History of England (Froude)/Preface


THE occasion of my undertaking the present work was, as regards myself, an involuntary leisure forced upon me by my inability to pursue the profession which I had entered, but which I was forbidden by the law to exchange for anotner; and, secondly, the attitude towards the Reformation of the 16th century which had been assumed by many influential thinkers in England and on the Continent.

Goethe had said of Luther and Calvin that they had delayed the intellectual growth of Europe for centuries by calling in the mob to decide questions which should have been left to the thinkers. Our own Reformers, who for three centuries had been the object of enthusiastic panegyric, were being assailed with equally violent abuse by the High Churchmen on one side, and by Liberal statesmen and political philosophers on the other. Lord Macaulay had attacked Cranmer as one of the basest of mankind. It had become the fashion to speak with extreme severity of the persecution of the Catholics by Elizabeth. Even writers on the whole favourable to the Reformation described the English branch of it as a good thing badly done.

My own impression about it was, that the Reformation was both a good thing itself and that in England it had been accomplished with peculiar skill and success. The passions called out by religious controversy, which in France and Germany were the occasions of long and bloody wars, were controlled in England by the Government. I considered that on the whole the control had worked beneficially, and that those who condemned the repressive measures adopted towards the Romanists by Elizabeth's ministers had made imperfect allowance for the temper of the times and for the impossibility of tolerating opinions which led immediately to rebellion. My original purpose was to confine myself to the reign of the great Queen for whom, looking to the spirit in which her Government had been conducted, I felt great admiration. The attacks of Lingard and others upon her personal purity I believed to be gratuitous and unjust. I intended as briefly as I could to undertake her vindication. With Cranmer and his companions, unwilling as I was to accept Lord Macaulay's judgment upon them, I had not proposed to meddle. I shared the prevailing views of the character of Henry VIII.; and though I considered that if all the circumstances were known to us there might be found much to modify our censure on the Archbishop's behaviour, it was plain that he had gone along with the King in the most questionable actions of the reign.

I found myself, however, unable to handle the later features of the Revolution without going back to the beginning of it. The coming of the Armada was last act of a drama of which the divorce of Queen Catharine was the first. The publication of new materials, the improved accessibility of the records in our own and other countries, and the voluminous diplomatic correspondence which was thus opened to inquiry, threw fresh light upon much that had been obscure and unintelligible. I was thus led first to study more closely, and then to undertake the narrative of, the entire period, between the original quarrel with the Papacy, and the point at which the separation of England from the Roman communion was finally decided.

My general opinion on the character of the movement remains unchanged, but I have not consciously allowed myself to be influenced by my prepossessions; for of the persons whose actions I have had to describe, there are several of the most distinguished about whom I have been compelled to sacrifice prejudices early formed, tenaciously held, and unwillingly parted with. A qualified defence of Henry VIII. was forced upon me by the facts of the case. With equal reluctance I had to acknowledge that the wisdom of Elizabeth was—the wisdom of her ministers, and that her chief merit, which circumstances must divide with herself, lay in allowing her policy to be guided by Lord Burghley.

I owe an apology to the public for the length to which the book has run. I have this only to say in my defence, that nine-tenths of the materials which I have used are in MS. and therefore difficult of access. I have desired to enable my readers to form their own opinions rather than to intrude mine upon them; and I have allowed the principal actors, therefore, to unfold their characters and motives in their own language.

Thus, with my cordial thanks to the English public for the support which they have kindly extended to me in this enterprise, I close a work which has been the companion of twenty years of pleasant but of unintermittent labour.

London, June, 1870.

The Calendars of State Papers, published since this book was written, have thrown fresh light on the Divorce of Catherine of Aragon. The new matter confirms the view which I had already taken of that subject. I therefore leave the text unchanged, and I have added a supplementary volume on this particular incident; to which volume I must refer such of my readers as desire to study the story more closely. Special references will be found in the footnotes.

January, 1893.