Henry's title as Supreme Head of the Church was incorporated in the royal style by letters patent of 15th January, 1535, and that year was mainly employed in compelling its recognition by all sorts and conditions of men. In April, Houghton, the Prior of the Charterhouse, a monk of Sion, and the Vicar of Isleworth, were the first victims offered to the Supreme Head. But the machinery supplied by Parliament was barely sufficient to bring the penalties of the statute to bear on the two most illustrious of Henry's opponents, Fisher and More. Both had been attainted of misprision of treason by Acts of Parliament in the previous autumn; but those penalties extended no further than to lifelong imprisonment and forfeiture of goods. Their lives could only be exacted by proving that they had maliciously attempted to deprive Henry of his title of Supreme Head; their opportunities in the Tower for compassing that end were limited; and it is possible that they would not have been further molested, but for the thoughtlessness of Clement's successor, Paul III. Impotent to effect anything against the King, the Pope did his best to sting Henry to fury by creating Fisher a cardinal on 20th May. He afterwards explained that he meant no harm, but the harm was done, and it involved Fisher's friend and ally, Sir Thomas More. Henry declared that he would send the new cardinal's head to Rome for the hat; and he immediately despatched commissioners to the Tower to inform Fisher and More that, unless they acknowledged the royal supremacy, they would be put to death as traitors. Fisher apparently denied the King's supremacy, More refused to answer; he was, however, entrapped during a conversation with the Solicitor-General, Rich, into an admission that Englishmen could not be bound to acknowledge a supremacy over the Church in which other countries did not concur. In neither case was it clear that they came within the clutches of the law. Fisher, indeed, had really been guilty of treason. More than once he had urged Chapuys to press upon Charles the invasion of England, a fact unknown, perhaps, to the English Government. The evidence it had collected was, however, considered sufficient by the juries which tried the prisoners; Fisher went to the scaffold on 22nd June, and More on 6th July. Condemned justly or not by the law, both sought their death in a quarrel which is as old as the hills and will last till the crack of doom. Where shall we place the limits of conscience, and where those of the national will? Is conscience a luxury which only a king may enjoy in peace? Fisher and More refused to accommodate theirs to Acts of Parliament, but neither believed conscience to be the supreme tribunal. More admitted that in temporal matters his conscience was bound by the laws of England; in spiritual matters the conscience of all was bound by the will of Christendom; and on that ground both Fisher and he rejected the plea of conscience when urged by heretics condemned to the flames. The dispute, indeed, passes the wit of man to decide. If conscience must reign supreme, all government is a pis aller, and in anarchy the true millennium must be found. If conscience is deposed, man sinks to the level of the lower creation. Human society can only be based on compromise, and compromise itself is a matter of conscience. Fisher and More protested by their death against a principle which they had practised in life; both they and the heretics whom they persecuted proclaimed, as Antigone had done thousands of years before, that they could not obey laws which they could not believe God had made.
It was the personal eminence of the victims rather than the merits of their case that made Europe thrill with horror at the news of their death; for thousands of others were sacrificing their lives in a similar cause in most of the countries of Christendom. For the first and last time in English history a cardinal's head had rolled from an English scaffold; and Paul III. made an effort to bring into play the artillery of his temporal powers. As supreme lord over all the princes of the earth, he arrogated to himself the right to deprive Henry VIII. of his kingdom; and he sent couriers to the various courts to seek their co-operation in executing his judgment. But the weapons of Innocent III. were rusty with age. Francis denounced the Pope's claim as a most impudent attack on monarchical dignity; and Charles was engaged in the conquest of Tunis. Thus Henry was able to take a high tone in reply to the remonstrances addressed to him, and to proceed undisturbed with the work of enforcing his royal supremacy. The autumn was occupied mainly by a visitation of the monasteries and of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge; the schoolmen, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus and others were deposed from the seat of authority they had held for so many centuries, and efforts were made to substitute studies like that of the civil law, more in harmony with the King's doctrine and with his views of royal authority.
The more boldly Henry defied the Fates, the more he was favoured by Fortune. "Besides his trust in his subjects," wrote Chapuys in 1534, "he has great hope in the Queen's death;" and the year 1536 was but eight days old when the unhappy Catherine was released from her trials, resolutely refusing to the last to acknowledge in any way the invalidity of her marriage with Henry. She had derived some comfort from the papal sentence in her favour, but that was not calculated to soften the harshness with which she was treated. Her pious soul, too, was troubled with the thought that she had been the occasion, innocent though she was, of the heresies that had arisen in England, and of the enormities which had been practised against the Church. Her last days were cheered by a visit from Chapuys, who went down to Kimbolton on New Year's Day and stayed until the 5th of January, when the Queen seemed well on the road to recovery. Three days later she passed away, and on the 29th she was buried with the state of a princess dowager in the church of the Benedictine abbey at Peterborough. Her physician told Chapuys that he suspected poison, but the symptoms are now declared, on high medical authority, to have been those of cancer of the heart. The suspicion was the natural result of the circumstance that her death relieved the King of a pressing anxiety. "God be praised!" he exclaimed, "we are free from all suspicion of war;" and on the following day he proclaimed his joy by appearing at a ball, clad in yellow from head to foot. Every inch a King, Henry VIII. never attained to the stature of a gentleman, but even Bishop Gardiner wrote that by Queen Catherine's death "God had given sentence" in the divorce suit between her and the King.
A week later, the Reformation Parliament met for its seventh and last session. It sat from 4th February to 14th April, and in those ten weeks succeeded in passing no fewer than sixty-two Acts. Some were local and some were private, but the residue contained not a few of public importance. The fact that the King obtained at last his Statute of Uses may indicate that Henry's skill and success had so impressed Parliament, that it was more willing to acquiesce in his demands than it had been in its earlier sessions. But, if the drafts in the Record Office are to be taken as indicating the proposals of Government, and the Acts themselves are those proposals as modified in one or other House, Parliament must have been able to enforce views of its own to a certain extent; for those drafts differ materially from the Acts as finally passed. Not a few of the bills were welcome, if unusual, concessions to the clergy. They were relieved from paying tenths in the year they paid their first-fruits. The payment of tithes, possibly rendered doubtful in the wreck of canon law, was enjoined by Act of Parliament. An attempt was made to deal with the poor, and another, if not to check enclosures, at least to extract some profit for the King from the process. It was made high treason to counterfeit the King's sign-manual, privy signet, or privy seal; and Henry was empowered by Parliament, as he had before been by Convocation, to appoint a commission to reform the canon law. But the chief acts of the session were for the dissolution of the lesser monasteries and for the erection of a Court of Augmentations in order to deal with the revenues which were thus to accrue to the King.
The way for this great revolution had been carefully prepared during the previous autumn and winter. In virtue of his new and effective supremacy, Henry had ordered a general visitation of the monasteries throughout the greater part of the kingdom; and the reports of these visitors were made the basis of parliamentary action. On the face of them they represent a condition of human depravity which has rarely been equalled; and the extent to which those reports are worthy of credit will always remain a point of contention. The visitors themselves were men of doubtful character; indeed, respectable men could hardly have been persuaded to do the work. Their methods were certainly harsh; the object of their mission was to get up a case for the Crown, and they probably used every means in their power to induce the monks and the nuns to incriminate themselves. Perhaps, too, an entirely false impression may be created by the fact that in most cases only the guilty are mentioned; the innocent are often passed over in silence, and the proportion between the two is not recorded. Some of the terms employed in the reports are also open to dispute; it is possible that in many instances the stigma of unchastity attached to a nun merely meant that she had been unchaste before entering religion, and it is known that nunneries were considered the proper resort for ladies who had not been careful enough of their honour.
On the other hand, the lax state of monastic morality does not depend only upon the visitors' reports; apart from satires like those of Skelton, from ballads and from other mirrors of popular opinion or prejudice, the correspondence of Henry VIII.'s reign is, from its commencement, full of references, by bishops and other unimpeachable witnesses, to the necessity of drastic reform. In 1516, for instance, Bishop West of Ely visited that house, and found such disorder that he declared its continuance would have been impossible but for his visitation. In 1518 the Italian Bishop of Worcester writes from Rome that he had often been struck by the necessity of reforming the monasteries. In 1521 Henry VIII, then at the height of his zeal for the Church, thanks the Bishop of Salisbury for dissolving the nunnery of Bromehall because of the "enormities" practised there. Wolsey felt that the time for reform had passed, and began the process of suppression, with a view to increasing the number of cathedrals and devoting other proceeds to educational endowments. Friar Peto, afterwards a cardinal, who had fled abroad to escape Henry's anger for his bold denunciation of the divorce, and who had no possible motive for cloaking his conscientious opinion, admitted that there were grave abuses, and approved of the dissolution of monasteries, if their endowments were used for proper ends. There is no need to multiply instances, because a commission of cardinals, appointed by Paul III. himself, reported in 1537 that scandals were frequent in religious houses. The reports of the visitors, too, can hardly be entirely false, though they may not be entirely true. The charges they make are not vague, but very precise. They specify names of the offenders, and the nature of their offences; and an air of verisimilitude, if nothing more, is imparted to the condemnations they pronounce against the many, by the commendations they bestow on the few.
Probably the staunchest champion of monasticism would acknowledge that in the reign of Henry VIII. there was at least a plausible case for mending monastic morals. But that was not then the desire of the Government of Henry VIII; and the case for mending their morals was tacitly assumed to be the same as a case for ending the monasteries. It would be unjust to Henry to deny that he had always shown himself careful of the appearance, at least, of morality in the Church; but it requires a robust faith in the King's disinterestedness to believe that dissolution was not the real object of the visitation, and that it was merely forced upon him by the reports of the visitors. The moral question afforded a good excuse, but the monasteries fell, not so much because their morals were lax, as because their position was weak. Moral laxity contributed no doubt to the general result, but there were other causes at work. The monasteries themselves had long been conscious that their possession of wealth was not, in the eyes of the middle-class laity, justified by the use to which it was put; and, for some generations at least, they had been seeking to make friends with Mammon by giving up part of their revenues, in the form of pensions and corrodies to courtiers, in the hope of being allowed to retain the remainder. It had also become the custom to entrust the stewardship of their possessions to secular hands; and, possibly as a result, the monasteries were soon so deeply in debt to the neighbouring gentry that their lay creditors saw no hope of recovering their claims except by extensive foreclosures. There had certainly been a good deal of private spoliation before the King gave the practice a national character. The very privileges of the monasteries were now turned to their ruin. Their immunity from episcopal jurisdiction deprived them of episcopal aid; their exemption from all authority, save that of the Pope, left them without support when the papal jurisdiction was abolished. Monastic orders knew no distinction of nationality. The national character claimed for the medieval Church in England could scarcely cover the monasteries, and no place was found for them in the Church when it was given a really national garb.
Their dissolution is probably to be connected with Cromwell's boast that he would make his king the richest prince in Christendom. That was not its effect, because Henry was compelled to distribute the greater part of the spoils among his nobles and gentry. One rash reformer suggested that monastic lands should be devoted to educational purposes; had that plan been followed, education in England would have been more magnificently endowed than in any other country of the world, and England might have become a democracy in the seventeenth century. From this point of view Henry spoilt one of the greatest opportunities in English history; from another, he saved England from a most serious danger. Had the Crown retained the wealth of the monasteries, the Stuarts might have made themselves independent of Parliament. But this service to liberty was not voluntary on Henry's part. The dissolution of the monasteries was in effect, and probably in intention, a gigantic bribe to the laity to induce them to acquiesce in the revolution effected by Henry VIII. When he was gone, his successors might desire, or fail to prevent, a reaction; something more permanent than Henry's iron hand was required to support the fabric he had raised. That support was sought in the wealth of the Church. The prospect had, from the very opening of the Reformation Parliament, been dangled before the eyes of the new nobles, the members of Parliament, the justices of the peace, the rich merchants who thirsted for lands wherewith to make themselves gentlemen. Chapuys again and again mentions a scheme for distributing the lands of the Church among the laity as a project for the ensuing session; but their time was not yet; not until their work was done were the labourers to reap their reward. The dissolution of the monasteries harmonised well with the secular principles of these predominant classes. The monastic ideal of going out of the world to seek something, which cannot be valued in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, is abhorrent to a busy, industrial age; and every principle is hated most at the time when it most is needed.
Intimately associated as they were in their lives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn were not long divided by death; and, piteous as is the story of the last years of Catherine, it pales before the hideous tragedy of the ruin of Anne Boleyn. "If I have a son, as I hope shortly, I know what will become of her," wrote Anne of the Princess Mary. On 29th January, 1536, the day of her rival's funeral, Anne Boleyn was prematurely delivered of a dead child, and the result was fatal to Anne herself. This was not her first miscarriage, and Henry's old conscience began to work again. In Catherine's case the path of his conscience was that of a slow and laborious pioneer; now it moved easily on its royal road to divorce. On 29th January, Chapuys, ignorant of Anne's miscarriage, was retailing to his master a court rumour that Henry intended to marry again. The King was reported to have said that he had been seduced by witchcraft when he married his second queen, and that the marriage was null for this reason, and because God would not permit them to have male issue. There was no peace for her who supplanted her mistress. Within six months of her marriage Henry's roving fancy had given her cause for jealousy, and, when she complained, he is said to have brutally told her she must put up with it as her betters had done before. These disagreements, however, were described by Chapuys as mere lovers' quarrels, and they were generally followed by reconciliations, after which Anne's influence seemed as secure as ever. But by January, 1536, the imperial ambassador and others were counting on a fresh divorce. The rumour grew as spring advanced, when suddenly, on 2nd May, Anne was arrested and sent to the Tower. She was accused of incest with her brother, Lord Rochford, and of less criminal intercourse with Sir Francis Weston, Henry Norris, William Brereton, and Mark Smeaton. All were condemned by juries to death for high treason on 12th May. Three days later Anne herself was put on her trial by a panel of twenty-six peers, over which her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, presided. They returned a unanimous verdict of guilty, and, on the 19th, the Queen's head was struck off with the sword of an executioner brought for the purpose from St. Omer.
Two days before Anne's death her marriage with Henry had been declared invalid by a court of ecclesiastical lawyers with Cranmer at its head. The grounds of the sentence are not stated, but there may have been two—the alleged precontract with the Earl of Northumberland, which the Earl denied on oath and on the sacrament, and the previous affinity between Anne and Henry arising from the King's relations with Mary Boleyn. The latter seems the more probable. Henry had obtained of Clement VII. a dispensation from this disability; but the Pope's power to dispense had since been repudiated, while the canonical objection remained and was given statutory authority in this very year. The effects of this piece of wanton injustice were among the troubles which Henry bequeathed to Queen Elizabeth; the sole advantage to Henry was that his infidelities to Anne ceased to be breaches of the seventh commandment. The justice of her sentence to death is also open to doubt. Anne herself went to the block boldly proclaiming her innocence. Death she regarded as a relief from an intolerable situation, and she "laughed heartily," writes the Lieutenant of the Tower as she put her hands round her "little neck," and thought how easy the executioner's task would be. She complained when the day of her release from this world was deferred, and regretted that so many innocent persons should suffer through her. Of her accomplices, none confessed but Smeaton, though Henry is said, before Anne's arrest, to have offered Norris a pardon if he would admit his crime. On the other hand, her conduct must have made the charges plausible. Even in those days, when justice to individuals was regarded as dust if weighed in the balance against the real or supposed interests of the State, it is not credible that the juries should have found her accomplices guilty, that twenty-six peers, including her uncle, should have condemned Anne herself, without some colourable justification. If the charges were merely invented to ruin the Queen, one culprit besides herself would have been enough. To assume that Henry sent four needless victims to the block is to accuse him of a lust for superfluous butchery, of which even he, in his most bloodthirsty moments, was not capable.
On the day that his second queen was beheaded, Henry obtained from Cranmer a special licence to marry a third. He was betrothed on the morrow and privately married "in the Queen's closet at York Place" on the 30th of May. The lady of his choice was Jane, daughter of Sir John Seymour of Wolf Hall in Wiltshire. She was descended on her mother's side from Edward III, and Cranmer had to dispense with a canonical bar to the marriage arising from her consanguinity to the King in the third and fourth degrees. She had been lady-in-waiting to the two previous queens, and her brother, Sir Edward Seymour, the future Protector, had for years been steadily rising in Henry's favour. In October, 1535, the King had paid a visit to Wolf Hall, and from that time his attentions to Jane became marked. She seems to have received them with real reluctance; she refused a purse of gold and returned the King's letters unopened. She even obtained a promise from Henry that he would not speak with her except in the presence of others, and the King ejected Cromwell from his rooms in the Palace in order to bestow them on Sir Edward Seymour, and thus to provide a place where he and Jane could converse without scandal. All this modesty has, of course, been attributed to prudential and ambitious motives, which were as wise as they were successful. But Jane seems to have had no enemies, except Alexander Aless, who denounced her to Luther as an enemy to the Gospel, probably because she extinguished the shining light of Anne Boleyn. Cardinal Pole described her as "full of goodness," and she certainly did her best to reconcile Henry with his daughter the Princess Mary, whose treatment began to improve from the fall of Anne Boleyn. "She is," writes Chapuys, "of middle stature, and no great beauty; so fair that one would call her rather pale than otherwise." But all agreed in praising her intelligence. She had neither Catherine's force of character nor the temper of Anne Boleyn; she was a woman of gentle spirit, striving always to mitigate the rigour of others; her brief married life was probably happier than that of any other of Henry's Queens; and her importance is mainly due to the fact that she bore to Henry his only legitimate son.
The disgrace of Anne Boleyn necessitated the summons of a fresh Parliament to put the succession to the crown on yet another basis. The Long Parliament had been dissolved on 14th April; another was called to meet on the 8th of June. The eighteen acts passed during its six weeks' session illustrate the parallel development of the Reformation and of the royal autocracy. The Act of Succession made Anne's daughter, Elizabeth, a bastard, without declaring Catherine's daughter, Mary, legitimate, and settled the crown on Henry's prospective issue by Jane. A unique clause empowered the King to dispose of the crown at will, should he have no issue by his present Queen. Probably he intended it, in that case, for the Duke of Richmond; but the Duke's days were numbered, and four days after the dissolution of Parliament he breathed his last. The royal prerogative was extended by a statute enabling a king, when he reached the age of twenty-four, to repeal by proclamation any act passed during his minority; and the royal caste was further exalted by a statute making it high treason for any one to marry a king's daughter, legitimate or not, his sister, his niece, or his aunt on the father's side, without royal licence. The reform of clerical abuses was advanced by an act to prevent non-residence, and by another to obviate the delay in instituting to benefices practised by bishops with a view to keeping the tithes of the vacant benefice in their own hands. The breach with Rome was widened still further by a statute, declaring all who extolled the Pope's authority to be guilty of præmunire, imposing an oath of renunciation on all lay and clerical officers, and making the refusal of that oath high treason. Thus the hopes of a reaction built on the fall of those "apostles of the new sect," Anne Boleyn and her relatives, were promptly and roughly destroyed.
Henry's position had been immensely strengthened alike by the death of Catherine of Aragon and by the fall of Anne Boleyn; and on both occasions he had expressed his appreciation of the fact in the most indecent and heartless manner. He was now free to marry whom he liked, and no objection based on canon or on any other law could be raised to the legitimacy of his future issue; whether the Pope could dispense or not, it made no difference to Edward VI.'s claim to the throne. The fall of Anne Boleyn, in spite of some few rumours that she might have been condemned on insufficient evidence, was generally popular; for her arrogance and that of her family made them hated, and they were regarded as the cause of the King's persecution of Catherine, of Mary, and of those who maintained their cause. Abroad the effect was still more striking. The moment Henry heard of Catherine's death, he added a postscript to Cromwell's despatch to the English ambassadors in France, bidding them to take a higher tone with Francis, for all cause of difference had been removed between him and Charles V. The Emperor secretly believed that his aunt had been poisoned, but that private grief was not to affect his public policy; and Charles, Francis, and even the Pope, became more or less eager competitors for Henry's favour. The bull of deprivation, which had been drawn up and signed, became a dead letter, and every one was anxious to disavow his share in its promotion. Charles obtained the suspension of its publication, made a merit of that service to Henry, and tried to represent that it was Francis who, with his eyes on the English crown, had extorted the bull from the Pope. Paul III himself used words to the English envoy at Rome, which might be interpreted as an apology for having made Fisher a cardinal and having denounced his and More's execution.
Henry had been driven by fear of Charles in the previous year to make further advances than he relished towards union with the German princes; but the Lutherans could not be persuaded to adopt Henry's views of the mass and of his marriage with Catherine; and now he was glad to substitute an understanding with the Emperor for intrigues with the Emperor's subjects. Cromwell and the council were, indeed, a little too eager to welcome Chapuys' professions of friendship and to entertain his demands for help against Francis. Henry allowed them to go on for a time; but Cromwell was never in Wolsey's position, and the King was not inclined to repeat his own and the Cardinal's errors of 1521. He had suffered enough from the prostration of France and the predominance of Charles; and he was anxious now that neither should be supreme. So, when the imperial ambassador came expecting Henry's assent, he, Cromwell and the rest of the council were amazed to hear the King break out into an uncompromising defence of the French King's conduct in invading Savoy and Piedmont. That invasion was the third stroke of good fortune which befel Henry in 1536. As Henry and Ferdinand had, in 1512, diverted their arms from the Moors in order to make war on the Most Christian King, so, in 1536, the Most Christian King and the sovereign, who was at once King Catholic and the temporal head of Christendom, instead of turning their arms against the monarch who had outraged and defied the Church, turned them against one another. Francis had never lost sight of Milan; he had now recovered from the effects of Pavia; and in the spring of 1536 he overran Savoy and Piedmont. In April the Emperor once more visited Rome, and on the 17th he delivered a famous oration in the papal Consistory. In that speech he denounced neither Luther nor Henry VIII; he reserved his invectives for Francis I. Unconsciously he demonstrated once and for all that unity of faith was impotent against diversity of national interests, and that, whatever deference princes might profess to the counsels of the Vicar of Christ, the counsels they would follow would be those of secular impulse.
Henry was thus left to deal with the great domestic crisis of his reign without intervention from abroad. The dissolution of the monasteries inevitably inflicted considerable hardship on a numerous body of men. It had been arranged that the inmates of the dissolved religious houses should either be pensioned or transferred to other monasteries; but, although the pensions were adequate and sometimes even generous in scale, and although the commissioners themselves showed a desire to prevent unnecessary trouble by obtaining licences for many houses to continue for a time, the monks found some difficulty in obtaining their pensions, and Chapuys draws a moving picture of their sufferings as they wandered about the country, seeking employment in a market that was already overstocked with labour, and endeavouring to earn a livelihood by means to which they had never been accustomed. They met with no little sympathy from the commons, who were oppressed with a like scarcity of work, and who had looked to the monasteries for such relief as charity could afford. Nowhere were these feelings so strong as in the north of England, and there the commissioners for dissolving the monasteries were often met with open resistance. Religious discontent was one of the motives for revolt, but probably the rebels were drawn mainly from evicted tenants, deprived of their holdings by enclosures or by the conversion of land from tillage to pasture, men who had nothing to lose and everything to gain by a general turmoil. In these men the wandering monks found ready listeners to their complaints, and there were others, besides the monks, who eagerly turned to account the prevailing dissatisfaction. The northern lords, Darcy and Hussey, had for years been representing to Chapuys the certainty of success if the Emperor invaded England, and promising to do their part when he came. Darcy had, at Christmas 1534, sent the imperial ambassador a sword as an intimation that the time had come for an appeal to its arbitrament; and he was seeking Henry's licence to return to his house in Yorkshire in order to raise "the crucifix" as the standard of revolt. The King, however, was doubtful of Darcy's loyalty, and kept him in London till early in 1536. It would have been well had he kept him longer.
Towards the end of the summer rumours were spread among the commons of the North that heavy taxes would be levied on every burial, wedding and christening, that all cattle would be marked and pay a fine to the King, and that all unmarked beasts would be forfeit; churches within five miles of each other were to be taken down as superfluous, jewels and church plate confiscated; taxes were to be paid for eating white bread, goose, or capon; there was to be a rigid inquisition into every man's property; and a score of other absurdities gained currency, obviously invented by malicious and lying tongues. The outbreak began at Caistor, in Lincolnshire, on the 3rd of October, with resistance, not to the commissioners for dissolving the monasteries, but to those appointed to collect the subsidy granted by Parliament. The rebels entered Lincoln on the 6th; they could, they said, pay no more money; they demanded the repeal of religious changes, the restoration of the monasteries, the banishment of heretics like Cranmer and Latimer, and the removal of low-born advisers such as Cromwell and Rich from the council. The mustering of an army under Suffolk and the denial by heralds and others that the King had any such intentions as were imputed to him, induced the commons to go home; the reserves which Henry was collecting at Ampthill were disbanded; and the commotion was over in less than a fortnight.
The Lincolnshire rebels, however, had not dispersed when news arrived of a much more serious rising which affected nearly the whole of Yorkshire. It was here that Darcy and his friends were most powerful; but, though there is little doubt that they were the movers, the ostensible leader was Robert Aske, a lawyer. Even here the rebellion was little more than a magnified riot, which a few regiments of soldiers could soon have suppressed. The rebels professed complete loyalty to Henry's person; they suggested no rival candidate for the throne; they merely demanded a change of policy, which they could not enforce without a change of government. They had no means of effecting that change without deposing Henry, which they never proposed to do, and which, had they done it, could only have resulted in anarchy. The rebellion was formidable mainly because Henry had no standing army; he had to rely almost entirely on the goodwill or at least acquiescence of his people. Outside Yorkshire the gentry were willing enough; possibly they had their eyes on monastic rewards; and they sent to Cambridge double or treble the forces Henry demanded, which they could hardly have done had their tenants shown any great sympathy with the rebellion. But transport in those days was more difficult even than now; and before the musters could reach the Trent, Darcy, after a show of reluctance, yielded Pomfret Castle to the rebels and swore to maintain their cause. Henry was forced, much against his will, to temporise. To pardon or parley with rebels he thought would distain his honour. If Norfolk was driven to offer a pardon, he must on no account involve the King in his promise.
Norfolk apparently had no option. An armistice was accordingly arranged on the 27th of October, and a deputation came up to lay the rebels' grievances before the King. It was received graciously, and Henry's reply was a masterly piece of statecraft. He drew it up "with his own hand, and made no creature privy thereto until it was finished". Their complaints about the Faith were, he said, "so general that hard they be to be answered," but he intended always to live and to die in the faith of Christ. They must specify what they meant by the liberties of the Church, whether they were lawful or unlawful liberties; but he had done nothing inconsistent with the laws of God and man. With regard to the Commonwealth, what King had kept his subjects so long in wealth and peace, ministering indifferent justice, and defending them from outward enemies? There were more low-born councillors when he came to the throne than now; then there were "but two worth calling noble. Others, as the Lords Marny and Darcy, were scant well-born gentlemen, and yet of no great lands till they were promoted by us. The rest were lawyers and priests.... How came you to think that there were more noble men in our Privy Council then than now?" It did not become them to dictate to their sovereign whom he should call to his Council; yet, if they could prove, as they alleged, that certain of the Council were subverters of God's law and the laws of the realm, he would proceed against them. Then, after denouncing their rebellion and referring to their request for pardon, he says: "To show our pity, we are content, if we find you penitent, to grant you all letters of pardon on your delivering to us ten such ringleaders of this rebellion as we shall assign to you. Now note the benignity of your Prince, and how easily bloodshed may be eschewed. Thus I, as your head, pray for you, my members, that God may enlighten you for your benefit."
A conference was held at Doncaster in December, and towards the end of the year Aske came at Henry's invitation to discuss the complaints with him. No one could be more gracious than the King, when he chose; no one could mask his resentment more completely, when he had an object to gain. It was important to win over Aske, and convince him that Henry had the interests of the rebels at heart. So on Aske were lavished all the royal arts. They were amply rewarded. In January, 1537, the rebel leader went down to Yorkshire fully convinced of the King's goodwill, and anxious only that the commons should observe his conditions. But there were wilder spirits at work over which he had little control. They declared that they were betrayed. Plots were formed to seize Hull and Scarborough; both were discovered. Aske, Constable, and other leaders of the original Pilgrimage of Grace exerted themselves to stay this outbreak of their more violent followers; and between moderates and extremists the whole movement quickly collapsed. The second revolt gave Henry an excuse for recalling his pardon, and for exacting revenge from all who had been implicated in either movement. Darcy deserved little pity; the earliest in his treason, he continued the game to the end; but Aske was an honest man, and his execution, condemned though he was by a jury, was a violent act of injustice. Norfolk was sent to the North on a Bloody Assize, and if neither he nor the King was a Jeffreys, the rebellion was stamped out with a good deal of superfluous cruelty. Henry was resolved to do the work once and for all, and he based his system on terror. His measures for the future government of the North, now threatened by James V., were, however, wise on the whole. He would put no more nobles in places of trust; the office of Warden of the Marches he took into his own hands, appointing three deputies of somewhat humble rank for the east, middle and west marches. A strong Council of the North was appointed to sit at York, under the presidency of Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, and with powers almost as extensive as those of the Privy Council at London; and henceforth Henry had little trouble from disaffection in England.
With one aftermath of the Pilgrimage of Grace he had yet to deal. The opportunity had been too good for Paul III to neglect; and early in 1537 he had sent a legate a latere to Flanders to do what he could to abet the rebellion. His choice fell on Reginald Pole, the son of the Countess of Salisbury and grandson of George, Duke of Clarence. Pole had been one of Henry's great favourites; the King had paid for his education, given him, while yet a layman, rich church preferments, and contributed the equivalent of about twelve hundred pounds a year to enable him to complete his studies in Italy. In 1530 Pole was employed to obtain opinions at Paris favourable to Henry's divorce, and was offered the Archbishopric of York. He refused from conscientious scruples, sought in vain to turn the King from his evil ways, and, in 1532, left England; they parted friends, and Henry continued Pole's pensions. While Pole was regarding with increasing disgust the King's actions, Henry still hoped that Pole was on his side, and, in 1536, in answer to Henry's request for his views, Pole sent his famous treatise De Unitate Ecclesiæ. His heart was better than his head; he thought Henry had been treated too gently, and that the fulmination of a bull of excommunication earlier in his course would have stopped his headlong career. To repair the Pope's omissions, Pole now proceeded to administer the necessary castigation; "flattery," he said, "had been the cause of all the evil". Even his friend, Cardinal Contarini, thought the book too bitter, and among his family in England it produced consternation. Some of them were hand in glove with Chapuys, who had suggested Pole to Charles as a candidate for the throne; and his book might well have broken the thin ice on which they stood. Henry, however, suppressed his anger and invited Pole to England; he, perhaps wisely, refused, but immediately afterwards he accepted the Pope's call to Rome, where he was made cardinal, and sent to Flanders as legate to foment the northern rebellion.
He came too late to do anything except exhibit his own and the papal impotence. The rebellion was crushed before his commission was signed. As Pole journeyed through France, Henry sent to demand his extradition as a traitor. With that request Francis could hardly comply, but he ordered the legate to quit his dominions. Pole sought refuge in Flanders, but was stopped on the frontier. Charles could no more than Francis afford to offend the English King, and the cardinal-legate was informed that he might visit the Bishop of Liège, but only if he went in disguise. Never, wrote Pole to the Regent, had a papal legate been so treated before. Truly Henry had fulfilled his boast that he would show the princes of Europe how small was the power of a Pope. He had obliterated every vestige of papal authority in England and defied the Pope to do his worst; and now, when the Pope attempted to do it, his legate was chased out of the dominions of the faithful sons of the Church at the demand of the excommunicate King. Henry had come triumphant out of perils which every one else believed would destroy him. He had carried England through the greatest revolution in her history. He had crushed the only revolt which that revolution evoked at home; and abroad the greatest princes of Europe had shown that they valued as nothing the goodwill of the Pope against that of Henry VIII.
The culminating point in his good fortune was reached in the following autumn. On the 12th of October, 1537, Queen Jane gave birth to a son. Henry had determined that, had he a son by Anne Boleyn, the child should be named Henry after himself, or Edward after his grandfather, Edward IV. Queen Jane's son was born on the eve of the feast of St. Edward, and that fact decided the choice of his name. Twelve days later the mother, who had never been crowned, passed away. She, alone of Henry's wives, was buried with royal pomp in St. George's Chapel at Windsor; and to her alone the King paid the compliment of mourning. His grief was sincere, and for the unusual space of more than two years he remained without a wife. But Queen Jane's death was not to be compared in importance with the birth of Edward VI. The legitimate male heir, the object of so many desires and the cause of so many tragedies, had come at last to fill to the brim the cup of Henry's triumph. The greatest storm and stress of his reign was passed. There were crises to come, which might have been deemed serious in a less troubled reign, and they still needed all Henry's wary cunning to meet; Francis and Charles were even now preparing to end a struggle from which only Henry drew profit; and Paul was hoping to join them in war upon England. Yet Henry had weathered the worst of the gale, and he now felt free to devote his energies to the extension abroad of the authority which he had established so firmly at home.
REX ET IMPERATOR.
Notwithstanding the absence of "Empire" and "Emperor" from the various titles which Henry VIII. possessed or assumed, he has more than one claim to be reputed the father of modern imperialism. It is not till a year after his death that we have any documentary evidence of an intention on the part of the English Government to unite England and Scotland into one Empire, and to proclaim their sovereign the Emperor of Great Britain. But a marriage between Edward VI. and Mary, Queen of Scots, by which it was sought to effect that union, had been the main object of Henry's efforts during the closing years of his reign, and the imperial idea was a dominant note in Henry's mind. No king was more fond of protesting that he wore an imperial crown and ruled an imperial realm. When, in 1536, Convocation declared England to be "an imperial See of itself," it only clothed in decent and formal language Henry's own boast that he was not merely King, but Pope and Emperor, in his own domains. The rest of Western Europe was under the temporal sway of Cæsar, as it was under the spiritual sway of the Pope; but neither to one nor to the other did Henry owe any allegiance.
For the word "imperial" itself he had shown a marked predilection from his earliest days. Henry Imperial was the name of the ship in which his admiral hoisted his flag in 1513, and "Imperial" was the name given to one of his favourite games. But, as his reign wore on, the word was translated into action, and received a more definite meaning. To mark his claim to supreme dignity, he assumed the style of "His Majesty" instead of that of "His Grace," which he had hitherto shared with mere dukes and archbishops; and possibly "His Majesty" banished "His Grace" from Henry's mind no less than it did from his title. The story of his life is one of consistent, and more or less orderly, evolution. For many years he had been kept in leading-strings by Wolsey's and other clerical influences. The first step in his self-assertion was to emancipate himself from this control, and to vindicate his authority within the precincts of his Court. His next was to establish his personal supremacy over Church and State in England; this was the work of the Reformation Parliament between 1529 and 1536. The final stage in the evolution was to make his rule more effective in the outlying parts of England, on the borders of Scotland, in Wales and its Marches, and then to extend it over the rest of the British Isles.
The initial steps in the process of expanding the sphere of royal authority had already been taken. The condition of Wales exercised the mind of King and Parliament, even in the throes of the struggle with Rome. The "manifold robberies, murders, thefts, trespasses, riots, routs, embraceries, maintenances, oppressions, ruptures of the peace, and many other malefacts, which be there daily practised, perpetrated, committed and done," obviously demanded prompt and swift redress, unless the redundant eloquence of parliamentary statutes protested too much; and, in 1534, several acts were passed restraining local jurisdictions, and extending the authority of the President and Council of the Marches. Chapuys declared that the effect of these acts was to rob the Welsh of their freedom, and he thought that the probable discontent might be turned to account by stirring an insurrection in favour of Catherine of Aragon and of the Catholic faith. If, however, there was discontent, it did not make itself effectively felt, and, in 1536, Henry proceeded to complete the union of England and Wales. First, he adapted to Wales the institution of justices of the peace, which had proved the most efficient instrument for the maintenance of his authority in England. A more important statute followed. Recalling the facts that "the rights, usages, laws and customs" in Wales "be far discrepant from the laws and customs of this realm," that its people "do daily use a speech nothing like, nor consonant to, the natural mother-tongue used within this realm," and that "some rude and ignorant people have made distinction and diversity between the King's subjects of this realm" and those of Wales, "His Highness, of a singular zeal, love and favour" which he bore to the Welsh, minded to reduce them "to the perfect order, notice and knowledge of his laws of this realm, and utterly to extirp, all and singular, the sinister usages and customs differing from the same". The Principality was divided into shires, and the shires into hundreds; justice in every court, from the highest to the lowest, was to be administered in English, and in no other tongue; and no one who spoke Welsh was to "have or enjoy any manner of Office or Fees" whatsoever. On the other hand, a royal commission was appointed to inquire into Welsh laws, and such as the King thought necessary might still be observed; while the Welsh shires and boroughs were to send members to the English Parliament. This statute was, to all effects and purposes, the first Act of Union in English history. Six years later a further act reorganised and developed the jurisdiction of the Council of Wales and the Marches. Its functions were to be similar to those of the Privy Council in London, of which the Council of Wales, like that of the already established Council of the North, was an offshoot. Its object was to maintain peace with a firm hand in a specially disorderly district; and the powers, with which it was furnished, often conflicted with the common law of England, and rendered the Council's jurisdiction, like that of other Tudor courts, a grievance to Stuart Parliaments.
But Ireland demanded even more than Wales the application of Henry's doctrines of union and empire; for if Wales was thought by Chapuys to be receptive soil for the seeds of rebellion, sedition across St. George's Channel was ripe unto the harvest. Irish affairs, among other domestic problems, had been sacrificed to Wolsey's passion for playing a part in Europe, and on the eve of his fall English rule in Ireland was reported to be weaker than it had been since the Conquest. The outbreak of war with Charles V, in 1528, was followed by the first appearance of Spanish emissaries at the courts of Irish chiefs, and from Spanish intrigue in Ireland Tudor monarchs were never again to be free. In the autumn of 1534 the whole of Ireland outside the pale blazed up in revolt. Sir William Skeffington succeeded in crushing the rebellion; but Skeffington died in the following year, and his successor, Lord Leonard Grey, failed to overcome the difficulties caused by Irish disaffection and by jealousies in his council. His sister was wife of Fitzgerald, the Earl of Kildare, and the revolt of the Geraldines brought Grey himself under suspicion. He was accused by his council of treason; he returned to England in 1540, declaring the country at peace. But, before he had audience with Henry, a fresh insurrection broke out, and Grey was sent to the Tower; thence, having pleaded guilty to charges of treason, he trod the usual path to the block.
Henry now adopted fresh methods; he determined to treat Ireland in much the same way as Wales. A commission, appointed in 1537, had made a thorough survey of the land, and supplied him with the outlines of his policy. As in Wales, the English system of land tenure, of justice and the English language were to supersede indigenous growths; the King's supremacy in temporal and ecclesiastical affairs was to be enforced, and the whole of the land was to be gradually won by a judicious admixture of force and conciliation. The new deputy, Sir Anthony St. Leger, was an able man, who had presided over the commission of 1537. He landed at Dublin in 1541, and his work was thoroughly done. Henry, no longer so lavish with his money as in Wolsey's days, did not stint for this purpose. The Irish Parliament passed an act that Henry should be henceforth styled King, instead of Lord, of Ireland; and many of the chiefs were induced to relinquish their tribal independence in return for glittering coronets. By 1542 Ireland had not merely peace within her own borders, but was able to send two thousand kernes to assist the English on the borders of Scotland; and English rule in Ireland was more widely and more firmly established than it had ever been before.
Besides Ireland and Wales, there were other spheres in which Henry sought to consolidate and extend the Tudor methods of government. The erection, in 1542, of the Courts of Wards and Liveries, of First-fruits and Tenths, and the development of the jurisdiction of the Star Chamber and of the Court of Requests, were all designed to further two objects dear to Henry's heart, the efficiency of his administration and the exaltation of his prerogative. It was thoroughly in keeping with his policy that the parliamentary system expanded concurrently with the sphere of the King's activity. Berwick had first been represented in the Parliament of 1529, and a step, which would have led to momentous consequences, had the idea, on which it was based, been carried out, was taken in 1536, when two members were summoned from Calais. There was now only one district under English rule which was not represented in Parliament, and that was the county of Durham, known as the bishopric, which still remained detached from the national system. It was left for Oliver Cromwell to complete England's parliamentary representation by summoning members to sit for that palatine county. This was not the only respect in which the Commonwealth followed in the footsteps of Henry VIII., for the Parliament of 1542, in which members from Wales and from Calais are first recorded as sitting, passed an "Act for the Navy," which provided that goods could only be imported in English ships. It was, however, in his dealings with Scotland that Henry's schemes for the expansion of England became most marked; but, before he could develop his plans in that direction, he had to ward off a recrudescence of the danger from a coalition of Catholic Europe.
In spite of Henry's efforts to fan the flames of strife between the Emperor and the King of France, the war, which had prevented either monarch from countenancing the mission of Cardinal Pole or from profiting by the Pilgrimage of Grace, was gradually dying down in the autumn of 1537; and, in order to check the growing and dangerous intimacy between the two rivals, Henry was secretly hinting to both that the death of his Queen had left him free to contract a marriage which might bind him for ever to one or the other. To Francis he sent a request for the hand of Mary of Guise, who had already been promised to James V. of Scotland. He refused to believe that the Scots negotiations had proceeded so far that they could not be set aside for so great a king as himself, and he succeeded in convincing the lady's relatives that the position of a Queen of England provided greater attractions than any James could hold out. Francis, however, took matters into his own hands, and compelled the Guises to fulfil their compact with the Scottish King. Nothing daunted, Henry asked for a list of other French ladies eligible for the matrimonial prize. He even suggested that the handsomest of them might be sent, in the train of Margaret of Navarre, to Calais, where he could inspect them in person. "I trust to no one," he told Castillon, the French ambassador, "but myself. The thing touches me too near. I wish to see them and know them some time before deciding." This idea of "trotting out the young ladies like hackneys" was not much relished at the French Court; and Castillon, to shame Henry out of the indelicacy of his proposal, made an ironical suggestion for testing the ladies' charms, the grossness of which brought the only recorded blush to Henry's cheeks. No more was said of the beauty-show; and Henry declared that he did not intend to marry in France or in Spain at all, unless his marriage brought him a closer alliance with Francis or Charles than the rivals had formed with each other.
While these negotiations for obtaining the hand of a French princess were in progress, Henry set on foot a similar quest in the Netherlands. Before the end of 1537 he had instructed Hutton, his agent, to report on the ladies of the Regent Mary's Court; and Hutton replied that Christina of Milan was said to be "a goodly personage and of excellent beauty". She was daughter of the deposed King of Denmark and of his wife, Isabella, sister of Charles V.; at the age of thirteen she had been married to the Duke of Milan, but she was now a virgin widow of sixteen, "very tall and competent of beauty, of favour excellent and very gentle in countenance". On 10th March, 1538, Holbein arrived at Brussels for the purpose of painting the lady's portrait, which he finished in a three hours' sitting. Christina's fascinations do not seem to have made much impression on Henry; indeed, his taste in feminine beauty cannot be commended. There is no good authority for the alleged reply of the young duchess herself, that, if she had two heads, she would willingly place one of them at His Majesty's disposal. Henry had, as yet, beheaded only one of his wives, and even if the precedent had been more firmly established, Christina was too wary and too polite to refer to it in such uncourtly terms. She knew that the disposal of her hand did not rest with herself, and though the Emperor sent powers for the conclusion of the match, neither he nor Henry had any desire to see it concluded. The cementing of his friendship with Francis freed Charles from the need of Henry's goodwill, and impelled the English King to seek elsewhere for means to counter-balance the hostile alliance.
The Emperor and the French King had not been deluded by English intrigues, nor prevented from coming together by Henry's desire to keep them apart. Charles, Francis, and Paul III. met at Nice in June, 1538, and there the Pope negotiated a ten years' truce. Henceforth they were to consider their interests identical, and their ambassadors in England compared notes in order to defeat more effectively Henry's skilful diplomacy. The moment seemed ripe for the execution of the long-cherished project for a descent upon England. Its King had just added to his long list of offences against the Church by despoiling the shrine of St. Thomas at Canterbury and burning the bones of the saint. The saint was even said to have been put on his trial in mockery, declared contumacious, and condemned as a traitor. If the canonised bones of martyrs could be treated thus, who would, for the future, pay respect to the Church or tribute at its shrines? At Rome a party, of which Pole was the most zealous, proclaimed that the real Turk was Henry, and that all Christian princes should unite to sweep him from the face of God's earth, which his presence had too long defiled. Considering the effect of Christian leagues against the Ottoman, the English Turk was probably not dismayed. But Paul III. and Pole were determined to do their worst. The Pope resolved to publish the bull of deprivation, which had been drawn up in August, 1535, though its execution had hitherto been suspended owing to papal hopes of Henry's amendment and to the request of various princes. Now the bull was to be published in France, in Flanders, in Scotland and in Ireland. Beton was made a cardinal and sent home to exhort James V. to invade his uncle's kingdom, while Pole again set out on his travels to promote the conquest of his native land.
It was on Pole's unfortunate relatives that the effects of the threatened bull were to fall. Besides the Cardinal's treason, there was another motive for proscribing his family. He and his brothers were grandchildren of George, Duke of Clarence; years before, Chapuys had urged Charles V. to put forward Pole as a candidate for the throne; and Henry was as convinced as his father had been that the real way to render his Government secure was to put away all the possible alternatives. Now that he was threatened with deprivation by papal sentence, the need became more urgent than ever. But, while the proscription of the Poles was undoubtedly dictated by political reasons, their conduct enabled Henry to effect it by legal means. There was no doubt of the Cardinal's treason; his brother, Sir Geoffrey, had often taken counsel with Charles's ambassador, and discussed plans for the invasion of England; and even their mother, the aged Countess of Salisbury, although she had denounced the Cardinal as a traitor and had lamented the fact that she had given him birth, had brought herself within the toils by receiving papal bulls and corresponding with traitors. The least guilty of the family appears to have been the Countess's eldest son, Lord Montague; but he, too, was involved in the common ruin. Plots were hatched for kidnapping the Cardinal and bringing him home to stand his trial for treason. Sir Geoffrey was arrested in August, 1538, was induced, or forced, to turn King's evidence, and as a reward was granted his miserable, conscience-struck life. The Countess was spared for a while, but Montague mounted the scaffold in December.
With Montague perished his cousin, the Marquis of Exeter, whose descent from Edward IV. was as fatal to him as their descent from Clarence was to the Poles. The Marquis was the White Rose, the next heir to the throne if the line of the Tudors failed. His father, the Earl of Devonshire, had been attainted in the reign of Henry VII.; but Henry VIII. had reversed the attainder, had treated the young Earl with kindness, had made him Knight of the Garter and Marquis of Exeter, and had sought in various ways to win his support. But his dynastic position and dislike of Henry's policy drove the Marquis into the ranks of the discontented. He had been put in the Tower, in 1531, on suspicion of treason; after his release he listened to the hysterics of Elizabeth Barton, intrigued with Chapuys, and corresponded with Reginald Pole; and in Cornwall, in 1538, men conspired to make him King. Less evidence than this would have convinced a jury of peers in Tudor times of the expediency of Exeter's death; and, on the 9th of December, his head paid the price of his royal descent.
These executions do not seem to have produced the faintest symptoms of disgust in the popular mind. The threat of invasion evoked a national enthusiasm for defence. In August, 1538, Henry went down to inspect the fortifications he had been for years erecting at Dover; masonry from the demolished monasteries was employed in dotting the coast with castles, such as Calshot and Hurst, which were built with materials from the neighbouring abbey of Beaulieu. Commissioners were sent to repair the defences at Calais and Guisnes, on the Scottish Borders, along the coasts from Berwick to the mouth of the Thames, and from the Thames to Lizard Point. Beacons were repaired, ordnance was supplied wherever it was needed, lists of ships and of mariners were drawn up in every port, and musters were taken throughout the kingdom. Everywhere the people pressed forward to help; in the Isle of Wight they were lining the shores with palisades, and taking every precaution to render a landing of the enemy a perilous enterprise. In Essex they anticipated the coming of the commissioners by digging dykes and throwing up ramparts; at Harwich the Lord Chancellor saw "women and children working with shovels at the trenches and bulwarks". Whatever we may think of the roughness and rigour of Henry's rule, his methods were not resented by the mass of his people. He had not lost his hold on the nation; whenever he appealed to his subjects in a time of national danger, he met with an eager response; and, had the schemers abroad, who idly dreamt of his expulsion from the throne, succeeded in composing their mutual quarrels and launching their bolt against England, there is no reason to suppose that its fate would have differed from that of the Spanish Armada.
In spite of the fears of invasion which prevailed in the spring of 1539, Pole's second mission had no more success than the first; and the hostile fleet, for the sight of which the Warden of the Cinque Ports was straining his eyes from Dover Castle, never came from the mouths of the Scheldt and the Rhine; or rather, the supposed Armada proved to be a harmless convoy of traders. The Pope himself, on second thoughts, withheld his promised bull. He distrusted its reception at the hands of his secular allies, and dreaded the contempt and ridicule which would follow an open failure. Moreover, at the height of his fervour against Henry, he could not refrain from attempts to extend his temporal power, and his seizure of Urbino alienated Francis and afforded Henry some prospect of creating an anti-papal party in Italy. Francis would gladly join in a prohibition of English commerce, if Charles would only begin; but without Charles he could do nothing, and, even when his amity with the Emperor was closest, he was compelled, at Henry's demand, to punish the French priests who inveighed against English enormities. To Charles, however, English trade was worth more than to Francis, and the Emperor's subjects would tolerate no interruption of their lucrative intercourse with England. With the consummate skill which he almost invariably displayed in political matters, Henry had, in 1539, when the danger seemed greatest, provided the Flemings with an additional motive for peace. He issued a proclamation that, for seven years, their goods should pay no more duty than those of the English themselves; and the thrifty Dutch were little inclined to stop, by a war, the fresh stream of gold. The Emperor, too, had more urgent matters in hand. Henry might be more of a Turk than the Sultan himself, and the Pope might regard the sack of St. Thomas's shrine with more horror than the Turkish defeat of a Christian fleet; but Henry was not harrying the Emperor's coasts, nor threatening to deprive the Emperor's brother of his Hungarian kingdom; and Turkish victories on land and on sea gave the imperial family much more concern than all Henry's onslaughts on the saints and their relics. And, besides the Ottoman peril, Charles had reason to fear the political effects of the union between England and the Protestant princes of Germany, for which the religious development in England was paving the way, and which an attack on Henry would at once have cemented.
The powers conferred upon Henry as Supreme Head of the Church were not long suffered to remain in abeyance. Whatever the theory may have been, in practice Henry's supremacy over the Church was very different from that which Kings of England had hitherto wielded; and from the moment he entered upon his new ecclesiastical kingdom, he set himself not merely to reform practical abuses, such as the excessive wealth of the clergy, but to define the standard of orthodox faith, and to force his subjects to embrace the royal theology. The Catholic faith was to hold good only so far as the Supreme Head willed; the "King's doctrine" became the rule to which "our Church of England," as Henry styled it, was henceforth to conform; and "unity and concord in opinion" were to be established by royal decree.
The first royal definition of the faith was embodied in ten articles submitted to Convocation in 1536. The King was, he said, constrained by diversity of opinions "to put his own pen to the book and conceive certain articles... thinking that no person, having authority from him, would presume to say a word against their meaning, or be remiss in setting them forth". His people, he maintained, whether peer or prelate, had no right to resist his temporal or spiritual commands, whatever they might be. Episcopal authority had indeed sunk low. When Convocation was opened, in 1536, a layman, Dr. William Petre, appeared, and demanded the place of honour above all bishops and archbishops in their assembly. Pre-eminence belonged, he said, to the King as Supreme Head of the Church; the King had appointed Cromwell his Vicar-general; and Cromwell had named him, Petre, his proctor. The claim was allowed, and the submissive clergy found little fault with the royal articles of faith, though they mentioned only three sacraments, baptism, penance and the sacrament of the altar, denounced the abuse of images, warned men against excessive devotion to the saints, and against believing that "ceremonies have power to remit sin," or that masses can deliver souls from purgatory. Finally, Convocation transferred from the Pope to the Christian princes the right to summon a General Council.
With the Institution of a Christian Man, issued in the following year, and commonly called The Bishops' Book, Henry had little to do. The bishops debated the doctrinal questions from February to July, 1537, but the King wrote, in August, that he had had no time to examine their conclusions. He trusted, however, to their wisdom, and agreed that the book should be published and read to the people on Sundays and holy-days for three years to come. In the same year he permitted a change, which inevitably gave fresh impulse to the reforming movement in England and destroyed every prospect of that "union and concord in opinions," on which he set so much store. Miles Coverdale was licensed to print an edition of his Bible in England, with a dedication to Queen Jane Seymour; and, in 1538, a second English version was prepared by John Rogers, under Cranmer's authority, and published as Matthew's Bible. This was the Bible "of the largest volume" which Cromwell, as Henry's Vicegerent, ordered to be set up in all churches. Every incumbent was to encourage his parishioners to read it; he was to recite the Paternoster, the Creed and the Ten Commandments in English, that his flock might learn them by degrees; he was to require some acquaintance with the rudiments of the faith, as a necessary condition from all before they could receive the Sacrament of the Altar; he was to preach at least once a quarter; and to institute a register of births, marriages and deaths.
Meanwhile, a vigorous assault was made on the strongholds of superstition; pilgrimages were suppressed, and many wonder-working images were pulled down and destroyed. The famous Rood of Boxley, a figure whose contortions had once imposed on the people, was taken to the market-place at Maidstone, and the ingenious mechanism, whereby the eyes and lips miraculously opened and shut, was exhibited to the vulgar gaze. Probably these little devices had already sunk in popular esteem, for the Blood of St. Januarius could not be treated at Naples to-day in the same cavalier fashion as the Blood of Hailes was in England in 1538, without a riot. But the exposure was a useful method of exciting popular indignation against the monks, and it filled reformers with a holy joy. "Dagon," wrote one to Bullinger, "is everywhere falling in England. Bel of Babylon has been broken to pieces." The destruction of the images was a preliminary skirmish in the final campaign against the monks. The Act of 1536 had only granted to the King religious houses which possessed an endowment of less than two hundred pounds a year; the dissolution of the greater monasteries was now gradually effected by a process of more or less voluntary surrender. In some cases the monks may have been willing enough to go; they were loaded with debt, and harassed by rules imposed by Cromwell, which would have been difficult to keep in the palmiest days of monastic enthusiasm; and they may well have thought that freedom from monastic restraint, coupled with a pension, was a welcome relief, especially when resistance involved the anger of the prince and liability to the penalties of elastic treasons and of a præmunire which no one could understand. So, one after another, the great abbeys yielded to the persuasions and threats of the royal commissioners. The dissolution of the Mendicant Orders and of the Knights of St. John dispersed the last remnants of the papal army as an organised force in England, though warfare of a kind continued for many years.
These proceedings created as much satisfaction among the Lutherans of Germany as they did disgust at Rome, and an alliance between Henry and the Protestant princes seemed to be dictated by a community of religious, as well as of political, interests. The friendship between Francis and Charles threatened both English and German liberties, and it behoved the two countries to combine against their common foe. Henry's manifesto against the authority of the Pope to summon a General Council had been received with rapture in Germany; at least three German editions were printed, and the Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse urged on him the adoption of a common policy. English envoys were sent to Germany with this purpose in the spring of 1538, and German divines journeyed to England to lay the foundation of a theological union. They remained five months, but failed to effect an agreement. To the three points on which they desired further reform in England, the Communion in both kinds, the abolition of private masses and of the enforced celibacy of the clergy, Henry himself wrote a long reply, maintaining in each case the Catholic faith. But the conference showed that Henry was for the time anxious to be conciliatory in religious matters, while from a political point of view the need for an alliance grew more urgent than ever. All Henry's efforts to break the amity between Francis and Charles had failed; his proposals of marriage to imperial and French princesses had come to nothing; and, in the spring of 1539, it was rumoured that the Emperor would further demonstrate the indissolubility of his intimacy with the French King by passing through France from Spain to Germany, instead of going, as he had always hitherto done, by sea, or through Italy and Austria. Cromwell seized the opportunity and persuaded Henry to strengthen his union with the Protestant princes by seeking a wife from a German house.
This policy once adopted, the task of selecting a bride was easy. As early as 1530 the old Duke of Cleves had suggested some marriage alliance between his own and the royal family of England. He was closely allied to the Elector of Saxony, who had married Sibylla, the Duke of Cleves' daughter; and the young Duke, who was soon to succeed his father, had also claims to the Duchy of Guelders. Guelders was a thorn in the side of the Emperor; it stood to the Netherlands in much the same relation as Scotland stood to England, and when there was war between Charles and Francis Guelders had always been one of the most useful pawns in the French King's hands. Hence an alliance between the German princes, the King of Denmark, who had joined their political and religious union, Guelders and England would have seriously threatened the Emperor's hold on his Dutch dominions. This was the step which Henry was induced to take, when he realised that Charles's friendship with France remained unbroken, and that the Emperor had made up his mind to visit Paris. Hints of a marriage between Henry and Anne of Cleves were thrown out early in 1539; the only difficulty, which subsequently proved very convenient, was that the lady had been promised to the son of the Duke of Lorraine. The objection was waived on the ground that Anne herself had not given her consent; in view of the advantages of the match and of the Duke's financial straits, Henry agreed to forgo a dowry; and, on the 6th of October, the treaty of marriage was signed.
Anne of Cleves had already been described to Henry by his ambassador, Dr. Wotton, and Holbein had been sent to paint her portrait (now in the Louvre), which Wotton pronounced "a very lively image". She had an oval face, long nose, chestnut eyes, a light complexion, and very pale lips. She was thirty-four years old, and in France was reported to be ugly; but Cromwell told the King that "every one praised her beauty, both of face and body, and one said she excelled the Duchess of Milan as the golden sun did the silver moon". Wotton's account of her accomplishments was pitched in a minor key. Her gentleness was universally commended, but she spent her time chiefly in needlework. She knew no language but her own; she could neither sing nor play upon any instrument, accomplishments which were then considered by Germans to be unbecoming in a lady. On the 12th of December, 1539, she arrived at Calais; but boisterous weather and bad tides delayed her there till the 27th. She landed at Deal and rode to Canterbury. On the 30th she proceeded to Sittingbourne, and thence, on the 31st, to Rochester, where the King met her in disguise. If he was disappointed with her appearance, he concealed the fact from the public eye. Nothing marred her public reception at Greenwich on the 3rd, or was suffered to hinder the wedding, which was solemnised three days later. Henry "lovingly embraced and kissed" his bride in public, and allowed no hint to reach the ears of any one but his most intimate counsellors of the fact that he had been led willingly or unwillingly into the most humiliating situation of his reign.
Such was, in reality, the result of his failure to act on the principle laid down by himself to the French ambassador two years before. He had then declared that the choice of a wife was too delicate a matter to be left to a deputy, and that he must see and know a lady some time before he made up his mind to marry her. Anne of Cleves had been selected by Cromwell, and the lady, whose beauty was, according to Cromwell, in every one's mouth, seemed to Henry no better than "a Flanders mare". The day after the interview at Rochester he told Cromwell that Anne was "nothing so well as she was spoken of," and that, "if he had known before as much as he knew then, she should not have come within his realm". He demanded of his Vicegerent what remedy he had to suggest, and Cromwell had none. Next day Cranmer, Norfolk, Suffolk, Southampton and Tunstall were called in with no better result. "Is there none other remedy," repeated Henry, "but that I must needs, against my will, put my neck in the yoke?" Apparently there was none. The Emperor was being fêted in Paris; to repudiate the marriage would throw the Duke of Cleves into the arms of the allied sovereigns, alienate the German princes, and leave Henry without a friend among the powers of Christendom. So he made up his mind to put his neck in the yoke and to marry "the Flanders mare".
Henry, however, was never patient of matrimonial or other yokes, and it was quite certain that, as soon as he could do so without serious risk, he would repudiate his unattractive wife, and probably other things besides. For Anne's defects were only the last straw added to the burden which Henry bore. He had not only been forced by circumstances into marriage with a wife who was repugnant to him, but into a religious and secular policy which he and the mass of his subjects disliked. The alliance with the Protestant princes might be a useful weapon if things came to the worst, and if there were a joint attack on England by Francis and Charles; but, on its merits, it was not to be compared to a good understanding with the Emperor; and Henry would have no hesitation in throwing over the German princes when once he saw his way to a renewal of friendship with Charles. He would welcome, even more, a relief from the necessity of paying attention to German divines. He had never wavered in his adhesion to the cardinal points of the Catholic faith. He had no enmity to Catholicism, provided it did not stand in his way. The spiritual jurisdiction of Rome had been abolished in England because it imposed limits on Henry's own authority. Some of the powers of the English clergy had been destroyed, partly for a similar reason, and partly as a concession to the laity. But the purely spiritual claims of the Church remained unimpaired; the clergy were still a caste, separate from other men, and divinely endowed with the power of performing a daily miracle in the conversion of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Even when the Protestant alliance seemed most indispensable, Henry endeavoured to convince Lutherans of the truth of the Catholic doctrine of the mass, and could not refrain from persecuting heretics with a zeal that shook the confidence of his reforming allies. His honour, he thought, was involved in his success in proving that he, with his royal supremacy, could defend the faith more effectively than the Pope, with all his pretended powers; and he took a personal interest in the conversion and burning of heretics. Several instances are recorded of his arguing a whole day with Sacramentaries, exercises which exhibited to advantage at once the royal authority and the royal learning in spiritual matters. His beliefs were not due to caprice or to ignorance; probably no bishop in his realm was more deeply read in heterodox theology. He was constantly on the look-out for books by Luther and other heresiarchs, and he kept quite a respectable theological library at hand for private use. The tenacity with which he clung to orthodox creeds and Catholic forms was not only strengthened by study but rooted in the depths of his character. To devout but fundamentally irreligious men, like Henry VIII. and Louis XIV., rites and ceremonies are a great consolation; and Henry seldom neglected to creep to the Cross on Good Friday, to serve the priest at mass, to receive holy bread and holy water every Sunday, and daily to use "all other laudable ceremonies"
With such feelings at heart, a union with Protestants could never for Henry be more than a mariage de convenance; and in this, as in other things, he carried with him the bulk of popular sympathy. In 1539 it was said that no man in London durst speak against Catholic usages, and, in Lent of that year, a man was hanged, apparently at the instance of the Recorder of London, for eating flesh on a Friday. The attack on the Church had been limited to its privileges and to its property; its doctrine had scarcely been touched. The upper classes among the laity had been gorged with monastic spoils; they were disposed to rest and be thankful. The middle classes had been satisfied to some extent by the restriction of clerical fees, and by the prohibition of the clergy from competing with laymen in profitable trades, such as brewing, tanning, and speculating in land and houses. There was also the general reaction which always follows a period of change. How far that reaction had gone, Henry first learnt from the Parliament which met on the 28th of April, 1539.
The elections were characterised by more court interference than is traceable at any other period during the reign, though even on this occasion the evidence is fragmentary and affects comparatively few constituencies. It was, moreover, Cromwell and not the King who sought to pack the House of Commons in favour of his own particular policy; and the attempt produced discontent in various constituencies and a riot in one at least. The Earl of Southampton was required to use his influence on behalf of Cromwell's nominees at Farnham, although that borough was within the Bishop of Winchester's preserves. So, too, Cromwell's henchman, Wriothesley, was returned for the county of Southampton in spite of Gardiner's opposition. Never, till the days of the Stuarts, was there a more striking instance of the futility of these tactics; for the House of Commons, which Cromwell took so much pains to secure, passed, without a dissentient, the Bill of Attainder against him; and before it was dissolved, the bishop, against whose influence Cromwell had especially exerted himself, had taken Cromwell's place in the royal favour. There was, indeed, no possibility of stemming the tide which was flowing against the Vicegerent and in favour of the King; and Cromwell was forced to swim with the stream in the vain hope of saving himself from disaster.
The principal measure passed in this Parliament was the Act of Six Articles, and it was designed to secure that unity and concord in opinions which had not been effected by the King's injunctions. The Act affirmed the doctrine of Transubstantiation, declared that the administration of the Sacrament in both kinds was not necessary, that priests might not marry, that vows of chastity were perpetual, that private masses were meet and necessary, and auricular confession was expedient and necessary. Burning was the penalty for once denying the first article, and a felon's death for twice denying any of the others. This was practically the first Act of Uniformity, the earliest definition by Parliament of the faith of the Church. It showed that the mass of the laity were still orthodox to the core, that they could persecute as ruthlessly as the Church itself, and that their only desire was to do the persecution themselves. The bill was carried through Parliament by means of a coalition of King and laity against Cromwell and a minority of reforming bishops, who are said only to have relinquished their opposition at Henry's personal intervention; and the royal wishes were communicated, when the King was not present in person, through Norfolk and not through the royal Vicegerent.
It was clear that Cromwell was trembling to his fall. The enmity shown in Parliament to his doctrinal tendencies was not the result of royal dictation; for even this Parliament, which gave royal proclamations the force of law, could be independent when it chose. The draft of the Act of Proclamations, as originally submitted to the House of Commons, provoked a hot debate, was thrown out, and another was substituted more in accord with the sense of the House. Parliament could have rejected the second as easily as it did the first, had it wished. Willingly and wittingly it placed this weapon in the royal hands, and the chief motive for its action was that overwhelming desire for "union and concord in opinion" which lay at the root of the Six Articles. Only one class of offences against royal proclamations could be punished with death, and those were offences "against any proclamation to be made by the King's Highness, his heirs or successors, for or concerning any kind of heresies against Christian doctrine". The King might define the faith by proclamations, and the standard of orthodoxy thus set up was to be enforced by the heaviest legal penalties. England, thought Parliament, could only be kept united against her foreign foes by a rigid uniformity of opinion; and that uniformity could only be enforced by the royal authority based on lay support, for the Church was now deeply divided in doctrine against itself.
Such was the temper of England at the end of 1539. Cromwell and his policy, the union with the German princes and the marriage with Anne of Cleves were merely makeshifts. They stood on no surer foundation than the passing political need of some counterpoise to the alliance of Francis and Charles. So long as that need remained, the marriage would hold good, and Henry would strive to dissemble; but not a moment longer. The revolution came with startling rapidity; in April, 1540, Marillac, the French ambassador, reported that Cromwell was tottering. The reason was not far to seek. No sooner had the Emperor passed out of France, than he began to excuse himself from fulfilling his engagements to Francis. He was resolute never to yield Milan, for which Francis never ceased to yearn. Charles would have found Francis a useful ally for the conquest of England, but his own possessions were now threatened in more than one quarter, and especially by the English and German alliance. Henry skilfully widened the breach between the two friends, and, while professing the utmost regard for Francis, gave Charles to understand that he vastly preferred the Emperor's alliance to that of the Protestant princes. Before April he had convinced himself that Charles was more bent on reducing Germany and the Netherlands to order than on any attempt against England, and that the abandonment of the Lutheran princes would not lead to their combination with the Emperor and Francis. Accordingly he returned a very cold answer when the Duke of Cleves's ambassadors came, in May, to demand his assistance in securing for the Duke the Duchy of Guelders.
Cromwell's fall was not, however, effected without some violent oscillations, strikingly like the quick changes which preceded the ruin of Robespierre during the Reign of Terror in France. The Vicegerent had filled the Court and the Government with his own nominees; at least half a dozen bishops, with Cranmer at their head, inclined to his theological and political views; Lord Chancellor Audley and the Earl of Southamton were of the same persuasion; and a small but zealous band of reformers did their best, by ballads and sermons, to prove that the people were thirsting for further religious change. The Council, said Marillac, was divided, each party seeking to destroy the other. Henry let the factions fight till he thought the time was come for him to intervene. In February, 1540, there was a theological encounter between Gardiner and Barnes, the principal agent in Henry's dealings with the Lutherans, and Barnes was forced to recant; in April Gardiner and one or two conservatives, who had long been excluded from the Council, were believed to have been readmitted; and it was reported that Tunstall would succeed Cromwell as the King's Vicegerent. But a few days later two of Cromwell's satellites, Wriothesley and Sadleir, were made Secretaries of State; Cromwell himself was created Earl of Essex; and, in May, the Bishop of Chichester and two other opponents of reform were sent to the Tower. At last Henry struck. On the 10th of June Cromwell was arrested; he had, wrote the Council, "not only been counterworking the King's aims for the settlement of religion, but had said that, if the King and the realm varied from his opinions, he would withstand them, and that he hoped in another year or two to bring things to that frame that the King could not resist it". His cries for mercy evoked no response in that hardened age. Parliament condemned him unheard, and, on the 28th of July, he was beheaded.
Henry had in reality come to the conclusion that it was safe to dispense with Anne of Cleves and her relatives; and with his will there was easily found a way. His case, as stated by himself, was, as usual, a most ingenious mixture of fact and fiction, reason and sophistry. His "intention" had been defective, and therefore his administration of the sacrament of marriage had been invalid. He was not a free agent because fear of being left defenceless against Francis and Charles had driven him under the yoke. His marriage had only been a conditional form. Anne had never received a release from her contract with the son of the Duke of Lorraine; Henry had only gone through the ceremony on the assumption that that release would be forthcoming; and actuated by this conscientious scruple, he had refrained from consummating the match. To give verisimilitude to this last statement, he added the further detail that he found his bride personally repugnant. He therefore sought from "our" Church a declaration of nullity. Anne was prudently ready to submit to its decision; and, through Convocation, Henry's Church, which in his view existed mainly to transact his ecclesiastical business, declared, on the 7th of July, that the marriage was null and void. Anne received a handsome endowment of four thousand pounds a year in lands, was given two country residences, and lived on amicable terms with Henry and his successors till 1558, when she died and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Henry's neck was freed from the matrimonial yoke and the German entanglement. The news was promptly sent to Charles, who remarked that Henry would always find him his loving brother and most cordial friend. At Antwerp it was said that the King had alienated the Germans, but gained the Emperor and France in their stead. Luther declared that "Junker Harry meant to be God and to do as pleased himself"; and Melancthon, previously so ready to find excuses, now denounced the English King as a Nero, and expressed a wish that God would put it into the mind of some bold man to assassinate him. Francis sighed when he heard the news, foreseeing a future alliance against him, but the Emperor's secretary believed that God was bringing good out of all these things.