Seventeen lectures on the study of medieval and modern history and kindred subjects/The Reign of Henry VIII.
THE REIGN OF HENRY VIII.
(June 7, 1881.)
I SHALL not trouble you with any detailed reasons for my choice of a subject for this Term's statutory lectures; it is enough to observe that I have been busily employed upon the reign of Henry VIII for some months of ordinary lecturing, and that there is every probability that I may have to work upon him for some months to come. You will at once admit that Henry VIII is too big a subject to admit any rival on the same canvas, or under the same hand; whoever undertakes him at all must be content to devote himself for the time entirely to him. This being said, you must further concede to me that, although the subject is interesting enough, two lectures, in which anything like a bird's-eye view can be offered, must be very dry; I will not say dull, but so concentrated as not to allow much extraneous illustration. That granted, I propose to put before you, in as concise a form as possible, the main points of importance in the reign, in some degree adopting the method which I have followed in the analytical chapters of my Constitutional History. If, in doing this, I succeed only in drawing out a plan on which the long history of the reign may be arranged for subsequent reading, I feel that I shall have done something. I intend to try to do more, but I may not, in the further aim, satisfy you, and I certainly shall not satisfy myself
My plan will be to offer you, at the beginning and end of the lectures, some general remarks on the position and character of England and her king at the beginning and end of the reign; but to devote the main part of our discussion to the definite arrangement of the particular acts and measures of the period, saying as little as possible about external matters, but fixing as accurately as we can the framework of internal history; its principal changes and their tendency. I will not now anticipate any general conclusions, but simply propose an arrangement under the ordinary heads of taxation, legislation, administrative action, ecclesiastical reform, and parliamentary history.
The position of England at the opening of Modern History, the position which she had assumed under Henry VII and in which Henry VIII found her at his accession, was that of a young, well concentrated and well equipped, but untrained, actor for the great drama of European politics. England had had more than twenty years of such peace as amounted to a disuse of warfare; that is, her yeomanry had only maintained the use of arms as a part of their education, they had no practical acquaintance with military tactics or with blood and iron. But in other respects she was well furnished; she had money, and good intelligence, and astute ministers, men of wide mind like Wolsey, and of minute experience, and of no small ambitions. I am not going to say that England came upon the stage with more real wisdom or with more honesty of purpose than the other powers: her diplomacy seems to have partaken quite as much of the character of chicanery as did that of Spain, France, or Austria: but her interests in the struggle of European forces, which is now commencing, were not so direct as theirs; her sympathies were not definitely with either the one side or the other; and, if her hereditary antipathy to France might seem likely to throw her too unreservedly on the side of France's enemies, the cool way in which, on all occasions except when money was wanted, her attentions were received by the Imperial administration in Spain and the Netherlands, was quite enough to repel any approach to sympathy.
So, as a rule, throughout the reign of Henry VIII, the cool heads among English politicians dreamed of nothing more for their country than the position of an arbitrator, an umpire between great rival parties on the Continent, from whose humiliation nothing was to be gained, and from whose over-exaltation something was to be feared. Henry VIII might sometimes dream of the Empire, or of the recovery of Normandy and Aquitaine, as Wolsey might dream of the papacy; but the wiser heads contemplated no such shadows; nor, I think, had those aims more than a slight and momentary influence on the king and cardinal; the people were not unwilling, up to a certain point, to fight and, up to a certain point, to pay: but they did not care to sacrifice their blood and money, and win neither spoils nor glory. So, although there was much talk of war, and much money spent on armaments, money well spent perhaps in part, for the armed power of England was a not unimportant qualification for her position as arbitrator, there was very little real war; there were countless treaties, leagues, unions, truces, armistices, sufferances, neutralities and abstentions, but the expeditions of Dorset and Howard to Spain and France in 151 3, the king's expedition to Tournay in 1513, the invasion of France by the Duke of Suffolk in 1533, and the expedition of Henry to Boulogne in 1543, are the sum and substance of Henry's military doings outside of Great Britain.
A momentary effort, a little advantage gained, time taken to secure it, and the utmost terms exacted for the surrender of it, is the whole story. In spite of many leagues with France, the sword is never really drawn against Charles; and, in spite of many leagues with Charles, war of England against France has no other direct object than the acquisition of a stronghold on or near the coast. Money is spent in loans, or dangled in the shape of promises, there are threats of diversion and plans of united campaigns which come to nothing more. England claiming to be an arbitrator is really a make-weight.
I cannot therefore agree with those who would extol the foreign policy of England in the beginning and end of the reign as a masterpiece of diplomacy. Honesty would have been the simpler, the wiser, and the cheaper policy; and so I think the nation itself felt. Far more would really have been gained by letting the competitors fight out their quarrel and exhaust themselves; and the position of England could have been made safe at a tenth of the cost. But it was a new game, a new drama, and England as represented by Henry must have a leading part.
Within the borders of the island, the old struggle of Scotland, allied with and prompted by France, is a matter of secondary interest; and the two great crises, the battle of Flodden in 1513 and the death of James V in 1543, great as they are in picturesque and personal interest, scarcely trouble the current of peace at home; the border warfare, seldom intermitted, the party struggles of the Scots themselves, whether the time is one of truce or of hostility, furnish opportunity for military and administrative occupation, and for the energies of uneasy men. I pass then rapidly and generally over these external points in which so much of contemporary history is expended, and prefer to look more closely at home.
And let us first look at the king. I am not one of those critics who incline to a very disparaging estimate of Henry VIII. He was not, as a man, more vicious than many kings who have maintained a very fair reputation in history. In force of character there are few indeed that come near him; if he seems to act upon pure self-will, he is able to give a reason for his acts, and that such a reason as we cannot on mere prejudice determine to be unreasonable; he makes his way with good men and bad men alike, and, with a few notable exceptions, he is able to overrule all protest. On mature consideration, I am inclined to regard Henry himself as the main originator of the greatest and most critical changes of his reign; and I am sure that, after the fall of Wolsey, there is no minister, great or small, who can claim anything like an original share in determining the royal policy. He could keep More as his chancellor, and Warham as his archbishop, whilst he was pushing measures which they abhorred; he could send Cromwell to the block the moment he discovered that he was pursuing designs of a colour which did not recommend itself to him; and to Audley and Wriothesley no one would dream of giving the name of an independent or original minister. Cranmer and Gardiner he tolerated alike and in turn, but Cranmer kept his place by abstention from politics and by the facility with which Henry could use him when he wanted; whilst Gardiner, on the other hand, sank the ecclesiastic in the politician until his time came.
So, for all the critical years of the reign, Henry's strong will threw the advice or agency of any subordinate politician into the shade. Henry was every inch a king; the king, the whole king, and nothing but the king. Another of our kings, George IV, I think, who also had matrimonial troubles, in writing to his ministers used to employ an expressive phrase to describe a contingency which it was useless to contemplate. 'If I were an individual,' he writes, 'I might, should, or would do so and so.' Now Henry VIII in that sense was never an individual: he was always a king, looking on himself as a thing apart from mankind, on kingship as an end in itself, on kingly volition as the only and ample reason for anything whatever; on his dignity as such a complete vice-Deity that, under his fiat, municipal law rose, without any further sanction, to the level of divine revelation. His marriages are royal marriages, his murders royal murders, his diseases royal diseases. There is nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of. Bessie Blount is as much a fact as Anne Boleyn, and Anne Boleyn as Katharine of Aragon. If they are to his taste they are honoured and worshipped with him; if he is tired of them the country is tired of them too; they are abominable; they confess themselves guilty of impossible sins; send them by parliamentary petition to the block.
What is strange in all this is not the idea itself, which George IV may have had as strongly as Henry VIII: it is the force of character that makes the idea tolerable to other men; that makes More, Warham, Cranmer, Gardiner, Cromwell, faithful administrators of the idea; and that forces, against their will evidently, but still effectively forces. Parliament and Convocation, Lords, Clergy and Commons, to register simply the peremptory orders of the king as their own wishes. There were cliques and parties at Henry's court during the whole of his reign, there was a strong party against Wolsey, there was a protestant and a catholic party, and a Norfolk and a Suffolk party; but I am sure that it is a mistake to regard Henry as pulled by one or other of these alternately; or to think that the changes of his policy, and I am not at all sure that the changes were at all so great as they are commonly regarded, were dictated by any other than his own despotic will: lie used, I think, the parties, not they him; what influence he allowed them was allowed for his ends, and the moment he saw them pursuing their own ends he stopped them.
Of course such a theory about him, if true, necessitates the belief of great development of design and new purpose in the king himself: but that I think is the most natural solution of most of the critical questions of the reign. The words which More addressed to Cromwell, soon after he resigned the chancellorship, seem to be a key, almost prophetic in simplicity, to the after-history. 'Master Cromwell,' he says, 'you are now entered into the service of a most noble, wise, and liberal prince: if you will follow my poor advice, you shall in your counsel-giving to his grace, ever tell him what he ought to do, but never what he is able to do.' 'For if a lion knew his own strength, hard were it for any man to rule him.'
From the very beginning of his reign, he is finding out what he can do; from the fall of Wolsey, and especially after the sacrifice of More, he is coming to regard what he can do as the only measure of what he ought to do: he is becoming the king for whom the kingdom is, the tyrant whose every caprice is wise and sacred: he turns the theory of kingship into action; the king can do no wrong; therefore men shall call right all that he does: he is the king, not an individual; what in an individual would be theft, is no theft in him; all property is the king's, he can take it, and he takes it; all that proceeds from his mouth is law; the king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, therefore all that comes out of the king's heart is the Lord's doing.
Yet with all his grotesque and inhuman self-absorption, the miserable and growing result of the long tenure of irresponsible power, we cannot wisely deny the king some great qualities besides mere force. Contemporary foreigners, the justice of whose general judgment is amply proved by later history, and whose opinion, according to Lord Bacon's dictum, is generally that which future ages will be found to confirm, are unanimous in their glorification of Henry's personal and mental gifts. His beauty was of that sort that commended itself to the taste of those times. And more than that: for the painters of his portrait have succeeded in giving him an individuality and a humanity which shows either that he possessed a remarkable physique, or that they took more pains with him than they did with his wives—the deadly-lively sort of ladies whose portraits are, if not a justification, at least a colourable occasion for understanding the readiness with which he put them away. Henry's portrait, I said, would fill any canvas; and, allowing for what must be allowed for, dress, expression, and attitude, it must be allowed to be the portrait of a personable king.
His mental abilities I rank very high: he had been carefully educated by good scholars, and had made remarkable progress; not so great, Lord Bacon tells us, as his brother Arthur; but still remarkable at a remarkable time: he did not let his knowledge acquired in boyhood fade out of his mind: after his accession he must have continued his reading; his book against Luther, which, whatever assistance he may have received, was in conception and execution entirely his own, was an extraordinary work for a young king; and the intelligent interest which, down to the last, he showed in religious and other ecclesiastical questions, even when he was most capricious and peremptory, evinces both memory and a real appreciation of subjects on which contemporary kings thought it sinful to think at all. If it were not for the miserable self-will and self-worship which runs through these, there might be something to admire.
Well, it is not for us to judge. The king is apart from other men in his opportunities, in his excuses, in his temptations; even in his responsibility for the direct results of his acts; and he must stand alone in the judgment. But I will leave the remaining sentiments or reflexions which suggest themselves, to be justified after the review of the reign which I propose to take now.
The first question, who were Henry's responsible advisers, is capable of a very short answer considering the length of his reign: he succeeded a king who had been his own first minister, and who had under him two sorts of secondary ministers; one set, like Warham and Fox, trustworthy men to whom he gave official confidence, that confidence which a self-confident autocrat can afford to give to men whose interests are the same as his own; and another set, like Empson and Dudley, whom he used as tools, responsible tools, to be used as long as they were useful, but to be held responsible the moment their use was over or the outcry they provoked became more noxious than the ends they served were advantageous. Henry VIII, doing everything on a larger scale than his father, had the same ideas of ministerial usefulness: during a reign of thirty-eight years he had only five chancellors, Warham, Wolsey, More, Audley, and Wriothesley; and the office of lord high treasurer was held by two dukes of Norfolk in succession during the whole reign. Of the chancellors, Wolsey alone was displaced against his will; Warham had been long anxious to retire; More resigned in disgust; Audley retained the seals to his death, and Wriothesley was chancellor when the king died. Of these seven ministers we may summarily conclude thus: the two Norfolks and Warham were in position ministers of the old type, official and confidential, but not leaders of political parties, until, after the fall of Wolsey and, in the later years of the reign, after the MS. of Cromwell, the second duke undertook the more onerous and critical position which in the end was so nearly fatal to him.
Wolsey was too great a man, and More too good a man, to be tools of Henry, especially after the inclination towards tyrannic caprice became more pronounced; Audley and Wriothesley were tools, either altogether selfish and unprincipled, or, like Cromwell, able to combine self-aggrandisement and servility with some quantum of ulterior political design, which raises them above that common herd into which Empson and Dudley fall.
Besides these ostensible ministers, Henry had a council, in which perhaps more influential advisers might be looked for: such as were his brother-in-law, friend, and boon companion Suffolk, who, worthless enough himself, still was no man's enemy; Cromwell, the greatest and most famous, whose character and career are even more mysterious than his master's; and the men who made their position and reputation by their share in the business of the divorce, such as Cranmer, of whom, in this aspect, the less said the better, and Gardiner, the rough and ready, faithful, skilful, imperious yet adroit minister, on whose back history has laid so great burdens. It is no doubt within the walls of the council chamber that we have to look for the suggestions of such parts of the royal policy as were not due to Henry himself: we can hardly, except in the cases of Wolsey and Cromwell, very distinctly lay our hand on the authorship of a particular scheme: and it is quite certain that, when a particular scheme that pleased the king was started, he adopted it as his own with an ardour and pertinacity fully in keeping with his own idea of his infallibility. So, although for a time Wolsey, and after him Norfolk, and after him Cromwell, and after him Norfolk again, seem to be the prime ministers of a country in which for at least two centuries such prime ministers had been constitutional facts, and although there was in the council a fertile seminary of politicians creeping into power, yet on the whole Henry was his own chief counsellor; in spite of his inconsistencies the most consistent, and in spite of his changes and caprices the most persistent, of all the men who changed, at this great critical juncture, the whole face and attitude of England. What more need be noted, in such a brief outline as I am now drawing of these things, of the vast industry and broad views of Wolsey, of the wisdom and virtue of More, of the mysterious unconscientiousness of Cromwell, and the like, may be taken as we proceed.
The first region of constitutional action that lies before us is the finance of the reign; a subject on which we have abundant, though not very conclusive data, in the acts of the parliaments which now begin to put on record the amounts expected from the several grants; in the subsidy rolls, which show how the sums granted were assessed and collected, in the correspondence of the period, which sets before us what the estimated expenditure was from time to time, and in the incidental references of the annalists which tell us how the imposts were from time to time felt by the people. Of the thirty-eight years of the reign, twenty-one passed away without a parliament, and therefore without a budget; and long prorogations had now become so much the rule, that only nine new parliaments, nine general elections, were held during the whole time; the country therefore had not much opportunity of showing a change of feeling in this respect.
It is thus comparatively simple to state the parliamentary grants: tonnage and poundage, and the subsidy on wool, wool-fells and leather, were, in the first parliament of the reign, granted to the king for his life: the ancient vote of tenths and fifteenths was made on eleven occasions, sometimes as a sufficient grant and sometimes as a supplementary grant when a more grasping exaction had disappointed the officers of the Exchequer; and nine several subsidies of a new kind, a graduated income and property tax, were levied at more critical periods, as for the expeditions of 1519 and 1513, for the payment of expenses in 1515, and for the warlike preparations made in 1523, 1539, and 1543. These latter taxes were exactions on lands and goods according to fixed scale, minutely drawn out in each of the acts that sanctioned them: but, as the impost invariably fell short of the amount expected from it, we must conclude that, like the old tenths and fifteenths, it was assessed on fancy valuations and produced no very pressing hardships; judging from the existing returns it pressed very lightly upon individual payers, from the highest class to the lowest.
Besides these legal taxes from the laity, the king had votes from convocation following those of parliament in due proportion, the clergy paying a tenth whenever the parliament voted a tenth and fifteenth, adding a subsidy when the parliament granted a subsidy; and, after the parliament of 1534, paying to the king a whole tenth annually, which had been previously paid, almost if not quite regularly, as a contribution to the funds of the papacy. These were the regular and constitutional sources of income.
Besides these, we have to include in the list of the king's resources, first the heavy loans which were exacted by a regular process, not very far removed from compulsion, in the years 1522-8 and 1542, and which were so fully remitted by the parliaments of 1539 and 1543, that even those unlucky creditors whom the king had paid were obliged to refund the money; secondly, the exactions from the clergy under the threat of præmunire in 1531, amounting to about £120,000; thirdly, the very large payments of tribute from France under the treaties of Edward IV and Henry VII; and, fourthly, the enormous revenue, enormous at the lowest estimate, which accrued during the last years of the reign from the spoils of the shrines and the plunder of the monasteries. Besides these, there was an occasional devotion money, like that collected in 1544 nominally for war against the Turks; a benevolence, or amicable contribution, such as in 1535 produced considerable disaffection in the country; and lastly, enormous sums raised under occasional forfeitures. I shall not attempt a summary of these taxes, but may mention a few data that may be relied upon: the value of a tenth and fifteenth was £30,000; of a clerical tenth, £10,000; the estimated amount of the subsidy of 1513 was £160,000; the estimate for the royal expedition made in 1522, £372,404 18s. 8d.; the estimated sum of the loans of 1523 was £260,000; the income from the monasteries cannot be stated in reasonable figures; but of this a considerable part was during the few years that it accrued expended in pensions. Of estimated outlays we have but a few illustrations; the expenses of the household were a little over £20,000 a year, but these of course .represent only the fixed charges, not the king's lavish personal expenditure; Wolsey's estimate for the war of 15 13 was £640,000; and when we find Giustiniani estimating the outlay at half of the ten millions of ducats which was the treasure supposed to be left by Henry VII, we are inclined to conclude that the estimate was not below the mark; anyhow the cost of the expedition to Tournay was such as to recommend a peace policy for several years.
The time may come when these accounts may be subjected to a formal historical audit, that is when the researches at the Record Office furnish us with a complete view of extant material; but it would be very rash now to define with any exactness either income or outlay for a reign of such abnormal character. The only general conclusion that I can come to is that, in despite of Wolsey's financial ability, and the cleverness of the agents who were trained under him, the policy of the whole reign in this respect was a hand-to-mouth policy, assisted by occasional godsends in the shape of forfeitures and benevolences. In this department the parliaments showed some spirit, as we shall see; the result of that was the grant of subsidies to reach over several years; under these subsidy-acts the king collected as much as he could, and then collected money in other ways until, the patience of the lenders being exhausted, a new parliament was got together to wipe off the old debt or promise a new subsidy. There can be little doubt that some of the most important legislative acts were carried, at least through the Commons, by the inducement that the king would be able to dispense with direct taxation; and although that undertaking was a fallacious one, men could be found to overawe opposition or make a show of self-sacrifice which was sure of subsequent reward. I may note some of the parliamentary methods when I reach that part of our subject: for this is the only point on which Henry in his parliaments had any real difficulty.
A hand-to-mouth policy has this drawback; that, on critical occasions, it involves critical demands, and critical demands produce special irritation. That rule is exemplified very clearly in the reign of Henry VII, whose financial policy was much safer than his son's; it was not a hand-to-mouth policy, but a severely economical one' and both policies coincide in having nothing to spare for emergencies; accordingly we find, on every imposition of a subsidy in the reign of Henry VII, an outbreak of popular disaffection, taking hold of some political quarrel. There was under Henry VIII something of the same sort; but it was, as a rule, more easily localised, and put down at once; the restoration of law and order by his father had borne this good fruit. In 1497 a rising in Devonshire caused by an income tax, utilised by a faction, and facilitated by the weakness of local organisation, could affect all Southern England, and force the king into the field. In 1536, even a great religious movement like the Pilgrimage of Grace sinks into a local and provincial rising, an abortive tumult. It is not necessary, however, at this point to formulate a general conclusion as to the oppressive character of Henry's financial administration: the legal taxes were not excessively heavy, and the illegal exactions were condoned by subservient parliaments. The question of the high-handed confiscations leads on to further questions.
I do not wish in these lectures to give more than its proper prominence to the great question of the divorce; even to give it its proper prominence would involve discussions far more lengthy than I have time for now; I shall therefore hope that you will take as read all the details of the negotiations concerning it, and simply look upon it as a force, or the application of an impact, which had much greater consequences, and originated a larger developing series of measures, than could have possibly been calculated on. In a word, to use Sir Thomas More's expressive formula, it opened the eyes of the lion as to what he could do; not all at once, but by a very gradual process, which may indeed be traced most distinctly with reference to the Reformation history, but is also apparent in the other departments of administration.
It is clear, from the beginning of his reign, that Henry was a prince who had only to learn the extent of his powers, in order to attempt to exercise them. If we may believe the law reporters, as early as 1515 he had declared himself determined not to allow any superiority of external spiritual courts in a country of which he was sovereign; and there are signs, in Wolsey's history, that the imminent danger of the king's taking advantage of the Statute of Præmunire was in his mind long before he was actually sacrificed. But the earlier years of the reign were remarkably free from occasions on which any great constitutional crisis could arise. Henry's ambition, like Wolsey's, was mainly set upon an influential place in the councils of Europe, and among the people at large there was contentment. Henry had been brought up very strictly, and married, very young, to a wife, to whom he gave his full affection; the good impressions of his training were, at least for several years, strong enough to keep him out of the domestic scandals that divide courts; and although Bessie Blount and the Duke of Richmond became prominent about ten years after the reign begins, it is not until 1534 or 1535 that the divorce question even looms in the distance. Up to that time the want of constitutional principle in the king and his minister has been chiefly apparent in the matter of money-getting. Soon after this Henry seems to have fallen in love with Anne Boleyn, and to have begun to contemplate the divorce. The mere formalities of obtaining such a divorce were not formidable; but the parties interested in preventing it were very formidable indeed. The emperor was the queen's nephew. The pope's power was being rudely shaken both in Germany and in Italy. To be brief; the pope was prevailed on to commission Wolsey and Campegio to determine the validity of the king's marriage; when the trial had begun, the cause was called back to Rome; Henry felt that his only chance of getting the divorce was to have it tried in England; the pope felt that the only chance of avoiding a crisis, in which between Henry and Charles he must certainly either temporally or spiritually be ruined, was to keep the discussion languidly dragging on at Rome until the parties were tired, or something else turned up. This, thus early, Henry had the sense to see; he therefore destroyed Wolsey, and that by the very Statute of Præmunire at the evasion of which he had so long connived: his eyes were opened to the powers of the Præmimire, and in his confiscation of Wolsey's estates he had his first taste of spoil. He saw that the Præmunire made him absolutely master of the clergy, and, as absolute master, the primary owner of all Church property. Hence the great chain of ecclesiastical statutes follows in an order that we might almost dignify by the name of Evolution. As lord and master of the Church, he could utilise Church machinery to obtain the divorce and the marriage on which he had set his king's heart; and, when he was tired of the second wife, he could obtain, from the archbishop he had made, an annulling of that marriage as easily as he could obtain a Bill of Attainder from the parliament; and, when in time he married another woman whom he did not like, he could by a commission to the national synod obtain another judgment of nullity of marriage, and by negotiating with parliament another petition for another marriage. This wonderful Praemunire, of which the foreign residents at the English court speak with horror as a mystery of which the king alone possessed the key, might be a lash brandished over laity and clergy alike so long as the papal supremacy was admitted by either.
Thus the desire of spoil, the ambition of uncontrolled sovereignty, and the facilities of gaining his own immediate ends in marriage, urged on the king in the line of doing, not what he ought, but what he could. In 1531, by the threat of Præmunire he compelled the clergy to recognise him as the supreme head on earth of the Church of England, and to pay him £118,840 by votes of Convocation: he tried the same policy with the Commons; endeavouring to compel them to purchase their exemption from the same sentence, if not by votes of money, at least by modifications of the land laws in the direction of wills and uses. In this he was for the moment defeated by the vigilance of the Commons, but he kept this line of legislation before his eyes, and with singular pertinacity; the Statute of Uses was delayed until 1536 and the Statute of Wills until 1540, but both statutes were promulgated in 1533, and formed part of a policy which we may compare, not favourably, with that of Edward I; but which has a special legal side of such importance, that only the superior importance of the ecclesiastical questions of the time can account for its being overlooked. It is true that, in their later results, the two statutes of which I have spoken seem small and beneficial as compared with the mischievous results of the Church policy, but they were, like it, distinct puttings out of the claws of the awakened lion, which would have gone much further and held much tighter if they could.
But I proceed with the ecclesiastical evolution. The recognition of the king in 1531 as supreme head on earth of the Church of England was closely connected with the appropriation of the £118,840 by the supreme head. But the facility with which the Church parted with its money opened the supreme eyes a little wider. If they will pay money they will surrender power: a form of three articles is sent to Convocation in 153a by which the clergy are to renounce their right of spiritual legislation without royal licence, and consent to a reform of the canon law under the king's authority. After some discussion, with the fear of another Præmunire, the clergy consent to that also. By crafty dealing with the House of Commons, the Court, in which Cromwell is now becoming a leading man, obtains an address complaining of the ecclesiastical courts, their use of canon law on the one side and their practical abuses on the other; if the commons will help the king against the pope, the king will help the commons against the spiritual courts; he will not press the Statutes of Uses and Wills if they will agree that he shall forbid the payment of annates. The commons resist, but their strong men have gone over to the king. The Annates Bill is passed; the Submission of the clergy is exacted; and More, the good and wise chancellor, resigns the seals. He and the foreign ambassadors saw which way the Lion was looking better than the Lion himself. If the clergy accept the Submission, says the Imperial resident, they will for the future have less power than the shoemakers, who at least can make regulations for their own craft. That was done however.
In the autumn Archbishop Warham died; it became clear to the king that, if he appointed Cranmer, who was already committed to him in the question of the marriage, that long-standing difficulty could be got over. As yet there was no formal breach with Rome, his hand had lain heavy only on his own Church; the Annates Bill even had not been confirmed yet. Cranmer should be regularly consecrated, commissioned, and made legate, and then called on to act up to his expressed convictions. So certain was the king of his power, that, in anticipation of the sentence, he married Anne Boleyn; appointed Cranmer archbishop, obtained from him a sentence of the nullity of his previous marriage and of the validity of his new marriage, and got opinions from the divines and canonists in convocation which had a similar effect. Then, and not before, he confirmed the act about Annates, and defied the papal power.
But, having gone so far, why not go a little further? In the parliament of 1533 he obtained the passing of the Statute of Appeals, founded on what seems to be the true theory of Church and State; forbidding the carrying of appeals to Rome at all, and providing sufficient machinery for appeals at home: the Annates Bill had provided for the confirmation and consecration of bishops, and the two together proclaimed with one breath the emancipation of the Church from Roman supremacy, and its competence for complete internal administration under the supremacy of the king. But from this moment the ecclesiastical reforms became involved more and more with the king's marriage policy. Anne Boleyn, her father, and Cranmer, who seems to have been their family counsellor, were bent on further measures of hostility to Rome; and Cromwell, who was the king's minister rather than the queen's, was likewise politically a protestant. The year 1534 saw the clergy, both secular and regular, compelled to make a new submission, to recognise the validity of the marriage and the succession, and to admit a new and comprehensive oath for the maintenance of the two. A new statute of appeals, founded on the Submission of 1532, modified the appellate jurisdiction, and furnished a recourse to the king in chancery as the final reference which in the former statute had been left to the Archbishop and, in causes touching the king, to the Upper House of Convocation; a new statute on Annates reformed the regulations for the appointment of bishops; the synodical declaration which denied the authority of Rome, and a statute which forbade all payments to Rome, swept away all signs of the old subjection.
But there is no step, in parliament at least, towards doctrinal change: the law of heresy is reformed but not made less stringent, and it is no longer heretical to speak against the pope. Even in the Articles of 1536 the progress towards change is defined by the simple elimination of distinctive papal doctrine; the convocation urges an authorised translation of Holy Scripture as the best antidote to heresy. But events were proceeding more rapidly than ideas: the oath of succession necessitated the imprisonment of More and Fisher; a second session in the autumn of I534 gave the secular recognition to the king's style as supreme head on earth of the Church of England; that title was publicly promulgated by letters patent in January, 1535; and the accusation of attempting to deprive the king of this designation brought the two worthiest men in England to the block during the summer of that year. The death of Fisher, the confidential friend of his father and grandmother, and that of More, who represented all that was good in his own early experience, whether they were wrung from him by the importunities of his wife, or coldly acquiesced in as cases in which all human feeling must be sunk before the self-idolatry of the theoretic kingship, seem to prove and to have proved to the king himself that no scruples should ever hereafter touch him.
The next step of change was the dissolution of the smaller monasteries: Wolsey, in his great scheme for church reforms, had led the way to this. He had seen the increasing importance of the great towns of England, and the increasing mischief caused by the incurable uselessness of the monastic foundations; and he had obtained bulls of legation from Rome enabling him to suppress convents and establish bishoprics. That had opened the king's eyes to a new possibility, and, although he waited several years before he executed his scheme, all that was good in the scheme was Wolsey's, all that was bad in it wears an unfortunate air of having been done by Cromwell. But it was almost a point of honour with Henry to show that without the pope he could do all that Wolsey had been empowered to do. So in the autumn of 1535 Cromwell and his agents effected a visitation of the monasteries, the report of which insured their condemnation; and, in the last session of the Long Parliament in 1536, the dissolution of the smaller houses was decreed. A new court, the Court of Augmentations, was founded to manage the property which by the same act was vested in the king and his heirs. The greater monasteries survived a little longer, and in their case the process of surrender took the place of a general and compulsory dissolution. In the session of 1539) however, a similar act vested in the king the property of the surrendered houses, and in that year the abbots disappeared from parliament. At the same time the king was empowered to establish new bishoprics; suffragan bishops had been the subject of legislation in 1534j when the act was passed which supplied to the more aged and busy prelates the assistance that had been hitherto furnished by titular bishops in partibus commissioned at Rome.
These acts very nearly complete the series by which Henry evolved the idea of a regal papacy out of the royal supremacy. For some subordinate purposes, as for dispensations and faculties, he allowed the Archbishop of Canterbury to exercise a quasi-legatine authority under himself, and with a check in Chancery on his proceedings; but in all such matters he was himself the fountain of power. The climax was reached when, by the appointment of Cromwell as Vicar- General, with an authority and precedence above all prelates and nobles, he emulated the papal assumption of exercising direct powers through a legate a latere. Unluckily for himself and for Henry also, the royal legate a latere proved too great a power to manage; meddled with too many things, provoked too much hostility, got his feet entangled in the marriage net he had provided for the old lion, and perished more sadly, because more ignominiously, than his predecessors in power and ruin.
I have spoken thus far mainly of Henry's ecclesiastical measures as they affected endowments and jurisdictions; but there is a side, the side of doctrine, which is not less important. He never forgot that he was the defender of the faith; nor, whatever were his eccentricities and aberrations in minor particulars, does he seem ever to have gone in this region further in the direction of change than the more enlightened popes and cardinals of his own age would have gone. Wolsey would have agreed with him in the dissolution of the monasteries; the convocation had petitioned for a translation of the Bible; the worship of the saints and the excessive devotions at their shrines had long been a burden to the souls of men, not merely men like Erasmus, but of far more unimpeachable orthodoxy. The supremacy of the chair of S. Peter was by no means as yet an article of unquestioning faith; even the marriage of the clergy was a point not beyond discussion. But there were things which, quite irrespective of the pope and his claims, could not be touched without the taint of heresy. And of these Henry, with all his inconsistencies, was a constant defender. He might tolerate a certain evangelical obliquity in Boleyn's eyes; he might choose to be blind to Cromwell's sympathies with foreign protestantism; he might tolerate Mrs. Cranmer, as he had not looked too curiously into the semi-matrimonial connexions of the great cardinal; he might even go the length of marrying a lady like Anne of Cleves, in whom, through the phlegmatic impenetrability of the Flanders mare, some instincts of unorthodox skittishness might be detected. But Henry was royally orthodox. If, for any purpose of the moment, he relaxed the stringency of the courts, he kept the law very strong against heresy. This acted in a curious way. The king's idea that he was supreme in Church and State, whilst in some regions it led him to maintain the administrative machinery of the two severely separate, in others led him to some mixture of his functions. In his first act of heresy he repealed the statute of Henry IV 'de hereticis comburendis' which seemed to give too much power to the bishops, but re-enacted those of Richard II and Henry V which tended to make heresy an offence at common law. A similar intention is clear in the Act of Six Articles of 1539, and with this light upon it, in the several modifications of the Six Articles which were proposed in the later parliaments. I shall not speculate on the possibility that, if he had lived longer, he might have developed more in the direction of protestant doctrine; I think however that it is unlikely; doctrinally, although quite able to maintain his own line, he clearly symbolised consistently with Gardiner and not with Cranmer. The extinction of the Norfolk interest might have led him to further negotiations with protestantism abroad, but with domestic Puritanism, such as that by which Somerset palliated his greed for confiscation, there is no trace in Henry. For spoil however the old lion went on yearning to the last; the dissolution of chantries and colleges, to follow that of the monasteries, was one of the measures of his last parliament.
It may strike some of us that the process of change had now gone far enough; the English Church was freed from the yoke of Rome, but she retained all her proper framework and at least half of her old endowments; I say at least half, I should not like to commit myself to a statement that there was much more. She had obtained the Bible in English and the use of the chief forms of prayer in the vernacular, and was preparing for a revision in form of the Sacramental Services; she had rid herself of a mass of superstitious usages. It is true that the king remained a believer in Roman Catholic forms of doctrine; but it must always be remembered that those forms had not yet, by the Tridentine decrees, been hardened into their later inflexibility; and, when we consider the terrible risks which, in the next reign, the Church of England ran, of losing all sense or desire of continuity, identity, or communion with the historic Catholic Christendom, we may feel thankful that such risk was run under a weak king and feeble ministers, not under the influence of a strong win and strong hand like Henry's.
You will see thus that I believe him to have been a man of purpose; not the mere capricious tyrant who found it a pleasant exercise of despotic power to burn Catholics and Protestants on the same day, or found a malicious gratification in making Cranmer support the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist and Gardiner the doctrine of unlimited obedience: further than this I do not go. I believe him to have been a man of unbounded selfishness; a man to whom the acquisition of power was precious mainly as a step towards the acquisition of greater power; a man of whom we may say, as I said at first, that he was the king, the whole king, and nothing but the king; that he wished to be, with regard to the Church of England, the pope, the whole pope, and something more than pope. You remember how in his early days Maximilian had tempted him with the offer of the Empire, he himself to retire on the popedom with an inchoate claim to canonization. Henry was determined to have in England at least both Empire and Papacy, to make the best, or rather the most, of both worlds.
I have said more than in proper proportion I ought to have said with reference to Henry's ecclesiastical policy, and left but little time for the analogous features that may be traced in his temporal policy: one reason for that is the greater interest we all feel in the religious question of the Reformation; another is in the fact that his ecclesiastical measures had a much more lasting consequence than his temporal ones. We have long rid ourselves of all the secular burdens imposed by what we call the Tudor dictatorship, but we are still living under religious or ecclesiastical conditions that owe very much, even of their present form, to the hand of Henry. You will, I hope, know me too well to misinterpret me in these expressions; you will not suspect me of making Henry VIII the founder of the Church of England; but I do not conceal from myself that, under the Divine power which brings good out of evil and over-rules the wrath of man to the praise of God, we have received good as well as evil through the means of this majestic lord who broke the bonds of Rome.'
If now we attempt to find in Henry's treatment of the temporalty a reflexion of the principles on which he dealt thus summarily with the spiritualty, what "do we find? The answer to one important part of that question I propose to take in the next lecture, in which I shall work with rather more detail than is possible in so wide a résumé as I have attempted in this, an examination of his dealings with the administrative machinery of the parliaments. But in a general way I will attempt to state the answer now. As for taxation, we have seen how, by his early as well as his late policy, the real hold on the purse-strings was wrested from the hand of the nation. A king who had over his parliaments the strong hold that Henry had, who could dictate to them the measures he wished to pass, even down to the smallest details, and even make them petition for acts when he was the only man in the kingdom that desired them, might, we think, have contented himself with taking money through the overawed or subservient Commons. But he did not; he chose to exact money by loan and then to come to the nation that lent the money for exoneration; the very fact that he went about the loan by exactly the same process of assessment and collection that he used in assessing and collecting a legal tax, shows that he saw what he was doing: he saw that he had the power, and he used it. Wolsey might dislike the idea of meeting a parliament that might speak unreservedly about himself; Henry had no such dislike; he could browbeat, or bribe, or bully, or divide, or balance parties, but he never could have doubted for a moment that in the end he should get his own way.
Next to taxation, perhaps even more important than taxation, was the right of legislation; legislation of the temporalty could at no time be carried through without the king's enacting words; and the submission of the clergy in 1533, embodied in the Statute of Appeals in 1534, had established the same rule for the spiritualty. But this did not content the Lion. In the Proclamation Act of 1539 the parliament is made to surrender to the king the power of legislation; as head on earth of the Church he might already issue, and had issued, proclamations touching Christian faith; and by the natural power of king he had issued proclamations for the public peace: but, O strange wilfulness of human nature! men had not much minded: these proclamations alike were set at nought by those who would not consider the divinity of royalty; therefore, lest the king should be tempted to become a tyrant, lest the king should be compelled by the wilfulness of his subjects to extend beyond their natural limits the liberty and supremacy of his royal power and dignity, what was to be done? Was he to renounce the power of proclaiming, and bind the parliament to codify the temporal law, as he had promised to the spiritualty to codify and reform the canon law? Quite the reverse; in order that he might not be tempted to usurp the functions of legislator, the parliament was to invest him with those functions, and, provided his proclamations did not contravene the existing laws, to give to them the full force and virtue of acts of the whole body of the realm. Here was a 'lex regia' indeed; a dictatorship which, with all conceivable limitations, left the 'king master and only master' in his own house.
The security of life and property was of course worth little when such things were possible: but Henry had a strong executive force at his disposal, and the actual working of this despotism did not affect the body of the people so much as might be expected. The clergy were of course in constant terror of the shadow of a præmunire; the reformers, alternately flattered and banished, had no easy time of it; and the position of even a bishop's lady must have been, to say the least, peculiar. But on the great men, the taller poppies, the actual pressure occasionally fell. The nation had fought hard for justice in the tribunals and for the limitation of the doctrine of treasons. Bills of attainder, trials in Star Chamber, and multiplication of treasons, form the dark side of the policy of Henry VII; they c&me to full development under Henry VIII.
Edmund de la Pole, Buckingham, Wolsey, Fisher, More, Anne Boleyn, Cromwell, the Marquess of Exeter, the Countess of Salisbury, Montacute, and last of all Surrey and his father, were victims of a system, of various contrivances but of one purport, for destroying without law, or without trial, or without defence, those whom the king determined, from whatever motive of policy or of caprice, of jealousy or of satiety, to sacrifice. Add to these the religious or ecclesiastical holocausts, and the number of inferior victims who were involved in the fall of the great ones, and for whom there was no need to violate laws that could so easily be manipulated. The liberty of the subject to act or speak, or even to think, was reduced to a minimum under an executive familiar with constructive treasons.
But it is time to close this part of our discussion; and I must leave some, especially of the legal measures of the reign which would most naturally have fallen in with the line of this lecture, for the more formal treatment, which I propose to take in the next lecture, of Henry's dealings with parliament. Perhaps when we have looked at these, we may find time to inquire to what extent he really fulfilled the office of dictator, anticipated the line of history, or carried with him the wishes of the nation.