrigues should finally anticipate him.
That he really might be too late appeared an immediate likelihood. The quarrel between the Lutherans and the followers of Zwingle, the Anabaptist anarchy,, and the increasing confusion throughout the Protestant States, had so weighed on Luther's spirit that he was looking for the end of all things and the coming of Christ; and although Luther himself never quailed, too many 'murmurers in the wilderness' were looking wistfully back into Egypt. The French King, availing himself skilfully of the turning tide, had sent the Bishop of Paris to the courts of Saxony and Bavaria, in the beginning of August, to feel his way towards a reconciliation; and his efforts had been attended with remarkable success.
The Bishop had been in communication with Melancthon and many of the leading Lutheran theologians upon the terms on which they would return to the Church. The Protestant divines had drawn up a series of articles, the first of which was a profession of readiness to recognize the authority of the Pope; accompanying this statement with a declaration that they would accept any terms not plainly unjust and impious. These articles were transmitted to Paris, and again retransmitted to Germany, with every prospect of a mutually satisfactory result; and Melancthon was waiting only till the Bishop could accompany him, to go in person to Paris, and consult with the Sorbonne.
This momentary (for it was only momentary) weakness of the German Protestants was in part owing to their want of confidence in Henry VIII. The King had learnt to entertain a respect for the foreign Reformers, far unlike the repugnance of earlier years; but the prospect of an alliance with them had hitherto been too much used by him as a weapon with which to menace the Catholic powers, whose friendship he had not concealed that he would prefer. The Protestant princes had shrunk therefore, and wisely, from allowing themselves to be made the instruments of worldly policy; and the efforts at a combination had hitherto been illusive and ineffectual. Danger now compelled the King to change his hesitation into more honest advances. If Germany accepted the mediation of Francis, and returned to communion with Rome; and if, under the circumstances of a re-union, a general council were assembled; there could be little doubt of the attitude in which a council, called together under such auspices, would place itself towards the movement in England. To escape so imminent a peril, Henry was obliged (as Elizabeth after him) to seek the support of a party from which he had shrunk: he was forced, in spite of himself, to identify his cause with the true cause of freedom, and consequently to admit an enlarged toleration of the Reformed doctrines in his own dominions. There could be little doubt of the support of the Germans, if they could be once assured that they would not again be trifled with; and a Protestant league, the steady object of Cromwell's efforts, seemed likely at length to be realized.
Different indeed would have been the future, both of England and for Germany, if such a league had been possible, if the pressure which compelled this most natural alliance had continued till it had cemented into rock. But the Tudors, representatives in this, as in so many other features of their character, of the people whom they governed, could never cordially unite themselves with a form of thought which permitted August.resistance to authority, and which they regarded as anarchic and revolutionary. They consented, when no alternative was left them, to endure for short periods a state of doubtful cordiality; but the connection was terminated at the earliest moment which safety permitted; in their hatred of disorder (for this feeling is the key alike to the strength and to the weakness of the Tudor family), they preferred the incongruities of Anglicanism to a complete reformation; and a 'midge-madge' of contradictory formularies to the simplicity of the Protestant faith. In essentials, the English movement was political rather than spiritual. What was gained for the faith, we owe first to Providence, and then to those accidents, one of which had now arisen, which compelled at intervals a deeper and a broader policy. To counteract the French emissaries, Christopher Mount, in August, and in September, Fox, Bishop of Hereford, were despatched to warn the Lutheran princes against their intrigues, and to point out the course which the interests of Northern Europe in the existing conjuncture required. The Bishop's instructions were drawn by the King. He was to proceed direct to the Court of Saxony, and, after presenting his letters of credit, was to address the Elector to the following effect:
'Besides and beyond the love, amity, and friendship which noble blood and progeny had carnally caused and continued in the heart of the King's Highness towards the said duke and his progenitors, and besides that kindness also which of late by mutual communication of gratuities had been not a little augmented and increased between them, there was also stirred up in the heart of the King's Highness a spiritual love and favour towards the said duke and his virtuous intents and proceedings; for that the said duke persisted and continued in his most virtuous mind to set forth, maintain, and defend the sincere teaching of the Gospel and the perfect true understanding of the word of God. In that matter the King's Highness, also illuminated with the same spirit of truth, and wholly addict and dedicate to the advancement thereof, had employed great pain and travail to bring the same to the knowledge of his people and subjects, intending also further and further to proceed therein, as his Grace by good consultation should perceive might tend to the augmentation of the glory of God and the true knowledge of His word. His said Majesty was of such sincere meaning in the advancing [hereof] as his Grace would neither headily, without good advisement, and consultation, and conference with his friends, go in any part beyond the said truth, ne for any respect tarry or stay on this side the truth, but would proceed in the right straight mean way assuredly agreed upon. He had known of certainty divers who by their immoderate zeal or the excessive appetite to novelties had from darkness proceeded to much more darkness, wherein the Anabaptists and Sacramentarians were guilty; so by secret report he had been advertised, that upon private communications and conferences, the learned men there [in Germany] had in certain points and articles yielded and relented from their first asseveration; by reason whereof it was much doubted whether by other degrees they might be dissuaded in some of the rest. The King's Highness therefore, being very desirous to know the truth therein, and to be ascertained in what points and articles the learned men there were so assuredly and constantly resolved as by no persuasion of man they could be turned from the same, had sent the Bishop of Hereford to the said duke, desiring and praying him in respect of the premises to entertain the said Bishop friendly and familiarly concerning the matter aforesaid, as the mutual love carnally, and the zeal of both princes to the increase of the glory of God spiritually, did require.'
September.The Bishop was then to speak of the council, the assembling of which he understood that the German princes so much desired. He was to dissuade them from pressing it, to the extent of his ability. They would find themselves opposed inevitably in all essential matters by the Pope, the Emperor, and the French King, whose factions united would outnumber and outvote them; and in the existing state of Europe, a general council would only compromise their position and embarrass their movements. If, however, notwithstanding his remonstrances, the princes persisted in their wish, then the Bishop was to urge them to come to some understanding with England on the resolutions which they desired to maintain. Let them communicate to the English bishops such points 'as they would stick to without relenting;' and the two countries, 'standing together, would be so much stronger to withstand their adversaries.' Without definitely promising to sign the Confession of Augsburg, Henry held out stronger hopes that he might sign that Confession, if they would send representatives to London to discuss the articles of it with himself. The Bishop was to apologize for any previous slackness on the King's part in his communications with the Elector, and to express his hopes that for the future their relations might be those of cordial unanimity. He was especially to warn the Elector to beware of re-admitting the Papal supremacy under any pretext. The English had shaken off the Pope, 'provoked thereunto in such wise as would have provoked them rather to have expelled him from them by wrong, than to suffer him so to oppress them with injuries.' If in Germany they 'opened the great gate' to let him in again he would rebuild 'the fortresses that were thrown down, and by little and little bring all to the former estate again.' Finally, with respect to the council—if a council there was to be—they must take care that it was held in a place indifferent, where truth might be heard or spoken; 'considering that else in a council, were not the remedy that all good men sought, but the mischief that all good men did abhor.'
These advances, consented to by Henry, were the act of Cromwell, and were designed as the commencement of a Fœdus Evangelicum—a league of the great Reforming nations of Europe. It was a grand scheme, and history can never cease to regret that it was grasped at with too faint a hand. The Bishop succeeded in neutralizing partially the scheming of the French, partially in attracting the sympathies of the German powers towards England; but the two great streams of the Teutonic race, though separated by but a narrow ridge of difference, were unable to reach a common channel. Their genius drove them into courses which were to run side by side for centuries, yet ever to remain divided. And if the lines in which their minds have flowed seem to be converging at last, and if hereafter Germans and English are again to unite in a single faith, the remote meeting-point is still invisible, and the terms of possible agreement can be but faintly conjectured.
- 'These be no causes to die for,' was the favourite phrase of the time. It was the expression which the Bishop of London used to the Carthusian monks (Historia Martyrum Anglorum), and the Archhishop of York in his diocese generally—Ellis, third series, vol. ii. p. 375.
- Si Rex Præfatus, vel alii, inhibitioni ac prohibitioni et interdicto hujusmodi contravenerint, Regem ipsum ac alios omnes supradictos, sententias censuras et pœnas prædictas ex nunc prout ex tune incurrisse declaramus, et ut tales publicari ac publice nunciari et evitari—ac interdictum per totum regnum Angliæ sub dictis pœnis observari debere, volumus atque mandamus.—First Brief of Clement: Legrand, vol. iii. pp. 451–52. The Church of Rome, however, draws a distinction between a sentence implied and a sentence directly pronounced.
- Strype's Memorials, vol. i. p. 292. Ellis, third series, vol. ii. p. 336.
- It is remarkable that in this paper it seems to he assumed, that the Pope would have fulfilled this engagement if Henry had fully submitted. 'He openly confessed,' it says, 'that our master had the right; but because our prince and master would not prejudicate for his jurisdictions, and uphold his usurped power by sending a proctor, ye may evidently here see that this was only the cause why the judgment of the Bishop of Kome was not given in his favour; whereby it may appear that there lacked not any justice in our prince's cause, but vain ambition, vain glory, and too much mundanity were the lets thereof.'
- An Order for Preaching: printed in Burnet's Collectanea, p. 447.
- Ellis, third series, vol. ii. p. 373.
- John ap Rice to Secretary Cromwell, with an account of the search of the Bishop of Durham's chamber: Rolls House MS.
- Bedyll to Cromwell: State Papers, vol. i. p. 422. Bedyll had been directed by Cromwell to observe how the injunctions were obeyed. He said that he was 'in much despair of the reformation of the friars by any gentle or favourable means;' and advised, 'that fellows who leave sermons should be put in prison, and made a terrible example of.'
- State Papers, vol. i. p. 422 et seq.
- Strype's Memorials, vol. i. p. 305.
- Confessions of Father Forest: Rolls House MS. This seems to have been generally known at the time. Latimer alludes to it in one of his sermons.
- 'The confessor can do no good with them (the monks), and the obstinate persons be not in fear of him; but he in great fear and danger of his life, by reason of their malice, for that he hath consented to the King's title, and hath preached the same.'—Bedyll to Cromwell: State Papers, vol. i. p. 424.
- Cranmer: but we will hope the story is coloured. It is characteristic, however, of the mild, tender-hearted man who desired to glide round difficulties rather than scale and conquer them.
- A Deposition concerning the Popish Conduct of a Priest: Rolls House MS.
- Information given by John Maydwell, of treasonable Words spoken against Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn: Rolls House MS.
- In this instance we need not doubt that the words were truly reported, for the offenders were tried and pleaded guilty.
- The conspiracy of 'young Ryce,' or Richard ap Griffyth, is one of the most obscure passages in the history of this reign. It was a "Welsh plot, conducted at Islington. [Act of Attainder of Richard ap Griffyth, 23 Hen. VIII. cap. 24.] The particulars of it I am unable to discover further, than that it was a desperate undertaking, encouraged by the uncertainty of the succession, and by a faith in prophecies (Confession of Sir William Neville: Rolls House MS.}, to murder the King. Ryce was tried in Michaelmas term, 1531, and executed. His uncle, who passed under the name of Brancetor, was an active revolutionary agent on the Continent in the later years of Henry's reign.—See State Papers, vol. iv. pp. 647, 651, 653; vol. viii. pp. 219, 227, &c.
- Trial and Conviction of John Feron, clerk, and John Hale, clerk Baga De Secretis; Appendix II to the Third Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records.
- History is never weary of repeating its warnings against narrow judgments. A year ago we believed that the age of arbitrary severity was past. In the interval we have seen the rebellion in India; the forms of law have been suspended, and Hindoo rajahs have been executed for no greater crime than the possession of letters from the insurgents. The evidence of a treasonable animus has been sufficient to ensure condemnation; and in the presence of necessity the principles of the sixteenth century have been instantly revived.—April, 1858.
- Act of Supremacy, 26 Hen. VIII. cap. 1.
- To guard against misconception, an explanatory document was drawn up by the Government at the time of the passing of the Act, which is highly curious and significant. 'The King's Grace,' says this paper, 'hath no new authority given herehy that he is recognized as supreme Head of the Church of England; for in that recognition is included only that he have such power as to a king of right appertaineth by the law of God; and not that he should take any spiritual power from spiritual ministers that is given to them by the Gospel. So that these words, that the King is supreme Head of the Church, serve rather to declare and make open to the world, that the King hath power to suppress all such extorted powers, as well of the Bishop of Rome as of any other within this realm, whereby his subjects might be grieved; and to correct and remove all things whereby any unquietness might arise amongst the people; rather than to prove that he should pretend thereby to take any powers from the siiccessors of the apostles that was given to them by God. And forasmuch as, in the session of this former Parliament holden in the twenty-fifth year of this reign, whereby great exactions done to the King's subjects by a power from Rome was put away, and thereupon the promise was made that nothing should be interpreted and expounded upon that statute, that the King's Grace, his nobles or subjects, intended to decline or vary from the congregation of Christ's Church in anything concerning the articles of the Catholic faith, or anything declared by Holy Scripture and the Word of God necessary for his Grace's salvation and his subjects'; it is not, therefore, meet lightly to think that the self-same persons, continuing the self-same Parliament, would in the next year following make an Act whereby the King, his nobles and subjects, should so vary. And no man may with conscience judge that they did so, except they can prove that the words of the statute, whereby the King is recognized to be the supreme Head of the Church of England, should show expressly that they intended to do so; as it is apparent that they do not.
'There is none authority of Scripture that will prove that any one of the apostles should be head of the Universal Church of Christendom. And if any of the doctors of the Church or the clergy have, by any of their laws or decrees, declared any Scripture to be of that effect, kings and princes, taking to them their counsellors, and such of their clergy as they shall think most indifferent, ought to be judges whether those declarations and laws be made according to the truth of Scripture or not; because it is said in the Psalms, 'Et nunc Regus intelligite, erudimini qui judicatis terram': that is, 'O kings! understand ye, be ye learned that judge the world.' And certain it is that the Scripture is always true; and there is nothing that the doctors and clergy might, through dread and affection, [so well] be deceived in, as in things concerning the honour, dignity, power, liberty, jurisdiction, and riches of the bishops and clergy; and some of them have of likelihood been deceived therein.'—Heads of Arguments concerning the Power of the Pope and the Royal Supremacy: Rolls House MS.
- 26 Hen. VIII. cap. 2.
- 26 Hen. VIII. c. 13.
- More warned Fisher of this. He 'did send Mr Fisher word by a letter that Mr Solicitor had showed him, that it was all one not to answer, and to say against the statute what a man would, as all the learned men in England would justify.'—State Papers, vol. i. p. 434.
- The Act was repealed in 1547, 1 Edw. VI. cap. 12. The explanation -which is there given of the causes which led to the enactment of it is temperate and reasonable. Subjects, says that statute, should obey rather for love of their prince than for fear of his laws: 'yet such times at some time cometh in the commonwealth, that it is necessary and expedient for the repressing of the insolence and unruliness of men, and for the foreseeing and providing of remedies against rebellions, insurrections, or such mischiefs as God, sometime with us displeased, doth inflict and lay upon us, or the devil, at God's permission, to assay the good and God's elect, doth sow and set among us,—the which Almighty God and man's policy hath always been content to have stayed that sharper laws as a harder bridle should be made.'
- 26 Henry VIII. cap. 14: 'An Act for Nomination and Consecration of Suffragans within the Realm.' I have already stated my impression that the method of nomination to bishoprics by the Crown, as fixed by the 20th of the 25th of Henry VIII., was not intended to be perpetual. A further evidence of what I said will be found in the arrangements under the present Act for the appointment of suffragans. The King made no attempt to retain the patronage. The Bishop of each diocese was to nominate two persons, and between these the Crown was bound to choose.
- Parum erraturus sed pauca facturus.—State Papers, vol. vii. p. 581.
- Ibid. p. 573.
- Nota qu'il ne sera pas paraventure si fort malayse à gaigner ceroy.—Note on the margin of the Comte de Nassau's Instructions.
- Charles V. to his Ambassador at Paris.
'… In addition, the Count de Nassau and yourself may go further in sounding the King about the Count's proposal—I mean for the marriage of our cousin the Princess of England with the Duke d'Angoulesme. The Grand Master, I understand, when the Count spoke of it, seemed to enter into the suggestion, and mentioned the displeasure which the King of England had conceived against Anne Boleyn. I am therefore sincerely desirous that the proposal should be well considered, and you will bring it forward as you shall see opportunity. You will make the King and the Grand Master feel the importance of the connection, the greatness which it would confer on the Duke d'Angoulesme, the release of the English debt, which can be easily arranged, and the assurance of the realm of France.
'Such a marriage will be, beyond comparison, more advantageous to the King, his realm, and his children, than any benefit for which he could hope from Milan; while it can be brought about with no considerable difficulty. But be careful what you say, and how you say it Speak alone to the King and alone to the Grand Master, letting neither of them know that you have spoken to the other. Observe carefully how the King is inclined, and, at all events, be secret; so that if he does not like the thing, the world need not know that it has been thought of.
'Should it be suggested to you—as it may be—that Anne Boleyn may be driven desperate, and may contrive something against the Princess's life, we answer that we can hardly believe her so utterly abandoned by conscience; or, again, the Duke of Anjou may possibly object to the exaltation of his brother; in which case we shall consent willingly to have our cousin marry the Duke of Anjou; and, in that case, beyond the right which appertains to the Duke and Princess from their fathers and mothers, they and either of them shall have the kingdom of Denmark, and we will exert ourselves to compose any difficulties with our Holy Father the Pope.'—MS. Archives at Brussels.
- State Papers, vol. vii. pp. 584–5.
- This is Cromwell's paraphrase. Francis is not responsible for the language
- State Papers, vol. vii. pp. 584–590
- See the long and curious correspondence between the English and Spanish Courts in the State Papers, vol. vi.
- State Papers, vol. vii. pp. 587–8.
- Ibid. p. 587.
- Who were to arrange the betrothal of Elizabeth to the Duke of Angoulesme.
- Henry VIII. to De Bryon: State Papers, vol. vii. p. 589.
- State Papers, vol. vii. p. 591.
- 'Suâ sponte solius veritatis propagandæ studio; nullâ regiæ Majestatis intercessione expectatâ.'—Cromwell to Cassalis: State Papers, vol. vii. p. 592.
- Language can scarcely be stronger than that which he directed his ambassador at Rome to use—short, at least, of absolute menace.—State Papers, vol. vii. pp. 593–4.
- Historia Martyrum Anglorum, cap. 2.
- Ibid. cap. 8.
- Historia Martyrum, cap. 9.
- See Divorce of Catherine of Aragon, p. 370.
- Stokesley, Bishop of London, among others: State Papers, vol. i. pp. 423–4.
- Historia Martyrum, cap. 9.
- The 60th in the English version.
- Printed in Strype's Memorials, vol. i. Appendix, p. 208.
- Baga De Secretis; Appendix II. to the Third Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records.
- Strype's Memorials, vol. i. p. 305; Historia Martyum Anglorum.
- Father Maurice says that the jury desired to acquit; and after debating for a night, were preparing a verdict of Not Guilty; when Cromwell, hearing of their intention, went in person to the room where they were assembled, and threatened them with death unless they did what he called their duty. The story is internally improbable. The conditions of the case did not admit of an acquittal; and the conduct attributed to Cromwell is inconsistent with his character. Any doubt which might remain, in the absence of opposing testimony, is removed by the record of the trial, from which it appears clearly that the jury were not returned until the 29th of April, and that the verdict was given in on the same day.—Baga De Secretis; Appendix to the Third Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records.
- 'In thee, Lord, have I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion: deliver me in thy righteousness. Bow down thine ear to me; make haste to deliver me. And be thou my strong rock and house of defence, that thou mayest save me. For thou art my strong rock, and my castle; be thou also my guide, and lead me for thy name's sake. Draw me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength. Into thy hands I commend my spirit, for thou hast redeemed me, Lord, thou God of truth!'
- Historia Martyrum Anglorum.
- On the 19th of June. Hall says they were insolent to Cromwell on their trial.
- 'By the hand of God,' according to Mr Secretary Bedyll. 'My very good Lord, after my most hearty commendations, it shall please your lordship to understand that the monks of the Charterhouse here in London which were committed to Newgate for their traitorous behaviour, long time continued against the King's Grace, be almost dispatched by the hand of God, as may appear to you by this bill enclosed; whereof, considering their behaviour and the whole matter, I am not sorry, but would that all such as love not the King's Highness and his worldly honour were in like case.'—Bedyll to Cromwell: Suppression of the Monasteries, p. 162.
- Stow, p. 571. And see the Diary of Richard Hilles, merchant, of London, MS., Balliol College, Oxford.
- Stow's Chronicle, p. 571.
- Latimer alludes to the story with no disapproval of the execution of these men—as we should not have disapproved of it, if we had lived then, unless we had been Anabaptists ourselves. A brave death, Latimer says, is no proof of a good cause. 'This is no good argument, my friends; this is a deceivable argument: he went to his death boldly—ergo, he standeth in a just quarrel. The Anabaptists that were burnt here in divers towns in England (as I heard of credible men I saw them not myself), went to their death intrepide, as you will say; without any fear in the world—cheerfully: well, let them go. There was in the old times another kind of poisoned heretics that were called Donatists; and these heretics went to their execution as they should have gone to some jolly recreation or banquet.'—Latimer's Sermons, p. 160.
- He wrote to the King on the 14th of June, in consequence of an examination at the Tower; but that letter could not have been spoken of on the trial of the Carthusians.—See State Papers, vol. i. p. 431.
- 'I had the confessor alone in very secret communication concerning certain letters of Mr Fisher's, of which Father Reynolds made mention in his examination; which the said Fisher promised the King's Grace that he never showed to any other man, neither would. The said confessor hath confessed to me that the said Fisher sent to him, to the said Reynolds, and to one other brother of them, the copy of his said letters directed to the King's Grace, and the copy of the King's answer also. He hath knowledged to me also that the said Fisher sent unto them with the said copies a book of his, made in defence of the King's Grace's first marriage, and also Abel's book, and one other book made by the Emperour's ambassador, as I suppose.'—Bedyll to Cromwell: Suppression of the Monasteries, pp. 45, 46.
- The accounts are consistent on this subject with a single exception. A letter is extant from Fisher, in which he complained of suffering from the cold and from want of clothes. This must have been an accident. More was evidently treated well (see More's Life of More); and all the circumstances imply that they were allowed to communicate freely with their friends, and to receive whatever comforts their friends were pleased to send them. The official statements on this subject are too positive and too minute to admit of a doubt. Cromwell writes thus to Cassalis: 'Carceribus mancipati tractabantur humanius atque mitius quam par fuisset pro eorum demeritis; per Regem illis licebat proximorum colloquio et consuetudine frui. Ii fuerant illis appositi præscriptique ministri quos a vinclis immunes antea fidos charosque habebant; id cibi genus eaque condimenta et vestitus eis concedebantur quæ eorum habitudini ac tuendæ sanitati, ipsi consanguinei, nepotes atque affines et amici judicabant esse magis accommoda.'—State Papers, vol. vii. p. 634.
- More's Life of More.
- 'Instructions given by the King's Majesty to the Right Eeverend Father in God, his right trusty and well-beloved counsellor the Bishop of Hereford, whom his Majesty at this time sendeth unto the Princes of Germany.'—Rolls House MS.
- State Papers, vol. vii. p. 635.
- Compare State Papers, vol. i. pp. 431–36, with the Reports of the trials in the Baga de Secretis. Burnet has hastily stated that no Catholic was ever punished for merely denying the supremacy in official examinations. He has gone so far, indeed, as to call the assertions of Catholic writers to this eifect 'impudent falsehoods.' Whether any Catholic was prosecuted who had not given other cause for suspicion, I do not know; but it is quite certain that Haughton and Fisher were condemned solely on the ground of their answers on these occasions, and that no other evidence was brought against them. The Government clearly preferred this evidence as the most direct and unanswerable, for in both those cases they might have produced other witnesses had they cared to do so.
- 'Omnes Cardinales amicos nostros adivi; eisque demonstravi quam temere ac stulte fecerint in Roffensi in Cardinalem eligendo unde et potentissimum Regem et universum Regnum Angliæ mirum in modum lædunt et injuriâ afficiunt; Roffensem enim virum esse gloriosura ut propter vanam gloriam in suâ opinione contra Regem adhuc sit permansurus; quâ etiam de causâ in carcere est et morti condemnatus.'—Cassalis to Cromwell: State Papers, vol. vii. p. 604.
- State Papers, vol. vii. p. 604.
- Pontifex me vehementer rogavit, ut vias omnes tentare velim, quibus apud Regiam Majestatem excusatam hanc rem faciam, unde se plurimum dolere dixit, cum præsertim ego affirmaverim rem esse ejusmodi ut excusationem non recipiat.—Cassalis to Cromwell: Ibid.
- Ibid. p. 616.
- Historia Martyrum Anglorum.
- Report of the Trial of John Fisher: Baga de Secretis; Appendix to the Third Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Records.
- Fisher's treason is distinctly proved by the letters of Chapuys. See Divorce of Catherine of Aragon cap. 18.
- If his opinions had been insufficient for his destruction, there was an influence at Court which left no hope to him; the influence of one whose ways and doings were better known then than they have been known to her modern admirers. 'On a time,' writes his grandson, 'when he had questioned my aunt Roper of his wife and children, and the state of his house in his absence, he asked her at last how Queen Anne did. 'In faith, father,' said she, 'never better. There is nothing else at the Court but dancing and sporting.' 'Never better?' said he; 'alas, Meg, alas, it pitieth me to remember unto what misery she will shortly come. These dances of hers will prove such dances that she will spurn our heads off like footballs, but it will not be long ere her head will dance the like dance.''—More's Life of More, p. 244.
- The composition of the commission is remarkable. When Fisher was tried, Lord Exeter sat upon it. On the trial of More, Lord Exeter was absent, but his place was taken by his cousin, Lord Montague, Reginald Pole's eldest brother, and Lady Salisbury's son. Willingly or unwillingly, the opposition nobles were made participes criminis in both these executions.
- I take my account of the indictment from the Government record. It is, therefore, their own statement of their own case.—Trial of Sir Thomas More: Baga De Secretis, pouch 7, bundle 3.
- Fisher had unhappily used these words on his own examination; and the identity of language was held a proof of traitorous confederacy.
- If this was the constitutional theory, 'divine right' was a Stuart fiction.
- More's Life of More, p. 271.
- More's Life of More, pp. 276–7.
- 'And, further to put him from his melancholy, Sir Thomas More did take his urinal, and cast his water, saying merrily, 'I see no danger but the man that owns this water may live longer, if it please the King.''—MORE'S Life, p. 283. I cannot allow myself to suppress a trait so eminently characteristic.
- More's Life of More, p. 287.
- State Papers, vol. vii. p. 606.
- Cassalis to Cromwell: State Papers, vol. vii. pp. 620–21.
- Cassalis to Cromwell: State Papers, vol. vii. pp. 620–21.
- Strype's Memor. Eccles., vol. 1., Appendix, p. 211. These words are curious as directly attributing the conduct of the monks to the influence of More and Fisher.
- Cromwell to Gardiner: Burnet's Collectanea, pp. 460–1.
- 'If the Duke of Saxe, or any of the other princes, shall in their conference with him expostulate or show themselves displeased with such information as they may percase have had, touching the attainder and execution of the late Bishop of Rochester and Sir Thomas More, the said Bishop shall thereunto answer and say, that the same were by order of his laws found to be false traitors and rebels to his Highness and his crown. The order of whose attainder with the causes thereof, he may declare unto them, saying that in case the King's Highness should know that they would conceive any sinister opinion of his Grace, for the doing of any act within his realm, his Grace should not only have cause to think they used not with him the office of friendship, which would not by any report conceive other opinion of so noble a prince as he is than were both just and honourable; but also to note in them less constancy of judgment than he verily thinketh they have. And hereupon the said Bishop shall dissuade them from giving credit to any such report, as whereby they shall offend God in the judgment of evil upon their neighbour; and cause his Majesty to muse that they would of him, being a prince of honour, conceive any other opinion than his honour and friendship towards them doth require. Setting this forth with such a stomach and courage as they may not only perceive the false traitorous dealings of the said persons; but consider what folly it were in them upon light report to judge of another prince's proceedings otherwise than they would a foreign prince should judge of them.'—Instructions to the Bishop of Hereford by the King's Highness: Rolls House MS.
- It will be observed that many important facts are alluded to in this letter of which we have no other knowledge.
- Cromwell to Cassalis: State Papers, vol. vii. p. 633.
- Paul himself said that it was reserved at the intercession of the princes of Europe. Intercession is too mild a word for the species of interference which was exerted. The Pope sent a draft of the intended bull to France; and the King having no disposition to countenance exaggerated views of Papal authority, spoke of it as impudentissimum quoddam breve; and said that he must send the Cardinal of Lorraine to Rome, to warn his Holiness that his pretence of setting himself above princes could by no means be allowed; by such impotent threats he might not only do no good, but he would make himself a laughing-stock to all the world.—Christopher Mount to Henry VIII.: State Papers, vol. vii. p. 628.
- His sub excommunicationis pœnâ mandamus ut ab ejusdem Henrici regis, suorumque officialium judicium et magistratuum quorumcunque obedientiâ, penitus et omnino recedant, nec illos in superiores recognoscant neque illorum mandatis obtemperent.—Bull of Pope Paul against Henry VIII.
- The Venetian ambassador told Mount that the first article stood thus: 'Admittitur Protestas Pontificis Maximi absolute;' to which Mount says he answered, 'Hoc Latinum magis sapit Sorbonam Parisiensem quam Witenbergensem Minervam.' Du Bellay afterwards said that the saving clause was attached to it, 'Modo secundum verbum Dei omnia judicet;' and that this had been addec. at the desire of the French King; which Mount did not believe and indeed found great difficulty in discovering any credible account of what was really taking place, beyond the fact that the Lutherans were so anxious for an agreement, that they were walking with open eyes into a net which would strangle them.—See State Papers, vol. vii. p. 630, &c.
- Ego colendissime Patrone (si scribere licet quod sentio) non nihil nocere puto amicitiæ ineundæ et confirmandæ inter serenissimum Regem nostrum et Principes Germanos, nimiam serenissimi Regis nostri prudentiam. Germanorum animi tales sunt ut apertam et simplicem amicitiam colant et expetant. Ego quoque Germanos Principes super hâc causâ sæpius expostulantes audivi, ut qui suspensam hanc et causariam amicitiam non satis probarent. Dixerunt enim hâc re fieri ut plerique alii fœdus secum inire detrectarent et refugerent qui id ultro factum fuerant si serenissimum Angliæ Regem aperte stare cernerent.—Mount to Cromwell: State Papers, vol. vii. p. 625.
- This was Lord Burleigh's word for the constitution of the English Church.
- Instructions to the Bishop of Hereford: Rolls House MS.
- In case they shall require that the King's Majesty shall receive the whole confession of Germany as it is imprinted, the Bishop shall say that when the King's Highness shall have seen and perused the articles of the league, and shall perceive that there is in it contained none other articles but such as may be agreeable with the Gospel, and such as his Highness ought and conveniently may maintain, it is not to be doubted, and also, 'I durst boldly affirm,' the said Bishop shall say, 'that the King's Highness will enter the same [league].' But it shall be necessary for the said duke and the princes confederate to send to the King's Highness such personages as might devise, conclude, and condescend in every article.—Instructions to the Bishop of Hereford: Rolls House MS.