THE REFORMATION IN ENGLAND 1523 - 1539
An Introductory History of England & Europe by Mrs H. A. L. Fisher
THE COMPLICATIONS of European policy affected-English affairs. Henry VIII had got on very comfortably without Parliament since 1515, but if England were to take an active part in the war between Charles and Francis, and subsequently in a Crusade against the Turk, money would have to be obtained. Parliament was, therefore, summoned and Wolsey demanded, and with difficulty obtained, supplies. It was clear that other means of raising the necessary finds would have to be discovered. Wolsey tried first what was called an amicable loan, next a benevolence, but neither was a success, and Henry himself threw them over, thereby gaining much popularity for himself, and an equivalent unpopularity for Wolsey. The Cardinal was, moreover, generally believed to have been responsible for the execution of the Duke of Buckingham. This affair, which had taken place a few years earlier had made a great sensation. The Duke was of royal blood and no doubt Henry thought him much too near a relation to be a safe subject. In any case, his trial was brief, he was convicted of high treason, and executed. The odium fell upon Wolsey; the benefits went to the King. Wolsey must have felt the extreme insecurity of his position. He obliged to raise money, which no one was willling to provide, in order to support a policy in which he did not believe. Moreover, on Adrian's death Wolsey had once again failed to obtain the Papacy (another Medici, Clement VII was elected). His difficulties were growing more and -acute, and there was no escape from them.
In Germany the Lutheran movement was increasing in strength; the Council of Regency was quite unable to maintain order, and Charles was in Spain. Emperor and Pope alike were anxious to crush heresy, but, while Charles contemplated, Clement strongly opposed another General Council as a means to that end. Clement, indeed, had no desire to see either Charles or Francis safe and strong. What he wanted was to keep them both in difficulties, in order that he might pursue his own ends. like Wolsey, though for other reasons, he would have liked to hold the balance between the two, and thus to strengthen his own position, for the Church was threatened by heresy within and by the Turk without.
Charles, for all his apparent strength, was in difficulties. He could not count on firm and continued support either from the Pope or from England; he was very short of money; the French were pressing him, although upon the whole he had so far kept the upper hand. The Lutheran heresy was spreading far and fast, and finally there was all over Germany a tremendous revolt of peasants, determined to put up no longer with the oppressions of their superiors . For a time it seemed that the peasants would win, and as so often happens, the desire for social was confused that for religious reform. Luther, however, was upon the side of the middle classes, completely opposed to rebellion and in the end the peasants were mercilessly crushed. But the effects of the revolt were considerable. Not only there the bitterness and suffering which inevitably result from civil war, but, despite Luther's definite stand against the revolt, the Emperor regarded rebellion and heresy as closely allied, each urgently needing extirpation. The Council of Regency had proved helpless, the princes the Swabian League uncomfortably strong, while to all the old and familiar causes of disunion in Germany had now been added those of religious variance and strife. In 1525 Francis was not only defeated, but captured, at the of Pavia, and for the moment it looked as if Charles held Europe in his hand. In reality he was far from secure . The very next year the Turks won the great battle of Mohacs and overran Hungary, a disaster of which the local memory is still poignant and vivid. It was becoming impossible to hold Italy, and although Francis, in order to obtain his release, surrendered his Italian claims, abandoned his suzerainty over Flanders, and gave up Burgundy, no sooner was he free than he repudiated all his promises and joined a new league with the Pope and the Italian States.: This league, like its predecessors, was torn by internal jealousies and dissensions, and its forces proved helpless when those of the Emperor swept down into Italy. The imperialists attacked the Holy City itself, and for over a week Rome lay helpless, ravished and destroyed by the armies of the Empire. Old and young, religious houses and peaceful citizens alike, suffered, either from the cruelties of the Spaniard, the fury of the Lutherans, or the barities of the robbers and outlaws who had sought refuge in the motley hordes of the Emperor. The news of Mohacs and of the sack of Rome may well have made a horrified world feel that Christian Europe was once more at the mercy of the barbarian.
Affairs in England, closely affected by all this, were entering upon a new period. Charles's success was but little to Henry's liking. The English alliance swayed towards France, and little Princess Mary was once more betrothed this time to the future Henry II. But, while Wolsey was trying to wrest an English advantage from European strife his master had become absorbed in the "matter" which was not only to cause the fall of the great Cardinal, but to change in some degree the life of every Englishman, and to bring about far-reaching social and economic revolution
Nothing is less easy than to understand and make clear what Henry really thought, or how he arrived at his conclusions. He seems always to have been able to persuade himself that anything he very much wanted must be right and that therefore the means of gratifying his desires must be right also. What he now began to want was a new wife mainly, no doubt, because he had taken a violent fancy to one lady while he was married to another, but also to some extent, because Katherine was certainly extremely unfortunate as a mother, and it was without doubt urgently important that there should be a son to succeed his father upon the English throne. A doubtful or disputed succession would be a national disaster, and of the many children born to Katherine, only one, Mary, survived. Why should so cruel a fate befall a king noted for his religious fervour ? (Had not the Pope conferred upon him the title Defender of the Faith in recognition of his vigorous tract against heresy?) Henry began to feel that there must something wrong, and that perhaps his marriage with his brother's widow, although papal permission had been obtained, was really an offence against divine law. In any case Henry wanted the marriage dissolved. He wanted to marry Anne Boleyn, and he wanted a son and heir. It was Wolsey's business to arrange matters as quickly and efficiently as he could.
Wolsey, however, although his policy had brought him conflict with Katherine, was no friend to Anne. He could not fail to perceive the complications that must inevitably result from so great a slight to Katherine, nearly related as she was to the Emperor. Nor was it easy to obtain the desired help from the Pope, who easily realised not only the difficulties in which he might become involved, but also the advantages which Henry's desire for the dissolution of his marriage gave to that power which alone could grant his wish. The whole story of the negotiations is sordid disagreeable, and extremely intricate. What concerns us is the result. Wolsey, proving unable to achieve the desired end with the speed required by his impatient master, fell from power. He ceased to be chancellor; his benefices were taken from him ; he was accused of high treason, but, fortunately for himself died, worn out and broken, before be could be brought to trial. Seldom has there been a more picturesque or remarkable story. The Cardinal rose to eminence by his own merits; he proved himself an organiser and administrator of rare ability; he manipulated the tangle of European affairs with a masterly hand ; his undoubted personal ambitions seem to have been subordinated to his devoted service to his country and his King. His beautiful buildings at Hampton Court are one of our national treasures ; the splendours of Christ Church, for the endowment of which he arranged, and which bears his Cardinal's hat as its arms, are among the glories of university whose well-being he always kept in mind. In the dissolution of the smaller monasteries Wolsey planned diversion of their endowments to the pressing needs of education, and to the establishment of new bishoprics which were clearly required. The greatness of his service measures the greatness of his fall.
Wolsey had proved unable to free the King from what had come to seem an unbearable marriage tie. The Pope, too refused to act in accordance with Henry's urgent desires Wolsey fell. Henry decided to do without the Pope Wolsey had worked for a divorce, but for a divorce secured by orthodox means, pronounced by the Pope. If papal authority proved unobtainable, a break with papal authority must follow, and who could tell to what that break might lead? Let us first rapidly sketch the course of events, and then try to understand something of the conditions which made them possible. Not even the autocratic Tudor could have effected so great a change if there had not been already at work strong forces tending towards the same end.
Parliament was summoned, and before long Thomas Cromwell, who had been Wolsey's secretary, appeared as Secretary to the King. A number of Acts were passed the effect of which was partly to reform some obvious abuses but also to prepare the way for the break with Rome . Appeals to Rome were forbidden, as was the payment of annates (that is, the first year's income of a newly appointed bishop) and other monetary dues. The privileges clergy were restricted. Finally the authority of the Pope in England was definitely abolished, the two Convocations of Canterbury and York declaring that " the Bishop of Rome has no greater jurisdiction conferred on him by God in England than any other foreign bishop," while following year the Act of Supremacy conferred upon Henry the title of Supreme Head of the Church of England, and the Act of Succession secured the position of Anne Boleyn and her children.
Henry had thus managed to get at home the authority denied him by Rome to declare his marriage illegal, and had duly married Anne, who became the mother of Elizabeth, and after four years was executed for high treason. By that time Katharine had died, and when, the very day after Anne's execution, Henry married Jane Seymour, he had at last a wife about whose position there could be no possible doubt. She was the mother of Edward VI, and died within a few days of his birth. Two years earlier, Thomas Cromwell had become VicarGeneral, and was, after the King, the most powerftil man in the kingdom. All this time the Emperor had been efinitely and strongly opposed to Henry, while the Pope, subbject as he was to Charles's influence, could do nothing to meet the desires of the English King. Francis therefore tried to reap advantage from the situation, and to form an Anglo-French alliance with the help of which he might exert pressure upon the Emperor and get some of the things he wanted for himself. Charles, pressed as he was both by Lutherans within and Turks without, might at any moment, in order to avoid the greater danger of the Turk, find himself involved in concessions to his heretical subjects which would greatly strain the relations between Pope and Emperor. For the moment, however, these two powers were united in complete disapproval of the conduct the English King. Henry, therefore, was making plans by which he hoped to secure the friendship of some of the reforming German princes, so that Charles was likely to find himself faced with an uncommonly awkward combination of enemies.
Meanwhile in England the Reformation was proceeding apace under the energetic direction of Cromwell, and with collaboration of Archbishop Cranmer. The next stage in proceedings was the dissolution of the religious houses, an operation which had two considerable advantages from the King's point of view. In the first place it struck a determined blow against forces which might well be against him, for the religious houses were likely to be strongholds of papal influence. They were also wealthy, and by their dissolution their wealth passed into the King's possession. Nothing could be more convenient to a monarch who needed money, and who, like other monarchs, found it hard to get his subjects to provide adequately for his needs.
The actual story of the Dissolution is well known. Commissioners were sent through the kingdom to visit the houses. First the smaller monasteries and nunneries, then the larger, were dissolved, and their possessions transferred to the crown. Within a few short years had taken place an enormous change in the ownership of property and in the institutions of the country. Everywhere religious houses must have been the most familiar seemed the most established of institutions. But by the of the fifteenth century they no longer served their old ends .It seems clear that learning owed little at this time to religious, that their methods of cultivation were obsolete that many houses were ill conducted. But they had stood for so long ; they provided shelter for the traveller, relief for the poor; they were part of the furniture of every day life. Few events are more remarkable, few changes more drastic, than that of the suppression of the religious houses Their lands were sold, their treasures redistributed. great churches and monasteries fell into decay, were used as quarries for new buildings, or were remodelled and turned into the county houses of their new possessors. All over England we see their remains. Often there is but a great barn, or what once were the abbey fishponds ; sometimes a lovely group of half-ruined buildings, or the great arches of the abbey church standing roofless beneath the sky Sometimes we trace here and there in a comfortable country house an unexpectedly ecclesiastical window or doorway or portion of hall or chapel. All over the country , too, there are remnants of ecclesiastical treasure, here a piece of silver or gold plate, there a rich carving or a picture, to remind us of the vast wealth which once belonged to the Church and within a few brief years passed through the King's hands into the possession of his subjects. Perhaps, too, the many legends which haunt these old houses, once abbeys or monasteries, legends which tell of the ill luck that pursues their owners, testify not only to our native superstition, but also to the affection which, despite their faults and the exactions of Rome, the charities of the religious inspired in the hearts of their neighbours.
The doctrines to be believed by his people were duly defined by the Head of the English Church. The Bible in English was to be placed in all churches, and the clergy were instructed to teach their flocks the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments in English, as well as to instruct them in the reformed principles of the Church. If the suppression of the monasteries changed the outward aspect and much of the social structure of England, the use of the native tongue in prayer, and its dissemination through the reading of the Bible, changed our language and our thought. No other book has so greatly affected English writing, speech, ideas. No other book has left such traces upon everything we say, and much of what we think. The 'Bible familiar to us all, the Authorised Version, was not completed till much later (in 1607), but we may like remember that the version of the psalms which we use in our English prayer-book comes from the Great Bible, that is, the version which was issued by royal authority in 1539, and was largely based upon Tindale's translation. It was to be available in all churches, and its price was fixed by al order at twelve shillings if it were bound and clasped, ten if it were unbound. An English prayer-book in process of construction, the first book of carols printed was in 1531 , and the first English hymn-book compiled .