The Reformation In England Under Henry VIII.

The Reformation In England Under Henry VIII.

THE history of the Reformation in England is not the history of a rapid transition to a new order of religious beliefs. The revolt from Rome, however suddenly accomplished in legislative decrees, was but slowly achieved in fact. England, as regards the feelings and established principles of the great body of her people, could hardly be pronounced a Protestant country before the middle of Elizabeth's reign. It is true an essentially Protestant scheme was introduced in the reign of Edward VI.; but the ease with which it was swept away on the accession of Mary shows that it had not taken root in the hearts of more than a fraction of the nation.

That the reform did not proceed more rapidly and radically, was due to several causes. A large element of conservatism was inwoven with the national temper. No theologian of commanding ability and energy, such as a Luther, a Zwingli, or a Calvin, appeared upon the field of agitation. Their disposition, as well as their circumstances, inclined the leaders to depend very largely upon governmental action, instead of making a direct and powerful appeal to the people. The political factor had, therefore, an ample scope. The throne, in fact, exercised a dominant influence over the English reformation. It was not the author of that reformation. The movement was started in the face of its prohibition. But it vigorously asserted its influence in directing, limiting, and organizing the movement.

The great English sovereigns of the sixteenth century were no friends of radical Protestantism. Even Elizabeth, while her sovereignty served as a bulwark of the Protestant cause in Europe, was averse to a sweeping change from the old system, and would have consented to Rome with quite as little reluctance as to Geneva. As for Henry VIII., it is only by an abuse of terms that he can be called a Protestant. With nearly as much propriety one might call the Hohenstaufen sovereigns Protestants, on account of their quarrels with the Popes. Henry VIII. is properly defined as a refractory Roman Catholic. While he cut loose to some extent from mediæval fetishism, and made concessions to the circulation of the Bible, he still undertook to sustain well-nigh: the whole system of the scholastic dogmas. He never placed foot upon the evangelical basis of Protestantism; and the principal change which he aimed to effect was to substitute his own authority, within English domains, for that of the Pope.

The attempt of the crown to manage religious affairs according to its own behests was greatly assisted by the relative lack of independence which characterized the English people under the Tudors. Before the reign of Henry VIII. had reached its meridian, loyalty had degenerated into servility. The explanation of this pliant attitude is found partly in the preceding history and partly in the personality of the sovereign. The ruinous wars between the houses of York and Lancaster had created an extreme dread of civil commotion. Men thought of civil strife as a worse evil than tyranny. While thus disposed by a consideration of interest to endure a vast stretch of royal prerogative, they were impelled in the same direction by feelings of esteem and admiration. For in the earlier part of his reign Henry VIII. seemed to Englishmen the very pattern of royalty. His personal appearance was noble. He is described by a foreign resident at his court as by far the handsomest sovereign in Europe. 1 Venetian ambassador Giustiniani, Despatches, ii. 312. With courtliness and magnificence he combined an easy and friendly style of intercourse with the people. The faults of his government being charged upon his ministers interfered but little with his popularity. Thus it came about that when his remorseless selfishness began to break through the smooth exterior, few checks were interposed against his arbitrary will. The scheme of Hobbes was practically anticipated. A great Leviathan - lord of men's consciences as well as of their conduct-was on the throne. The will of the sovereign became the standard for the profession and practice of the people. The national trait, upon which the Venetian ambassador commented with so much severity in the time of Queen Mary, had been well exemplified under Henry VIII. "The example and authority of the sovereign," he wrote, "are everything with the people of this country in matters of faith. As he believes, they believe; Judaism or Mohammedanism,-it is all one with them. They conform themselves easily to his will, at least so far as the outward show is concerned, and most easily of all where it concurs with their own pleasure or profit." 1 Giovanni Micheli, quoted by Prescott, Philip II., i. 70. This is, of course, an exaggerated statement. Conviction had its impregnable entrenchments in the hearts of Englishmen, as is well attested by a noble line of martyrs. The remark of the ambassador, however, has its significance as indicating how large a measure of subserviency to royal authority was exhibited, and how gradually the minds of the people became actually possessed by the truths of the Reformation.

It is to be observed that while the conservative spirit, as represented by the crown and some of its more distinguished agents, gave to the English Church a more hierarchical and ritualistic cast than appeared in any other reformed country, a tendency exactly contrary to this was at the same time generated. By a natural reaction, as the hierarchical and ritualistic scheme was enforced, the opposing tendency gathered increasing intensity. Premonitions of the great conflict which convulsed the nation in the seventeenth century reach back almost to the foundation of the established Church.

No single abuse, like the sale of indulgences, started the Reformation in England. But the movement, doubtless, received no small incentive from the prevalence of corruption and malpractice among ecclesiastics. Profitable superstitions, though receiving the scorn of the more advanced spirits, were cherished with shameless tenacity. Pride, arrogance, and avarice were displayed to a degree which provoked the disgust of many a layman. The opening of the sixteenth century was indeed a palmy time with the higher ecclesiastics in England. The influence which the nobility had lost by the Wars of the Roses seemed to have accrued in large measure to the prelates. They held a chief place in the State as well as in the Church. By an enormous abuse of the practice of pluralities they massed great revenues into their hands, and were foremost among examples of showy and luxurious living.

At the head of the ecclesiastical dignitaries stood Wolsey. Brought to notice in the closing years of the reign of Henry VII., he advanced rapidly to the first place in the control of affairs. Offices and emoluments were literally heaped upon him. He had all at once the position of chancellor of the realm, the bishopric of Winchester, the rich abbey of St. Albans, and the archbishopric of York. 1 Jeremy Collier, Ecclesiastical History of Great Britain, iv. 125, ed. 1840; Gilbert Burnet, History of the Reformation of the Church of England, i. 12, 13, ed. 1843. He was also made cardinal, and was vested with an authority, as legate, which scarcely fell short of a practical supremacy over the Church of England. To this official elevation Wolsey undoubtedly brought more than common abilities. The Venetian ambassador speaks with admiration of his industry and extraordinary capacity for work, representing him as discharging in person all the varied functions which in Venice were devolved upon the different magistracies and councils. 2 Giustiniani, Despatches ii. 314. His character, too, was not without its favorable side. He was free from the bitterness of dogmatism. Though in his dying message he urged upon the King the necessity of depressing the "new sect of Lutherans," 1 Cavendish, Life of Wolsey, p. 389. he was not, during the period of his authority, directly accessory to any act of bloody intolerance. He cherished also liberal schemes of education and designs of ecclesiastical reform. Some have supposed that if he had reached the goal of his ambition and ascended the papal throne, he would have done much to check the advancing revolution by removing the causes of offense. This is, however, a baseless supposition. Even if Wolsey had possessed the right disposition, the prerogatives of the papacy in his hand would have been no effectual guarantee of reform. To renovate the old Church, vastly more was needed than a well-disposed Pope. But Wolsey did not have the right disposition. This worldly prelate, whose best energies were absorbed in European politics, who never indicated that he was half awake to the crisis which had overtaken Latin Christendom, who made the service of God secondary to the service of the Kings and to his own advancement, was not the man to arrest religious revolution by lifting the Church to a higher plane. In the chair of Peter he would probably have performed a part scarcely more illustrious than that of Leo X.

2 Some members of the Angle-Catholic school have given a much more favorable picture of Wolsey than even their mediæval standpoint will warrant. In opposition to their intemperate praise the following sober estimate of a Roman Catholic historian is pertinent: "We may pronounce Wolsey a minister of consummate address and commanding abilities; greedy of wealth and power, and glory; anxious to exalt the throne on which his own greatness was built and the church of which he was so distinguished a member; but capable, in the pursuit of these different objects, of stooping to expedients which sincerity and Justice would disavow, and of adopting, through indulgence to the caprice and passions of the King, measures which often involved him in contradictions and difficulties and ultimately occasioned his ruin" (Lingard, History of England, vi. 42, ed. 1851).

In considering the beginnings of the English Reformation we may notice three factors: (1) Remnants of the Wycliffite party, or Lollards, still found among the poor in the realm; (2) The learned; (3) The Government.

Respecting the Lollards in the early part of the sixteenth century little information is afforded, except the record of the prosecutions to which they were subjected. Six were condemned to the stake in 1509, and at intervals between this date and 1519 like sentence was passed upon others. C. Geikie, The English Reformation. A considerable number were constrained to recant, and were required to wear during life the fagot badge. The measure of influence exerted by this class was probably not very large. Indeed, it is a question whether the direct inheritance which had come down from the Wycliffite movement was an advantage to the Reformation in England. The Lollards represented a cause which had already been condemned and covered with odium, The resemblance, therefore, of their tenets to the leading doctrines of the new reformers was the reverse of a recommendation to the latter, especially with the middle and higher classes. On the other hand, the Lollards supplied to the Reformation a means of entrance into the humbler ranks; and if their numbers were considerable this was not a small advantage.

Among the learned a special incentive was derived from the Greek Testament of Erasmus, with its accompaniment of a new Latin translation and free-spirited annotations. In no country, in fact, does the work of Erasmus appear to have been more directly fruitful than in England. A specially hearty welcome was accorded to it by a number of young men in the universities. Their earnest perusal of its pages bore its legitimate fruit in a quickened religious life and a more enlightened faith. At Cambridge, Thomas Bilney, a man of mild and devout temper, was among the first to be awakened to a new sense of evangelical truth. About 1524 Hugh Latimer, who had been noted for his attachment to the Romish system, and on receiving the degree of Bachelor of Divinity had used the occasion to attack Melanchthon, was converted by the influence of Bilney. John Fryth, Robert Barnes, and others were also included in the reforming group at Cambridge. Meanwhile the divergence of these men from the old doctrinal system was not of the most radical sort. They retained some of the Romish dogmas, though bringing to them a spirit which would naturally urge erelong to a wider departure.

The movement was transferred from Cambridge to Oxford, and that by the act of Wolsey himself in selecting some of the more promising of the young men in the former university to help fi11 up the college which he had just founded. The conjecture has been made that Wolsey selected them with the full knowledge of their liberal tendencies, and expected that the soothing effect of patronage would bring them to a quiescent state. But it is more probable that respect for their talents led to their choice. In any case, the Cardinal was chagrined over the result. It was soon rumored that the college which he expected to be a bulwark of the Church and a glory to his name was infected with heresy. Arrests were forthwith made (1526). Clark, one of the foremost in the list, died in prison, and others were taken with mortal sickness. This was a more serious issue than Wolsey desired, and he accordingly gave orders for the release of the imprisoned students.

The evangelical group at Cambridge was likewise assailed. Barnes was apprehended. Threats and persuasions deluded him for the time being into a recantation. The same was true of Bilney; but both at a later date nobly atoned for their weakness. Latimer was also called to account, but was able to satisfy Wolsey without suffering restriction of his liberty. 1 R. Demaus, Biography of Hugh Latimer, pp. 56-58.

Among these early reformers from the universities, the first place as respects breadth and permanence of influence is to be assigned to William Tyndale, the one man among all Englishmen who has left any marked impress of his individuality upon our English Bible. Very soon after leaving the University of Cambridge (which may have occurred at the close of 1521), Tyndale became convinced that the Bible in the language of the people must serve as the great instrument of reform. "I perceived by experience," he says, "how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the Scriptures were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother-tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text." 2 Ibid., William Tyndale, p. 71, ed. 1886. To turn the saving light of the Bible upon England became now his absorbing ambition. "If God spare my life," he said to a learned man who urged appeal to the Pope rather than to Scripture, "ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou doest." Completely foiled in his endeavor to obtain aid for his project from the Bishop of London, and discovering that not so much as tolerance for it was to be expected in England, he crossed over to the Continent (1524). Even there he was subjected to repeated dangers and embarrassments, and was obliged to shift his residence from one city to another. Messengers from England were sent to hunt him out, and, if possible, to destroy both him and his enterprise. The former design was ultimately accomplished. Tyndale suffered martyrdom in the Netherlands in 1536. But his enterprise had already been a great success, and was forthwith to be crowned with new victories. As early as 1526 the New Testament was published, six thousand copies being printed at Worms. 1 A warning that the incendiary literature would soon be in England was sent by Edward Lee, afterwards Archbishop of York, who was then on his way to Spain. His letter to Henry VIII. is a significant specimen of the dread of an open Bible which was entertained by zealous adherents of Rome. "I need not advertise your Grace what infection and danger may ensue hereby if it be not withstood. This is the next way to fill your realm with Lutherans. For all Luther's perverse opinions me grounded on the bare words of Scripture not well taken or understood, which your Grace hath opened in sundry places of your royal book. All our forefathers, governors of the Church of England, have with all diligence forbid and eschewed the publication of English Bibles, as appears in provincial constitutions of the Church of England" (Ellis, Original Letters, CL.). These were rapidly distributed, the "Society of Christian Brothers," which bad been formed in London, probably helping to expedite the matter. Reprints immediately followed from the presses of the Dutch printers. Attempts of English bishops to check the circulation by buying up all accessible copies only supplied funds for new editions. Tyndale was able to send forth the Pentateuch in 1530, and it is understood that at the time of his death he had carried the translation to the end of the Books of Chronicles. All this labor was destined to permanent recognition in the English-speaking world. The translations of Tyndale, in very large part, lay at the basis of the editions which were permitted or authorized under Henry VIII., and no later revisions have served to conceal the handwriting of the great translator. Coverdale's translation, which was issued in 1535, was based in part on that of Tyndale. Luther's version and some others were also consulted. Matthew's (or more properly Roger's) Bible embraced all of Tyndale's work, and used Coverdale's version in completing the Old Testament. This was authorized by the Government in 1537-1538. The "Great Bible," published in 1539 under government auspices and the editorship of Coverdale, was a revised edition of Matthew's Bible. Tavener's version, which also appeared in 1539, was largely indebted to Matthew's.

The English Bible was Tyndale's peculiar legacy to his countrymen. But he had a still further relation to the religious revolution in England. He was a pioneer as respects the introduction of the Reformed theology. Several treatises which came from his pen received much attention. They indicate a man of force and thoughtfulness, though the bitter polemic in which he sometimes indulges stands quite in contrast with the calm majesty of the transistor. The importance which opponents attached to his writings is seen in the fact that Sir Thomas More, in his attempted refutations, filled nearly a thousand folio pages.

Thus the Reformation was begun in England by scholars and common people acting in entire independence of the Government, and in the face of its violent opposition. It was not till after the movement had progressed to a very noticeable degree that Henry VIII. rebelled against the Pope; and then self-will and considerations of personal pleasure dictated his course rather than any sympathy with the Protestant theology. As we have seen, he assumed at one time the rôle of the theologian against Luther, and exulted in the title of Defender of the Faith conferred upon him by the Pope. As late as 1527, he was counted a chief supporter of the papacy, and appeared anxious to avenge the imprisonment which his Holiness suffered in that year at the hands of the troops of Charles V. But about this very time a subject was broached destined to result in a rupture with the papal court. This was the famous question of divorce. Arthur, an older brother of Henry VIII., had died soon after marrying Catharine of Aragon, an aunt of Charles V. Reasons of State caused Henry to be married to his brother's widow, a union which required a papal dispensation. After about seventeen years of married life, Henry began to express doubts as to the propriety of his union with Catharine. It is certain that conscience was not the only motive power which urged him to seek a divorce. Still it is not wholly incredible that he may have felt some conscientious scruples on the subject. Of several children by Catharine, all had died in infancy with the exception of one daughter. Being exceedingly anxious for a male heir, Henry might very naturally be led to the suspicion that the death of his children was a visitation from Heaven upon an unrighteous marriage. Whatever the real strength of the King's scruples, they were so reinforced by other influences as to lend to decisive action. According to the belief of Catharine, and a very general opinion of the time, Wolsey's ambition served as an effective spur to Henry's doubts. Having reached the highest summit of power which the realm afforded, the Cardinal aspired to complete the list of honors by ascending the papal throne. Charles V. promised to second his aspirations, but bitterly disappointed him. The enraged cardinal thought it would be nothing more than a fitting recompense to forward the divorce from Catharine and marry Henry to a French princess, thus allying him with the great enemy of Charles. It is certain, as is assumed in this theory, that Wolsey desired to make a firm alliance with France; but the proof that he first suggested the divorce is not so decisive. Probably more effective than conscientious scruples or ministerial advice was the passionate attachment which the King had formed for Anne Boleyn. As this lady refused to be his mistress, he determined to make her his queen. This was a choice to which Wolsey was utterly averse, but Henry was too determined to brook any opposition on this score even from the powerful minister.

The contradictory items in the famous question of divorce may be seen in the following summary of the main points: (1) As stated above, contemporary opinion, to a noticeable extent, made Wolsey the prime mover in the divorce suit. (2) The King, before the legatine court of Wolsey and Campeggio, expressly asserted that the Cardinal did not first suggest the divorce, but rather opposed it at the start. (3) The King affirmed that his scruples were excited by the fact that the Bishop of Tarbes, the French ambassador, while negotiating respecting the marriage of the Princess Mary to the Duke of Orleans, had raised some question about the legitimacy of the princess. (4) The negotiation with the Bishop of Tarbes occurred in the early part of the year 1527. But in 1531 the King told Simon Grynæus that for seven years he had abstained from the bed of Catharine, evidently wishing to convey the impression that his scruples reached as far back as 1524. (5) According to some of the most thorough investigators, there is evidence that secret action in the direction of the divorce was taken in 1526, and accordingly before the conference with the Bishop of Tarbes. (6) Knight, the King's ambassador to the Pope in 1527, was instructed to inquire whether the King might not contract a new marriage, that with Catharine still standing. From this it would appear that desire for a new marriage, rather than a sore conscience over the old, was the impelling motive in the royal mind. This inference gains double weight it one gives credit to the evidence that the relation of Henry VIII. to Mary Boleyn was such as legally to debar a marriage with her sister Anne. See, on the whole subject, J. S. Brewer, Reign of Henry VIII. from his accession to the Death of Wolsey, vol. ii

The Pope, being plied for a divorce, found himself in a great dilemma. If he should grant the divorce, he would earn the mortal hatred of Charles V.; if he withheld it, he would be visited with equal displeasure from Henry VIII. He adopted, therefore, a policy of delay. The wearisome length to which the negotiations were drawn out, and their unpromising look in the end proved fatal to Wolsey. Failure in a minister to accomplish the royal pleasure was in the eyes of Henry VIII. a capital crime. Wolsey was degraded from the chancellorship in 1529, and died on his way to the Tower in 1530. "On his deathbed his thoughts still clung to the prince whom he had served. 'Had I but served God as diligently as I have served the King,' murmured the dying man, 'He mould not have given me over in my gray hairs. But this is my due reward for my pains and study, not regarding my service to God, but only my duty to my prince.' No words could paint with so terrible a truthfulness the spirit of the new despotism which Wolsey had done more than any of those who went before him to build up. From tempers like his, all sense of loyalty to England, to its freedom, to its institutions, had utterly passed away, and the one duty which the statesman owed was a duty to his 'prince.' " 1 J. R. Green, History of the English People, ii. 150.

The fall of Wolsey was the fall of his order. Churchmen sank at once to a plane of lessened authority. The charge against Wolsey of having accepted and fulfilled the functions of papal legate contrary to the laws against foreign appointments, was at the same time a charge against the ecclesiastics who had become his accomplices by accepting his legatine jurisdiction. The charge in either case was founded in malice rather than in equity; but it had a show of legality, and could be utilized for bending the clergy in general to the royal will. Wolsey, in fact, was a principal author of the ecclesiastical supremacy of the crown. He concentrated in himself the ecclesiastical sovereignty of the realm; being an obsequious servant of the crown, while he was ruler of the Church, he helped to bridge over the interval between the temporal and the spiritual ; he compromised the position of those under him so that his forfeit could be made theirs also. Accordingly, when he fell the ecclesiastical supremacy was within easy reach of the King.

The patience of Henry VIII. having become exhausted by the tedious manœuvres of Clement VII., he determined at length to settle his "great matter" without recourse to Rome. By the advice of Cranmer, the universities, and numerous individuals who were reputed learned in the canon law, were consulted on the validity of the marriage with Catharine. A fair proportion of these reported in the King's favor. The favorable verdict, however, was in some cases the result of bribery or a shameless use of royal authority. In January, 1583, the King celebrated in private his marriage with Anne Boleyn. Later in the same year Cranmer, who had been created Archbishop of Canterbury, passed sentence against the marriage with Catharine as unlawful and invalid, and ratified the marriage with Anne Boleyn, who was publicly crowned queen. To seal emphatically the separation from the papacy, Parliament passed, in 1534, the Act of Supremacy, by which it was ordered that the King "shall be taken, accepted, and reputed the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England, and shall have and enjoy, annexed and united to the Imperial Crown of this realm, as well the title and state thereof as all the honors, jurisdictions, authorities, immunities, profits, and commodities to the said dignity belonging; and that our said sovereign lord, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall have full power to visit, repress, redress, reform, and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, contempts, and enormities, which by any manner of spiritual authority or jurisdiction might or may lawfully be reformed." Three years before Convocation had conceded to Henry the title of "supreme lord and head of the Church and Clergy of England," but had blunted its force by the addition of the ambiguous clause, "so far as the law of Christ will allow." Even in the mind of the King, the title, as then employed, did not seem to mean a positive renouncing of papal authority, for negotiations were still kept up with Rome. The definite abrogation of the papal headship over the English Church is most properly located at the year 1534. 1 For a list of the successive steps by which the papal jurisdiction was abolished, see J.H. Blunt, The Reformation of the Church of England, i. 277, 278. This work is written from an Anglo-Catholic or anti-Protestant standpoint.

The steps taken by the government toward a rupture with Rome were accompanied by no great show of favor toward the Protestants. Indeed, a persecution was inaugurated which was more searching than any which had occurred up to that time. Thomas More succeeded Wolsey in the chancellorship. Contrary to what might have been expected from the free-spirited humanist and layman, he proved a more diligent persecutor than the Cardinal had been, more zealous to suppress both heretics and their writings. Some exaggerated statements may have been made respecting his severities. But it is certain that he considered burning a fit punishment for heretics; that during his administration several were sent to the stake, and that he pursued the memory of some of these after their death with most unfeeling slurs. His acts and his writings combine to convey the impression that his zeal so far got the better of his amiability as to pass over into a species of fanaticism. His controversial tracts against Luther and Tyndale are among the most fertile in scurrility and invective which that intemperate age produced.

More held his office but a short time. Seeing the unconquerable tendency of the King to revolt against Rome, he pleaded ill health and retired in 1532. Three years later his refusal to give the desired acknowledgment to the King's supremacy brought him to the scaffold (July 6, 1535). A fortnight before, Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, whom the Pope had made a cardinal while he was in prison, had been executed on the same ground. The sacrifice of these two men, whom all parties allow to have been distinguished for their integrity, was justly regarded as a piece of tyranny; for there is no indication that they were disposed to offer anything more than a passive resistance to the new régime. Among the more humble victims to the royal supremacy the monks of the Charterhouse in London won an honorable name by their constancy.

From this point the conduct of Henry VIII. may be described as a somewhat wavering opposition both to the Protestant and the strict Roman Catholic systems. His ideal was evidently an Anglo-Catholic Church; that is, a church conformed in the main to the mediæval model as respects constitution and doctrine, but having an English sovereign for its supreme head in place of the Pope. His measures, however, were tinged not a little by the spirit of the counselors who happened to be in the ascendant. At one time Archbishop Cranmer, for whom the King had a special esteem, succeeded in influencing him in the interest of the Reformation. In this he was seconded by the powerful and despotic minister Thomas Cromwell, who aimed at a political alliance with Protestantism and zealously fostered some of its features, whatever may have been the measure of his sympathy with the Protestant theology. At another time advisers like Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, gained the ear of the King, and decrees extremely hostile to Protestant teaching were issued.

Among the more important measures which signalized the headship of Henry VIII. over the Church of England, the following deserve special mention: (1) The promulgation of the Ten Articles and kindred expositions of doctrine; (2) The dissolution of the monasteries; (3) The enacting of the Six Articles; (4) Provision for the distribution of the Bible in English.

The Ten Articles, signed by members of the Convocation and published in 1536, present the old creed in such a moderate form as might conciliate the party of reform. While they inculcate the doctrine of the real bodily presence in the Eucharist, the full sacrament of penance, with auricular confession included, the veneration of saints, and prayer for souls in purgatory, they do not necessitate the acceptance of transubstantiation, mention only three sacraments, warn against making too much of the saints, dissuade from refinements upon purgatory, and disallow the value of papal pardons and of masses as means of helping the souls of the departed. The Ten Articles were followed the next year by the "Bishops' Book," of the "Institution of a Christian Man." This differed little in tone from the Ten Articles, and its contents were mainly an expansion of the same. Froude has pronounced it, in point of language, "beyond question the most beautiful composition which had as yet appeared in English prose." 1 History of England, iii. 245.

"The Necessary Erudition of a Christian Men," authoritatively published in 1543, bears some traces of the reactionary movement which had been started shortly before.

Cardinal Wolsey, acting under the authority of the Pope, had given an example, on a moderate scale, of suppressing monasteries; a score having been sacrificed for the founding of his colleges at Ipswich and Oxford. After the separation from Rome a further suppression naturally followed, from the conviction that these institutions were alien to the new order of things and formed a dangerous bond of connection with the papacy, as well as from an avaricious appetite for their enormous wealth. Nearly four hundred were dissolved in 1536, and the still larger remainder experienced a like fate in the years immediately following. Some of the monasteries no doubt deserved their downfall, in consideration of the iniquities which they had harbored. But the suddenness with which a large multitude of people were thrown out of their accustomed mode of life bears an appearance of harshness, while the manner in which the crown and its favorites appropriated the greater share of the proceeds can hardly be characterized as anything else than shameless spoliation. In general, it may be said, the dissolution of the monasteries was justified on the score of religious and State policy, but the manner in which the dissolution was effected was cause for national grief and shame. An unbiased historical judgment will subscribe to the following words of Hallam: "If Henry had been content with prohibiting the profession of religious persons for the future, and had gradually diverted their revenues instead of violently confiscating them, no Protestant could have found it easy to censure his policy." Constitutional History of England, chap, ii.

In 1537-1539 the English Bible was published under sanction of the government, and allowed to be freely distributed. This may be counted the greatest indulgence which Henry VIII. awarded to Protestant principles. And even this concession was in part withdrawn. After the execution of Cromwell, in 1540, the anti-Protestant element found opportunity to vent its dislike of the unrestricted reading of the Bible; and in 1543 a decree was issued prohibiting the public reading of the Scriptures except in the authorized services, and the private reading of the same on the part of the humbler classes.

The Six Articles present in a most undisguised manner the mediæval theology which was still entrenched in the mind of Henry VIII., after his revolt against the papacy. One of their designs seems to have been to notify the world that the King had not become infected with Protestantism. They assert transubstantiation, the adequacy of communion in one kind, the celibacy of priests, the perpetual obligation of rows of chastity, the utility of private masses, and the necessity of auricular confession. These Articles were given the force of law by Act of Parliament in 1539, and barbarous penalties were denounced against those who should contradict them. Any denial of the first was to be punished with death by burning. A first offense against the others entailed confiscation of property; a second offense was punishable with death.

The ascendancy of the reactionary party prophesied a gloomy time for the friends of reform. And in truth victims were not wanting, though the onslaught was less extensive than might have been expected from the tenor of the Six Articles. Barnes, Garret, and Jerome were burned in 1540; Testwood, Peerson, and Filmer in 1543. Anne Ascue, a woman of eminent station and talents, was tortured and burned in 1546, for denying the doctrine of the real presence. Three companions perished with her. Latimer was confined in the Tower. Papists and Protestants both suffered, and sometimes were carried on the same hurdles to execution. A stranger in England at the time had occasion to remark that "those who were against the Pope were burned, and those who were for him were hanged." The death of Henry VIII. in 1547 caused a cessation of this anomalous and double persecution.

The character of this monarch has received but little eulogy from the great majority of historians. Mr. Froude, however, while he finds many things in his rule to condemn or to apologize for, makes him out, on the whole, a sovereign quite superior in character as well as in ability. As has been well suggested, Mr. Froude seems to lay too much stress upon contemporary verdicts, and does not make sufficient allowance for the subservient spirit toward the throne which characterized the King's associates and a large proportion of the people in that era. When Parliaments were ready at the royal nod to declare the King released from his debts, and Convocation undertook to dissolve a marriage, without the least show of legal ground, simply because it was distasteful to the monarch,-- when thus the highest powers in State and Church were enslaved, the fact that this or that party helped to give a specious appearance to various deeds of the King does not go far toward his justification. It was understood to be no safe matter to bring in a different verdict from that which was desired. There might be courage to resist an exorbitant tax, for the universal opposition to it relieved each individual from serious responsibility. But where less support could be counted on, conduct was too apt to be determined by dread of the royal displeasure.

No doubt Henry VIII. had some of the qualities of an efficient ruler. To strong resolution he added a degree of compliance with the demands of the times. He knew the value of popularity. He had the discretion not to push any particular policy beyond the bounds of national endurance. But the restraint which he acknowledged lay in policy rather than in any conscientious moderation. His essential temper was that of an Oriental despot. Not to mention other features of his rule, the heartlessness with which he sacrificed the feelings and the lives of his queens, and sent to the scaffold the ministers who had served him with signal devotion, gives an unavoidable impression of devouring egotism and unfeeling tyranny. "In Henry VIII.," says Ranke, "we remark no free self-abandonment and no inward enthusiasm, no real sympathy with any living man; men are to him only instruments which he uses and then breaks to pieces." 1 History of England, i. 169, English edition.

No comments:

Post a Comment