LIFE OF HENRY VIII
THERE was great joy in England when, upon the death of Henry VII in 1509, his son Henry VIII ascended the English throne; as his father had incurred the hatred of the English people by his jealousy, his severity and his avarice. The new king was only eighteen years of age, but he gave the most promising hopes of making a good sovereign and of having a happy and glorious reign. The contending claims of the rival Houses of York and Lancaster were united in his person, so that he received the cordial and united support of both. His father had left him an enormous treasury, and England was free from foreign and civil wars.
The young king possessed the qualities essential to win popularity; as he was handsome, carefully educated and highly accomplished, besides being energetic, of a frank and hearty disposition, and fond of chivalrous amusements, while also a hearty friend of the New Learning and inspired with a sincere desire to rule with justice. But his disposition changed much as he advanced in age : his naturally violent temper became malignant and unrelenting with opposition, and he gradually became fiercer and more tyrannical.
A few weeks after his accession Henry VIII celebrated his marriage with the Princess Catharine of Aragon, and the two were crowned together as King and Queen of England, June 24, 1509. One of the young king’s first official acts was to bring Empson and Dudley, the hated lawyers of Henry VII to the scaffold on a charge of treason—a proceeding designed to satisfy popular clamor. Henry VIII was as prodigal as his father had been penurious; and the great fortune which he inherited was squandered in a few years in tournaments and other expensive entertainments.
The young king was entirely under the influence of his Prime Minister, the Earl of Surrey, who encouraged his master’s prodigality that he might neglect public business and leave affairs of state entirely to his Ministers. To counteract the evil influence of the Earl of Surrey, and to restrain the young king’s follies, Bishop Fox of Winchester introduced at court Thomas Wolsey, who had already displayed high administrative qualities.
Wolsey was the son of a butcher at Ipswich. The great talents and the love for study which he exhibited in his childhood caused him to be sent to the University of Oxford, where he took his first degree at so early an age as to be called the “boy bachelor”. After having occupied various stations with great reputation, he finally became chaplain to Henry VII.
By the art of flattery, Wolsey soon acquired an unbounded influence over King Henry VIII; but he made a different use of that influence from what Bishop Fox had intended, as he encouraged the young king's follies in order to promote his own advancement. He was soon made Archbishop of York, and Chancellor. Wolsey affected to regard Henry VIII as the wisest of mortals, promoted his amusements and participated in them with the gayety of youth. By thus making himself agreeable as well as useful, Wolsey ruled one of the most capricious and passionate of sovereigns with absolute sway for ten years, and for a time acted a more conspicuous part in public affairs than his master.
The ambition of Henry VIII for military glory involved England in a series of costly and unprofitable wars. He joined the League of Cambray against Venice. He also joined Ferdinand of Spain, the Emperor Maximilian I of Germany and Pope Julius II in the Holy League against Louis XII of France, reviving the almost forgotten claims of the Plantagenets to the western provinces of that kingdom. In 1512 he sent an expedition to conquer Guienne; but his crafty father-in-law, King Ferdinand of Spain, contrived to reap all the benefits of the enterprise by using the English forces to conquer the Kingdom of Navarre for himself, instead of Guienne for the English king.
In 1513 Henry VIII invaded France by way of Calais with an army of twenty thousand men, besieged Térouanne, and defeated the French at Guinegate, in an engagement called the Battle of the Spurs, because of the ignominious flight of the French cavalry at the first onset, August 16, 1513. In this action the Emperor Maximilian I served King Henry VIII as a private soldier; and the Chevalier Bayard, the famous French knight, was among the prisoners taken by the English. Térouanne immediately capitulated: and Tournay surrendered several weeks later, September 9, 1513.
King James IV of Scotland, the brother-in-law of Henry VIII, was the ally of Louis XII of France. The chivalrous King of Scots invaded England with a large army and ravaged Northumberland; but he was defeated and killed by the English army under the Earl of Surrey at Flodden Field, near the Cheviot Hills, ten thousand gallant Scottish knights being among the slain, September 9, 1513, the very day of the capture of Tournay by Henry VIII. The battle of Flodden Field is celebrated in the old ballads, and finaly described by Sir Walter Scott in his poem of Marmion.
Scotland was plunged into deep mourning by the loss of her king and the flower of her nobility; but the triumphant Henry VIII generously granted the request of his sister Margaret, the widow of James IV, who acted as regent for her infant son, James V; and peace was made between England and Scotland.
As Henry VIII was deserted by his ally and father-in law, Ferdinand of Spain, he made peace with Louis XII of France in 1514. The treaty was scaled by the aged French king's marriage with the Princess Mary, the eldest sister of Henry VIII. Louis XII died a few months later, January 1, 1515; and his young widowed queen married her old lover, Charles Francis Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, a great favorite of her royal brother and the most accomplished English nobleman of his time.
Observing the great influence which Wolsey exerted over King Henry VIII, Pope Leo X desired to engage him in his interest, and with this object in view made him a cardinal in 1518, also appointing him to the dignity of papal legate in England, thus giving him a power in that kingdom equal to that of the Pope himself. Besides being Archbishop of York, Wolsey was allowed to hold the bishoprics of Tournay, Lincoln and Winchester “in plurality”.
No other churchman ever equalled Cardinal Wolsey in state and dignity. His retinue consisted of eight hundred servants, many of whom were knights and gentlemen; and young nobles served as his pages. He was the first clergyman in England that wore silk and gold, not only on his dress, but also on the saddles and the trappings of his horses. The tallest and handsomest priests were selected to carry the badges of his various offices before him. All this ostentation excited the merriment of the English people, instead of awing them.
For twenty years Cardinal Wolsey stood at the head of Church and State, and no abler Chancellor ever administered justice in England. He was the most powerful, if not the ablest, subject that England ever had. His decisions were so prompt and so just that the Court of Chancery became the certain refuge of the oppressed—quite the contrary from its later character.
Wolsey’s genius was unequaled for breadth or versatility. He could play the courtier and divert the idle king’s pleasure-loving hours with constant sallies of wit and mirth, or he could act the statesman and guide the most intricate affairs of state with consummate skill. He would sometimes leave the scenes of pomp and splendor, and devote himself with simplicity and meekness to the ordinary duties of the parish priest; visiting the sick and the dying, giving alms to the poor and needy, and ministering in numberless ways to the temporal and spiritual wants of his grateful people. Wolsey’s inordinate ambition led him to aspire to the Papacy; and he sacrificed his country’s interests and made his king his perpetual dupe, in order to procure the favor of foreign princes by whose patronage he hoped to obtain that dignity.
Although Cardinal Wolsey was really the mainspring of all that was done in England, he contrived to make every act of government appear to proceed directly from his sovereign, whom he flattered by affecting the most humble submission to the royal will. Like Henry VIII. himself, Wolsey was a friend of the New Learning a most munificent patron of learned men. He founded the first professorship of Greek in England. He established a school at Ipswich and Christ Church College at Oxford. The latter institution still attests his taste and liberality in building. His household almost equaled the king’s in number and magnificence, and knights and barons served at his table. His two mansions—the one at Hampton Court and the other at Whitehall—were so splendid that they became royal palaces after his fall from power.
As we have seen, Henry VIII, Francis I of France and Charles I of Spain were candidates for the imperial throne of Germany after the death of the Emperor Maximilian I in 1519; and Charles was successful, being chosen by the German Electors, thus becoming the Emperor Charles V and the greatest and most powerful monarch of his time.
As we have already noticed, both Francis I of France and the Emperor Charles V desired to secure the alliance of Henry VIII. A royal interview was arranged between the Kings of England and France to take place near Calais; but before the appointed time the Emperor visited Henry VIII in England, and won the favor of the English king by flattering Cardinal Wolsey with, hopes of being elected Pope at the next vacancy, and by his frank and genial courtesies. On the day of the Emperor’s departure Henry VIII and all his courtiers sailed for Calais to meet the French king.
The meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I took place in a plain near Calais, in June, 1520, and was called the Field of the Cloth of Gold, from the magnificence of the display, many of the tents being of silk and cloth of gold. The two thousand eight hundred tents were inadequate to accommodate the vast multitudes that flocked to this splendid festival, and many ladies and gentlemen of rank were glad to obtain lodging in barns and to sleep upon hay and straw.
The meeting lasted a fortnight; and the two kings displayed their knightly skill in tilts and tournaments, while their Ministers talked business, after which they parted with profuse assurances of friendship, and Henry VIII proceeded to visit the Emperor Charles V at Gravelines, where he was won over more completely to the imperial side. Wolsey received the revenues of two Spanish bishoprics, in earnest of his greater expectations; but, in spite of the Emperor’s promises, his tutor Adrian was made Pope upon the death of Leo X; and upon the death of Adrian VI, after a short reign, Clement VII, an Italian prince, was invested with the papal tiara by the favor of His Imperial Majesty.
Though Henry VIII was the ally of Charles V in the Emperor’s first war with the King of France, the captivity of Francis I in 1525 opened the English king’s eyes to the Emperor’s ambition, and Henry VIII made an alliance with France in order to secure the release of Francis I and to prevent the seizure of any part of the French territory by Charles V.
Cardinal Wolsey was making himself obnoxious to the English people by his diplomacy. He was generally considered the author of the arbitrary measures by which the king sought to extort money from his subjects in 1525, which almost produced rebellion. Wolsey became more bitterly hated by the English people, although he only carried out the king’s instructions; but Henry VIII became popular because of the relinquishment of his design—a measure which he was unable to avoid.
Wolsey’s disappointments in the last two papal elections aroused his indignation, and the ambitious cardinal now became convinced of the insincerity of the Emperor’s promises; and thenceforth England’s foreign policy underwent a change. Wolsey’s disappointment caused the ambitious Minister to promote his country’s true interests by seeking to check the power of Spain. Wolsey was all powerful at home. His nomination as papal legate was confirmed by both Popes Adrian VI and Clement VII; and he held in his hands the whole papal power in England, using that power to suit his own purposes.
In 1521 Henry VIII wrote a Latin volume against Luther and the Reformation; and Pope Leo X conferred upon the royal author the title of Defender of the Faith, and wrote him a letter praising his wisdom, learning, zeal, charity, gravity, gentleness and meekness —most of which qualities the king did not possess. But a change was soon to take place in the relations between Henry VIII and the Head of the Church— a change fraught with the most momentous consequences for England, as we shall presently see.
About this time Henry VIII became captivated by the charms of Anne Boleyn, a beautiful young lady then living at his court. She had been educated at the French court, and had returned to England with her English beauty adorned by French grace and vivacity. Seeking for a pretext upon which he could obtain a divorce from his first wife, Catharine of Aragon, that he might marry Anne Boleyn, he affected great doubts about the legality of his marriage with Catharine because she had previously been married to his brother Arthur. Such marriages are forbidden by the Levitical law and by a canon of the Romish Church, but a special dispensation had been obtained from Pope Alexander VI sanctioning Henry’s marriage with his brother’s widow.
Henry VIII seems to have been sincere in his doubts about the legality of his marriage with Catharine of Aragon. He coupled these conscientious scruples with his “despair of having male issue by Catharine, to inherit the realm”. All the sons born of this marriage had died in their infancy; and only a sickly daughter, the Princess Mary, survived. The king in his superstition considered the premature death of his sons a sure mark of Divine wrath. Wolsey craftily aggravated these fears, if he did not inspire them; as the ambitious cardinal hated the Spanish party, of which Catharine of Aragon was the head, and coveted the glory of arranging a new marriage for his king with a French princess. But Henry VIII made his own choice, without his Minister’s aid, or even without the Pope’s permission, by deciding to marry Anne Boleyn after obtaining a divorce from Catharine of Aragon.
Another papal dispensation was required for the king’s divorce from his first wife before he could form a new marriage, and Cardinal Wolsey was commissioned to secure this divorce. Pope Clement VII was in a serious dilemma. If he sanctioned the English king’s divorce from his Spanish wife he would offend the Emperor Charles V, who was her nephew; and the Netherlands would be almost certain to become Protestant, along with Germany. If he forbade the divorce both England and France might renounce the Romish Church, as these countries were full of secret or open adherents of the Reformation Under these circumstances the Pope temporized.
Cardinal Wolsey was as much perplexed as to the proper course to pursue as was the Pope. If he granted the king’s divorce on his own responsibility he would offend the Pope. If he refused he would incur the king’s wrath, and thus Wolsey likewise temporized. For two weary years the impatient Henry VIII was kept in suspense, and his impatience was aggravated by his violent passion for Anne Boleyn.
At length, in 1528, Pope Clement VII sent Cardinal Campeggio, an Italian prelate, to England to decide in concert with Cardinal Wolsey the validity of the king’s first marriage. Campeggio endeavored to settle the matter by private negotiation, first seeking to persuade the king to abandon his thoughts of a divorce, and then trying to induce Catharine to consent to the divorce and retire to a nunnery, but failing in both endeavors. After another year of delays, Cardinals Wolsey and Campeggio proceeded to a trial of the cause in 1529; but they appeared unwilling to come to a decision. The king’s patience was almost exhausted, and the courtiers now perceived that the king’s favor for Wolsey was waning.
The court organized by Cardinals Wolsey and Campeggio in 1529 to try the case of the king’s first marriage had sat for two months without arriving at any result. Catharine of Aragon had all along appealed to her nephew, the Emperor Charles V, for protection. She now appeared before this court with her royal husband, and threw herself on her knees before him, addressing him an affecting and affectionate appeal not to brand her with the crime of incest and their daughter Mary as an illegitimate child, and imploring him to remember the fidelity with which she had observed her marriage vows for twenty years. She then made a solemn appeal to Pope Clement VII, after which she left the court and refused to enter it again.
On July 23, 1529, Cardinal Campeggio suddenly adjourned the court until October following; and a few days afterward orders came from Pope Clement VII, transferring the case to Rome, and citing Henry VIII and his queen to appear there and plead their respective causes at the papal bar. The King of England was now convinced that the Pope had all along been trifling with him and that he was willing to sacrifice him to please the Emperor Charles V.
This disposition of the case sealed the fate of Cardinal Wolsey, and made a rupture between Henry VIII and the Pope inevitable. The king turned furiously upon Wolsey, who was in no way responsible for the Pope’s action. It was the king’s habit to make his Ministers responsible for the fate of the measures entrusted to them, but Henry VIII proceeded cautiously. Wolsey’s influence with his king was a thing of the past. Anne Boleyn, who suspected that the great cardinal opposed her marriage with the king, joined his enemies, of which his pride and arrogance had created many.
Wolsey's enemies proceeded with such secrecy that his first knowledge of their action was an indictment brought against him with the king’s consent, but the great cardinal had long dreaded such an event as the result of a failure of the divorce proceedings. The Great Seal was taken from him and intrusted to Sir Thomas More. Wolsey, deprived of all his temporal honors and offices, was banished from court and ordered to retire to his archbishopric of York. The king also seized the fallen Minister’s palace of York Place, afterward called Whitehall, along with his gorgeous plate and furniture, his clothes, and a tomb which he had prepared for himself at Windsor. The unfortunate Minister was impeached on forty-four charges, and sentenced to imprisonment along with forfeiture of lands and goods.
But the king’s resentment soon subsided; and Wolsey received a royal pardon, and a portion of his revenues were restored to him; but he was required to reside at York, the archbishopric of which was the only dignity that he was allowed to retain. Adversity did not cure the disgraced Minister of his love of magnificence, thus drawing on him again the king’s displeasure. In 1530 his enemies caused him to be arrested on a charge of high treason, in setting up a foreign court in the kingdom; and he was arrested at York by the Earl of Northumberland.
In charge of Master Kingston, the Constable of the Tower, Wolsey started on his last journey to London; but on the way he was seized with a violent fever, brought on by anxiety and grief at his fall. Upon arriving at Leicester Abbey, on the third day of the journey, Saturday night, November 26, 1530, Wolsey was conscious that his end was approaching, and he said to the abbot, who came to the gate to give him a kindly welcome; “My father, I am come hither to leave my bones among you”. He was lifted from his mule, and was carried to his bed, which he never left alive. He died three days later, November 29, 1630; after addressing the Constable of the Tower in these ever memorable and affecting words: “Had I but served God as diligently as I have served the king, He would not have given me over in my gray hairs.”
Such was the sad end of the once great and all-powerful Cardinal Wolsey—a striking illustration of the vanity of earthly glory. Henry VIII, whose ingratitude was the basest of his many faults, could crush long-tried and faithful servants with as little feeling as if he were treading upon the meanest reptile. The genius of Shakespeare has crystallized Wolsey’s last words as though he were addressing the only friend who did not desert him, Sir Thomas Cromwell, in these words;
“O Cromwell, Cromwell,
Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, He would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies”.
In the meantime King Henry VIII was collecting the opinions of learned men on the subject of his divorce; but the clergy made one delay after another, and two more years passed without resulting in any progress. Just before Wolsey's disgrace and fall, two of the king’s servants, Gardiner and Fox, accidentally fell in company with Thomas Cranmer, a fellow of Jesus College at Cambridge, with whom they conversed on the subject of the king’s divorce. Cranmer at first refrained from expressing any opinion; but, when pressed, said that he would waste no time in negotiating with the Pope, but would propose to the most learned men in Enrope this plain question; ‘‘Can a man marry his brother’s widow?” This hint so impressed the two doctors that they reported it to the king, who said bluntly, with an oath: “Cranmer has got the right sow by the ear.” Henry VIII at once took Cranmer into his service and engaged him to write a book in favor of the divorce.
Cranmer’s proposition to submit the question of the king’s divorce to all the universities of Europe suggested to Henry VIII a way toward the solution of the vexed question. If the universities answered that a man might marry his brother’s widow, the king’s conscience would be relieved; if their advice was for divorce, the Pope would be unable to resist their decision. The Pope threatened to excommunicate Henry VIII in case he divorced Catharine of Aragon and married Anne Boleyn; but the great universities of Europe mainly decided in the English king’s favor. In the meantime the course of events in England, along with the bold advice of Sir Thomas Cromwell, his new Secretary of State, led Henry VIII to more decisive action.
In 1533 Cranmer was made Archbishop of Canterbury, and he at once proceeded to try the question of divorce. A court was convened; and, after a fortnight passed in hearing arguments, sentence of divorce was pronounced, declaring that the marriage was not valid from the beginning, and that Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII and Catharine of Aragon, was illegitimate, and therefore not an heir to the English crown. The poor queen retired to Ampthill, and Henry VIII was publicly married to Anne Boleyn. The Princess Elizabeth was born in 1533—an event celebrated with splendor and rejoicing.
The intelligence of the court’s sentence created commotion at Rome. Pope Clement VII was at first doubtful as to what action he should take; but he at length issued an angry edict, declaring the king’s marriage with Catharine of Aragon to be valid. The divorced queen, who had resisted to the utmost the disgrace and injustice heaped upon her, died in 1536, honored for her virtues and her piety.
The Pope soon perceived the great political error which he had committed. Sir Thomas Cromwell, the new Secretary of State, who had served Cardinal Wolsey with such fidelity, was a staunch friend of the Reformation; and Henry VIII chose him because of his abilities and his bold, decisive character, as the king needed such an ally in the contest which his divorce and second marriage involved him with the Pope. Perceiving clearly that nothing was to be hoped for from the Pope, Cromwell advised King Henry VIII to declare himself Head of the Church in England; and the king promptly acted on this advice.
The English bishops and higher clergy prepared to resist the king’s action; but Henry VIII determined to punish them for violation of the Statute of Praemunire, passed in the time of Edward III and Wickliffe, which forbade any English subject to yield supreme obedience to a foreign potentate, and this applied to the Pope. Most of the clergy had been guilty of the violation of that statute by their submission to the papal legate’s court in England—the crime for which Wolsey had been condemned.
The English clergy only obtained pardon by paying a fine of one hundred and eighteen thousand eight hundred and forty pounds sterling, and by acknowledging that the king was the “Protestor and Supreme Head of the Church and clergy of England”—an acknowledgment which they qualified by the clause “in so far as is permitted by the laws of Christ”. By this measure Henry VIII struck a decisive blow at the connection between the English Church and the Pope, and laid the foundation of the complete independence of that Church.
The English king next proceeded to annul the Pope’s claim to tribute and obedience from England, and to put a stop to the payment of the large sums of money which the Pope annually drew from England; and Parliament passed a statute forbidding any appeals from English subjects to the Pope or to any person outside the realm. Monasteries and nunneries in England were subjected to inspection and control by the king’s officers. Bishops were to be appointed by the clergy attached to their cathedrals, upon receiving letters of permission from the king.
These measures led to the resignation of the Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, one of the best of Englishmen and a devoted Roman Catholic. The king received his resignation with regret, as he sincerely esteemed him: but proceeded in his efforts. Finally, in 1534, the English Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, by which the King of England was declared the Supreme Head of the Church of England, thus making the English Church thoroughly independent of the Pope. The Act of Supremacy made it high treason for any English subject to deny that the King of England was “the Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England”.
Though the English Reformation was immediately brought about by personal and selfish motives, this decisive movement had a far deeper origin, and had been precipitated by the discussions concerning the king’s marriage. The Pope's irresolution shook the faith of many who gladly would have considered him infallible; and the question was propounded : “If Pope Clement not decide when England’s welfare is at stake, where is his justice? If he cannot, where is his infallibility?” In spite of the Statute of Heretics, now rigorously executed, the hearts of the common people of England were more and more alienated from the Catholic Church.
A number of English Roman Catholics refused to acknowledge the king's ecclesiastical supremacy, and among these were Sir Thomas More and Fisher, Bishop of Rochester. They thus made themselves guilty of high treason. Neither would they recognize the exclusion of the Princess Mary as her father's successor. Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher were sent as prisoners to the Tower. A little later the prophecies of a Kentish nun produced a Catholic insurrection in England, but this outbreak was soon quelled, and the nun’s imposture was exposed. The monks of the Charter House, in London—a brotherhood famous in that corrupt age for the purity and beneficence of their lives—were many of them executed on the scaffold, while others died of fever and starvation in loathsome prisons.
Determined to strike a final and decisive blow at the papal party in England, Henry VIII caused Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher to be tried, condemned and beheaded for high treason, in 1535. The good bishop mounted the scaffold with a copy of the New Testament in his hand, and as he knelt to lay his head upon the block he read the words: “This is life eternal to know Thee, the only true God.’’
England lost one of the most admirable men of his time in the execution of Sir Thomas More, who was distinguished for his brilliant genius, his wonderful learning, his ardent piety and the sweetness of his domestic life. He had been a life-long reformer; but he had labored to reform the Church by remaining in it, and not to accomplish such reformation by separating from the old organization. He sincerely believed the Pope to be the Head of the Christian Church by Divine appointment, and for that reason he had resigned the office of Chancellor when Henry VIII assumed the Supremacy of the English Church. It is said that the Emperor Charles V remarked, upon hearing of More’s execution: “I would rather have lost the best city in my dominions than so worthy a counselor.”
Sir Thomas More was the author of a romance, entitled Utopia, meaning Nowhere, in which he satirizes the faults and oppressions of his own age and country, and depicts a perfect society and ideal commonwealth, which an imaginary companion of Amerigo Vespucci, deserted on the American continent, found somewhere in the wilds. This ideal place had wine and cleanly streets, comfortable houses, a system of public schools in which every child received a good education, perfect religious toleration and universal suffrage, though with a family and not an individual ballot; and the sole object of the government was the welfare of the entire people, and not the pleasure of the king.
Bishop Fisher had been made a cardinal by the Pope during his imprisonment; and Pope Paul III, upon hearing of his execution, excommunicated King Henry VIII, declared him deposed from his throne, and laid England under an interdict. The king retaliated by causing those of his subjects who had been chiefly instrumental in procuring the excommunication and interdict to be arrested, tried and beheaded for high treason. Thus speech against the Pope was no longer heresy in England.
King Henry VIII was now the only Pope legally recognized in England; and all ecclesiastical, as well as civil, power was vested in him. He dictated the sermons of the pulpit, as well as the enactments of Parliament. He controlled the ecclesiastical, as well as the civil, courts. He declared what was truth and what was heresy. He appointed and removed bishops and archbishops at his pleasure. The vast revenues that had flowed so steadily from England to the Vatican for centuries were now poured into his coffers. No priest could preach in England without a royal license, and no license was issued without the Oath of Supremacy. Every English priest was compelled to declare to his assembled parish their absolution from allegiance to the Pope, and their duty of obedience to their king as Head of the Church of England.
Thus the silent and bewildered English people, constrained by respect for law on the one hand and by reverence for religion on the other, were carried peacefully through the first and most critical crisis of a momentous religious revolution. In other countries the Reformation advanced only through a sea of blood. The peace and order that characterized the Reformation in England were vastly due to the overshadowing character of the throne and the iron will of the despot who occupied it.
The English Parliament removed the last vestige of a limitation to the royal authority by enacting that royal proclamations should have the force of statutes. It is said that if, during the sessions of Parliament, the king’s name were only mentioned in his absence, the members would rise and bow before the vacant throne. Upon one occasion, when the House of Commons did not pass a law granting a supply as speedily as Henry VIII desired, the king sent for Edward Montague, one of the most influential members of that branch of Parliament, who, when introduced to His Majesty, was greeted with these words: “Ho! man! will they not pass my bill?”. Then laying one of his hands on Montague's head, as the subservient member of the Commons was on his knees before him, the tyrannical king exclaimed : “Get my bill passed by tomorrow, or else tomorrow this head of yours shall be off!’’ The bill was passed within the appointed time.
Thus far King Henry VIII had been obliged by his own necessities in his struggle with the Pope to move forward with the English Reformers. He was vastly indebted to the Reformation for the success of his divorce proceedings, but the Reformation owed him very little. Though Archbishop Cranmer and Sir Thomas Cromwell had not yet openly renounced the Catholic doctrines, they sought steadily to lead the king into measures favorable to the Reformers; while the Duke of Norfolk and the other leaders of the Catholic party in England endeavored to encourage the king’s devotion to the Romish faith and to prevent a renunciation of the Catholic doctrines by the English Church, but they were struggling against the logic of events.
The Bible had been made accessible to the English people, and was doing its work among them rapidly and decisively. William Tyndale had translated the Scriptures into English in 1526, and this translation was published in the Netherlands. Its circulation was forbidden in England under severe penalties; but there was a great demand for it, and it was read, in spite of the stringent laws against it. It was every day becoming more apparent that the English people were weakening in their belief in the cardinal doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church—the doctrine of transubstantiation; while the doctrine of justification by faith was becoming stronger.
The fires of persecution were again lighted in England, and Protestants died the death of martyrs at the stake. Henry VIII relentlessly punished both Catholics and Lutherans, the former for upholding the Pope’s supremacy against the king's in England, and the latter for denying the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. He still retained his early detestation of Luther and his doctrines.
But the English Reformers were proceeding forward beyond the point which Luther had reached, and were establishing the doctrines of their Church far in advance of his. Archbishop Cranmer, sensible of the influence of the Scriptures upon their readers, caused both houses of the convocation to pass a resolution in 1536 requesting the king to appoint learned men to translate the Scriptures for circulation among the English people. The Primate was warmly supported in this enterprise by Queen Anne and by Sir Thomas Cromwell : and the result was that the king sanctioned William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible, as revised by Miles Coverdale in 1535, and supposed to have been printed at Zurich, in Switzerland. This result, which was accomplished by Cranmer in 1536, was an immense gain for the English Reformers.
Archbishop Cranmer very much desired that the public service of the Church should be in English instead of Latin, but he was very well aware that Henry VIII would violently oppose such an innovation. He therefore considered it the best policy to lead to the desired change by degrees; and he gradually obtained the king’s permission to have the Decalogue, the Lord’s Prayer and the new Church creed read in English in the churches, and to be taught in every school and family. A copy of the English Bible, as translated by William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale, was ordered to be chained to the pillar or desk of every church in England, and to be open to the reading of all. In 1539 Archbishop Cranmer made a new English translation of the Bible.
When these Bibles appeared they were thankfully received by the English people, who flocked to the churches, where they could hear the holy book read; and a great number learned to read for the sole purpose of perusing the sacred volume. The great increase in the number of books, through the invention of the art of printing, had produced a taste for reading among the English.
The king drew up the articles of religion, which showed that he had taken a middle ground between Protestants and Papists. These articles of religion made the Bible the sole standard of faith in England; reduced the sacraments from seven to three— penance, baptism and the Eucharist; retained transubstantiation and confession, but added justification by faith; and rejected pilgrimages, purgatory, indulgences, the worship of images and relics, and masses for the dead.
Archbishop Cranmer, the only one of the servants of Henry VIII who retained the king’s favor from first to last, by his integrity of character, and not by obsequiousness or sycophancy, had no selfish views of his own; but his soul was occupied with one grand object—the reformation of religion. Wolsey’s great abilities were solely employed in elevating himself to the highest earthly dignity. Sir Thomas Cromwell, though a zealous Reformer, was intent on enriching himself from the pillage of the religious houses in England. But Cranmer’s character was so destitute of ambition and covetousness that he at first declined the Primacy, and finally accepted it only because he hoped that it would give him better means of advancing the cause which he had at heart. Cranmer’s timidity betrayed him into some weaknesses, but his virtue awed the tyrannical king, who usually contrived to send him to a distance when he was about to perpetrate any flagrant act. The king’s regard for the good archbishop was always sincere.
In the meantime the English Reformers suffered a severe loss in the execution of the queen, Anne Boleyn, who was inclined to their doctrines and exerted her influence with her royal husband in their behalf. Her enjoyment of a crown was of short duration. Her French manners and vivacity, which had so charmed Henry VIII before her marriage, became displeasing to him after she became his wife; so that his passion for her cooled, and he became indifferent to her. Her enemies—the entire Catholic party in England—exerted themselves to widen the breach between her and her royal husband; and in this they were finally successful.
Henry VIII was induced to believe that his consort was unfaithful to him, and he caused her to be arrested and imprisoned in the Tower, May 2, 1536. She now paid dearly for her brief exaltation. Accused of a crime of which she was innocent, she was not permitted to see her friends, and was surrounded by her most inveterate enemies. After a mock trial by a jury of peers, in which she was allowed no counsel, she was pronounced guilty and sentenced to death. Her marriage was also declared void; and her daughter Elizabeth, afterward queen, was declared incapable of inheriting tile English crown.
On the morning of her execution she sent for Kingston, the Constable of the Tower; and when he entered her prison, she said: “Mr. Kingston, I hear I am not to die till noon, and I am sorry for it; for I thought to be dead before this time, and free from a life of pain”. The Constable of the Tower sought to comfort her by assuring her that her pain would be very little; whereupon she replied: “I have heard the executioner is very expert; and (clasping her neck with her hands, laughing) I have but a little neck.”
When brought to the scaffold, she would not inflame the minds of the spectators present against her persecutors, because of a consideration of her daughter Elizabeth’s welfare; but contented herself with saying: “I am come to die as I am sentenced by the law.” She refused to accuse any one or to say anything of the charge upon which she had been condemned. She prayed heartily for the king, and called him “a most merciful and gentle prince”, and said that he had always been to her “a good and gracious sovereign,” and that if anyone should think proper to canvass her cause she desired him to judge the best. She was beheaded on the Tower green by the executioner of Calais, who was brought over to London because he was more expert than any headsman in England.
Says Hume, concerning the fate of the unfortunate Anne Boleyn : “The innocence of this unfortunate queen cannot reasonably be called in question. Henry himself, in the violence of his rage, knew not whom to accuse as her lover; and though he imputed guilt to her brother and four persons more, he was able to bring proof against none of them.”
The real fact was that Henry VIII was tired of Anne Boleyn, and was anxious to get rid of her, as she stood in the way of his gratification of a new passion. On the very day after her execution he married Jane Seymour, the daughter of Sir Thomas Seymour, a Wiltshire knight. This third wife of Henry VIII died the next year, 1537, a few days after having given birth to a son named Edward.
The execution of Anne Boleyn led to a reconciliation between Henry VIII and the Princess Mary, his daughter with his first wife, Catharine of Aragon. He required her to acknowledge his supremacy as Head of the English Church and to admit the illegality of her mother’s marriage. She was twenty years of age and a proud-spirited woman; but, as she knew her father’s disposition too well to resist his demands, and as she was aware that her own safety depended upon her acquiescence, she wrote him a letter admitting his claims, and was therefore received into his favor.
Acting upon Archbishop Cranmer's advice, King Henry VIII took another decisive step—the suppression of the religious houses in England. A commission was appointed to visit the religious houses. This commission reported most of them as corrupt and immoral, besides being centers of baneful idleness and of unremitting opposition and unrelenting hostility to the crown. But the king proceeded with caution. A statute of Parliament suppressed the lesser monasteries and nunneries in 1536, and the greater religious houses were closed in 1538. As the “Black Book,” which reported the conduct of the monks and nuns, was read in Parliament, cries resounded from all sides : “Down with them! down with them!”. Thus the monasteries and nunneries were completely broken up in England, and the monks and nuns were turned out into the world, ten thousand nuns alone being made homeless by the cruel statute.
The suppression of the monasteries and nunneries in England produced much discontent and some disorder. The bounty of these religious houses had fed multitudes of paupers, who were no more able to earn an honest living than were the monks and nuns themselves. In the northern counties of England, where the people adhered to the Catholic religion, a hundred thousand persons took up arms and undertook what they called a “Pilgrimage of Grace”. They took possession of all the towns and castles north of the Humber. A “Parliament of the North” assembled at Pontefract, demanded the reestablishment of the papal supremacy over England, the restoration of the Princess Mary to her rights as heiress to the English crown, and the overthrow of Sir Thomas Cromwell. The insurgents set out from Yorkshire for London, to force the king to comply with their conditions. The king was obliged to take the field against the malcontents, and the rebellion was suppressed with terrible cruelty. Four great abbots were hanged, and the last of the old feudal chiefs were beheaded.
All the rentals, gold, silver, and other property of the religious houses were confiscated. The abbots were pensioned, and a part of their revenues was expended in founding schools, colleges, and six new bishoprics; but a considerable portion enriched the king’s courtiers and favorites. The king’s greed for the wealth of the Church may have been the principal motive for this cruel proceeding.
Henry VIII next caused the tombs and shrines of the saints to be robbed of their costly works of art and enormous treasures; and these shrines, so long the objects of adoration and rich with the gifts of numberless pilgrims, were ruthlessly destroyed after being plundered of their wealth. The most famous of these shrines was that of Thomas à Becket, or St. Thomas of Canterbury, from which two immense chests of gold and jewels were carried away to the royal coffers. Not satisfied with robbing Becket’s shrine, Henry VIII proceeded to uncanonize that revered saint and martyr, declaring that he was no saint and that he had died as a rebel and a traitor.
These acts of King Henry VIII caused Pope Paul III to excommunicate him, to pronounce his dethronement, to lay England under an interdict, and to absolve the English people from their allegiance to their king. The Pope called upon the English nobles and people to take up arms against their sovereign, declared him infamous, and commanded all the monarchs of Christendom to make war upon him and to seize such of his subjects as they were able to get into their power nd hold them as slaves.
The Pope’s efforts produced no effect in England; as the Reformers were too strong and the king’s power was too great, and the exposures of the fraud and corruption of the Romish Church, in connection with the suppression of the monasteries and nunneries, had disgusted the English people so thoroughly that the Catholic party could not hope for a successful rebellion; while England was too formidable for any foreign power to desire to make war upon her by an invasion of her own soil, and the Pope’s spiritual weapons had lost their force in the eyes of Christendom.
Cardinal Pole, a grandson of George, Duke of Clarence, and a kinsman of King Henry VIII, was residing abroad at that time, and exerted himself to his utmost to instigate the monarchs of Continental Europe to make war upon England, but failed in these efforts. His elder brother, Lord Montague, and his aged mother, the Countess of Salisbury, the last of the direct line of the Plantagenets, and their kinsman, the Marquis of Exeter, along with some others, were detected in a treasonable correspondence with him, and were arrested, tried, convicted and beheaded.
Although Henry VIII had gone to such extremes in renouncing the Pope’s authority in England, he was still sincerely attached to the Catholic faith. In 1539 he united with the Catholic party and drew up the Six Articles, by which he struck a direct blow at the English Reformers. Henry VIII exerted all his despotic power to compel his subjects to accept these articles.
The statute embracing these articles was called by Fox “the whip with six strings”. It was largely the result of a Catholic reaction in consequence of the excesses of the radical Reformers, and it reaffirmed the cardinal doctrines of the Romish Church. The bloody statute imposed the penalty of death by fire upon all who violated it. The English prisons were vapidly filled with offenders. Catholics perished at the stake for not accepting the Protestant Head of the English Church, and Protestants likewise suffered martyrdom for rejecting the Catholic faith. But the execution of this terrible statute was relaxed after a few months, and the king permitted every householder to have an English Bible in his family.
The ten years of Sir Thomas Cromwell’s administration (1530-1540) have been known as the First English Reign of Terror. Opinion itself was made treason, and a man’s refusal to reveal his inmost thoughts was considered evidence of crime. Sir Thomas Cromwell, Wolsey’s faithful friend to the last and the son of a blacksmith, had risen by the force of his natural talents from the humble rank of a private soldier to the dignity of Secretary of State.
King Henry VIII, who had now been a widower for three years after having been thrice married, desired a fourth wife; but there were some who thought that the dignity of queen might be paid for too dearly. One lady whom he asked sent him a refusal, saying that she had but one head, and that if she had two she might venture to marry him. Sir Thomas Cromwell desired that the king should marry a Protestant princess of Germany, and showed him a portrait of Anne of Cleves. Henry VIII was so much pleased with the picture that he sent to demand the princess in marriage.
When Anne of Cleves arrived in England, Henry VIII found that she was so unlike the picture that he was with difficulty persuaded to marry her. The marriage occurred in 1540. When the king discovered that his new wife was ignorant and stupid, and that she could speak only the German language, he became so disgusted with her that he sought a pretext for divorce.
The king never forgave Sir Thomas Cromwell for his blunder in procuring so unacceptable a bride for him; and the Duke of Norfolk and the other Catholic leaders determined to take advantage of the king’s resentment to procure Cromwell’s destruction. That famous Minister was cordially hated by the old nobles as a low-born upstart, and by the whole Catholic party for his conspicuous share in the destruction of the monasteries, which had acquired for him the title of the “Hammer of the Monks”. Cromwell was arrested and tried for heresy and treason; and, though neither charge could be proven, he was condemned and beheaded without a hearing, July 28, 1540—in the language of the Council, being “judged by the bloody laws he has himself made”. His only crime was the extreme zeal with which he supported the king’s tyranny.
Six months after his marriage with Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII obtained his divorce from her; Parliament most obsequiously annulling the marriage, and Anne meekly consenting to the separation and accepting a liberal pension and a fine palace in England, in place of the queenly dignity. She remained in England for the rest of her life, and outlived Henry VIII by ten years.
In the meantime Henry VIII had become enamored of Catharine Howard, a niece of the Duke of Norfolk, the leader of the Catholic party in England; and she became the king’s fifth wife in less than two weeks after his divorce from Anne of Cleves. The king was so much pleased with the wit and agreeableness of his new queen that he caused a thanksgiving prayer to be offered for his happy marriage; but in about a year and a half he discovered that she had not only been unchaste before marriage, but that her conduct still continued shamefully bad. The king was obliged to sign her death-warrant, and she was beheaded on Tower Hill, February 12, 1542, along with several of her paramours, one of whom had been the chief accuser of Anne Boleyn.
The execution of Sir Thomas Cromwell and the king’s marriage with Catharine Howard restored the Catholic party to power in England; but the Papist leaders did not dare to proceed in the course which they had marked out as Romanists, as they would have lost their influence with the king by such an avowal. They therefore maintained their influence over him as believers in transubstantiation. The Six Articles were enforced with the utmost rigor, and in 1543 the general permission to read the Bible was revoked. Only the higher classes, or merchants, who were householders, were permitted to read it; the common people being denied that privilege.
In 1536 Wales was incorporated with England, and received English laws and privileges; and in 1542 Ireland was created a kingdom, after the English authority had been strengthened in that country. Henry VIII paid great attention to his navy and brought it to a high state of efficiency. During his reign serfdom was abolished in England.
In the meantime Henry VIII had been seeking to draw Scotland into closer relations with England; but king James V of Scotland, who was a Roman Catholic, had no desire for an alliance with his uncle, the English king, whom he considered the great enemy of the Romish Church. Vexed at his failure, Henry VIII declared war against Scotland in 1542. Hoping to anticipate him, James V sent ten thousand troops across the border into England, but this Scottish army was routed by only five hundred English at Solway Moss. James V died of grief and shame at this humiliation, December 14, 1542, leaving the Scottish crown to his infant daughter, Mary Stuart.
Henry VIII, earnestly desiring a union of the two kingdoms, negotiated a marriage between his son Edward and the infant Scottish princess; but the queen-mother of Scotland and the regent of that kingdom, the Earl of Arran, who were Roman Catholics, resolved to disregard this treaty. The King of England attempted to enforce the treaty; and sent an army into Scotland for that purpose, under the command of the Earl of Hertford, the brother of Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII. The English army ravaged Scotland, and sacked and burned Edinburgh.
As the Catholic party in Scotland thwarted the proposed marriage by forming a closer alliance with France, Henry VIII, enraged at his failure, entered into an alliance with the Emperor Charles V in a war against Francis I of France. I11 1544 Henry VIII invaded France and took Boulogne after a short siege; but peace was made with France and Scotland in 1546, by which Boulogne was to be restored to France eight years later upon the payment of a ransom to the English.
In 1543 Henry VIII married his sixth and last wife, Catharine Parr, the widow of Lord Latimer, a woman of sense and discretion, who outlived him. She was a Protestant at heart and favorably disposed toward the Reformers. Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, one of the Catholic leaders, and his party, eagerly sought to bring about her destruction. They succeeded with the king in causing Anne Askew, one of the new queen’s maids of honor, to die a martyr's death by burning, for denying the doctrine of transubstantiation; but they failed in their efforts to wring from the condemned woman some confession damaging to the queen.
Anne Askew and those who suffered martyrdom with her perished with heroic fortitude. A thunder-storm which appeared at the time excited the superstitious feelings of both the friends and enemies of the condemned; the Protestants regarding it as a manifestation of the Divine wrath in consequence of the cruel fate of the martyrs; while the Catholics considered it a manifestation of the Divine vengeance for the heretical doctrines of the condemned, and shouted: “They are damned! they are damned!”
The Papist leaders, Gardiner and the Duke of Norfolk, enraged by their failure to wring a confession from Anne Askew damaging to the new queen, sought to encompass the destruction of Archbishop Cranmer. They endeavored to persuade the king that the Primate and his learned men were destroying the kingdom with heresy, and asked for his commitment to the Tower; but Henry VIII, whose thorough attachment to, and sincere regard for, Cranmer remained unshaken, allowed the Papist leaders to proceed far enough to show the good archbishop who were his enemies and who his friends, and then sternly forbade them to raise a hand against the Primate, whom he declared to be faithful and true. Thenceforth the queen and the Primate were safe from the attacks of the Papist party.
Henry VIII continued zealous against both Papists and Protestants, and many of both parties perished at the same stake. All who denied the king’s ecclesiastical supremacy in his kingdom were deemed heretics in religion and traitors to their king and country. As the king required his subjects to make his opinion their standard of faith, and as he was constantly changing his opinion and causing contradictory laws to be enacted, his subjects found it difficult to steer a safe course amid the perils with which his tyrannical caprice surrounded them.
Henry VIII was vain of his theological knowledge, and even engaged in public discussions with those who were accused of heresy. Theology was his favorite subject of conversation, but woe to such as had the audacity to differ with him. Upon one occasion his last wife, Catharine Parr, expressed herself rather too freely in favor of the Protestant doctrines; and the king, provoked that she should presume to differ with him, complained to Gardiner about the queen’s obstinacy. The bigoted Papist leader sought to widen the breach between the king and the queen, and finally persuaded the king to consent that the queen should be publicly accused and tried for heresy.
With so capricious a monarch as Henry VIII it was hazardous for any officer to sign the articles; as it was high treason—a capital offense—for any subject to slander the queen. The paper which was prepared for the king's signature fell into the hands of the queen’s friends by some means, and she was apprised of her peril. Relying on her prudence and address to thwart the machinations of her enemies, she paid her customary visit to her royal husband, and found him more placid than she had expected.
On this occasion the king at once entered upon his favorite topic of discussion, and apparently challenged the queen to an argument; but she gently declined the conversation, saying that such profound speculations were not suited to her sex, that she was blessed with a husband who was qualified by his judgment and learning to choose principles for his own family and for the wisest and most learned in the kingdom, and that she found conversation liable to languish when there was no opposition, and for that reason she sometimes ventured to differ with him merely to give him the pleasure of refuting her. Thereupon the king replied : “And is it so? then we are perfect friends again.”
The Papist leaders were unaware of the change in the king’s feelings toward his wife, and prepared the next day to send her to the Tower. The royal couple were conversing amicably in the garden when the Chancellor appeared with forty of his retinue. The king spoke to the Chancellor at some distance from the queen, and seemed to be angry with him. She overheard the epithets “knave,” “fool,” “beast,” etc., which the king lavishly addressed to the magistrate. When the king returned to his wife she sought to mitigate his anger, whereupon he replied: “Poor soul! you know not how ill entitled this man is to your good offices.” Queen Catharine Parr was very careful never again to contradict her royal husband, and Gardiner was unable ever to regain the good opinion of His Majesty.
The entire reign of Henry VIII is noted as an era of learning and as the period of the Oxford Reformers. Though fond of pleasure and display, Henry VIII was scholarly in his tastes and well educated, and carefully fostered the new spirit of enterprise and mental activity among his subjects. Learning now became fashionable in England. The nobles paid great regard to men of knowledge. Individuals of the highest rank and of both sexes aspired to be able to speak and write pure Latin, which was considered a polite accomplishment.
The greatest scholars of the age were engaged in writing grammars, vocabularies, colloquies and other works, to aid the illiterate in acquiring knowledge. Cardinal Wolsey is said to have written the preface to a grammar, which is still used in England, prepared by William Lilly, whose great scholarship was the means of making him the first master of St. Paul’s School, then just founded in London.
Colet, whom Henry VII had created Dean of St. Paul’s, became the head of a new school for the study of Latin and Greek literature during the reign of Henry VIII. By the invitation of Cardinal Wolsey, the renowned scholar, Desiderius Erasmus, of Rotterdam, in Holland, came to England and received a professorship in the University of Cambridge. These zealous pioneers of the New Learning vigorously applied themselves to the work of reform, but found it difficult to persuade the people that a knowledge of the Greek language was either agreeable or useful. The monks considered the Greek language fit only to be spoken by the devil in the bad place, and when the study of this language was introduced into the University of Oxford the students in that renowned seat of learning divided into hostile factions, which frequently came to blows.
These parties among the Oxford students acquired the names of Greeks and Trojans, and sometimes fought with as much animosity as the ancient peoples whose respective names they bore had done several thousand years before. After a new and more correct method of pronouncing Greek had been introduced, the party of the Greeks themselves became rent into factions; the Catholics adhering to the old pronunciation, while the Protestants adopted the new. Bishop Gardiner declared that rather than permit the liberty of choosing the pronunciation of the Greek alphabet, it were better to banish the study of the Greek language from the universities; and, under his influence, the king caused the use of the new pronunciation to be forbidden, on penalty of whipping and other ignominious punishments.
With a moral courage reminding one of Wickliffe, Erasmus wrote book after book, advocating a reformation in politics and religion as well as in learning, ridiculing the follies of the age, exposing the corruptions of the Church to scorn and contempt, and addressing strong and affecting appeals to men’s consciences. In his Praise of Folly, Erasmus represents Folly, dressed in cap and bells, as describing, in a speech to her associates, the religious teachers of the time, the old school men, as “men who knew all about things of which St. Paul was ignorant, could talk science as though they had been consulted when the world was made, could give you dimensions of heaven as though they had been there and measured it with plumb and line, men who professed universal knowledge, and yet had not time to read the Gospels or the Epistles of St. Paul.” The work of Erasmus which had the most potent influence was his edition of the New Testament in parallel columns, one in Greek and the other in Latin. So great was the popular demand for this work that I several editions were required. In speaking of the Scriptures, Erasmus said in his preface: “I wish that they were translated into all languages, so as to be read and understood not only by Scots and Irishmen, but even by Saracens and Turks. I long for the day when the husbandman shall sing portions of them to himself as he follows the plough, when the weaver shall hum them to the tune of his shuttle, when the traveler shall white away with their stories the weariness of his journey”.
For a period of forty years the Oxford Reformers were engaged in educating the English people to a higher degree of intelligence, and in preparing the way for the greater religions Reformation that followed. The old school men and theologians bitterly opposed the Oxford Reformers at every step. Sir Thomas More once wrote to Colet: ‘‘No wonder your school raises a storm, for it is like the wooden horse filled with armed Greeks for the destruction of Troy.” And such was the case. That school became so popular that others of the same character were founded; and it is said that more schools were founded in the last years of the reign of Henry VIII than in three centuries before.
Efforts were frequently made to destroy Colet; once, when, from the royal pulpit and in the king's very presence, he denounced the wars which Henry VIII was waging against Francis I of France; and again, when, at a convocation of bishops and clergy, after having been appointed to preach the opening sermon, he boldly accused many of them of leading worldly and immoral lives. The Bishops of London and others charged him with heresy; but Henry VIII bluffly replied to those who sought his aid against Colet: “Let every man have his own doctor, but this man is the doctor for me”.
The Oxford Reformers owed their safety to the king’s protection, and the New Learning was indebted to him for its rapid progress; but the very men whom he shielded from their most implacable enemies he did not hesitate to bring to the block to die by the headsman’s ax when they offered the faintest opposition to his imperious will.
Hans Holbein, the great Swiss painter, a native of Basle, was invited to England, where he flourished under the patronage of King Henry VIII, who employed him to paint the portraits of his wives, or those whom he intended to marry, he was twice sent to the continent of Europe, as the secret emissary of the king’s love, to paint correct portraits of his intended wife; but the unmerited charms which his pencil imparted to Anne of Cleves, thus ensnaring his royal patron into a distasteful marriage, showed that he was not always a faithful messenger.
As Hans Holbein was one day engaged in painting a lady’s portrait for King Henry VIII, a nobleman entered the painter’s room; but Holbein, offended at this intrusion, pushed the nobleman down stairs. The nobleman went direct to the king and complained loudly of the insult which he had suffered, and demanded redress; but the king replied: “It is I, in the person of Hobein, who have been insulted. I can, when I please, make seven lords of seven plowmen; but I cannot make one Holbein even of seven lords”.
In his later years Henry VIII became very corpulent; and toward the end of his life he was afflicted with a painful disorder in one leg, which disabled him from walking and made him more furious than a chained lion. This infirmity so greatly increased the natural violence of his temper that everybody was afraid to come near him. Even his last wife, Catharine Parr, though she was his most attentive nurse, was harshly treated by him. Such were his tyranny and caprice that none could feel safe.
Among the last acts of the tyrannical monarch was the arrest of the Duke of Norfolk and his son, the Earl of Surrey, on a charge of aspiring to the English crown. The Duke of Norfolk, formerly Earl of Surrey, was considered the greatest subject in the kingdom, and had been one of the king’s earliest favorites. He had rendered great services to the crown, and had been rewarded with honors and estates. He was allied to the royal family by marriage in various ways. His son, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was the most accomplished nobleman in the kingdom, and equally distinguished as a courtier, a soldier, a scholar, a poet, and a liberal patron of literature and the fine arts.
The Duke of Norfolk was the leader of the Catholic party in England, and his renowned son was also a zealous Papist. The frivolous charges brought against them were of small consequence with the Parliaments and juries of this tyrannical reign. The Earl of Surrey was convicted of high treason, and was beheaded January 19, 1547. The Duke of Norfolk tried every concession to save his own life; but the despotic sovereign, as if thirsting for the blood of the distinguished nobleman, hastened the action of his subservient Parliament. The death-warrant was signed by the king January 27, 1547; but the capricious tyrant died the next day, and the warrant was never executed.
Such was the temper of Henry VIII when he was at the point of death that no one dared to tell him the terrible truth. At last one mustered sufficient courage to inform the dying tyrant that his end was at hand, and asked him if a clergyman should be sent for. The expiring monarch replied: “If any, Cranmer”. When the good archbishop arrived the king was speechless, but he knew Cranmer and pressed his hand just as he breathed his last. Thus died Henry VIII, January 28, 1547, in the fifty-sixth year of his age and the thirty-eighth of his reign. His life-long rival, King Francis I of France, survived him but two months.
The capricious and tyrannical acts which have darkened the reign of Henry VIII occurred during his last twenty years. Had he died when he was thirty-six years of age he would doubtless have ranked in history among the wisest and best of kings. But the possession of absolute power gradually turned his strong will into blind obstinacy, his wisdom into dogmatism, and even his religious sense of responsibility for the correct religious faith of his subjects into a motive for the most atrocious persecutions.
Though the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth had been declared incapable of inheriting the English crown, Henry VIII appointed them in his will to the succession after their half-brother Edward, in case that prince should die without issue. In case they all died without children he left the succession to the heirs of his youngest sister, the Duchess of Suffolk; thus excluding the heirs of his eldest sister, Margaret, who, after the death of her first husband, King James IV of Scotland, had married the Earl of Angus, the head of the great Douglas family of Scotland.