Volume 2 Book 1
England Begins to Cast off the Papacy
- CHAPTER 1 - The Nation and its Parties
- CHAPTER 2 - Parliament and its Grievances
- CHAPTER 3 - Early Reforms
- CHAPTER 4 - Anne Boleyn’s Father Meets the Emperor and the Pope
- CHAPTER 5 - Oxford and Cambridge Debate the Divorce
- CHAPTER 6 - Henry Appeals to Foreign Opinion
- CHAPTER 7 - Latimer at Court
- CHAPTER 8 - The King Seeks Tyndale
- CHAPTER 9 - The King of England—”Head of the Church”
- CHAPTER 10 - The King Puts Catherine Away
- CHAPTER 11 - “Not Sparing the Flock”
- CHAPTER 12 - The Martyrs
- CHAPTER 13 - The King Despoils the Pope and Clergy
- CHAPTER 14 - Liberty of Inquiry and Preaching
- CHAPTER 15 - Henry VIII Attacks Romanists and Protestants
- CHAPTER 16 - The New Primate of All England
- CHAPTER 17 - Anne Boleyn Ascends the Throne
- CHAPTER 18 - Fryth in the Tower
- CHAPTER 19 - A Reformer Chooses Rather to Lose His Life than Save it
- CHAPTER 20 - The Isolation of England
- CHAPTER 21 - Parliament Abolishes Papal Usurpations in England
The Nation and its Parties Autumn, 1529
England, during the period of which we are about to treat, began to separate from the pope and to reform her Church. The fall of Wolsey divides the old times from the new.
The level of the laity was gradually rising. A certain amount of instruction was given to the children of the poor; the universities were frequented by the upper classes, and the king was probably the most learned prince in Christendom. At the same time the clerical level was falling. The clergy had been weakened and corrupted by its triumphs, and the English, awakening with the age and opening their eyes at last, were disgusted with the pride, ignorance, and disorders of the priests.
While France, flattered by Rome calling her its eldest daughter, desired even when reforming her doctrine to preserve union with the papacy, the Anglo-Saxon race, jealous of their liberties, desired to form a Church at once national and independent, yet remaining faithful to the doctrines of Catholicism. Henry VIII is the personification of that tendency, which did not disappear with him, and of which it would not be difficult to discover traces even in later days.
Other elements calculated to produce a better reformation existed at that time in England. The Holy Scriptures, translated, studied, circulated, and preached since the fourteenth century by Wycliffe and his disciples, became in the sixteenth century, by the publication of Erasmus’ Testament and the translations of Tyndale and Coverdale, the powerful instrument of a real evangelical revival, and created the scriptural reformation.
These early developments did not proceed from Calvin; he was too young at that time; but Tyndale, Fryth, Latimer, and the other evangelists of the reign of Henry VIII, taught by the same Word as the reformer of Geneva, were his brethren and his precursors. Somewhat later, his books and his letters to Edward VI, to the regent, to the primate, to Sir William Cecil and others, exercised an indisputable influence over the reformation of England. We find in those letters proofs of the esteem which the most intelligent persons of the kingdom felt for that simple and strong man, whom even non-protestant voices in France have declared to be “the greatest Christian of his age.”
A religious reformation may be of two kinds—internal or evangelical, external or legal. The evangelical reformation began at Oxford and Cambridge almost at the same time as in Germany. The legal reformation was making a beginning at Westminster and Whitehall. Students, priests, and laymen, moved by inspiration from on high, had inaugurated the first; Henry VIII and his parliament were about to inaugurate the second, with hands occasionally somewhat rough. England began with the spiritual reformation, but the other had its motives too. Those who are charmed by the reformation of Germany sometimes affect contempt for that of England. “A king impelled by his passions was its author,” they say. We have placed the scriptural part of this great transformation in the first rank; but we confess that for it to lay hold upon the people in the sixteenth century, it was necessary, as the prophet declared, that kings should be its nursing-fathers, and queens its nursing-mothers. If diverse reforms were necessary, if by the side of German cordiality, Swiss simplicity, and other characteristics, God willed to found a protestantism possessing a strong hand and an outstretched arm; if a nation was to exist which with great freedom and power should carry the Gospel to the ends of the world, special tools were required to form that robust organization, and the leaders of the people—the commons, lords, and king—were each to play their part. France had nothing like this—both princes and parliaments opposed the reform; and thence partly arises the difference between those two great nations, for France had in Calvin a mightier reformer than any of those whom England possessed. But let us not forget that we are speaking of the sixteenth century. Since then the work has advanced; important changes have been wrought in Christendom; political society is growing daily more distinct from religious society, and more independent; and we willingly say with Pascal, “Glorious is the state of the Church when it is supported by God alone!”
Two opposing elements—the reforming liberalism of the people, and the almost absolute power of the king—combined in England to accomplish the legal reformation. In that singular island these two rival forces were often seen acting together; the liberalism of the nation gaining certain victories, the despotism of the prince gaining others; king and people agreeing to make mutual concessions. In the midst of these compromises, the little evangelical flock, which had no voice in such matters, religiously preserved the treasure entrusted to it—the Word of God, truth, liberty, and Christian virtue. From all these elements sprang the Church of England. A strange Church some call it. Strange indeed, for there is none which corresponds so imperfectly in theory with the ideal of the Church, and, perhaps, none whose members work out with more power and grandeur the ends for which Christ has formed His kingdom.
Scarcely had Henry VIII refused to go to Rome to plead his cause, when he issued writs for a new parliament (25th September, 1529). Wolsey’s unpopularity had hitherto prevented its meeting; now the force of circumstances constrained the king to summon it. When he was on the eve of separating from the pope, he felt the necessity of leaning on the people. Liberty is always the gainer where a country performs an act of independence with regard to Rome. It was natural that in England, possessing as it did from of old time a body of elected representatives, the king should seek the nation’s cooperation in the work of reform, and certainly the house of commons gained power and prestige during this period. At the same time, the whole kingdom being astir, the different parties became more distinct.
The papal party was alarmed. Fisher, bishop of Rochester, already very uneasy, became disturbed at seeing laymen called upon to give their advice on religious matters. Men’s minds were in a ferment in the bishop’s palace, the rural parsonage, and the monk’s cell. The partisans of Rome met and consulted about what was to be done, and retired from their conferences foreseeing and imagining nothing but defeat. Du Bellay, at that time bishop of Bayonne, and afterwards of Paris, envoy from the King of France, and eyewitness of all this agitation, wrote to Montmorency (Grand-master of France), “I fancy that in this parliament the priests will have a terrible fright.” Ambitious ecclesiastics were beginning to understand that the clerical character, hitherto so favorable to their advancement in a political career, would now be an obstacle to them. “Alas!” exclaimed one of them, “we must off with our frocks.”
Such of the clergy, however, as determined to remain faithful to Rome gradually roused themselves. A prelate put himself at their head. Fisher, bishop of Rochester, was learned, intelligent, bold, and slightly fanatical; but his convictions were sincere, and he was determined to sacrifice everything for the maintenance of Roman Catholicism in England. Though discontented with the path upon which his august pupil King Henry had entered, he did not despair of the future, and candidly applied to the papacy our Savior’s words: The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
A recent act of the king’s increased Fisher’s hopes; Sir Thomas More had been appointed chancellor. The Bishop of Rochester regretted indeed that the king had not given that office to an ecclesiastic, as was customary; but he thought to himself that a layman wholly devoted to the Church, as the new chancellor was, might possibly in those strange times be more useful to it than a priest. With Fisher in the Church, and More in the State (for Sir Thomas, in spite of his gentle Utopia, was more papistical and more violent than Wolsey), had the papacy anything to fear? The whole Romish party rallied round these two men, and with them prepared to fight against the Reformation.
Opposed to this hierarchical party was the political party, in whose eyes the king’s will was the supreme rule. The dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, president and vice-president of the Council, Sir William Fitzwilliam, Comptroller of the Household, and those who agreed with them, were opposed to the ecclesiastical domination, not from the love of true religion, but because they believed the prerogatives of the State were endangered by the ambition of the priests, or else because, seeking honor and power for themselves, they were impatient at always encountering insatiable clerics on their path.
Between these two parties a third appeared, on whom the bishops and nobles looked with disdain, but with whom the victory was to rest at last. In the towns and villages of England, and especially in London, were to be found many lowly men, animated with a new life—poor artisans, weavers, cobblers, painters, shopkeepers—who believed in the Word of God and had received moral liberty from it. During the day they toiled at their respective occupations; but at night they stole along some narrow lane, slipped into a court, and ascended to some upper room in which other persons had already assembled. There they read the Scriptures and prayed. At times even during the day, they might be seen carrying to well-disposed citizens certain books strictly prohibited by the late cardinal. Organized under the name of “The Society of Christian Brethren,” they had a central committee in London and missionaries everywhere, who distributed the Holy Scriptures and explained their lessons in simple language. Several priests, both in the city and country, belonged to their society.
This Christian brotherhood exercised a powerful influence over the people, and was beginning to substitute the spiritual and life-giving principles of the Gospel for the legal and theocratic ideas of popery. These pious men required a moral regeneration in their hearers, and entreated them to enter, through faith in the Savior, into an intimate relation with God, without having recourse to the mediation of the clergy; and many of those who listened to them, enraptured at hearing of truth, grace, morality, liberty, and of the Word of God, took the teachings to heart. Thus began a new era. It has been asserted that the Reformation entered England by a back door. Not so; it was the true door these missionaries opened, having even prior to the rupture with Rome preached the doctrine of Christ. Idly do men speak of Henry’s passions, the intrigues of his courtiers, the parade of his ambassadors, the skill of his ministers, the complaisance of the clergy, and the vacillations of parliament; we too shall speak of these things; but above them all there was something else, something better—the thirst exhibited in this island for the Word of God, and the internal transformation accomplished in the convictions of a great number of its inhabitants. This it was that worked such a powerful revolution in English society.
In the interval between the issuing of the writs and the meeting of parliament, the most antagonistic opinions came out. Conversation everywhere turned on present and future events, and there was a general feeling that the country was on the eve of great changes. The members of parliament who arrived in London gathered round the same table to discuss the questions of the day. The great lords gave sumptuous banquets, at which the guests talked about the abuses of the Church, of the approaching session of parliament, and of what might result from it. One would mention some striking instance of the avarice of the priests; another slyly called to mind the strange privilege which permitted them to commit with impunity certain sins which they punished severely in others. “There are, even in London, houses of ill fame for the use of priests, monks, and canons.” “And,” added others, “they would force us to take such men as these for our guides to heaven.” Du Bellay, the French ambassador, a man of letters, who, although a bishop, had attached Rabelais to his person in the capacity of secretary, was frequently invited to parties given by the great lords. He lent an attentive ear, and was astonished at the witty and often very biting remarks uttered by the guests against the disorders of the priests. One day a voice exclaimed, “Since Wolsey has fallen, we must forthwith regulate the condition of the Church and of its ministers. We will seize their property.” Du Bellay on his return home did not fail to communicate these things to Montmorency. “I have no need,” he says, “to write this strange language in cipher, for the noble lords utter it at open table. I think they will do something to be talked about.”
The leading members of the commons held more serious meetings with one another. They said they had spoken enough, and that now they must act. They specified the abuses they would claim to have redressed, and prepared petitions for reform to be presented to the king.
Before long the movement descended from the sphere of the nobility to that of the people—a sphere always important, and particularly when a social revolution is in progress. Petty tradesmen and artisans spoke more energetically than the lords. They did more than speak. The apparitor of the Bishop of London, having entered the shop of a mercer in the ward of St. Bride and left a summons on the counter calling upon him to pay a certain clerical tax, the indignant tradesman took up his yard-measure, whereupon the officer drew his sword, and then, either from fear or an evil conscience, ran away. The mercer followed him, assaulted him in the street, and broke his head. The London shopkeepers did not yet quite understand the representative system; they used their staves when they should have waited for the speeches of the members of parliament.
The king tolerated this agitation because it forwarded his purposes. There were advisers who insinuated that it was dangerous to give free course to the passions of the people; and that the English, combining great physical strength with a decided character, might go too far in the way of reform, if their prince gave them the rein. But Henry VIII, possessing an energetic will, thought it would be easy for him to check the popular ebullition whenever he pleased. When Jupiter frowned, all Olympus trembled.
Parliament and its Grievances November, 1529
On the morning of the 3rd of November, Henry went in his barge to the palace of Bridewell; and, having put on the magnificent robes employed on great ceremonies, and followed by the lords of his train, he proceeded to the Blackfriars church, in which the members of the new parliament had assembled. After hearing the mass of the Holy Ghost, king, lords, and commons met in parliament, when, as soon as the king had taken his seat on the throne, the new chancellor, sir Thomas More, explained the reason of their being summoned. Thomas Audley, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was appointed Speaker of the lower house.
Generally speaking, parliament confined itself to passing the resolutions of the government. The Great Charter had, indeed, been long in existence, but until now it had been little more than a dead letter. The Reformation gave it life. “Christ brings us out of bondage into liberty by means of the Gospel,” said Calvin. This emancipation, which was essentially spiritual, soon extended to other spheres, and gave an impulse to liberty throughout all Christendom. Even in England such an impulse was needed. Under the Plantagenets and the Tudors the constitutional machine existed, but it worked only as it was directed by the strong hand of the master. Without the Reformation, England might have slumbered long.
The impulse given by religious truth to the latent liberties of the people was felt for the first time in the parliament of 1529. The representatives shared the lively feelings of their constituents, and took their seats with the firm resolve to introduce the necessary reforms in the affairs of both Church and State. Indeed, on the very first day several members pointed out the abuses of the clerical domination, and proposed to lay the desires of the people before the king.
The Commons might of their own accord have applied to the task, and by proposing rash changes have given the Reform a character of violence that might have worked confusion in the State, but they preferred petitioning the king to take the necessary measures to carry out the wishes of the nation; and accordingly a petition respectfully worded, but in clear and strong language, was agreed to. The Reformation began in England, as in Switzerland and in Germany, with personal conversions. The individual was reformed first, but it was necessary for the people to reform afterwards, and the measures requisite to success could not be taken in the sixteenth century without the participation of the governing powers. Freely therefore and nobly a whole nation was about to express to their ruler their grievances and wishes.
On one of the first days of the session, the Speaker and certain members who had been ordered to accompany him proceeded to the palace. “Your Highness,” they began, “of late, much discord, variance, and debate hath arisen and more and more daily is likely to increase and ensue amongst your subjects, to the great inquietation, vexation, and breach of your peace, of which the chief causes followingly do ensue.”
This opening could not fail to excite the king’s attention, and the Speaker of the House of Commons began boldly to unroll the long list of the grievances of England. “First, the prelates of your most excellent realm, and the clergy of the same, have in their convocations made many and divers laws without your most royal assent, and without the assent of any of your lay subjects.
“And also many of your said subjects, and specially those that be of the poorest sort, be daily called before the said spiritual ordinaries or their commissaries, on the accusement of light and indiscreet persons, and be excommunicated and put to excessive and impostable charges.
“The prelates suffer the priests to exact divers sums of money for the sacraments, and sometimes deny the same without the money be first paid.
“Also the said spiritual ordinaries do daily confer and give sundry benefices unto certain young folks, calling them their nephews or kinsfolk, being in their minority and within age, not apt nor able to serve the cure of any such benefice… whereby the said ordinaries accumulate to themselves large sums of money, and the poor silly souls of your people perish without doctrine or any good teaching.
“Also a great number of holydays be kept throughout this your realm, upon the which many great, abominable, and execrable vices, idle and wanton sports, be used, which holydays might by your Majesty be made fewer in number.
“And also the said spiritual ordinaries commit divers of your subjects to ward, before they know either the cause of their imprisonment or the name of their accuser.”
Thus far the Commons had confined themselves to questions that had been discussed more than once; they feared to touch upon the subject of heresy before the Defender of the [Roman] Faith. But there were evangelical men among their number who had been eyewitnesses of the sufferings of the reformed. At the peril, therefore, of offending the king, the Speaker boldly took up the defense of the pretended heretics.
“If heresy be ordinarily laid unto the charge of the person accused, the said ordinaries put to them such subtle interrogatories concerning the high mysteries of our faith, as are able quickly to trap a simple unlearned layman. And if any heresy be so confessed in word, yet never committed in thought or deed, they put the said person to make his purgation. And if the party so accused deny the accusation, witnesses of little truth or credence are brought forth for the same, and deliver the party so accused to secular hands.”
The Speaker was not satisfied with merely pointing out the disease: “We most humbly beseech your Grace, in whom the only remedy resteth, of your goodness to consent, so that besides the fervent love your Highness shall thereby engender in the hearts of all your Commons towards your Grace, ye shall do the most princely feat, and show the most charitable precedent that ever did sovereign lord upon his subjects.”
The king listened to the petition with his characteristic dignity, and also with a certain kindliness. He recognized the just demands in the petition of the Commons, and saw how far they would support the religious independence to which he aspired. Still, unwilling to take the part of heresy, he selected only the most crying abuses, and desired his faithful Commons to take their correction upon themselves. He then sent the petition to the bishops, requiring them to answer the charges brought against them, and added that henceforward his consent would be necessary to give the force of law to the acts of Convocation.
This royal communication was a thunderbolt to the prelates. What! the bishops, the successors of the apostles, accused by the representatives of the nation, and requested by the king to justify themselves like criminals! … Had the Commons of England forgotten what a priest was? These proud ecclesiastics thought only of the indelible virtues which, in their view, ordination had conferred upon them, and shut their eyes to the vices of their fallible human nature. We can understand their emotion, their embarrassment, and their anger. The Reformation which had made the tour of the Continent was at the gates of England; the king was knocking at their doors. What was to be done? They could not tell. They assembled and read the petition again and again. The Archbishop of Canterbury, and the bishops of London, Lincoln, St. Asaph, and Rochester carped at it and replied to it. They would willingly have thrown it into the fire—the best of answers in their opinion—but the king was waiting, and the Archbishop of Canterbury was commissioned to enlighten him.
Warham did not belong to the most fanatical party; he was a prudent man, and the wish for reform had hardly taken shape in England when, being uneasy and timid, he had hastened to give a certain satisfaction to his flock by reforming abuses which he had sanctioned for thirty years. But he was a priest, a Romish priest; he represented an inflexible hierarchy. Strengthened by the clamors of his colleagues, he resolved to utter the famous non possumus, less powerful, however, in England than in Rome.
“Sire,” he said, “your Majesty’s Commons reproach us with uncharitable behavior. … On the contrary, we love them with hearty affection, and have only exercised the spiritual jurisdiction of the Church upon persons infected with the pestilent poison of heresy. To have peace with such had been against the Gospel of our Savior Christ, wherein he saith, I came not to send peace, but a sword.
“Your Grace’s Commons complain that the clergy daily do make laws repugnant to the statutes of your realm. We take our authority from the Scriptures of God, and shall always diligently apply to conform our statutes thereto; and we pray that your Highness will, with the assent of your people, temper your Grace’s laws accordingly, whereby shall ensue a most sure and hearty conjunction and agreement.
“They accuse us of committing to prison before conviction such as be suspected of heresy. … Truth it is that certain apostates, friars, monks, lewd priests, bankrupt merchants, vagabonds, and idle fellows of corrupt intent have embraced the abominable opinions lately sprung up in Germany; and by them some have been seduced in simplicity and ignorance. Against these, if judgment has been exercised according to the laws of the Church, we be without blame.
“They complain that two witnesses be admitted, be they never so defamed, to vex and trouble your subjects to the peril of their lives, shames, costs, and expenses. … To this we reply, the judge must esteem the quality of the witness, but in heresy no exception is necessary to be considered, if their tale be likely. This is the universal law of Christendom, and hath universally done good.
“They say that we give benefices to our nephews and kinsfolk, being in young age or infants, and that we take the profit of such benefices for the time of the minority of our said kinsfolk. If it be done to our own use and profit, it is not well; but if it be bestowed to the bringing up and use of the same parties, or applied to the maintenance of God’s service, we do not see but that it may be allowed.”
As for the irregular lives of the priests, the prelates remarked that they were condemned by the laws of the Church, and consequently there was nothing to be said on that point.
Lastly, the bishops seized the opportunity of taking the offensive: “We entreat your Grace to repress heresy. This we beg of you, lowly upon our knees, so entirely as we can.”
Such was the brief of Roman Catholicism in England. Its defense would have sufficed to condemn it.
Early Reforms End of 1529
The answer of the bishops was criticized in the royal residence, in the House of Commons, at the meetings of the burgesses, in the streets of the capital, and in the provinces, everywhere exciting a lively indignation. “What!” said they, “the bishops accuse the most pious and active Christians of England—men like Bilney, Fryth, Tyndale, and Latimer—of that idleness and irregularity of which their monks and priests are continually showing us examples. To no purpose have the Commons indisputably proved their grievances, if the bishops reply to notorious facts by putting forward their scholastic system. We condemn their practice, and they take shelter behind their theories, as if the reproach laid against them was not precisely that their lives are in opposition to their laws. ‘The fault is not in the Church,’ they say. But it is its ministers that we accuse.”
The indignant parliament boldly took up the axe, attacked the tree, and cut off the withered and rotten branches. One bill followed another, irritating the clergy, but filling the people with joy. When the legacy dues were under discussion, one of the members drew a touching picture of the avarice and cruelty of the priests. “They have no compassion,” he said, “the children of the dead should all die of hunger and go begging, rather than they would of charity give to them the silly cow which the dead man owed, if he had only one.” There was a movement of indignation in the house, and they forbade the clergy to take any mortuary fees when the effects were small.
“And that is not all,” said another, “the clergy monopolize large tracts of land, and the poor are compelled to pay an extravagant price for whatever they buy. They are everything in the world but preachers of God’s Word and shepherds of souls. They buy and sell wool, cloth, and other merchandise; they keep tanneries and breweries. … How can they attend to their spiritual duties in the midst of such occupations?” The clergy were consequently prohibited from holding large estates or carrying on the business of merchant, tanner, brewer, etc. At the same time, plurality of benefices (some ignorant priests holding as many as ten or twelve) was forbidden, and residence was enforced. The Commons further enacted that anyone seeking a dispensation for non-residence (even were the application made to the pope himself) should be liable to a heavy fine.
The clergy saw at last that they must reform. They forbade priests from keeping shops and taverns, playing at dice or other games of chance, passing through towns and villages with hawks and hounds, being present at unbecoming entertainments, and spending the night in suspected houses. Convocation proceeded to enact severe penalties against these disorders, doubling them for adultery, and tripling them for incest. The laity asked how it was that the Church had waited so long before coming to this resolution, and whether these scandals had become criminal only because the Commons condemned them?
But the bishops who reformed the lower clergy did not intend to resign their own privileges. One day when a bill relating to wills was laid before the upper house, the Archbishop of Canterbury and all the other prelates frowned, murmured, and looked uneasily around them. They exclaimed that the Commons were heretics and schismatics, and almost called them infidels and atheists. In all places, good men required that morality should again be united with religion, and that piety should not be made to consist merely in certain ceremonies, but in the awakening of the conscience, a lively faith, and holy conduct. The bishops, not discerning that God’s work was then being accomplished in the world, determined to maintain the ancient order of things at all risks.
Their efforts had some chance of success, for the House of Lords was essentially conservative. The Bishop of Rochester, a sincere but narrow-minded man, presuming on the respect inspired by his age and character, boldly came forward as the defender of the Church. “My lords,” he said, “these bills have no other object than the destruction of the Church, and if the Church goes down, all the glory of the kingdom will fall with it. Remember what happened to the Bohemians. Like them, our Commons cry out, ‘Down with the Church!’ Whence cometh that cry? Simply from lack of faith. … My lords, save the country, save the Church.”
This speech made the Commons very indignant; some members thought the bishop denied that they were Christians. They sent thirty of their leading men to the king. “Sire,” said the Speaker, “it is an attaint upon the honor of your Majesty to calumniate before the upper house those whom your subjects have elected. They are accused of lack of faith, that is to say, they are no better than Turks, Saracens, and heathens. Be pleased to call before you the bishop who has insulted your Commons.”
The king made a gracious reply, and immediately sent one of his officers to invite the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Rochester, and six other prelates to appear before him. They came, quite uneasy as to what the prince might have to say to them. They knew that, like all the Plantagenets, Henry VIII would not suffer his clergy to resist him. Immediately the king informed them of the complaint made by the Commons; their hearts sank and they lost courage. They thought only how to escape the prince’s anger, and the most venerated among them, Fisher, asserted that when speaking about “lack of faith,” he had not thought of the Commons of England, but of the Bohemians only. The other prelates confirmed this inadmissible interpretation. This was a graver fault than the fault itself, and the unbecoming evasion was a defeat to the clerical party from which they never recovered. The king allowed the excuse, but he afterwards made the bishops feel the little esteem he entertained for them. As for the House of Commons, it loudly expressed the disdain aroused in them by the bishop’s subterfuge.
One chance of safety still remained to them. Mixed committees of the two houses examined the resolutions of the Commons. The peers, especially the ecclesiastical peers, opposed the reform by appealing to usage. “Usage!” ironically observed a Gray’s Inn lawyer, “the usage hath ever been of thieves to rob on Shooter’s Hill, ergo it is lawful and ought to be kept up!” This remark sorely irritated the prelates: “What! our acts are compared to robberies!” But the lawyer, addressing the Archbishop of Canterbury, seriously endeavored to prove to him that the exactions of the clergy in the matter of probates and mortuaries were open robbery. The temporal lords gradually adopted the opinions of the Commons.
In the midst of these debates, the king did not lose sight of his own interests. Six years before, he had raised a loan among his subjects; he thought parliament ought to relieve him of this debt. This demand was opposed by the members most devoted to the principle of the Reformation; John Petit, in particular, the friend of Bilney and Tyndale, said in parliament, “I give the king all I lent him, but I cannot give him what others have lent him.” Henry was not however discouraged, and finally obtained the act required.
The king soon showed that he was pleased with the Commons. Two bills met with a stern opposition from the Lords; they were those abolishing pluralism and non-residence. These two customs were so convenient and advantageous that the clergy determined not to give them up. Henry, seeing that the two houses would never agree, resolved to cut the difficulty. At his desire eight members from each met one afternoon in the Star Chamber. There was an animated discussion; but the lay lords, who were in the conference, taking part with the Commons, the bishops were forced to yield. The two bills passed the Lords the next day, and received the king’s assent. After this triumph the king adjourned parliament in the middle of December.
The different reforms that had been carried through were important, but they were not the Reformation. Many abuses were corrected, but the doctrines remained unaltered; the power of the clergy was restricted, but the authority of Christ was not increased; the dry branches of the tree had been lopped off, but a scion calculated to bear good fruit had not been grafted on the wild stock. Had matters stopped here, England might perhaps have obtained a Church with morals less repulsive, but not with a holy doctrine and a new life. But the Reformation was not contented with more decorous forms; it required a second creation.
At the same time, parliament had taken a great stride towards the revolution that was to transform the Church. A new power had taken its place in the world; the laity had triumphed over the clergy. No doubt there were upright catholics who gave their assent to the laws passed in 1529, but these laws were nevertheless a product of the Reformation. This it was that had inspired the laity with that new energy, parliament with that bold action, and given the liberties of the nation that impulse which they had lacked hitherto. The joy was great throughout the kingdom; and while the king removed to Greenwich to keep Christmas there “with great plenty of viands, and disguisings and interludes,” the members of the Commons were welcomed in the towns and villages with great rejoicings. In the people’s eyes their representatives were like soldiers who had just gained a brilliant victory. The clergy, alone in all England, were downcast and exasperated. On returning to their residences, the bishops could not conceal their anguish at the danger to the Church. The priests, who had been the first victims offered up on the altar of reform, bent their heads. But if the clergy foresaw days of mourning, the laity hailed with joy the glorious era of the liberties of the people, and of the greatness of England. The friends of the Reformation went further still; they believed that the Gospel would work a complete change in the world, and talked, as Tyndale informs us, “as though the golden age would come again.”
Anne Boleyn’s Father Meets the Emperor and the Pope Winter, 1530
Before such glorious hopes could be realized, it was necessary to emancipate Great Britain from the yoke of Romish supremacy. This was the end to which all generous minds aspired, but would the king assist them?
Henry VIII united strength of body with strength of will; both were marked on his manly form. Lively, active, eager, vehement, impatient, and voluptuous—whatever he was, he was with his whole soul. He was at first all heart for the Church of Rome; he went barefoot on pilgrimages, wrote against Luther, and flattered the pope. But before long he grew tired of Rome without desiring the Reformation; profoundly selfish, he cared for himself alone. If the papal domination offended him, evangelical liberty annoyed him. He meant to remain master in his own house, the only master, and master of all. Even without the divorce, Henry would possibly have separated from Rome. Rather than endure any contradiction, he put to death friends and enemies, bishops and missionaries, ministers of state and favorites—even his wives. Such was the prince whom the Reformation found king of England.
History would be unjust, however, were it to maintain that passion alone urged him to action. The question of the succession to the throne had for a century filled the country with confusion and blood. This Henry could not forget. Would the struggles of the Two Roses be renewed after his death, occasioning perhaps the destruction of an ancient monarchy? If Mary, a princess of delicate health, should die, Scotland, France, the party of the White Rose, the Duke of Suffolk, whose wife was Henry’s sister, might drag the kingdom into endless wars. And even if Mary’s days were prolonged, her title to the crown might be disputed, no female sovereign having as yet sat upon the throne. Another train of ideas also occupied the king’s mind. He enquired sincerely whether his marriage with the widow of his brother was lawful. Even before its consummation, as we have seen, he had felt doubts about it. But even his defenders, if there are any, must acknowledge that one circumstance contributed at this time to give unusual force to these scruples—his love for Anne Boleyn.
Catholic writers imagine that this guilty motive was the only one; it is a mistake, for the two former indisputably occupied Henry’s mind. As for parliament and people, the king’s love for Anne Boleyn affected them very little; it was the reason of state which made them regard the divorce as just and necessary.
A congress was at that time sitting at Bologna with great pomp. On the 5th of November, 1530, Charles V, having arrived from Spain, had entered the city, attended by a magnificent suite, and followed by 20,000 soldiers. He was covered with gold, and shone with grace and majesty. The pope waited for him in front of the church of San Petronio, seated on a throne and wearing the triple crown. The Emperor, master of Italy, which his soldiers had reduced to the last desolation, fell prostrate before the pontiff, but lately his prisoner. The union of these two monarchs, both enemies of Henry VIII, seemed destined to ruin the King of England and thwart his great affair.
And yet not long before, an ambassador from Charles V had been received at Whitehall—it was Master Eustace Chapuys. He came to solicit aid against the Turks. Henry caught at the chance; he imagined the moment to be favorable, and that he ought to dispatch an embassy to the head of the Empire and the head of the Church. He sent for the Earl of Wiltshire, Anne Boleyn’s father; Edward Lee, afterwards archbishop of York; John Stokesley, afterwards bishop of London, and some others. He told them that the Emperor desired his alliance, and commissioned them to proceed to Italy and explain to Charles V the serious motives that induced him to separate from Catherine. “If he persists in his opposition to the divorce,” continued Henry, “threaten him, but in covert terms. If the threats prove useless, tell him plainly that, in accord with my friends, I will do all I can to restore peace to my troubled conscience.” He added with more calmness, “I am resolved to fear God rather than man, and to place full reliance on comfort from the Savior.” Was Henry sincere when he spoke thus? No one can doubt of his sensuality, his scholastic Catholicism, and his cruel violence—must we also believe in his hypocrisy? He was no doubt under a delusion, and deceived himself on the state of his soul.
An important member was added to the deputation. One day when the king was occupied with this affair, Thomas Cranmer appeared at the door of his room with a manuscript in his hand. Cranmer had a fine understanding, a warm heart, a character perhaps too weak, but extensive learning. Captivated by the Holy Scriptures, he desired to seek for truth nowhere else. He had suggested a new point of view to Henry VIII. “The essential thing,” he said, “is to know what the Word of God teaches on the matter in question.” “Show me that,” exclaimed the king. Cranmer brought him his treatise, in which he proved that the Word of God is above all human jurisdiction, and that it forbids marriage with a brother’s widow. Henry took the work in his hand, read it again and again, and praised its excellence. A bright idea occurred to him. “Are you strong enough to maintain before the bishop of Rome the propositions laid down in this treatise?” said the king. Cranmer was timid, but convinced and devoted. “Yes,” he made answer, “with God’s grace, and if your Majesty commands it.” “Marry, then!” exclaimed Henry with delight, “I will send you.” Cranmer departed with the others in January 1530.
While Henry’s ambassadors were journeying slowly, Charles V, more exasperated than ever against the divorce, endeavored to gain the pope. Clement VII, who was a clever man, and possessed a certain kindly humor, but was at heart cunning, false, and cowardly, amused the puissant Emperor with words. When he learned that the King of England was sending an embassy to him, he gave way to the keenest sorrow. What was he to do? Which way could he turn? To irritate the Emperor was dangerous; to separate England from Rome would be to endure a great loss. Caught between Charles V and Henry VIII, he groaned aloud; he paced up and down his chamber gesticulating, then suddenly stopping, sank into a chair and burst into tears. Nothing succeeded with him; it was, he thought, as if he had been bewitched. What need was there for the King of England to send him an embassy? Had not Clement told Henry through the Bishop of Tarbes, “I am content the marriage should take place, provided it be without my authorization.” It was of no use; the pope asked him to do without the papacy, and the king would only act with it. He was more popish than the pope.
To add to his misfortunes, Charles began to press the pontiff more seriously, and yielding to his importunities, Clement drew up a brief on the 7th of March, in which he commanded Henry “to receive Catherine with love, and to treat her in all things with the affection of a husband.” But the brief was scarcely written when the arrival of the English embassy was announced. The pope in alarm immediately put the document back into his portfolio, promising himself that it would be long before he published it.
As soon as the English envoys had taken up their quarters at Bologna, the ambassadors of France called to pay their respects. De Gramont, bishop of Tarbes, was overflowing with politeness, especially to the Earl of Wiltshire. “I have shown much honour to M. de Rochford,” he wrote to his master on the 28th of March. “I went out to meet him. I have visited him often at his lodging. I have fêted him, and offered him my solicitations and services, telling him that such were your orders.” Not thus did Clement VII act; the arrival of the Earl of Wiltshire and his colleagues was a cause of alarm to him. Yet he must make up his mind to receive them; he appointed the day and the hour for the audience.
Henry VIII desired that his representatives should appear with great pomp, and accordingly the ambassador and his colleagues went to great expense with that intent. Wiltshire entered first into the audience hall; being father of Anne Boleyn, he had been appointed by the king as the man in all England most interested in the success of his plans. But Henry had calculated badly; the personal interest which the earl felt in the divorce made him odious both to Charles and Clement. The pope, wearing his pontifical robes, was seated on the throne, surrounded by his cardinals. The ambassadors approached, made the customary salutations, and stood before him. The pontiff, wishing to show his kindly feelings towards the envoys of the “Defender of the Faith,” put out his slipper according to custom, presenting it graciously to the kisses of the proud Englishmen. The revolt was about to begin. The earl, remaining motionless, refused to kiss his holiness’s slipper. But that was not all; a fine spaniel, with long silky hair, which Wiltshire had brought from England, had followed him to the episcopal palace. When the bishop of Rome put out his foot, the dog did what other dogs would have done under similar circumstances; he flew at the foot, and caught the pope by the great toe. Clement hastily drew it back. The sublime borders on the ridiculous; the ambassadors, bursting with laughter, raised their arms and hid their faces behind their long rich sleeves. “That dog was a Protestant,” said a reverend father. “Whatever he was,” said an Englishman, “he taught us that a pope’s foot was more meet to be bitten by dogs than kissed by Christian men.” The pope, recovering from his emotion, prepared to listen, and the earl, regaining his seriousness, explained to the pontiff that as Holy Scripture forbade a man to marry his brother’s wife, Henry VIII required him to annul as unlawful his union with Catherine of Aragon. As Clement did not seem convinced, the ambassador skillfully insinuated that the king might possibly declare himself independent of Rome, and place the English Church under the direction of a patriarch. “The example,” added the ambassador, “will not fail to be imitated by other kingdoms of Christendom.”
The agitated pope promised not to remove the suit to Rome, provided the king would give up the idea of reforming England. Then, putting on a most gracious air, he proposed to introduce the ambassador to Charles V. This was giving Wiltshire the chance of receiving a harsh rebuff. The earl saw it, but his duty obliging him to confer with the Emperor, he accepted the offer.
The father of Anne Boleyn proceeded to an audience with the nephew of Catherine of Aragon. Representatives of two women whose rival causes agitated Europe, these two men could not meet without a collision. True, the earl flattered himself that as it was Charles’ interest to detach Henry from Francis I—that phlegmatic and politic prince would certainly not sacrifice the gravest interests of his reign for a matter of sentiment—but he was deceived. The Emperor received him with a calm and reserved air, but unaccompanied by any kindly demonstration. The ambassador skillfully began by speaking of the Turkish war, then ingeniously passing to the condition of the kingdom of England, he pointed out the reasons of state which rendered the divorce necessary. Here Charles stopped him short: “Sir Count, you are not to be trusted in this matter; you are a party to it; let your colleagues speak.” The earl replied with respectful coldness, “Sire, I do not speak here as a father, but as my master’s servant, and I am commissioned to inform you that his conscience condemns a union contrary to the law of God.” He then offered Charles the immediate restitution of Catherine’s dowry. The Emperor coldly replied that he would support his aunt in her rights, and then abruptly turning his back on the ambassador, refused to hear him any longer.
Thus did Charles, who had been all his life a crafty politician, place in this matter the cause of justice above the interests of his ambition. Perhaps he might lose an important ally; it mattered not; before everything he would protect a woman unworthily treated. On this occasion we feel more sympathy for Charles than for Henry. The indignant Emperor hastily quitted Bologna on the 22nd or 24th of February.
The earl hastened to his friend M. de Gramont, and, relating how he had been treated, proposed that the kings of France and England should unite in the closest bonds. He added that Henry could not accept Clement as his judge, since he had himself declared that he was ignorant of the law of God. “England,” he said, “will be quiet for three or four months. Sitting in the ballroom, she will watch the dancers, and will form her resolution according as they dance well or ill.” A rule of policy that has often been followed.
Gramont was prepared to make common cause with Henry against the Emperor, but, like his master, he could not make up his mind to do without the pope. He strove to induce Clement to join the two kings and abandon Charles, or else—he insinuated in his turn—England would separate from the Romish Church. This was to incur the risk of losing Western Europe, and accordingly the pope answered with much concern, “I will do what you ask.” There was, however, a reserve, namely, that the steps taken overtly by the pope would absolutely decide nothing.
Clement once more received the ambassador of Henry VIII. The earl carried with him the book wherein Cranmer proved that the pope cannot dispense anyone from obeying the law of God, and presented it to the pope. The latter took it and glanced over it, his looks showing that a prison could not have been more disagreeable to him than this impertinent volume. The Earl of Wiltshire soon discovered that there was nothing for him to do in Italy. Charles V, usually so reserved, had made the bitterest remarks before his departure. His chancellor, with an air of triumph, enumerated to the English ambassador all the divines of Italy and France who were opposed to the king’s wishes. The pope seemed to be a puppet which the Emperor moved as he liked, and the cardinals had but one idea, that of exalting the Romish power. Wearied and disgusted, the earl departed for France and England with the greater portion of his colleagues.
Cranmer was left behind. Having been sent to show Clement that Holy Scripture is above all Roman pontiffs, and speaks in a language quite opposed to that of the popes, he had asked more than once for an audience at which to discharge his mission. The wily pontiff had replied that he would hear him at Rome, believing he was thus putting him off until the Greek calends. But Clement was deceived—the English doctor, determining to do his duty, refused to depart for London with the rest of the embassy and repaired to the metropolis of Catholicism.
Oxford and Cambridge Debate the Divorce Winter, 1530
At the same time that Henry sent ambassadors to Italy to obtain the pope’s consent, he invited all the universities of Christendom to declare that the question of divorce was of divine right, and that the pope had nothing to say about it. It was his opinion that the universal voice of the Church ought to decide, and not the voice of one man.
First he attempted to canvass Cambridge, and as he wanted a skillful man for that purpose, he applied to Wolsey’s old servant, Stephen Gardiner, an intelligent, active, wily churchman and a good catholic. One thing alone was superior to his catholicism—his desire to win the king’s favor. He aspired to rise like the cardinal to the summit of greatness. Henry named the chief almoner, Edward Fox, as his colleague.
Arriving at Cambridge one Saturday about noon in the latter half of February, the royal commissioners held a conference in the evening with the vice-chancellor (Dr. Buckmaster), Dr. Edmunds, and other influential men who had resolved to go with the court. But these doctors, members of the political party, soon found themselves checked by an embarrassing support on which they had not calculated—it was that of the friends of the Gospel. They had been convinced by the writing which Cranmer had published on the divorce. Gardiner and the members of the conference, hearing of the assistance which the evangelicals desired to give them, were annoyed at first. On the other hand, the champions of the court of Rome, alarmed at the alliance of the two parties who were opposed to them, began that very night to visit college after college, leaving no stone unturned that the peril might be averted. Gardiner, uneasy at their zeal, wrote to Henry VIII, “As we assembled they assembled; as we made friends they made friends.” Dr. Watson, Dr. Tomson, and other papal supporters at one time shouted very loudly, at another spoke in whispers. They said that Anne Boleyn was a heretic, that her marriage with Henry would hand England over to Luther; and they related to those whom they desired to gain—wrote Gardiner to the king—”many fables, too tedious to repeat to your Grace.” These “fables” would not only have bored Henry, but greatly irritated him.
The vice-chancellor, flattering himself that he had a majority, notwithstanding these clamors, called a meeting of the doctors, bachelors of divinity, and masters of arts, for Sunday afternoon. About two hundred persons assembled, and the three parties were distinctly marked out. The most numerous and the most excited were those who held for the pope against the king. The evangelicals were in a minority, but were quite as decided as their adversaries, and much calmer. The politicians, uneasy at seeing the friends of Latimer and Cranmer disposed to vote with them, would have, however, to accept of their support, if they wished to gain the victory. They resolved to seize the opportunity offered them. “Most learned senators,” said the vice-chancellor, “I have called you together because the great love which the king bears you engages me to consult your wisdom.” Thereupon Gardiner and Fox handed in the letter which Henry had given them, and the vice-chancellor read it to the meeting. In it the king set forth his hopes of seeing the doctors unanimous to do what was agreeable to him. The deliberations commenced, and the question of a rupture with Rome soon began to appear distinctly beneath the question of the divorce. Edmunds spoke for the king, Tomson for the pope. There was an interchange of antagonistic opinions, and a disorder of ideas among many; the speakers grew warm; one voice drowned another, and the confusion became extreme.
The vice-chancellor, desirous of putting an end to the clamor, proposed referring the matter to a committee, whose decision should be regarded as that of the whole university, which was agreed to. Then seeing more clearly that the royal cause could not succeed without the help of the evangelical party, he proposed some of its leaders—Doctors Salcot, Reps, Crome, Shaxton, and Latimer—as members of the committee. On hearing these names, there was an explosion of murmurs in the meeting. Salcot, abbot of St. Benet’s, was particularly offensive to the doctors of the Romish party. “We protest,” they said, “against the presence in the committee of those who have approved of Cranmer’s book, and thus declared their opinion already.” “When any matter is talked of all over the kingdom,” answered Gardiner, “there is not a sensible man who does not tell his friends what he thinks about it.” The whole afternoon was spent in lively altercation. The vice-chancellor, wishing to bring it to an end, said, “Gentlemen, it is getting late, and I invite everyone to take his seat, and declare his mind by a secret vote.” It was useless; no one took his seat; the confusion, reproaches, and declamations continued. At dark, the vice-chancellor adjourned the meeting until the next day. The doctors separated in great excitement, but with different feelings. While the politicians saw nothing else to discuss but the question of the king’s marriage, the evangelicals and the papists considered that the real question was this: which shall rule in England—the Reformation or Popery?
The next day, the names of the members of the proposed committee having been put to the vote, the meeting was found to be divided into two equal parties. In order to obtain a majority, Gardiner undertook to get some of his adversaries out of the way. Going up and down the Senate house, he began to whisper in the ears of some of the less decided, and inspiring them either with hope or fear, he prevailed upon several to leave the meeting.
The grace was then put to the vote a third time and passed. Gardiner triumphed. Returning to his room, he sent the list to the king. Sixteen of the committee, indicated by the letter A, were favorable to his Majesty. “As for the twelve others,” he wrote, “we hope to win most of them by good means.” The committee met and considered the royal demand. They carefully examined the passages of Holy Scripture, the explanations of translators, and gave their opinion. Then followed the public discussion. Gardiner was not without fear; as there might be skillful assailants and awkward defenders, he looked out for men qualified to defend the royal cause worthily. It was a remarkable circumstance that, passing over the traditional doctors, he added to the defense of which he and Fox were the leaders, two evangelical doctors—Salcot, abbot of St. Benet’s, and Reps. He reserved to his colleague and himself the political part of the question, but notwithstanding all his catholicism, he desired that the scriptural reasons should be placed foremost. The discussion was conducted with great thoroughness, and the victory remained with the king’s champions.
On the 9th of March, the doctors, professors, and masters having met after vespers in the priory hall, the vice-chancellor said, “It has appeared to us as most certain, most in accord with Holy Scriptures, and most conformable to the opinions of commentators, that it is contrary to divine and natural law for a man to marry the widow of his brother dying childless.” Thus the Scriptures were really, if not explicitly, declared by the university of Cambridge to be the supreme and only rule of Christians, and the contrary decisions of Rome were held to be not binding. The Word of God was avenged of the long contempt it had endured, and after having been long put below the pope’s word, was now restored to its lawful place. In this matter Cambridge was right.
It was necessary to try Oxford next. Here the opposition was stronger, and the popish party looked forward to a victory. Longland, bishop of Lincoln and chancellor of the university, was commissioned by Henry to undertake the matter, Doctor Bell, and afterwards Edward Fox, the chief almoner, being joined with him. The king, uneasy at the results of the negotiation, and wishing for a favorable decision at any cost, gave Longland a letter for the university, through every word of which an undisguised despotism was visible. “We will and command you,” he said, “that ye, not leaning to willful and sinister opinions of your own several minds, considering that we be your sovereign liege lord, and totally giving your affections to the true overtures of divine learning in this behalf, do show and declare your true and just learning in the said cause. … And we, for your so doing, shall be to you and to our university there so good and gracious a lord for the same, as ye shall perceive it well done in your well fortune to come. And in case you do not uprightly handle yourselves herein, we shall so quickly and sharply look to your unnatural misdemeanor herein, that it shall not be to your quietness and ease hereafter. Accommodate yourselves to the mere truth, assuring you that those who do shall be esteemed and set forth, and the contrary neglected and little set by. … We doubt not that your resolution shall be our high contentation and pleasure.”
This royal missive caused a great commotion in the university. Some slavishly bent their heads, for the king spoke rod in hand. Others declared themselves convinced by the political reasons, and said that Henry must have an heir whose right to the throne could not be disputed. And, lastly, some were convinced that Holy Scripture was favorable to the royal cause. All men of age and learning, as well as all who had either capacity or ambition, declared in favor of the divorce. Nevertheless a formidable opposition soon showed itself.
The younger members of the Senate were enthusiastic for Catherine, the Church, and the pope. Their theological education was imperfect; they could not go to the bottom of the question, but they judged by the heart. To see a Catholic lady oppressed, to see Rome despised, inflamed their anger; and if the elder members maintained that their view was the more reasonable, the younger ones believed theirs to be the more noble. Unhappily, when the choice lies between the useful and the generous, the useful commonly triumphs. Still, the young doctors were not prepared to yield. They said—and they were not wrong—that religion and morality ought not to be sacrificed to reasons of state, or to the passions of princes. And seeing the specter of Reform hidden behind that of the divorce, they regarded themselves as called upon to save the Church. “Alas!” said the royal delegates, the Bishop of Lincoln and Dr. Bell, “alas! we are in continual perplexity, and we cannot foresee with any certainty what will be the issue of this business.”
They agreed with the heads of houses that, in order to prepare the university, three public disputations should be solemnly held in the divinity schools. By this means they hoped to gain time. “Such disputations,” they said, “are a very honorable means of amusing the multitude until we are sure of the consent of the majority.” The discussions took place, and the younger masters, arranging each day what was to be done or said, gave utterance to all the warmth of their feelings.
When the news of these animated discussions reached Henry, his displeasure broke out, and those immediately around him fanned his indignation. “A great part of the youth of our university,” said the king, “with contentious and factious manners, daily combine together.” … The courtiers, instead of moderating, excited his anger. Every day, they told him, these young men, regardless of their duty towards their sovereign, and not conforming to the opinions of the most virtuous and learned men of the university, meet together to deliberate and oppose his Majesty’s views. “Has it ever been seen,” exclaimed the king, “that such a number of right small learning should stay their seniors in so weighty a cause?” Henry, in exasperation, wrote to the heads of the houses, “It is not good to stir a hornet’s nest.” This threat excited the younger party still more; if the term “hornet” amused some, it irritated others. In hot weather, the hornet (the king) chases the weaker insects, but the noise he makes in flying forewarns them, and the little ones escape him. Henry could not hide his vexation; he feared lest the little flies should prove stronger than the big hornet. He was uneasy in his castle of Windsor, and the insolent opposition of Oxford pursued him wherever he turned his steps—on the terrace, in the wide park, and even in the royal chapel. “What!” he exclaimed, “shall this university dare show itself more unkind and willful than all other universities, abroad or at home?” Cambridge had recognized the king’s right, and Oxford refused.
Wishing to end the matter, Henry summoned High-Almoner Fox to Windsor, and ordered him to repeat at Oxford the victory he had gained at Cambridge. He then dictated to his secretary a letter to the recalcitrants: “We cannot a little marvel that you, neither having respect to our estate, being your prince and sovereign lord, nor yet remembering such benefits as we have always showed unto you, have hitherto refused the accomplishment of our desire. Permit no longer the private suffrages of light and willful heads to prevail over the learned. By your diligence redeem the errors and delays past.
“Given under our signet, at our castle of Windsor.”
Fox was entrusted with this letter.
The Lord High-Almoner and the Bishop of Lincoln immediately called together the younger masters of the university, and declared that a longer resistance might lead to their ruin. But the youth of Oxford were not to be overawed by threats of violence. Lincoln had hardly finished, when several masters of arts protested loudly; some even spoke “very wickedly.” Not permitting himself to be checked by such rebellion, the bishop ordered the poll to be taken; twenty-seven voted for the king, and twenty-two against. The royal commissioners were not yet satisfied; they assembled all the faculties, and invited the members to give their opinion in turn. This intimidated many, and only eight or ten had courage enough to declare their opposition frankly. The bishop, encouraged by such a result, ordered that the final vote should be taken by ballot. Secrecy emboldened many of those who had not dared to speak, and while thirty-one voted in favor of the divorce, twenty-five opposed it. That was of little consequence, as the two prelates had the majority. They immediately drew up the statute in the name of the university, and sent it to the king, after which the bishop, proud of his success, celebrated a solemn mass of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost had not, however, been much attended to in the business. Some had obeyed the prince, others the pope; and if we desire to find those who obeyed Christ, we must look for them elsewhere.
The university of Cambridge was the first to send in its submission to Henry. The Sunday before Easter (1530), Vice-Chancellor Buckmaster arrived at Windsor in the forenoon. The court was at chapel, where Latimer, recently appointed one of the king’s chaplains, was preaching. The vice-chancellor came in during the service and heard part of the sermon. Latimer was a very different man from Henry’s servile courtiers. He did not fear even to attack such of his colleagues as did not do their duty: “That is no godly preacher that will hold his peace, and not strike you with his sword that you smoke again. … Chaplains will not do their duties, but rather flatter. But what shall follow? They shall have God’s curse upon their heads for their labor. The minister must reprove without fearing any man, even if he be threatened with death.” Latimer was particularly bold in all that concerned the errors of Rome, which Henry VIII desired to maintain in the English Church. “Wicked persons,” he said, “men, who despise God, call out, ‘We are christened, therefore we are saved.’ Make no mistake, to be christened and not obey God’s commandments is to be worse than the Turks! Regeneration cometh from the Word of God; it is by hearing and believing this Word that we are born again.”
Thus spoke one of the fathers of the English Reformation; such is the real doctrine of the Church of England; the contrary doctrine is a mere relic of popery.
As the congregation were leaving the chapel, the vice-chancellor spoke to the secretary (Cromwell) and the provost, and told them the occasion of his visit. The king sent a message that he would receive the deputation after evening service. Desirous of giving a certain distinction to the decision of the universities, Henry ordered all the court to assemble in the audience chamber. The vice-chancellor presented the letter to the king, who was much pleased with it. “Thanks, Mr. Vice-Chancellor,” he said, “I very much approve the way in which you have managed this matter. I shall give your university tokens of my satisfaction. … You heard Mr. Latimer’s sermon,” he added, which he greatly praised and then withdrew. The Duke of Norfolk, going up to the vice-chancellor, told him that the king desired to see him the following day.
The next day, Dr. Buckmaster, faithful to the appointment, waited all the morning; but the king had changed his mind, and sent orders to the deputy from Cambridge that he might depart as soon as he pleased. The message had scarcely been delivered before the king entered the gallery. An idea which quite engrossed his mind urged him on—he wanted to speak with the doctor about the principle put forward by Cranmer. Henry detained Buckmaster from one o’clock until six, repeating in every possible form, “Can the pope grant a dispensation when the law of God has spoken?” He even displayed much ill humor before the vice-chancellor, because this point had not been decided at Cambridge. At last he quitted the gallery; and, to counterbalance the sharpness of his reproaches, he spoke very graciously to the doctor, who hurried away as fast as he could.
Henry Appeals to Foreign Opinion January to September, 1530
The king did not limit himself to asking the opinions of England; he appealed to the universal teaching of the Church, represented, according to his views, by the universities and not by the pope. The element of individual conviction, so strongly marked in Tyndale, Fryth, and Latimer, was wanting in the official reformation that proceeded from the prince. To know what Scripture said, Henry was about to send delegates to Paris, Bologna, Padua, and Wittenberg; he would have sent even to the East, if such a journey had been easy. That false Catholicism which looked for the interpretation of the Bible to churches and declining schools where traditionalism, ritualism, and hierarchism were magnified, was a counterfeit popery. Happily the supreme voice of the Word of God surmounted this fatal tendency in England.
Henry VIII, full of confidence in the friendship of the King of France, applied first to the university of Paris; but Dr. Pedro Garray, a Spanish priest, as ignorant as he was fanatical (according to the English agents), eagerly took up the cause of Catherine of Aragon. Aided by the impetuous Beda, he obtained an opinion adverse to Henry’s wishes.
When he heard of it, the alarmed prince summoned Du Bellay, the French ambassador, to the palace, gave him for Francis I a famous diamond fleur-de-lis valued at £10,000 sterling, also the acknowledgments for 100,000 livres which Francis owed Henry for war expenses, and added a gift of 400,000 crowns for the ransom of the king’s sons. Unable to resist such strong arguments, Francis charged Du Bellay to represent to the faculty of Paris “the great scruples of Henry’s conscience,” whereupon the Sorbonne deliberated, and several doctors exclaimed that it would be an attaint upon the pope’s honor to suppose him capable of refusing consolation to the wounded conscience of a Christian. During these debates, the secretary took the names, received the votes, and entered them on the minutes. A fiery papist, observing that the majority would be against the Roman opinion, jumped up, sprang upon the secretary, snatched the list from his hands, and tore it up. All started from their seats, and “there was great disorder and tumult.” They all spoke together, each trying to assert his own opinion, but as no one could make himself heard amid the general clamor, the doctors hurried out of the room in a great rage. “Beda acted like one possessed,” wrote Du Bellay. Meanwhile the ambassadors of the King of England were walking up and down an adjoining gallery, waiting for the division. Attracted by the shouts, they ran forward, and seeing the strange spectacle presented by the theologians, and “hearing the language they used to one another,” they retired in great irritation. Du Bellay, who had at heart the alliance of the two countries, conjured Francis I to put an end to such “impertinences.” The president of the parlement of Paris consequently ordered Beda to appear before him, and told him that it was not for a person of his sort to meddle with the affairs of princes, and that if he did not cease his opposition, he would be punished in a way he would not soon forget. The Sorbonne profited by the lesson given to the most influential of its members, and on the 2nd of July declared in favor of the divorce by a large majority. The universities of Orleans, Angers, and Bourges had already done so, and that of Toulouse did the same shortly after. Henry VIII had France and England with him.
This was not enough; he must have Italy also. He filled that peninsula with his agents, who had orders to obtain from the bishops and universities the declaration refused by the pope. A rich and powerful despot is never in want of devoted men to carry out his designs.
The university of Bologna, in the states of the Church, was, after Paris, the most important in the Catholic world. A monk was in great repute there at this time. Noble by birth and an eloquent preacher, Battista Pallavicini was one of those independent thinkers often met with in Italy. The English agents applied to him; he declared that he and his colleagues were ready to prove the unlawfulness of Henry’s marriage, and when Stokesley spoke of remuneration, they replied, “No, no! what we have received freely, we give freely.” Henry’s agents could not contain themselves for joy—the university of the pope declares against the pope! Those among them who had an inkling for the Reformation were especially delighted. On the 10th June, the eloquent monk appeared before the ambassadors with the judgment of the faculty, which surpassed all they had imagined. Henry’s marriage was declared “horrible, execrable, detestable, abominable for a Christian and even for an infidel, forbidden by divine and human law under pain of the severest punishment. … The holy father, who can do almost everything,” innocently continued the university, “has not the right to permit such a union.” The universities of Padua and Ferrara hastened to add their votes to those of Bologna, and declared the marriage with a brother’s widow to be “null, detestable, profane, and abominable.” Henry was conqueror all along the line. He had with him that universal consent which, according to certain illustrious doctors, is the very essence of Catholicism. Crooke, one of Henry’s agents, and a distinguished Greek scholar, who discharged his mission with indefatigable ardor, exclaimed that “the just cause of the king was approved by all the doctors of Italy.”
In the midst of this harmony of catholicity, there was one exception of which no one had dreamt. That divorce which, according to the frivolous language of a certain party, was the cause of the Reformation in England, found opponents among the fathers and the children of the Reformation. Henry’s envoys were staggered. “My fidelity bindeth me to advertise your Highness,” wrote Crooke to the king, “that all Lutherans be utterly against your Highness in this cause, and have letted [hindered] as much with their wretched poor malice, without reason or authority, as they could and might, as well here as in Padua and Ferrara, where be no small companies of them.” The Swiss and German reformers having been summoned to give an opinion on this point, Luther, Œcolampadius, Zwingli, Bucer, Grynæus, and even Calvin, all expressed the same opinion. “Certainly,” said Luther, “the king has sinned by marrying his brother’s wife; that sin belongs to the past; let repentance, therefore, blot it out, as it must blot out all our past sins. But the marriage must not be dissolved; such a great sin, which is future, must not be permitted. There are thousands of marriages in the world in which sin has a part, and yet we may not dissolve them. A man shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh. This law is superior to the other, and overrules the lesser one.” The collective opinion of the Lutheran doctors was in conformity with the just and Christian sentiments of Luther. Thus (we repeat) the event which, according to Catholic writers, was the cause of the religious transformation of England, was approved by the Romanists and condemned by the evangelicals. Besides, the latter knew very well that a Reformation must proceed, not from a divorce or a marriage, not from diplomatic negotiations or university statutes, but from the power of the Word of God and the free conviction of Christians.
While these matters were going on, Cranmer was at Rome, asking the pope for that discussion which the pontiff had promised him at their conference in Bologna. Clement VII had never intended to grant it—he had thought that, once at Rome, it would be easy to elude his promise; it was that which occupied his attention just now. Among the means which popes have sometimes employed in their difficulties with kings, one of the most common was to gain the agents of those princes. It was the first employed by Clement; he nominated Cranmer Grand Penitentiary for all the states of the King of England, some even say for all the Catholic world. It was little more than a title, and “was only to stay his stomach for that time, in hope of a more plentiful feast hereafter, if he had been pleased to take his repast on any popish preferment.” But Cranmer was influenced by purer motives, and, without refusing the title the pope gave him—since, having the task of winning him to the king’s side, he would thus have compromised his mission—he made no account of it, and showed all the more zeal for the accomplishment of his charge.
The embassy had not succeeded, and they were getting uneasy about it in England. Some of the pope’s best friends could not understand his blindness. The two archbishops, the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, the marquises of Dorset and Exeter, thirteen earls, four bishops, twenty-five barons, twenty-two abbots, and eleven members of the Lower House determined to send an address to Clement VII. “Most blessed father,” they began, “the king, who is our head and the life of us all, has ever stood by the see of Rome amidst the attacks of your many and powerful enemies, and yet he alone is to reap no benefit from his labors. … Meanwhile we perceive a flood of miseries impending over the commonwealth. If your Holiness, who ought to be our father, have determined to leave us as orphans, we shall seek our remedy elsewhere. … He that is sick will by any means be rid of his distemper; and there is hope in the exchange of miseries, when, if we cannot obtain what is good, we may obtain a lesser evil. … We beseech your Holiness to consider with yourself; you profess that on earth you are Christ’s vicar. Endeavor then to show yourself so to be by pronouncing your sentence to the glory and praise of God.” Clement gained time; he remained two months and a half without answering, thinking about the matter, turning it over and over in his mind. The great difficulty was to harmonize the will of Henry VIII, who desired another wife, and that of Charles V, who insisted that he ought to keep the old one. … There was only one mode of satisfying both these princes at once, and that was by the king’s having the two wives together. Wolsey had already entertained this idea. More than two years before, the pope had hinted as much to Da Casale. “Let him take another wife,” he had said, speaking of Henry. Clement now recurred to it, and having sent privately for Da Casale, he said to him, “This is what we have hit upon—we permit his Majesty to have two wives.” The infallible pontiff proposed bigamy to a king. Da Casale was still more astonished than he had been at the time of Clement’s first communication. “Holy father,” he said to the pope, “I doubt whether such a mode will satisfy his Majesty, for he desires above all things to have the burden removed from his conscience.”
This guilty proposal led to nothing; the king, sure of the lords and of the people, advanced rapidly in the path of independence. The day after that on which the pope authorized him to take two wives, Henry issued a bold proclamation, pronouncing against all who should ask for or bring in a papal bull contrary to the royal prerogative “imprisonment and further punishment of their bodies according to his Majesty’s good pleasure.” Clement, becoming alarmed, replied to the address, “We desire as much as you do that the king should have male children; but, alas! we are not God to give him sons.”
Men were beginning to stifle under these maneuvers and tergiversations of the papacy; they called for air, and some went so far as to say that if air was not given them, they must snap their fetters and break open the doors.
Latimer at Court January to September, 1530
Henry, seeing that he could not obtain what he asked from the pope, drew nearer the evangelical party in his kingdom. In the ranks of the Reformation he found intelligent, pious, bold, and eloquent men, who possessed the confidence of a portion of the people. Why should not the prince try to conciliate them? They protest against the authority of the pope—good! He will relieve them from it, but on one condition, however—that if they reject the papal jurisdiction they recognize his own.
The first of the evangelical leaders whom Henry tried to gain was Latimer. He had placed him, as we have seen, on the list of his chaplains. “Beware of contradicting the king,” said a courtier to him one day, mistrusting his frankness. “Speak as he speaks, and instead of presuming to lead him, strive to follow him.” “Away with your counsel!” replied Latimer, “shall I say as he says? Say what your conscience bids you. … Still, I know that prudence is necessary. The drop of rain maketh a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by oft falling. Likewise a prince must be won by a little and a little.”
This conversation was not useless to the chaplain, who set to work seriously amid all the tumult of the court. He studied the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers, and frankly proclaimed the truth from the pulpit. But he had no private conversation with the king, who filled him with a certain fear. The thought that he did not speak to Henry about the state of his soul troubled him. One day, in the month of November, the chaplain was in his room, and in the volume of St. Augustine which lay before him he read these words: “He who for fear of any power hides the truth, provokes the wrath of God to come upon him, for he fears men more than God.” At another time, while studying St. Chrysostom, these words struck him: “He is not only a traitor to the truth who openly for truth teaches a lie; but he also who does not pronounce and show the truth that he knoweth.” These two sentences sank deeply into his heart. “They made me sore afraid,” he continued, “troubled and vexed me grievously in my conscience.” He resolved to declare what God had taught him in Scripture. His frankness might cost him his life (lives were lost easily in Henry’s time); it mattered not. “I had rather suffer extreme punishment,” he said, “than be a traitor unto the truth.”
Latimer reflected that the ecclesiastical law, which for ages had been the very essence of religion, must give way to evangelical faith—that the form must yield to the life. The members of the Church (calling themselves regenerate by baptism) used to attend catechism, be confirmed, join in worship, and take part in the communion without any real individual transformation; and then finally rest all together in the churchyard. But the Church, in Latimer’s opinion, ought to begin with the conversion of its members. Lively stones are needed to build up the temple of God. Christian individualism, which Rome opposed from her theocratic point of view, was about to be revived in Christian society.
The noble Latimer formed the resolution to make the king understand that all real reformation must begin at home. This was no trifling matter. Henry, who was a man of varied information and lively understanding, but also imperious, passionate, fiery, and obstinate, knew no other rule than the promptings of his strong nature; and although quite prepared to separate from the pope, he detested all innovations in doctrine. Latimer did not allow himself to be stopped by such obstacles, and resolved to attack this difficult position openly.
“Your Grace,” he wrote to Henry, “I must show forth such things as I have learned in Scripture, or else deny Jesus Christ. The which denying ought more to be dreaded than the loss of all temporal goods, honour, promotion, fame, prison, slander, hurts, banishment, and all manner of torments and cruelties, yea, and death itself, be it never so shameful and painful. … There is as great distance between you and me as between God and man; for you are here to me and to all your subjects in God’s stead; and so I should quake to speak to your Grace. But as you are a mortal man having in you the corrupt nature of Adam, so you have no less need of the merits of Christ’s passion for your salvation than I and others of your subjects have.”
Latimer feared to see a Church founded under Henry’s patronage, which would seek after riches, power, and pomp; and he was not mistaken. “Our Saviour’s life was very poor. In how vile and abject a place was the mother of Jesus Christ brought to bed! And according to this beginning was the process and end of His life in this world. … But this He did to show us that his followers and vicars should not regard the treasures of this world. … Your Grace may see what means and craft the clergy imagine to break and withstand the acts which were made in the last parliament against their superfluities.”
Latimer desired to make the king understand who were the true Christians. “Our Saviour showed his disciples,” continued he, “that they should be brought before kings. Wherefore take this for a sure conclusion, that where the Word of God is truly preached, there is persecution as well of the hearers as of the teachers; and where quietness and rest in worldly pleasure, there is not the truth.”
Latimer next proceeded to declare what would give real riches to England. “Your Grace promised by your last proclamation that we should have the Scripture in English. Let not the wickedness of worldly men divert you from your godly purpose and promise. There are prelates who, under pretence of insurrection and heresy, hinder the Gospel of Christ from having free course. … They would send a thousand men to hell ere they send one to God.”
Latimer had reserved for the last the appeal he had determined to make to his master’s conscience: “I pray to God that your Grace may do what God commandeth, and not what seemeth good in your own sight; that you may be found one of the members of His Church, and a faithful minister of His gifts, and not,” he added, showing contempt for a title of which Henry was very proud, “and not a defender of His faith; for He will not have it defended by man’s power, but by His Word only.
“Wherefore, gracious king, remember yourself. Have pity on your soul, and think that the day is even at hand when you shall give account of your office, and of the blood that hath been shed with your sword. In the which day that your Grace may stand steadfastly, and not be ashamed, but be clear and ready in your reckoning, and to have (as they say) your quietus est sealed with the blood of our Saviour Christ, which only serveth at that day, is my daily prayer to Him that suffered death for our sins, which also prayeth to His Father for grace for us continually.”
Thus wrote the bold chaplain. Such a letter from Latimer to Henry VIII deserves to be pointed out. The king does not appear to have been offended at it; he was an absolute prince, but there was occasionally some generosity in his character. He therefore continued to extend his kindness to Latimer, but did not answer his appeal.
Latimer preached frequently before the court and in the city. Many noble lords and old families still clung to the prejudices of the middle ages; but some had a certain liking for the Reformation, and listened to the chaplain’s preaching, which was so superior to ordinary sermons. His art of oratory was summed up in one precept: “Christ is the preacher of all preachers.” “Christ,” he exclaimed, “took upon Him our sins, not the work of sin—not to do it, not to commit it—but to purge it, to bear the stipend [wages] of it, and that way He was the greatest sinner of the world. … It is much like as if I owed another man £20,000, and must pay it out of hand, or else go to the dungeon of Ludgate; and when I am going to prison, one of my friends should come and ask, ‘Whither goeth this man? I will answer for him; I will pay all for him.’ Such a part played our Saviour Christ with us.”
Preaching before a king, he declared that the authority of Holy Scripture was above all the powers of the earth. “God,” he said, “is great, eternal, almighty, everlasting; and the Scripture, because of Him, is also great, eternal, most mighty, and holy. … There is no king, emperor, magistrate, or ruler, but is bound to give credence unto God’s holy Word.” He was cautious not to put “the two swords” into the same hand. “In this world God hath two swords,” he said, “the temporal sword resteth in the hands of kings, whereunto all subjects—as well the clergy as the laity—be subject. The spiritual sword is in the hands of the ministers and preachers of God’s Word to correct and reprove. Make not a mingle-mangle of them. To God give thy soul, thy faith… to the king, tribute and reverence. Therefore let the preacher amend with the spiritual sword, fearing no man, though death should ensue.” Such language astonished the court. “Were you at the sermon today?” said one of his hearers to a zealous courtier one day. “Yes,” replied the latter. “And how did you like the new chaplain?” “Oh, even as I liked him always—a seditious fellow.”
Latimer did not permit himself to be intimidated. Firm in doctrine, he was at the same time eminently practical. He was a moralist, and this may explain how he was able to remain any time at court. Men of the world, who soon grow impatient when you preach to them of the cross, repentance, and change of heart, cannot help approving of those who insist on certain rules of conduct. King Henry found it convenient to keep a great number of horses in abbeys founded for the support of the poor. One day when Latimer was preaching before him, he said, “A prince ought not to prefer his horses above poor men. Abbeys were ordained for the comfort of the poor, and not for kings’ horses to be kept in them.”
There was a dead silence in the congregation—no one dared turn his eyes towards Henry—and many showed symptoms of anger. The chaplain had hardly left the pulpit, when a gentleman of the court, the lord-chamberlain apparently, went up to him and asked, “What hast thou to do with the king’s horses? They are the maintenances and part of a king’s honor, and also of his realm; wherefore, in speaking against them, ye are against the king’s honor.” “To take away the right of the poor,” answered Latimer, “is against the honor of the king. … God is the grand-master of the king’s house, and will take account of everyone that beareth rule therein.”
Thus the Reformation undertook to re-establish the rule of conscience even in the courts of princes. Latimer knowing, like Calvin, that “the ears of the princes of this world are accustomed to be pampered and flattered,” armed himself with invincible courage.
The murmurs grew louder. While the old chaplains let things take their course, the other wanted to restore morality among Christians. The Reformer was alive to the accusations brought against him, for his was not a heart of steel. Reproaches and calumnies appeared to him sometimes like those impetuous winds which force the husbandman to fly hurriedly for shelter to some covered place. “O Lord!” he exclaimed on one occasion, “these people pinch me; nay, they have a full bite at me.” He would have desired to flee away to the wilderness, but he called to mind what had been done to his Master. “I comfort myself,” he said, “that Christ Himself was noted to be a stirrer up of the people against the emperor and was content to be called seditious.”
The priests, delighted that Latimer censured the king, resolved to take advantage of it to ruin him. One day, when there was a grand reception, and the king was surrounded by his councilors and courtiers, a monk slipped into the midst of the crowd, and, falling on his knees before the monarch, said, “Sire, your new chaplain preaches sedition.” Henry turned to Latimer: “What say you to that, sir?” The chaplain bent his knee before the prince, and, turning to his accusers, said to them, “Would you have me preach nothing concerning a king in the king’s sermon? Have you any commission to appoint me what I shall preach?” His friends trembled lest he should be arrested. “Your Grace,” he continued, “I put myself in your hands—appoint other doctors to preach in my place before your Majesty. There are many more worthy of the room than I am. If it be your Grace’s pleasure, I could be content to be their servant, and bear their books after them. But if your Grace allow me for a preacher, I would desire you give me leave to discharge my conscience. Permit me to frame my teaching for my audience.”
Henry, who always liked Latimer, took his part, and the chaplain retired with a low bow. When he left the audience, his friends, who had watched this scene with the keenest emotion, surrounded him, saying, with tears in their eyes, “We were convinced that you would sleep tonight in the Tower.” “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord,” he answered calmly.
The evangelical Reformers of England nobly maintained their independence in the presence of a catholic and despotic king. Firmly convinced, free, strong men, they yielded neither to the seductions of the court nor to those of Rome. We shall see still more striking examples of their resolution, bequeathed by them to their successors.
The King Seeks Tyndale January to May, 1531
Henry VIII, finding that he wanted men like Latimer to resist the pope, sought to win over others of the same stamp. He found one, whose lofty range he understood immediately. Thomas Cromwell had laid before him a book then very eagerly read all over England, namely, the Practice of Prelates. It was found in the houses not only of the citizens of London, but of the farmers of Essex, Suffolk, and other counties. The king read it quite as eagerly as his subjects. Nothing interested him like the history of the slow but formidable progress of the priesthood and prelacy. One parable in particular struck him, in which the oak represented royalty, and the ivy the papacy. “First, the ivy springeth out of the earth, and then awhile creepeth along by the ground till it find a great tree. There it joineth itself beneath alow unto the body of the tree, and creepeth up a little and a little, fair and softly. And at the beginning, while it is yet thin and small, that the burden is not perceived, it seemeth glorious to garnish the tree in the winter, and to bear off the tempests of the weather. But in the mean season it thrusteth roots into the bark of the tree to hold fast withal; and ceaseth not to climb up till it be at the top and above all. And then it sendeth its branches along by the branches of the tree, and overgroweth all, and waxeth great, heavy, and thick; and sucketh the moisture so sore out of the tree and his branches, that it choaketh and stifleth them. And then the foul stinking ivy waxeth mighty in the stump of the tree, and becometh a seat and a nest for all unclean birds and for blind owls, which hawk in the dark and dare not come at the light. Even so the Bishop of Rome, now called pope, at the beginning crept along upon the earth. … He crept up and fastened his roots in the heart of the emperor, and by subtilty climbed above he emperor, and subdued him, and made him stoop unto his feet and kiss them another while. Yea, when he had put the crown on the emperor’s head, he smote it off with his feet again, saying that he had might to make emperors and to put them down again.”
Henry would willingly have clapped his hand on his sword to demand satisfaction of the pope for this outrage. The book was by Tyndale. Laying it down, the king reflected on what he had just read, and thought to himself that the author had some striking ideas “on the accursed power of the pope,” and that he was besides gifted with talent and zeal, and might render excellent service towards abolishing the papacy in England.
Tyndale, from the time of his conversion at Oxford, set Christ above everything; he boldly threw off the yoke of human traditions, and would take no other guide but Scripture only. Full of imagination and eloquence, active and ready to endure fatigue, he exposed himself to every danger in the fulfillment of his mission. Henry ordered Stephen Vaughan, one of his agents, then at Antwerp, to try to find the Reformer in Brabant, Flanders, on the banks of the Rhine, in Holland… wherever he might chance to be; to offer him a safe-conduct under the sign-manual; to prevail on him to return to England, and to add the most gracious promises in behalf of his Majesty.
To gain over Tyndale seemed even more important than to have gained Latimer. Vaughan immediately undertook to seek him in Antwerp, where he was said to be, but could not find him. “He is at Marburg,” said one; “at Frankfort,” said another; “at Hamburg,” declared a third. Tyndale was invisible now as before. To make more certain, Vaughan determined to write three letters directed to those three places, conjuring him to return to England. “I have great hopes,” said the English agent to his friends, “of having done something that will please his Majesty.” Tyndale, the most scriptural of English reformers, the most inflexible in his faith, laboring at the Reformation with the cordial approbation of the monarch, would truly have been something extraordinary.
Scarcely had the three letters been dispatched when Vaughan heard of the ignominious chastisement inflicted by Sir Thomas More on Tyndale’s brother. Was it by such indignities that Henry expected to attract the Reformer? Vaughan, much annoyed, wrote to the king (26th January, 1531) that this event would make Tyndale think they wanted to entrap him, and he gave up looking for him.
Three months later (17th April), as Vaughan was busy copying one of Tyndale’s manuscripts in order to send it to Henry (it was his answer to the Dialogue of Sir Thomas More), a man knocked at his door. “Someone, who calls himself a friend of yours, desires very much to speak with you,” said the stranger, “and begs you to follow me.” “Who is this friend? Where is he?” asked Vaughan. “I do not know him,” replied the messenger, “but come along, and you will see for yourself.” Vaughan doubted whether it was prudent to follow this person to a strange place. He made up his mind, however, to accompany him. The agent of Henry VIII and the messenger threaded the streets of Antwerp, went out of the city, and at last reached a lonely field, by the side of which the Scheldt flowed sluggishly through the level country. As he advanced, Vaughan saw a man of noble bearing awaiting him. “Do you not recognize me?” he asked Vaughan. “I cannot call to mind your features,” answered the latter. “My name is Tyndale,” said the stranger. “Tyndale!” exclaimed Vaughan with delight. “Tyndale! what a happy meeting!”
Tyndale, who had heard of Henry’s new plans, had no confidence either in the prince or in his pretended Reformation. The king’s endless negotiations with the pope, his worldliness, his amours, his persecution of evangelical Christians, and especially the ignominious punishment inflicted on John Tyndale—all these matters disgusted him. However, having been informed of the nature of Vaughan’s mission, he desired to turn it to advantage by addressing a few warnings to the prince. “I have written certain books,” he said, “to warn his Majesty of the subtle demeanor of the clergy of his realm towards his person, in which doing I showed the heart of a true subject, to the intent that his Grace might prepare remedies against their subtle dreams. An exile from my native country, I suffer hunger, thirst, cold, absence of friends, everywhere encompassed with great danger; in innumerable hard and sharp fightings, I do not feel their asperity, by reason that I hope with my labors to do honor to God, true service to my prince, and pleasure to his commons.”
“Cheer up,” said Vaughan, “your exile, poverty, fightings, all are at an end; you can return to England.” … “What matters it,” said Tyndale, “if my exile finishes, so long as the Bible is banished? Has the king forgotten that God has commanded His Word to be spread throughout the world? If it continues to be forbidden to his subjects, very death were more pleasant to me than life.”
Vaughan did not consider himself worsted. The messenger, who remained at a distance and could hear nothing, was astonished at seeing the two men in that solitary field conversing together so long, and with so much animation. “Tell me what guarantees you desire,” said Vaughan, “the king will grant them you.” “Of course the king would give me a safe-conduct,” answered Tyndale, “but the clergy would persuade him that promises made to heretics are not binding.” Night was coming on, Henry’s agent might have had Tyndale followed and seized. The idea occurred to Vaughan, but he rejected it. Tyndale began, however, to feel himself ill at ease. “Farewell,” he said, “you shall see me again before long, or hear news of me.” He then departed, walking away from Antwerp. Vaughan, who re-entered the city, was surprised to see Tyndale make for the open country. He supposed it to be a stratagem, and once more doubted whether he ought not to have seized the Reformer to please his master. “I might have failed of my purpose,” he said; besides it was now too late, for Tyndale had disappeared.
As soon as Vaughan reached home he hastened to send to London an account of this singular conference. Cromwell immediately proceeded to court and laid before the king the envoy’s letter and the Reformer’s book. “Good!” said Henry, “as soon as I have leisure I will read them both.” He did so, and was exasperated against Tyndale, who refused his invitation, mistrusted his word, and even dared to give him advice. In his passion the king in all probability tore off the latter part of Vaughan’s letter, flung it in the fire, and entirely gave up his idea of bringing the Reformer into England to make use of him against the pope, fearing that such a torch would set the whole kingdom in a blaze. He thought only how he could seize him and punish him for his arrogance.
He sent for Cromwell; before him on the table lay the treatise by Tyndale, which Vaughan had copied and sent. “These pages,” said Henry to his minister, while pointing to the manuscript, “these pages are the work of a visionary; they are full of lies, sedition, and calumny. Vaughan shows too much affection for Tyndale. Let him beware of inviting him to come into the kingdom. He is a perverse and hardened character who cannot be changed. I am too happy that he is out of England.”
Cromwell retired in vexation. He wrote to Vaughan, but the king found the letter too weak, and Cromwell had to correct it, to make it harmonize with the wrath of the prince.
An ambitious man, he bent before the obstinate will of his master, but the loss of Tyndale seemed irreparable. Accordingly, while informing Vaughan of the king’s anger, he added that if wholesome reflection should bring Tyndale to reason, the king was “so inclined to mercy, pity, and compassion,” that he would doubtless see him with pleasure. Vaughan, whose heart Tyndale had gained, began to hunt after him again, and had a second interview with him. He gave him Cromwell’s letter to read, and when the Reformer came to the words we have just quoted about Henry’s compassion, his eyes filled with tears. “What gracious words!” he exclaimed. “Yes,” said Vaughan, “they have such sweetness, that they would break the hardest heart in the world.” Tyndale, deeply moved, tried to find some mode of fulfilling his duty towards God and towards the king. “If his Majesty,” he said, “would condescend to permit only a bare text of the Scriptures to circulate among the people, as they do in the states of the Emperor and in other Christian countries, I would bind myself never to write again; I would throw myself at his feet, offering my body as a sacrifice, ready to submit if necessary to torture and to death.”
But a gulf lay between the monarch and the Reformer. Henry VIII saw the seeds of heresy in the Scriptures, and Tyndale rejected every reformation which they wished to carry out by proscribing the Bible. “Heresy springeth not from the Scriptures,” he said, “no more than darkness from the sun.” Tyndale disappeared again, and the name of his hiding place is unknown.
The King of England was not discouraged by the check he had received. He wanted men possessed of talent and zeal, men resolved to attack the pope. Cambridge had given England a teacher who might be placed beside, and perhaps even above, Latimer and Tyndale; this was John Fryth. He thirsted for the truth; he sought God, and was determined to give himself wholly to Jesus Christ. One day Cromwell said to the king, “What a pity it is, your Highness, that a man so distinguished as Fryth in letters and sciences, should be among the sectarians!” Like Tyndale, he had quitted England. Cromwell, with Henry’s consent, wrote to Vaughan, “His Majesty strongly desires the reconciliation of Fryth, who (he firmly believes) is not so far advanced as Tyndale in the evil way. Always full of mercy, the king is ready to receive him to favour; try to attract him charitably, politically.” Vaughan immediately began his inquiries; it was May 1531, but the first news he received was that Fryth, a minister of the Gospel, was just married in Holland. “This marriage,” he wrote to the king, “may by chance hinder my persuasion.” This was not all; Fryth was boldly printing, at Amsterdam, Tyndale’s answer to Sir Thomas More. Henry was forced to give him up, as he had given up his friend. He succeeded with none but Latimer, and even the chaplain told him many harsh truths. There was a decided incompatibility between the spiritual reform and the political reform; the work of God refused to ally itself with the work of the throne. The Christian faith and the visible Church are two distinct things. Some (and among them the Reformers) require Christianity—a living Christianity; others (and it was the case of Henry and his prelates) look for the Church and its hierarchy, and care little whether a living faith be found there or not. This is a capital error. Real religion must exist first, and then this religion must produce a true religious society. Tyndale, Fryth, and their friends desired to begin with religion; Henry and his followers with an ecclesiastical society, hostile to faith. The king and the reformers could not, therefore, come to an understanding. Henry, profoundly hurt by the boldness of those evangelical men, swore that as they would not have peace they should have war… war to the knife.
The King of England—”Head of the Church” January to March, 1530
Henry VIII desired to introduce great changes into the ecclesiastical corporation of his kingdom. His royal power had much to bear from the power of the clergy. It was the same in all Catholic monarchies, but England had more to complain of than others. Of the three estates, Clergy, Nobility, and Commons, the first was the most powerful. The nobility had been weakened by the civil wars; the commons had long been without authority and energy; the prelates thus occupied the first rank, so that in 1529 an archbishop and cardinal (Wolsey) was the most powerful man in England, not even the king excepted. Henry had felt the yoke, and wished to free himself, not only from the domination of the pope, but also from the influence of the higher clergy. If he had only intended to be avenged of the pontiff, it would have been enough to allow the Reformation to act; when a mighty wind blows from heaven, it sweeps away all the contrivances of men. But Henry was deficient neither in prudence nor calculation. He feared lest a diversity of doctrine should engender disturbances in his kingdom. He wished to free himself from the pope and the prelates, without throwing himself into the arms of Tyndale or of Latimer.
Kings and people had observed that the domination of the Papacy, and its authority over the clergy, were an insurmountable obstacle to the autonomy of the State. As far back as 1268, St. Louis had declared that France owed allegiance to God alone, and other princes had followed his example. Henry VIII determined to do more—to break the chains which bound the clergy to the Romish throne, and fasten them to the crown. The power of England, delivered from the papacy, which had been its cankerworm, would then be developed with freedom and energy, and would place the country in the foremost rank among nations. The renovating spirit of the age was favorable to Henry’s plans; without delay he must put into execution the bold plan which Cromwell had unrolled before his eyes in Whitehall Park. Henry concentrated upon having himself recognized as head of the Church.
This important revolution could not be accomplished by a simple act of royal authority, in England particularly, where constitutional principles already possessed an incontestable influence. It was necessary to prevail upon the clergy to cross the Rubicon by emancipating themselves from Rome. But how to bring it about? This was the subject of the meditations of the sagacious Cromwell, who, gradually rising in the king’s confidence to the place formerly held by Wolsey, made a different use of it. Urged by ambition, possessing an energetic character, a sound judgment, unshaken firmness, no obstacle could arrest his activity. He sought how he could give the king the spiritual scepter, and this was the plan on which he fixed. The kings of England had been known occasionally to revive old laws fallen into desuetude, and visit with heavy penalties those who had violated them. Cromwell represented to the king that the statutes made punishable any man who should recognize a dignity established by the pope in the English Church; that Wolsey, by exercising the functions of papal legate, had encroached upon the rights of the Crown and been condemned, which was but justice; while the members of the clergy—who had recognized the unlawful jurisdiction of the pretended legate—had thereby become as guilty as he had been. “The statute of Præmunire,” he said, “condemns them as well as their chief.” Henry, who listened attentively, found that the expedient of his Secretary of State was in conformity with the letter of the law, and that it put all the clergy in his power. He did not hesitate to give full power to his ministers. Under such a state of things there was not one innocent person in England; the two houses of parliament, the privy council, all the nation must be brought to the bar. Henry, full of “condescension,” was pleased to confine himself to the clergy.
The convocation of the province of Canterbury having met on the 7th of January, 1531, Cromwell entered the hall and quietly took his seat among the bishops; then rising, he informed them that their property and benefices were to be confiscated for the good of his Majesty, because they had submitted to the unconstitutional power of the cardinal. What terrible news! It was a thunderbolt to those selfish prelates; they were amazed. At length some of them plucked up a little courage. “The king himself had sanctioned the authority of the cardinal-legate,” they said. “We merely obeyed his supreme will. Our resistance to his Majesty’s proclamations would infallibly have ruined us.” “That is of no consequence,” was the reply, “there was the law; you should obey the constitution of the country even at the peril of your lives.” The terrified bishops laid at the foot of the throne a magnificent sum by which they hoped to redeem their offenses and their benefices. But that was not what Henry desired; he pretended to set little store by their money. The threat of confiscation must constrain them to pay a ransom of still greater value. “My lords,” said Cromwell, “in a petition that some of you presented to the pope not long ago, you called the king your soul and your head. Come, then, expressly recognize the supremacy of the king over the Church, and his Majesty, of his great goodness, will grant you your pardon.” What a demand! The distracted clergy assembled, and a deliberation of extreme importance began. “The words in the address to the pope,” said some, “were a mere form, and had not the meaning ascribed to them.” “The king being unable to untie the Gordian knot at Rome,” said others, alluding to the divorce, “intends to cut it with his sword.” “The secular power,” exclaimed the most zealous, “has no voice in ecclesiastical matters. To recognize the king as head of the Church would be to overthrow the catholic faith. … The head of the Church is the pope.” The debate lasted three days, and as Henry’s ministers pointed to the theocratic government of Israel, a priest exclaimed, “We oppose the New Testament to the Old; according to the gospel, Christ is head of the Church.” When this was told the king, he said, “Very well, I consent. If you declare me head of the Church you may add under God.” In this way the papal claims here compromised all the more. “We will expose ourselves to everything,” they said, “rather than dethrone the Roman pontiff.”
The bishops of Lincoln and Exeter were deputed to beseech the king to withdraw his demand; they could not so much as obtain an audience. Henry had made up his mind—the priests must yield. The only means of their obtaining pardon (they were told) was by their renouncing the papal supremacy. The bishops made a fresh attempt to satisfy both the requirements of the king and those of their own conscience. “Shrink before the clergy and they are lions,” the courtiers said, “withstand them and they are sheep.” “Your fate is in your own hands. If you refuse the king’s demand, the disgrace of Wolsey may show you what you may expect.” Archbishop Warham, president of the convocation, a prudent man, far advanced in years and near his end, tried to hit upon some compromise. The great movements which agitated the Church all over Europe disturbed him. He had in times past complained to the king of Wolsey’s usurpations, and was not far from recognizing the royal supremacy. He proposed to insert a simple clause in the act conferring the required jurisdiction on the king, namely, Quantum per legem Christi licet (so far as the law of Christ permits). “You have played me a shrewd turn,” exclaimed the King. “I thought to have made fools of those prelates, and now you have so ordered the business that they are likely to make a fool of me. Go to them again, and let me have the business passed without any guantums or tantums. … So far as the law of Christ permits! Such a reserve would make one believe that my authority was disputable.”
Henry’s ministers ventured on this occasion to resist him; they showed him that this clause would prevent an immediate rupture with Rome, and it might be repealed hereafter. He yielded at last, and the archbishop submitted the clause with the amendment to convocation. It was a solemn moment for England. The bishops were convinced that the king was asking them to do what was wrong, the end of which would be a rupture with Rome. In the time of Hildebrand the prelates would have answered “No,” and found a sympathetic support in the laity. But things had changed; the people were weary of the long domination of the priests. The primate, desirous of ending the matter, said to his colleagues, “Do you recognize the king as sole protector of the Church and clergy of England, and, so far as is allowed by the law of Christ, also as your supreme head?” All remained speechless. “Will you let me know your opinions?” resumed the archbishop. There was a dead silence. “Whoever is silent seems to consent,” said the primate.” “Then we are all silent,” answered one of the members. Were these words inspired by courage or by cowardice? Were they an assent or a protest? We cannot say. In this matter we cannot side either with the king or with the priests. The heart of man easily takes the part of those who are oppressed, but here the oppressed were also oppressors. Convocation next gave its support to the opinion of the universities respecting the divorce, and thus Henry gained his first victory.
For breach of præmunire the Convocation of Canterbury was permitted by the king to purchase his pardon by rendering to the royal exchequer a hundred thousand pounds sterling, an enormous sum for those times. This was in February, 1531. Later in the year the Convocation of York followed suit with a payment of a little less than nineteen thousand pounds. Thus at one stroke the clergy of England were deprived of both riches and honor.
Animated discussion took place in the northern Convocation. “If you proclaim the king supreme head,” said bishop Tunstall, “it can only be in temporal matters.” “Indeed!” retorted Henry’s minister, “is an act of convocation necessary to determine that the king reigns?” “If spiritual things are meant,” answered the bishop, “I withdraw from convocation that I may not withdraw from the Church.”
“My lords,” said Henry, “no one disputes your right to preach and administer the sacraments. Did not Paul submit to Caesar’s tribunal, and our Savior himself to Pilate’s?” Henry’s ecclesiastical theories prevailed also at York. A great revolution was effected in England, and fresh compromises were to consolidate it.
The king, having obtained what he desired, condescended in his great mercy to pardon the clergy for their unpardonable offense of having recognized Wolsey as papal legate. At the request of the Commons this amnesty was extended to all England. The nation, which at first saw nothing in this affair but an act enfranchising themselves from the usurped power of the popes, showed their gratitude to Henry, but there was a reverse to the medal. If the pope was despoiled, the king was invested. Was not the function ascribed to him contrary to the Gospel? Would not this act impress upon the Anglican Reformation a territorial and aristocratic character, which would introduce into the Reformed Church the world with all its splendor and wealth? If the royal preeminence endows the Anglican Church with the pomps of worship, of classical studies, of high dignities, will it not also carry along with it luxury, sinecures, and worldliness among the prelates? Shall we not see the royal authority pronounce on questions of dogma, and declare the most sacred doctrines indifferent? A little later an attempt was made to limit the power of the king in religious matters. “We give not to our princes the ministry of God’s Word or the sacraments,” says the thirty-seventh Article of Religion.
The King Puts Catherine Away March to June 1531
The king, having obtained so important a concession from the clergy, turned to his parliament to ask a service of another kind—one in his eyes still more urgent.
On the 30th of March, 1531, the session being about to terminate, Sir Thomas More, the chancellor, went to the House of Commons, and submitted to them the decision of the various universities on the king’s marriage and the power of the pope. The Commons looked at the affair essentially from a political point of view; they did not understand that because the king had lived twenty years with the queen, he ought not to be separated from her. The documents placed before their eyes “made them detest the marriage” of Henry and Catherine. The chancellor desired the members to report in their respective counties and towns that the king had not asked for this divorce of his own will or pleasure, but “only for the discharge of his conscience and surety of the succession of his crown.” “Enlighten the people,” he said, “and preserve peace in the nation with the sentiments of loyalty due to the monarch.”
The king hastened to use the powers which universities, clergy, and parliament had placed in his hands. Immediately after the prorogation, certain lords went down to Greenwich and laid before the queen the decisions which condemned her marriage, and urged her to accept the arbitration of four bishops and four lay peers. Catherine replied sadly but firmly, “I pray you, tell the king I say I am his lawful wife, and in that point I will abide until the court of Rome determine to the contrary.”
The divorce which, notwithstanding Catherine’s refusal, was approaching, caused great agitation among the people, and the members of parliament had some trouble to preserve order, as Sir Thomas More had desired them. Priests proclaimed from their pulpits the downfall of the Church and the coming of Antichrist; the mendicant friars scattered discontent in every house which they entered, the most fanatical of them not fearing to insinuate that the wrath of God would soon hurl the impious prince from his throne. In towns and villages, in castles and alehouses, men talked of nothing but the divorce and the primacy claimed by the king. Women standing at their doors, men gathering round the blacksmith’s forge, spoke more or less disrespectfully of parliament, the bishops, the dangers of the Romish Church, and the prospects of the Reformation. If a few friends met at night around the hearth, they told strange tales to one another. The king, queen, pope, devil, saints, Cromwell, and the higher clergy formed the subject of their conversation. The gypsies at that time strolling through the country added to the confusion. Sometimes they would appear in the midst of these animated discussions, and prophesy lamentable events, at times calling up the dead to make them speak of the future. The terrible calamities they predicted froze their hearers with affright, and their sinister prophecies were the cause of disorders and even of crimes. Accordingly an act was passed pronouncing the penalty of banishment against them.
An unfortunate event tended still more to strike men’s imaginations. It was reported that the bishop of Rochester, that prelate so terrible to the reformers and so good to the poor, had narrowly escaped being poisoned by his cook. Seventeen persons were taken ill after eating porridge at the episcopal palace; one of the bishop’s gentlemen died, as well as a poor woman to whom the remains of the food had been given. It was maliciously remarked that the bishop was the only one who frankly opposed the divorce and the royal supremacy. Calumny even aimed at the throne. When Henry heard of this, he resolved to make short work of all such nonsense; he ordered the offense to be deemed as high treason, and the wretched cook was taken to Smithfield, there to be boiled to death. This was a variation of the penalty pronounced upon the evangelicals. Such was the cruel justice of the sixteenth century.
While the universities, parliament, convocation, and the nation appeared to support Henry VIII, one voice was raised against the divorce. It was that of a young man, brought up by the king, and that voice moved him deeply. There still remained in England some scions of the house of York, and among them a nephew of that unhappy Warwick whom Henry VII had cruelly put to death. Warwick’s sister, Margaret, had been married to Sir Richard Pole, a knight of Buckinghamshire. In 1505 she was left a widow with two daughters and three sons; the youngest, Reginald, became a favorite with Henry VIII, who destined him for the archiepiscopal see of Canterbury. “Your kindnesses are such,” said Pole to him, “that a king could grant no more, even to a son.” But Reginald, to whom his mother had told the story of the execution of the unhappy Warwick, had contracted an invincible hatred against the Tudors. Accordingly, in despite of certain evangelical tendencies, Pole seeing Henry separating from the pope, resolved to throw himself into the arms of the pontiff. Reginald, invested with the Roman purple, rose to be president of the council and primate of all England under Queen Mary. Elegant in his manners, with a fine intellect, and sincere in his religious convictions, he was selfish, irritable, and ambitious; desires of elevation and revenge led a noble nature astray. If the branch of which he was the representative was ever to recover the crown, it could only be by the help of the Roman pontiffs; henceforward their cause was his. Loaded with benefits by Henry VIII, he was incessantly pursued by the recollection of the rights of Rome and of the White Rose, and he went so far as to insult before all Europe the prince who had been his first friend.
At this time Pole was living at a house in the country which Henry had given him. One day he received at this charming retreat a communication from the duke of Norfolk. “The king destines you for the highest honors of the English Church,” wrote this nobleman, “and offers you at once the important sees of York and Winchester, left vacant by the death of Cardinal Wolsey.” At the same time the duke asked Pole’s opinion about the divorce. Reginald’s brothers, and particularly the eldest, Lord Montague, entreated him to answer as all the catholic world had answered, and not irritate a prince whose anger would ruin them all. The blood of Warwick and the king’s revolt against Rome induced Pole to reject with horror all the honors which Henry offered, and yet that prince was his benefactor. He fancied he had discovered a middle course which would permit him to satisfy alike his conscience and his king.
He went to Whitehall, where Henry received him like a friend. Pole hesitated in distress; he wished to let the king know his thoughts, but the words would not come to his lips. At last, encouraged by the prince’s affability, he summoned up his resolution, and in a voice trembling with emotion, said, “You must not separate from the queen.” Henry had expected something different. Was it thus that his kindnesses were to be repaid? His eyes flashed with anger, and he laid his hand on his sword. Pole humbled himself, “If I possess any knowledge, to whom do I owe it, unless to your Majesty? In listening to me, you are listening to your own pupil.” The king recovered himself, and said, “I will consider your opinion, and send you my answer.” Pole withdrew. “He put me in such a passion,” said the king to one of his gentlemen, “that I nearly struck him. … But there is something in the man that wins my heart.”
Montague and Reginald’s other brother again conjured him to accept the high position which the king reserved for him, but his soul revolted at being subordinate to a Tudor. He therefore wrote a memoir, which he presented to Henry, and in which he entreated him implicitly to submit the divorce question to the court of Rome. “How could I speak against your marriage with the queen?” he said. “Should I not accuse your Majesty of having lived for more than twenty years in an unlawful union? By the divorce, you will array all the powers against you—the pope, the Emperor; and as for the French… we can never find in our hearts to trust them. You are at this moment on the verge of an abyss. … One step more, and all is over. There is only one way of safety left your Grace, and that is submission to the pope.”
Henry was moved. The boldness with which this young nobleman dared accuse him irritated his pride; still his friendship prevailed, and he forgave it. Pole received the permission he had asked to leave England, and to continue to draw his revenues as Dean of Exeter.
Reginald Pole was, as it were, the last link that united the royal pair. Thus far the king had continued to show the queen every respect; their mutual affection seemed the same, only they occupied separate rooms. Henry now decided to take an important step. On the 14th of July, 1531, a new deputation entered the queen’s apartment at Windsor, one of whom informed her that as her marriage with Prince Arthur had been duly consummated she could not be the wife of her husband’s brother. Then after reproaching her with having, contrary to the laws of England and the dignity of the crown, cited his Majesty before the pope’s tribunal, he desired her to choose for her residence either the castle of Oking or of Estamsteed, or the monastery of Bisham. Catherine remained calm, and replied, “Wheresoever I retire, nothing can deprive me of the title which belongs to me. I shall always be his Majesty’s wife.” She left Windsor the same day, and removed to the More in Hertfordshire, a splendid mansion which Wolsey had surrounded with beautiful gardens; then to Estamsteed, and finally to Ampthill in Bedfordshire. The king never saw her again, but all the papists and discontented rallied round her. She entered into correspondence with the sovereigns of Europe, and became the center of a party opposed to the emancipation of England.
“Not Sparing the Flock” September, 1531 to 1532
As Henry, by breaking with Catherine, had broken with the pope, he felt the necessity of uniting more closely with his clergy. Wishing to proceed to the establishment of his new dignity, he required bishops, and particularly dexterous bishops. He therefore made Edward Lee archbishop of York, and Stephen Gardiner bishop of Winchester; and these two men, devoted to scholastic doctrines, ambitious and servile, were commissioned to inaugurate the new ecclesiastical monarchy of the king of England. Although the pope had hastened to send off their bulls, they declared they held their dignity “immediately and only” of the king, and began without delay to organize a strange league. If the king needed the bishops against the pope, the bishops needed the king against the reformers. It was not long before this alliance received its baptism of blood.
But before proceeding so far, the prelates deliberated about the means of raising the £119,000 they had bound themselves to pay the king. Each wished to make his own share as small as possible, and throw the largest part of the burden upon his colleagues. The bishops determined to place it in great measure on the shoulders of the parochial clergy.
Stokesley, bishop of London, began the battle. An able, greedy, violent man, and jealous of his prerogatives, he called a meeting of six or eight priests on whom he believed he could depend, in order to draw up with their assistance such resolutions as he could afterwards impose more easily upon their brethren. These picked ecclesiastics were desired to meet on the 1st of September, 1531, in the chapter-house of St. Paul’s.
The bishop’s plan had got wind, and excited general indignation in the city. Was it just that the victims should pay the fine? Some of the laity, delighted at seeing the clergy quarrelling, sought to fan the flame instead of extinguishing it.
When the 1st of September arrived, the bishop entered the chapter-house with his officers, where the conference with the priests was to be held. Presently an unusual noise was heard round St. Paul’s; not only the six or eight priests, but six hundred, accompanied by a great number of citizens and common people, made their appearance. The crowd swayed to and fro before the cathedral gates, shouting and clamoring to be admitted into the chapter-house on the same footing as the select few. What was to be done? The prelate’s councilors advised him to add a few of the less violent priests to those he had already chosen. Stokesley adopted their advice, hoping that the gates and bolts would be strong enough to keep out the rest. Accordingly he drew up a list of new members, and one of his officers, going out to the angry crowd, read the names of those whom the bishop had selected. The latter came forward, not without trouble; but at the same time the excluded priests made a vigorous attempt to enter. There was a fierce struggle of men pushing and shouting, but the bishop’s officials having passed in quickly, those who had been nominated hurriedly closed the doors. So far the victory seemed to rest with the bishop, and he was about to speak, when the uproar became deafening. The priests outside, exasperated because their financial matters were to be settled without them, protested that they ought to hold their own purse-strings. Laying hands on whatever they could find, and aided by the laity, they began to batter the door of the chapter-house. They succeeded; the door gave way, and all, priests and citizens, rushed in together. The bishop’s officials tried in vain to stop them; they were roughly pushed aside. Their gowns were torn, their faces streamed with perspiration, their features were disfigured, and some even were wounded. The furious priests entered the room at last, storming and shouting. It was more like a pack of hounds rushing on a stag than the reverend clergy of the metropolis of England appearing before their bishop. The prelate, who had tact, showed no anger, but sought rather to calm the rioters. “My brethren,” he said, “I marvel not a little why ye be so heady. Ye know not what shall be said to you, therefore I pray you hear me patiently. Ye all know that we be men frail of condition, and by our lack of wisdom have misdemeaned ourselves towards the king and fallen in a præmunire, by reason whereof all our lands, goods, and chattels were to him forfeit, and our bodies ready to be imprisoned. Yet his Grace of his great clemency is pleased to pardon us, and to accept of a little instead of the whole of our benefices, to be paid in five years. I exhort you to bear your parts towards payment of this sum granted.”
This was just what the priests did not want. They thought it strange to be asked for money for an offense they had not committed. “My lord,” answered one, “we have never offended against thepræmunire, we have never meddled with cardinal’s faculties. Let the bishops and abbots pay; they committed the offense, and they have good places.” “My lord,” added another, “twenty nobles a year is but a bare living for a priest, and yet it is all we have. Everything is now so dear that poverty compels us to say ‘No.’ Having no need of the king’s pardon, we have no desire to pay.” These words were drowned in applause. “No,” exclaimed the crowd, which was getting noisy again, “we will pay nothing.” The bishop’s officers grew angry and came to high words; the priests returned abuse for abuse; and the citizens, delighted to see their “masters” quarrelling, fanned the strife. From words they soon came to blows. The episcopal ushers, who tried to restore order, were “buffeted and stricken,” and even the bishop’s life was in danger. At last the meeting broke up in great confusion. Stokesley hastened to complain to the chancellor, Sir Thomas More, who, being a great friend of the prelate’s, sent fifteen priests and five laymen to prison. They deserved it, no doubt; but the bishops, who, to spare their superfluity, robbed poor curates of their necessaries, were more guilty still.
Such was the unity that existed between the bishops and the priests of England at the very time the Reformation was appearing at the doors. The prelates understood the danger to which they were exposed through that evangelical doctrine, the source of light and life. They knew that all their ecclesiastical pretensions would crumble away before the breath of the divine Word. Accordingly, not content with robbing of their little substance the poor pastors to whom they should have been as fathers, they determined to deprive those whom they called heretics, not only of their money, but of their liberty and life. Would Henry permit this?
The king did not wish to withdraw England from the papal jurisdiction without the assent of the clergy. If he did so of his own authority, the priests would rise against him and compare him to Luther. There were at that time three great parties in Christendom—the evangelical, the catholic, and the popish. Henry purposed to overthrow popery, but without going so far as evangelicalism; he desired to remain in catholicism. One means occurred of satisfying the clergy. Although they were fanatical partisans of the Church, they had sacrificed the pope; they now imagined that, by sacrificing a few heretics, they would atone for their cowardly submission. In a later age Louis XIV did the same to make up for errors of another kind. The provincial synod of Canterbury met and addressed the king: “Your Highness one time defended the Church with your pen, when you were only a member of it; now that you are its supreme head, your Majesty should crush its enemies, and so shall your merits exceed all praise.”
In order to prove that he was not another Luther, Henry VIII consented to hand over the disciples of that heretic to the priests; and gave them authority to imprison and burn them, provided they would aid the king to resume the power usurped by the pope. The bishops immediately began to hunt down the friends of the Gospel.
A will had given rise to much talk in the county of Gloucester. William Tracy, a gentleman of irreproachable conduct and “full of good works, equally generous to the clergy and the laity,” had died praying God to save his soul through the merits of Jesus Christ, but leaving no money to the priests for masses. The primate of England had his bones dug up and burnt. But this was not enough; they must also burn the living.
The “testament and last will” of William Tracy is worthy of notice as showing how far Reformed doctrine had penetrated into England by the year 1530. Tracy belonged to Toddington, eight miles south of Evesham, and was at one time High Sheriff of his county. His will ran as follows: “First and before all other things, I commit myself to God and to His mercy, believing, without any doubt or mistrust, that by His grace, and the merits of Jesus Christ, and by the virtue of His passion and of His resurrection, I have and shall have remission of all my sins, and resurrection of body and soul, according as it is written, I believe that my Redeemer liveth, and that in the last day I shall rise out of the earth, and in my flesh shall see my Saviour: this my hope is laid up in my bosom. And touching the wealth of my soul, the faith that I have taken and rehearsed is sufficient (as I suppose) without any other man’s works or merits. My ground of belief is, that there is but one God and one Mediator between God and man, which is Jesus Christ; so that I accept none in heaven or in earth to be mediator between me and God, but only Jesus Christ: and therefore will I bestow no part of my goods for that intent that any man should say or do to help my soul: for therein I trust only to the promises of Christ: ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.’ As touching the burying of my body, it availeth me not whatsoever be done thereto; for… the funeral pomps are rather the solace of them that live, than the wealth and comfort of them that are dead. And touching the distribution of my temporal goods, my purpose is, by the grace of God, to bestow them to be accepted as the fruits of faith; so that I do not suppose that my merit shall be by the good bestowing of them, but my merit is the faith of Jesus Christ only, by whom such works are good… and ever we should consider that true saying, that a good work maketh not a good man but a good man maketh a good work; for faith maketh a man both good and righteous; for a righteous man liveth by faith, and whatsoever springeth not of faith is sin. Witness mine own hand the tenth of October in the twenty-second year of the reign of King Henry the Eighth.”
It was for such a clear testimony as this that the dead body of this worthy successor of Wycliffe was exhumed and burnt nearly two years after his death. The will was likewise condemned under the common seal of the University of Oxford on the 28th of January, 1531.
The Martyrs 1531
The first blows were aimed at the court chaplain. The bishops, finding it dangerous to have such a man near the king, would have liked (Latimer tells us) to place him on burning coals. But Henry loved him, the blow failed, and the priests had to turn to those who were not so well favored at court.
Thomas Bilney, whose conversion had begun the Reformation in England, had been compelled to do penance at St. Paul’s Cross, but from that time he became the prey of the direst terror. His backsliding had manifested the weakness of his faith. Bilney possessed a sincere and lively piety, but a judgment less sound than many of his friends. He had not got rid of certain scruples which in Luther and Calvin had yielded to the supreme authority of God’s Word. In his opinion none but priests consecrated by bishops had the power to bind and loose. This mixture of truth and error had caused his fall. Such sincere but imperfectly enlightened persons are always to be met with—persons who, agitated by the scruples of their conscience, waver between Rome and the Word of God.
At last faith gained the upper hand in Bilney. Leaving his Cambridge friends, he had gone into the Eastern counties to meet his martyrdom. One day, arriving at a hermitage in the vicinity of Norwich, where a pious woman dwelt, his words converted her to Christ. He then began to preach “openly in the fields” to great crowds. His voice was heard in all the county; weeping over his former fall, he said, “That doctrine which I once abjured is the truth. Let my example be a lesson to all who hear me.”
Before long he turned his steps in the direction of London, and, stopping at Ipswich, was not content to preach the Gospel only, but violently attacked the errors of Rome before an astonished audience. Some friars had crept among his hearers, and Bilney perceiving them called out, “The Lamb of God taketh away the sins of the world. If the bishop of Rome dares say that the hood of St. Francis saves, he blasphemes the blood of the Savior.” John Huggen, one of the friars, immediately made a note of the words. Bilney continued, “To invoke the saints and not Christ, is to put the head under the feet and the feet above the head.” Richard Seman took down these words. “Men will come after me,” continued Bilney, “who will teach the same faith and manner of living that I do, the true gospel of our Savior, and will disentangle you from the errors in which deceivers have bound you so long.” Friar Julles hastened to write down the bold prediction.
Latimer, surrounded by the favors of the king and the luxury of the great, watched his friend from afar. He called to mind their walks in the fields round Cambridge, their serious conversation as they climbed the hill, afterwards called after them “the heretics’ hill,” and the visits they had paid together to the poor and to the prisoners. Latimer had seen Bilney very recently at Cambridge in fear and anguish, and had tried in vain to restore him to peace. “He now rejoiced that God had endued him with such strength of faith, that he was ready to be burnt for Christ’s sake.”
Bilney, drawing still nearer to London, arrived at Greenwich about the middle of July. He procured some New Testaments, and hiding them carefully under his clothes, called upon a humble Christian named Lawrence Staples. Taking them “out of his sleeves,” he desired Staples to distribute them among his friends. Then, as if impelled by a thirst for martyrdom, and saying that “he would go up to Jerusalem,” he turned again toward Norwich, whose bishop Richard Nix, a blind octogenarian, was in the front rank of the persecutors. Arriving at the solitary place where the pious “anachoress” lived, he left one of the precious volumes with her. This visit cost Bilney his life. The poor solitary read the New Testament, and lent it to the people who came to see her. The bishop, hearing of it, informed Sir Thomas More, who had Bilney arrested, brought to London, and shut up in the Tower.
Bilney began to breathe again; a load was taken off him; he was about to suffer the penalty his fall deserved. In the room next to his was John Petit, a member of parliament of some eloquence, who had distributed his books and his alms in England and beyond the seas. Philips, the under-gaoler of the Tower, who was a good man, told the two prisoners that only a wooden partition separated them, which was a source of great joy to both. He would often remove a panel, and permit them to converse and take their frugal meals together.
This happiness did not last long. Bilney’s trial was to take place at Norwich, where he had been captured; the aged bishop Nix wanted to make an example in his diocese. A crowd of monks and friars—Augustins, Dominicans, Franciscans, and Carmelites—visited the prison of the evangelist to convert him. Dr. Call, provincial of the Franciscans, having consented that the prisoner should make use of Scripture, was shaken in his faith; but, on the other hand, Stokes, an Augustin and a determined papist, repeated to Bilney, “If you die in your opinions, you will be lost.”
The trial commenced, and the witnesses gave their evidence. “He said,” deposed William Cade, “that the Jews and Saracens would have been converted long since, if the idolatry of the Christians had not disgusted them with Christianity.” “I heard him say,” added Richard Neale, “‘Down with your gods of gold, silver, and stone.’” “He stated,” resumed Cade, “that the priests take away the offerings from the saints and hang them about their women’s necks; and then, if the offerings do not prove fine enough, they are put upon the images again.”
Everyone foresaw the end of this piteous trial. One of Bilney’s friends endeavored to save him. Latimer took the matter into the pulpit, and conjured the judges to decide according to justice. Although Bilney’s name was not uttered, they all knew who was meant. The bishop of London went and complained to the king that his chaplain had the audacity to defend the heretic against the bishop and his judges. Said Latimer later, “It might have become a preacher to say as I said, though Bilney had never been born.” The chaplain escaped once more, thanks to the favor he enjoyed with Henry.
Bilney was condemned, and after being degraded by the priests, was handed over to the two sheriffs of Norwich, one of whom, having great respect for his virtues, begged pardon for discharging his duty. The prudent bishop wrote to the chancellor, asking for an order to burn the heretic. “Burn him first,” rudely answered More, “and then ask me for a bill of indemnity.”
A few of Bilney’s friends went to Norwich to bid him farewell; among them was Matthew Parker, later archbishop of Canterbury. It was in the evening, and Bilney was taking his last meal. On the table stood some frugal fare (ale brew), and on his countenance beamed the joy that filled his soul. “I am surprised,” said one of his friends, “that you can eat so cheerfully.” “I only follow the example of the husbandmen of the country,” answered Bilney, “who having a ruinous house to dwell in, yet bestow cost so long as they may hold it up, and so do I now with this ruinous house of my body.” With these words he rose from the table, and sat down near his friends, one of whom said to him, “Tomorrow the fire will make you feel its devouring fierceness, but the comfort of God’s Holy Spirit will cool it for your everlasting refreshing.” Bilney, appearing to reflect upon what had been said, stretched out his hand towards the lamp that was burning on the table and placed his finger in the flame. “What are you doing?” they exclaimed. “Nothing,” he replied, “I am only trying my flesh; tomorrow God’s rods shall burn my whole body in the fire.” And still keeping his finger in the flame, as if he were making a curious experiment, he continued, “I feel that fire by God’s ordinance is naturally hot; but yet I am persuaded, by God’s Holy Word and the experience of the martyrs, that when the flames consume me, I shall not feel them. Howsoever this stubble of my body shall be wasted by it, a pain for the time is followed by joy unspeakable.” He then withdrew his finger, the first joint of which was burnt. He added, “When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned.” These words remained imprinted on the hearts of some who heard them, until the day of their death, says a chronicler.
In Bilney’s Bible, which is preserved in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, this passage (Isaiah 43:1-3) is marked in the margin with a pen. The book also contains many annotations in Bilney’s own hand.
Beyond the city gate—that known as the Bishop’s gate—was a low valley, called the Lollards’ Pit; it was surrounded by rising ground, forming a sort of amphitheatre. On Saturday, the 19th of August, a body of javelin-men came to fetch Bilney, who met them at the prison gate. One of his friends approaching and exhorting him to be firm, Bilney replied, “When the sailor goes on board his ship and launches out into the stormy sea, he is tossed to and fro by the waves, but the hope of reaching a peaceful haven makes him bear the danger. My voyage is beginning, but whatever storms I shall feel, my ship will soon reach the port.”
Bilney passed through the streets of Norwich in the midst of a dense crowd; his demeanor was grave, his features calm. His head had been shaved, and he wore a layman’s gown. Dr. Warner, one of his friends, accompanied him; another distributed liberal alms all along the route. The procession descended into the Lollards’ Pit, while the spectators covered the surrounding slopes. On arriving at the place of punishment, Bilney fell on his knees and prayed, and then rising up, warmly embraced the stake and kissed it. Turning his eyes towards heaven, he next repeated the Apostles’ Creed, and when he confessed the incarnation and crucifixion of the Savior his emotion was such that even the spectators were moved. Recovering himself, he took off his gown, and ascended the pile, reciting the hundred and forty-third psalm. Thrice he repeated the second verse: “Enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight shall no man lining be justified.” And then he added, “I stretch forth my hands unto thee; my soul thirsteth after thee.” Turning towards the officers, he said, “Are you ready?” “Yes,” was their reply. Bilney placed himself against the post, and held up the chain which bound him to it. His friend Warner, with eyes filled with tears, took a last farewell. Bilney smiled kindly at him and said: “Doctor, pasce gregem tuum (feed your flock), that when the Lord cometh He may find you so doing.” Several monks who had given evidence against him, perceiving the emotion of the spectators, began to tremble, and whispered to the martyr, “These people will believe that we are the cause of your death, and will withhold their alms.” Upon which, Bilney said to them, “Good folks, be not angry against these men for my sake, as though they be the authors of my death; it is not they.” He knew that his death proceeded from the will of God. The torch was applied to the pile; the fire smoldered for a few minutes, and then suddenly burning up fiercely, the martyr was heard to utter the name of Jesus several times, and sometimes the word “Credo” (“I believe”). A strong wind which blew the flames on one side prolonged his agony; thrice they seemed to retire from him, and thrice they returned, until at length, the whole pile being kindled, he expired.
A strange revolution took place in men’s minds after this death; they praised Bilney, and even his persecutors acknowledged his virtues. The bishop of Norwich was heard to exclaim, “I fear I have burnt Abel and let Cain go.” Latimer was inconsolable; twenty years later he still lamented his friend, and one day, preaching before Edward VI, he called to mind that Bilney was always doing good, even to his enemies, and styled him “that blessed martyr of God.”
One martyrdom was not sufficient for the enemies of the Reformation. Stokesley, Lee, Gardiner, and other prelates and priests, feeling themselves guilty towards Rome, which they had sacrificed to their personal ambition, desired to expiate their faults by sacrificing the reformers. Seeing at their feet a fatal gulf, dug between them and the Roman pontiff by their faithlessness, they desired to fill it up with corpses. The persecution continued.
There was at that time a pious evangelist in the dungeons of the bishop of London. He was fastened upright to the wall, with chains round his neck, waist, and legs. Usually the most guilty prisoners were permitted to sit down, and even to lie on the floor; but for this man there was no rest. It was Richard Bayfield, accused of bringing from the continent a number of New Testaments translated by Tyndale. When one of his gaolers told him of Bilney’s martyrdom, he exclaimed, “And I too, and hundreds of men with me, will die for the faith he has confessed.” He was brought shortly afterwards before the episcopal court. “With what intent,” asked Bishop Stokesley, “did you bring into the country the errors of Luther, Œcolampadius the great heretic, and others of that damnable sect?” “To make the Gospel known,” answered Bayfield, “and to glorify God before the people.” Accordingly, the bishop, having condemned and then degraded him, summoned the lord mayor and sheriffs of London, “by the bowels of Jesus Christ” (he had the presumption to say), to do to Bayfield “according to the laudable custom of the famous realm of England.” “O ye priests,” said the gospeller, as if inspired by the Spirit of God, “is it not enough that your lives are wicked, but you must prevent the life according to the gospel from spreading among the people?” The bishop took up his crosier and struck Bayfield so violently on the chest that he fell backwards and fainted. He revived by degrees, and said, on regaining his consciousness, “I thank God that I am delivered from the wicked church of Antichrist, and am going to be a member of the true Church which reigns triumphant in heaven.” He mounted the pile; the flames, touching him only on one side, consumed his left arm. With his right hand Bayfield separated it from his body, and the arm fell. After enduring the flames for three quarters of an hour, he ceased to pray, because he had ceased to live.
John Tewkesbury, one of the most respected merchants in London, whom the bishops had put twice to the rack already, and whose limbs they had broken, felt his courage revived by the martyrdom of his friend. Christ Alone, he said habitually—these two words were all his theology. He was arrested, taken to the house of Sir Thomas More at Chelsea, shut up in the porter’s lodge, his hands, feet, and head being held in the stocks; but they could not obtain from him the recantation they desired. The officers took him into the chancellor’s garden, and bound him so tightly to the tree of truth, as the renowned scholar called it, that the blood started out of his eyes; after which they scourged him. Tewkesbury remained firm.
On the 16th of December, the bishop of London went to Chelsea and held a court at the house of Sir Thomas More. “Thou art a heretic,” said Stokesley,” a backslider; thou hast incurred the great excommunication. We shall deliver thee up to the secular power.” He was burnt alive at Smithfield on the 20th of December, 1531.
Such were at this period the cruel utopias of the bishops and of the witty Sir Thomas More. Other evangelical Christians were thrown into prison. In vain did one of them exclaim, “The more they persecute this sect, the more will it increase.” That opinion did not check the persecution. “It is impossible,” says Foxe (doubtless with some exaggeration), “to name all who were persecuted before the time of Queen Anne Boleyn. As well try to count the grains of sand on the seashore!”
Thus did the real Reformation show by the blood of its martyrs that it had nothing to do with the policy, the tyranny, the intrigues, and the divorce of Henry VIII. If these men of God had not been burnt by that prince, it might possibly have been imagined that he was the author of the transformation of England; but the blood of the reformers cried to heaven that he was its executioner.
The King Despoils the Pope and Clergy March to May, 1532
Henry, having permitted the bishops to execute their task of persecution, proceeded to carry out his own—that of making the papacy disgorge. Unhappily for the clergy, the king could not attack the pope and leave them unscathed. The duel between Henry and Clement was about to become more violent, and in the space of three months (March, April, and May, 1532) the Romish Church, stripped of important prerogatives, would learn that, after so many ages of wealth and honor, the hour of its humiliation in England had come at last.
Henry was determined, above all things, not to permit his cause to be tried at Rome. What would be thought if he yielded? “Could the pope,” wrote Henry to his envoys, “constrain kings to leave the charge God had entrusted to them, in order to humble themselves before him? That would be to tread under foot the glory of our person and the privileges of our kingdom. If the pope persists, take your leave of the pontiff and return to us immediately.” “The pope,” added Norfolk, “would do well to reflect if he intend the continuance of good obedience of England to the see apostolic.”
Catherine on her part did not remain inactive; she wrote a pathetic letter to the pope, informing him that her husband had banished her from the palace. Clement, in the depths of his perplexity, behaved, however, very properly; he called upon the king (25th January) to take back the queen, and to dismiss Anne Boleyn from court. Henry spiritedly rejected the pontiff’s demand. “Never was prince treated by a pope as your Holiness has treated me,” he said, “not painted reason, but the truth alone, must be our guide.” The king prepared to begin the emancipation of England.
Thomas Cromwell is the representative of the political reform achieved by that prince. He was one of those powerful natures which God creates to work important things. His prompt and sure judgment taught him what it would be possible to do under a Tudor king, and his intrepid energy put him in a position to accomplish it. He had an instinctive horror of superstitions and abuses, tracked them to their remotest corner, and threw them down with a vigorous arm. Every obstacle was shattered under the wheels of his car. He even defended the evangelicals against their persecutors, without committing himself, however, and encouraged the reading of Holy Scripture; but the royal supremacy, of which he was the staunch advocate, if not (as some claim) the originator, was his idol.
The events of 1532, involving as they did the royal supremacy, the impact upon the political and ecclesiastical scene of the new secretary Cromwell, the vigorous work of the Commons, and the position and authority of Convocation in a world of change, were of primary importance for both Church and State. In the outcome the constitutional independence of the Church in England was terminated.
The struggles of the Parliamentary session of 1532 commenced with a petition of the Commons against Church courts originally presented in 1529. At that time the matter had been allowed to fall into the background, but under Cromwell’s energetic direction it was now revived and focused on one special issue—the freedom of the Church to legislate for itself. This freedom was no longer acceptable to the king. By the secretary’s skillful strategy, the Commons were moved to present to Henry their “Supplications against the Ordinaries,” a document stressing their orthodoxy, reciting their complaints against the Church courts, and urging the desirability of taking from the Church its powers of independent legislation. This was precisely what Henry desired. He presented the Supplication to Convocation and required it to produce its observations. To Gardiner, now Bishop of Winchester, fell the distasteful task of drawing up the reply. Its principal feature was a compromise proposal that while Convocation should continue to legislate for the Church, the laws it made should not become operative without royal sanction. This proved unacceptable to the king, and Cromwell and he craftily suggested that the Commons would doubtless like to adopt the same attitude as the crown. Their willingness to do so led the king to press his demands, and in a short time an overawed Convocation accepted them in their completeness.
Henry’s final argument proved more potent than all others. Cromwell drew his master’s attention to the oaths which the bishops took at their consecration, both to the king and to the pope. Henry first read the oath to the pope. “I swear,” said the bishop, “to defend the papacy of Rome, the regality of St. Peter, against all men. If I know of any plot against the pope, I will resist it with all my might, and will give him warning. Heretics, schismatics, and rebels to our holy father I shall resist and persecute with all my power.” On the other hand, the bishops took an oath to the king at the same time, wherein they renounced every clause or grant which, coming from the pope, might be in any way detrimental to his Majesty. In one breath they must obey the pope and disobey him.
Such contradictions could not last; the king wanted the English to be not with Rome but with England. Accordingly he sent for the Speaker of the Commons, and said to him, “On examining the matter closely, I find that the bishops, instead of being wholly my subjects, are only so by halves. They swear an oath to the pope quite contrary to that they swear to the crown; so that they are the pope’s subjects rather than mine. I refer the matter to your care.” Parliament was prorogued three days later on account of the plague, but the king did not allow the matter to rest.
The prelates felt that all their defenses against the throne had been completely broken down. They knew well that it was their union with powerful pontiffs, always ready to defend them against kings, which had given them so much strength in the middle ages, and that now they must yield. They therefore lowered their flag before the authority which they had themselves set up. Convocation did, indeed, make a last effort. It represented that “the authority of bishops proceeds immediately from God, and from no power of any secular prince, as your Highness hath shown in your own book most excellently written against Martin Luther.” But the king was firm, and made the prelates yield at last. As for Gardiner, he lost the king’s favor, and any hopes he had of succeeding to the see of Canterbury when the aged Warham died were shattered.
The 15th of May was fateful for the church. On that day Convocation made its surrender in a document known as the Submission of the Clergy. As in 1531, the clergy had, with reservations, acknowledged Henry as their supreme head, so now they accepted him, without reservations, as their supreme legislator. The days of papal power in England were numbered. Thus a great revolution was accomplished—the spiritual power was taken away from the arrogant priests who had so long usurped the rights of the members of the Church. It was only justice, but it ought to have been placed in better hands than those of Henry VIII.
The 16th of May witnessed another notable event. To the last, the English priests had hoped in Sir Thomas More. That disciple of Erasmus had acted like his master. After assailing the Romish superstitions with biting jests, he had turned round, and seeing the Reformation attack them with weapons still more powerful, he had fought against the evangelicals with fire and scourge. For two years he had filled the office of lord-chancellor with unequalled activity and integrity. Convocation having offered him four thousand pounds sterling “for the pains he had taken in God’s quarrel,” he answered, “I will receive no recompense save from God alone,” and when the priests urged him to accept the money, he said, “I would sooner throw it into the Thames.” He did not persecute from any mercenary motives, but the more he advanced, the more bigoted and fanatical he became. Every Sunday he put on a surplice and sang mass at Chelsea. The duke of Norfolk surprised him one day in this equipment. “What do I see?” he exclaimed. “My lord-chancellor acting the parish clerk… you dishonor your office and your king.” “Not so,” answered Sir Thomas seriously, “for I am honoring his Master and ours.”
The great question of the bishop’s oath warned him that he could not serve both the king and the pope. His mind was soon made up. In the afternoon of the 16th of May he went to Whitehall gardens, where the king awaited him, and in the presence of the duke of Norfolk resigned the seals. On his return home, he cheerfully told his wife and daughters of his resignation, but they were much disturbed by it. As for Sir Thomas, delighted at being freed from his charge, he indulged more than ever in his flagellations, without renouncing his witty sayings—Erasmus and Loyola combined in one.
Henry gave the seals to Sir Thomas Audley, a man well disposed towards the Gospel—this was preparing the emancipation of England. Yet the Reformation was still exposed to great danger.
Henry struck another blow against the papacy in 1532. It was being prepared while the struggle between the crown and the clergy was causing deep and bitter searchings of heart. Annates were the payments made by the bishops to the pope when they entered into possession of their sees. A Bill was introduced into Parliament—it became the famous First Act of Annates—which proposed to abolish these payments. Lest the pope should retaliate by refusing consecration to bishops-elect, the Bill further proposed arrangements for their consecration at the hands of their fellow bishops, apart from his authority. Actually the Bill was intended as a weapon to cause the pope to yield to Henry’s wishes, for one of the clauses suspended its operation until the king was pleased to issue confirmatory letters patent. The Bill therefore had the nature of a Damocles’ sword suspended over the tiara-crowned head of the pope.
Clearly the work of reformation was gathering momentum. Henry VIII wished to abolish popery and set Catholicism in its place—maintain the doctrine of Rome, but substitute the authority of the king for that of the pontiff. He was wrong in keeping the catholic doctrine; he was wrong in establishing the jurisdiction of the prince in the Church. Evangelical Christians had to contend against these two evils in England, and to establish the supreme and exclusive sovereignty of the Word of God. Can we blame them if they have not entirely succeeded? To attain their object they willingly have poured out their blood.
Liberty of Inquiry and Preaching 1532
There are writers who seriously ascribe the Reformation in England to the divorce of Henry VIII, and thus silently pass over the Word of God and the labors of the evangelical men who really founded English protestant Christianity, some of whom loved not their lives unto the death. As well forget that light proceeds from the sun. But for the faith of such men as Bilney, Latimer, and Tyndale, the Church of England, with its king, ministers of state, parliament, bishops, cathedrals, liturgy, hierarchy, and ceremonies, would have been a gallant bark, well supplied with masts, sails, and rigging, and manned by able sailors, but acted on by no breath from heaven. The Church would have stood still. It is in the humble members of the kingdom of God that its real strength lies. “Those whom the Lord has exalted to high estate,” says Calvin, “most often fall back little by little, or are ruined at one blow.” England, with its wealth and grandeur, needed a counterpoise—the living faith of the poor in spirit. If a people attain a high degree of material prosperity; if they conquer by their energy the powers of nature; if they compel industry to lavish its stores on them; if they cover the seas with their ships, the more distant countries with their colonies and marts, and fill their warehouses and their dwellings with the produce of the whole earth, then great dangers encompass them. Material things threaten to extinguish the sacred fire in their bosoms; and unless the Holy Ghost raises up a salutary opposition against such snares, that people, instead of acting a moralizing and civilizing part, may turn out nothing better than a huge noisy machine, fitted only to satisfy vulgar appetites. For a nation to do justice to a high and glorious calling, it must have within itself the life of faith, holiness of conscience, and the hope of incorruptible riches. At this time there were men in England in whose hearts God had kindled a holy flame, and who were to become the most important instruments of its moral transformation.
About the end of 1531, a young minister, John Nicholson, surnamed Lambert, was on board one of the ships that traded between London and Antwerp. He was chaplain to the merchants in the English House at the latter place, well versed in the writings of Luther and other reformers, intimate with Tyndale, and had preached the Gospel with power. Being accused of heresy by a certain Barlow, he was seized, put in irons, and sent to London. Alone in the ship, he retraced in his memory the principal events of his life—how he had studied in the university of Cambridge and had been converted by Bilney’s ministry; how, mingling with the crowd round St. Paul’s Cross, he had heard the bishop of Rochester preach against the New Testament; and how, terrified by the impiety of the priests, and burning with desire to gain the knowledge of God, he had crossed the sea to the Netherlands. When he reached England, he was taken to Lambeth, where he underwent a preliminary examination. He was then taken to Otford, near Sevenoaks, Kent, where Archbishop Warham had a fine palace, and was brought before the archbishop and called upon to reply to forty-five different articles.
Lambert, during his residence on the Continent, had become thoroughly imbued with the principles of the Reformation. He believed that it was only by entire freedom of inquiry that men could be convinced of the truth. But he had not wandered without a compass over the vast ocean of human opinions; he had taken the Bible in his hand, believing firmly that every doctrine found therein is true, and everything that contradicts it is false. On the one hand he saw the papal system which opposes religious freedom, freedom of the press, and even freedom of reading; on the other hand protestantism, which declares that every man ought to be free to examine Scripture and submit to its teachings.
The archbishop, attended by his officers, having taken his seat in the palace chapel, Lambert was brought in, and the examination began.
“Have you read Luther’s books?” asked the prelate.
“Yes,” replied Lambert, “and I thank God that ever I did so, for by them hath God shown me, and a vast multitude of others also, such light as the darkness cannot abide.” Then testifying to the freedom of inquiry, he added, “Luther desires above all things that his writings and the writings of all his adversaries might be translated into all languages, to the intent that all people might see and know what is said on each side, whereby they might better judge what is the truth. And this is done not only by hundreds and thousands, but by whole cities and countries, both high and low. But (he continued) in England our prelates are so drowned in voluptuous living that they have no leisure to study God’s Scripture; they abhor it, no less than they abhor death, giving no other reason than the tyrannical saying of Sardanapalus: Sic volo, sic jubeo: sit pro ratione voluntas, So I will, so do I command, and let my will for reason stand. Moreover they curse as black as pitch men who keep and read the books written by Luther.”
Lambert, wishing to make these matters intelligible to the people, said, “When you desire to buy cloth, you will not be satisfied with seeing one merchant’s wares, but go from the first to the second, from the second to the third, to find who has the best cloth. Will you be more remiss about your soul’s health? … When you go a journey, not knowing perfectly the way, you will inquire of one man after another; so ought we likewise to seek about entering the kingdom of heaven. Chrysostom himself in his commentary on Matthew, teaches you this. … Read the works not only of Luther, but also of all others, be they ever so ill or good. No good law forbids it, but only constitutions pharisaical.”
Warham, who was as much opposed then to the liberty of the press as the popes are now, could see nothing but a boundless chaos in this freedom of inquiry. “Images are sufficient,” he said, “to keep Christ and His saints in our remembrance.” But Lambert exclaimed, “What have we to do with senseless stones or wood carved by the hand of man? That Word which came from the breast of Christ Himself showeth us perfectly His blessed will.”
Warham having questioned Lambert as to the number of his followers, he answered, “A great multitude through all regions and realms of Christendom think in like wise as I have showed. I ween the multitude mounteth nigh unto the one half of Christendom.” Lambert was taken back to prison, but More having resigned the seals, and Warham dying, this herald of liberty and truth saw his chains fall off. One day, however, he was to die by fire, and, forgetting all controversy, to exclaim in the midst of the flames, “None but Jesus Christ.”
There was a minister of the Word in London who exasperated the friends of Rome more than all the rest; this man was Latimer. The court of Henry VIII, which was worldly, magnificent, fond of pleasures, intrigue, the elegances of dress, furniture, banquets, and refinement of language and manners, was not a favorable field for the Gospel. “It is very difficult,” said a reformer, “that costly trappings, solemn banquets, the excesses of pride, a flood of pleasure and debauchery should not bring many evils in their train.” Thus the priests and courtiers could not endure Latimer’s sermons. If Lambert was for freedom of inquiry, the king’s chaplain was for freedom of preaching; his zeal sometimes touched upon imprudence, and his biting wit, and extreme frankness did not spare his superiors. One day, some honest merchants, who hungered and thirsted for the Word of God, begged him to come and preach in one of the city churches. Thrice he refused, but yielded to their prayers at last. The death of Bilney and of the other martyrs had wounded him deeply. He knew that wild beasts, when they have once tasted blood, thirst for more, and feared that these murders, these butcheries, would only make his adversaries fiercer. He determined to lash the persecuting prelates with his sarcasms. Having entered the pulpit, he preached from these words in the epistle of the day: Ye are not under the law, but under grace. “What!” he exclaimed, “St. Paul teaches Christians that they are not under the law. … What does he mean? … No more law! St. Paul invites Christians to break the law. … Quick! inform against St. Paul, seize him and take him before my lord bishop of London! … The good apostle must be condemned to bear a faggot at St. Paul’s Cross. What a goodly sight to see St. Paul with a faggot on his back, before my lord of London, bishop of the same, sitting under the cross! Nay, verily, I dare say, my lord should sooner have burned him!”
This ironical language was to cost Latimer dear. To no purpose had he spoken in one of those churches which, being dependencies of a monastery, were not under episcopal jurisdiction; everybody about him condemned him and embittered his life. The courtiers talked of his sermons, shrugged their shoulders, pointed their fingers at him when he approached them, and turned their backs on him. The favor of the king, who had perhaps smiled at that burst of pulpit oratory, had some trouble to protect him. The court became more intolerable to him every day, and Latimer, withdrawing to his room, gave vent to many a heavy sigh. “What tortures I endure!” he said, “in what a world I live! Hatred ever at work; factions fighting one against the other; folly and vanity leading the dance; dissimulation, irreligion, debauchery, all the vices stalking abroad in open day. … It is too much. If I were able to do something… but I have neither the talent nor the industry required to fight against these monsters. … I am weary of the court.”
On the 14th of January, 1531, Latimer was presented to the living of West Kington, fourteen miles from Bristol. Wishing to uphold the liberty of the Christian Church, and seeing that it existed no longer in London, he resolved to seek it elsewhere. “I am leaving,” he said to one of his friends, “I shall go and live in my parish.” “What is that you say?” exclaimed the other, “Cromwell, who is at the pinnacle of honors, and has profound designs, intends to do great things for you. … If you leave the court, you will be forgotten, and your rivals will rise to your place.” “The only fortune I desire,” said Latimer, “is to be useful.” He departed, turning his back on the episcopal crosier to which his friend had alluded.
Latimer began to preach with zeal in Wiltshire, and not only in his own parish, but in the parishes around him. His diligence was so great, his preaching so mighty, says Foxe, that his hearers must either believe the doctrine he preached or rise against it. “Whosoever entereth not into the fold by the door, which is Christ, be he priest, bishop, or pope, is a robber,” said he. “In the Church there are more thieves than shepherds, and more goats than sheep.” His hearers were astounded. One of them (Dr. William Sherwood) said to him, “What a sermon, or rather what a satire! If we believe you, all the hemp in England would not be enough to hang those thieves of bishops, priests, and curates. … It is all exaggeration, no doubt, but such exaggeration is rash, audacious, and impious.” The priests looked about for some valiant champion of Rome, ready to fight with him the quarrel of the Church.
One day there rode into the village an old doctor of strange aspect; he wore no shirt, but was covered with a long gown that reached down to the horse’s heels, “all bedirted like a slobber,” says a chronicler. He took no care for the things of the body, in order that people should believe he was the more given up to the contemplation of the interests of the soul. He dismounted gravely from his horse, proclaimed his intention of fasting, and began a series of long prayers. This person, by name Hubbardin, the Don Quixote of Roman Catholicism, went wandering all over the kingdom, extolling the pope at the expense of kings and even of Jesus Christ, and declaiming against Luther, Zwingli, Tyndale, and Latimer.
On a feast day Hubbardin put on a clerical gown rather cleaner than the one he generally wore, and went into the pulpit, where he undertook to prove that the new doctrine came from the devil—which he demonstrated by stories, fables, dreams, and amusing dialogues. He danced and hopped and leaped about, and gesticulated, as if he were a stage player, and his sermon a sort of interlude. His hearers were surprised and diverted; Latimer was disgusted. “You lie,” he said, “when you call the faith of Scripture a new doctrine, unless you mean to say that it makes new creatures of those who receive it.”
Hubbardin being unable to shut the mouth of the eloquent chaplain with his mountebank tricks, the bishops and nobility of the neighborhood resolved to denounce Latimer. A messenger handed him a writ, summoning him to appear personally before the bishop of London to answer touching certain excesses and crimes committed by him. Putting down the paper which contained this threatening message, Latimer began to reflect. His position was critical. He was at that time suffering from the stone, with pains in the head and bowels. It was in the dead of winter, and moreover he was alone at West Kington, with no friend to advise him. Being of a generous and daring temperament, he rushed hastily into the heat of the combat, but was easily dejected. “Jesu mercy! what a world is this,” he exclaimed, “that I shall be put to so great labor and pains above my power for preaching of a poor simple sermon! But we must needs suffer, and so enter into the kingdom of Christ.”
The terrible summons lay on the table. Latimer took it up and read it. He was no longer the brilliant court chaplain who charmed fashionable congregations by his eloquence; he was a poor country minister, forsaken by all. He was sorrowful. “I am surprised,” he said, “that my lord of London, who has so large a diocese in which he ought to preach the Word in season and out of season, should have leisure enough to come and trouble me in my little parish… wretched me, who am quite a stranger to him.” He appealed to Richard Hiley, chancellor of the Salisbury diocese; but Bishop Stokesley did not intend to let him go, and being as able as he was violent, he prayed the archbishop, as primate of all England, to summon Latimer before his court, and to commission himself (the bishop of London) to examine him. The chaplain’s friends were terrified, and entreated him to leave England, but he began his journey to London.
On the 29th of January, 1532, a court composed of bishops and doctors of the canon law assembled, under the presidency of Primate Warham, in St. Paul’s Cathedral. Latimer having appeared, the bishop of London presented him a paper, and ordered him to sign it. The reformer took the paper and read it through. There were sixteen articles on belief in purgatory, the invocation of saints, the merit of pilgrimages, and lastly on the power of the keys which (said the document) belonged to the bishops of Rome, “even should their lives be wicked,” and other such topics. Latimer returned the paper to Stokesley, saying, “I cannot sign it.” Three times in one week he had to appear before his judges, and each time the same scene was repeated; both sides were inflexible. The priests then changed their tactics; they began to tease and embarrass Latimer with innumerable questions. As soon as one had finished, another began with sophistry and plausibility, and interminable subterfuges. Latimer tried to make his adversaries keep within the circle from which they were straying, but they would not hear him.
One day, as Latimer entered the hall, he noticed a change in the arrangement of the furniture. There was a chimney, in which there had been a fire before; on this day there was no fire, and the fireplace was invisible. Some tapestry hung down over it, and the table round which the judges sat was in the middle of the room. The accused was seated between the table and the chimney. “Master Latimer,” said an aged bishop, whom he believed to be one of his friends, “pray speak a little louder; I am hard of hearing, as you know.” Latimer, surprised at this remark, pricked up his ears, and fancied he heard in the fireplace the noise of a pen upon paper; in his own vivid words, “I heard a pen walking in the chimney, behind the cloth.” “Ho ho!” thought he, “they have hidden someone behind there to take down my answers.” He replied cautiously to captious questions, much to the embarrassment of the judges.
Latimer was disgusted, not only with the tricks of his enemies, but still more with their “troublesome unquietness,” because by keeping him in London they obliged him to neglect his duties, and especially because they made it a crime to preach the truth. The archbishop, wishing to gain him over by marks of esteem and affection, invited him to come and see him, but Latimer declined, being unwilling at any price to renounce the freedom of the pulpit. The reformers of the sixteenth century did not contend that all doctrines should be preached from the same pulpit, but that evangelical truth should be freely preached everywhere. “I have desired and still desire,” wrote Latimer to the archbishop, “that our people should learn the difference between the doctrines which God has taught and those which proceed only from ourselves. Go, said Jesus, and teach all things. … What things? … all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and not whatsoever you think fit to preach. Let us all then make an effort to preach with one voice the things of God. I have sought not my gain, but Christ’s gain; not my glory, but God’s glory. And so long as I have a breath of life remaining, I will continue to do so.”
Thus spoke the bold preacher. It is by such unshakable fidelity that great revolutions are accomplished.
As Latimer was deaf to all their persuasion, there was nothing to be done but to threaten the stake. The charge was transferred to the Convocation of Canterbury, and on the 11th of March, 1532, he was summoned to appear before that body at Westminster. The fifteen articles were set before him. “Master Latimer,” said the archbishop, “the synod calls upon you to sign these articles.” “I refuse,” he answered. All the bishops pressed him earnestly. “I refuse absolutely,” he answered a second time. Warham, the friend of learning, could not make up his mind to condemn one of the finest geniuses of England. “Have pity on yourself,” he said. “A third and last time we entreat you to sign these articles.” Although Latimer knew that a negative would probably consign him to the stake, he still answered, “I refuse absolutely.”
The patience of Convocation was now exhausted. “Heretic! obstinate heretic!” exclaimed the bishops. “We have heard it from his own mouth. Let him be excommunicated.” The sentence of excommunication was pronounced, and Latimer was taken to the Lollards’ Tower.
[The fifteen articles] included the following:
1. that there is a purgatory to purge the souls of the dead,
2. that the souls in purgatory are holpen by the masses, prayers, and alms of the living,
3. that the saints in heaven pray for us as mediators,
5. that the invocation of saints is profitable,
6. that pilgrimages and oblations to the relics and sepulchres of saints are meritorious,
9. that fasting, prayer, and other good works merit favour at God’s hands,
11. that Lent and other fasts should be observed,
14. that the crucifix and other images of saints should be kept in churches as memorials, and to the honour and worship of Jesus Christ and His saints,
15. that it is laudable to deck those images and to burn candles before them.
Great was the agitation both in city and court. The creatures of the priests were already singing in the streets songs with a burden like this:
Wherefore it were pity thou shouldst die for cold.
“Ah!” said Latimer in the Tower, “if they had asked me to confess that I have been too prompt to use sarcasm, I should have been ready to do so, for sin is a heavy load. O God! unto Thee I cry; wash me in the blood of Jesus Christ.” He looked for death, knowing well that few left that tower except for the scaffold. “What is to be done?” said Warham and the bishops. Many of them would have handed the prisoner over to the magistrate to do what was customary, but the rule of the papacy was coming to an end in England, and Latimer was the king’s chaplain. One dexterous prelate suggested a means of reconciling everything. “We must obtain something from him, be it ever so little, and then report everywhere that he has recanted.”
Some priests went to see the prisoner.
“Will you not yield anything?” they asked. “I have been too violent,” said Latimer, “and I humble myself accordingly.” “But will you not recognize the merit of works?” “No!” “Prayers to the saints?” “No!” “Purgatory?” “No!” “The power of the keys given to the pope?” “No! I tell you.”
A bright idea occurred to one of the priests. Luther taught that it was not only permitted, but praiseworthy, to have the crucifix and the images of the saints, provided that it was merely to remind us of them and not to invoke them. He had added that the Reformation ought not to abolish fast days, but to strive to make them realities. Latimer declared that he was of the same opinion.
The deputation hastened to carry this news to the bishops. The more fanatical of them could not make up their minds to be satisfied with so little. What! no purgatory, no virtue in the mass, no prayers to saints, no power of the keys, no meritorious works! It was a signal defeat, but the bishops knew that the king would not suffer the condemnation of his chaplain. Doubtless, Cromwell, too, worked hard to achieve a compromise. Convocation decided, after a long discussion, that if Master Latimer would sign the two articles, eleven and fourteen, he should be absolved from the sentence of excommunication. In fact, on the 10th of April, the Church withdrew the condemnation it had already pronounced.
The original documents that bear on these matters are incomplete, and in at least one instance “tantalizingly mutilated.” According to the records of Convocation (lost for this period, but reconstructed from a variety of sources), Latimer, having first assented to the two articles, shortly, of his own accord, assented to the remainder.
Even so, difficulties persisted. On the 15th of April he was again examined by Convocation, and, probably on the strongly-expressed advice of Cromwell, he appealed from Convocation to the king. It seems likely that the king received Latimer in audience, and gave him the counsel which proved too strong for his wearied conscience to resist. He must submit himself unreservedly to his fellow clergy. Their doctrine must be his doctrine, their practices his practices. Latimer yielded to the royal mandate. At great cost to his comfort, though it was comfort he sought, he obtained his freedom. “This,” says his biographer, “is the darkest page in Latimer’s history.” It must have been with a vastly troubled breast that the would-be reformer hastened back to his remote rural parish.
Henry VIII Attacks Romanists and Protestants 1532
The vital principle of the Reformation of Henry VIII was its opposition both to Rome and the Gospel. He did not hesitate, like many, between these two doctrines; he punished alike, by exile or by fire, the disciples of the Vatican and those of Holy Scripture.
Desiring to show that the resolution he had taken to separate from Catherine was immutable, the king had lodged Anne Boleyn in the palace at Greenwich, even when the queen was still there, and had given her a reception room and a royal state. The crowd of courtiers, abandoning the setting star, turned towards that which was appearing above the horizon. Henry respected Anne’s person, and was eager that all the world should know that if she was not actually queen, she would be so one day. There was a want of delicacy and principle in the king’s conduct, at which the catholic party were much irritated, and not without a cause.
The monks of St. Francis who officiated in the royal chapel at Greenwich took every opportunity of asserting their attachment to Catherine and to the pope. Anne vainly tried to gain them over by her charms; if she succeeded with a few, she failed with the greater number. Their superior, Father Forest, Catherine’s confessor, warmly defended the rights of that unhappy princess. Preaching at St. Paul’s Cross, he delivered a sermon in which Henry was violently attacked, although he was not named. Those who had heard it made a great noise about it, and Forest was summoned to the court. “What will be done to him?” people asked, but instead of sending him to prison, as many expected, the king received him well, spoke with him for half an hour, and “sent him a great piece of beef from his own table.”
On returning to his convent, Forest described with triumph this flattering reception, but the king did not attain his object. Among these monks there were men of independent, perhaps of fanatical character, whom no favors could gain over.
One of them, by name Peto, until then unknown, but afterwards of great repute in the catholic world as cardinal legate from the pope in England, thinking that Forest had not said enough, determined to go further. Anne Boleyn’s elevation filled him with anger; he longed to speak out, and as the king and all the court would be present in the chapel on the 1st of May, he chose for his text the words of the prophet Elijah to King Ahab: The dogs shall lick thy blood. He drew a portrait of Ahab, described his malice and wickedness, and although he did not name Henry VIII, certain passages made the hearers feel uncomfortable. At the peroration, turning towards the king, he said, “Now hear, O king, what I have to say unto thee, as of old time Micaiah spoke to Ahab. This new marriage is unlawful. There are other preachers who, to become rich abbots or mighty bishops, betray thy soul, thy honor, and thy posterity. Take heed lest thou, being seduced like Ahab, find Ahab’s punishment… who had his blood licked up by the dogs.”
The court was astounded, but the king, whose features were unmoved during this apostrophe, waited until the end of the service, left the chapel as if nothing had happened, and allowed Peto to depart for Canterbury. But Henry could not permit such invectives to pass unnoticed. A clergyman named Kirwan was commissioned to preach in the same chapel on the following Sunday. The congregation was still more numerous than before, and more curious also. Some monks of the order of Observants, friends of Peto, got into the rood-loft, determined to defend him. The doctor began his sermon. After establishing the lawfulness of Henry’s intended marriage, he came to the sermon of the preceding Sunday and the insults of the preacher. “I speak to thee, Peto,” he exclaimed, “who makest thyself Micaiah; we look for thee, but thou art not to be found, having fled for fear and shame.” There was a noise in the rood-loft, and one of the Observants named Elstow rose and called out, “You know that Father Peto is gone to Canterbury to a provincial council, but I am here to answer you. And to this combat I challenge thee, Kirwan, prophet of lies, who for thy own vainglory art betraying thy king into endless perdition.”
The chapel was instantly one scene of confusion; nothing could be heard. Then the king rose; his princely stature, his royal air, his majestic manners overawed the crowd. All were silent, and the agitated congregation left the chapel respectfully. Peto and his friend were summoned before the council. “You deserve to be sewn in a sack and thrown into the Thames,” said one. “We fear nothing,” answered Elstow, “the way to heaven is as short by water as by land.”
Henry, having thus made war on the partisans of the pope, turned to those of the Reformation. Like a child, he see-sawed to and fro, first on one side, then on the other; but his sport was a more terrible one, for every time he touched the ground the blood spurted forth.
At that time there were many Christians in England to whom the Roman worship brought no edification. Having procured Tyndale’s translation of the Word of God, they felt that they possessed it not only for themselves but for others. They sought one another’s company, and met together to read the Bible and receive spiritual graces from God. Several Christian assemblies of this kind had been formed in London, in garrets, in warehouses, schools, and shops, and one of them was held in a warehouse in Bow Lane. Among its frequenters was the son of a Gloucestershire knight, James Bainham by name, a man well read in the classics, and a distinguished lawyer, respected by all for his piety and works of charity. To give advice freely to widows and orphans, to see justice done to the oppressed, to aid poor students, protect pious persons, and visit the prisons were his daily occupations. “He was an earnest reader of Scripture, and mightily addicted to prayer.”
His marriage brought him under suspicion, for his wife was the widow of Simon Fish whose book previously mentioned had aroused a great storm of catholic opposition. He was asked where his books were to be found but would not divulge. When his wife denied that they were in his house, she was sent to the Fleet prison, and their goods were confiscated. When he entered the meeting, everyone could see that his countenance expressed a calm joy; but for a month past his Bow Lane friends noticed him to be agitated and cast down, and heard him sighing heavily. The cause was this. Some time before (in 1531), when he was engaged about his business in the Middle Temple, this “model of lawyers” had been arrested by order of More, who was still chancellor, and taken like a criminal to the house of the celebrated humanist at Chelsea. Sir Thomas, quite distressed at seeing a man so distinguished leave the Church of Rome, had employed all his eloquence to bring him back; but finding his efforts useless, he had ordered Bainham to be taken into his garden and tied to “the tree of truth.” There the chancellor whipped him, or caused him to be whipped; we adopt the latter version, which is more probable. Bainham having refused to give the names of the gentlemen of the Temple tainted with heresy, he was taken to the Tower. “Put him on the rack,” cried the learned chancellor, now become a fanatical persecutor. The order was obeyed in his presence. The arms and legs of the unfortunate protestant were fastened to the instrument and pulled in opposite directions; his limbs were dislocated, and he went lame out of the torture chamber.
Sir Thomas had broken his victim’s limbs, but not his courage; and accordingly when Bainham was summoned before the bishop of London, he went to the palace rejoicing to have to confess his Master once more. “Do you believe in purgatory?” said Stokesley to him sternly. Bainham answered, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.” “Do you believe that we ought to call upon the saints to pray for us?” He again answered, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous.”
A man who answered only by texts from Scripture was embarrassing. More and Stokesley made the most alluring promises, and no means were spared to bend him. Before long they resorted to more serious representation. “The arms of the Church your mother are still open to you,” they said, “but if you continue stubborn, they will close against you for ever. It is now or never!” For a whole month the bishop and the chancellor persevered in their entreaties; Bainham replied, “My faith is that of the holy Church.” Hearing these words, Foxford, the bishop’s secretary, took out a paper. “Here is the abjuration,” he said, “read it over.” Bainham began, “I voluntarily, as a true penitent returned from my heresy, utterly abjure…” At these words he stopped, and glancing over what followed, he continued, “No, these articles are not heretical, and I cannot retract them.” Other springs were now set in motion to shake Bainham. The prayers of his friends, the threats of his enemies, especially the thought of his wife, whom he loved, and who would be left alone in destitution, exposed to the anger of the world—these things troubled his soul. He lost sight of the narrow path he ought to follow, and five days later he read his abjuration with a faint voice. But he had hardly got to the end before he burst into tears, and said, struggling with his emotion, “I reserve the doctrines.” He consented to remain in the Roman Church, still preserving his evangelical faith. But this was not what the bishop and his officers meant. “Kiss that book,” they said to him threateningly. Bainham, like one stunned, kissed the book; that was the sign; the abjuration was looked upon as completed. He was condemned to pay a fine of twenty pounds sterling, and to do penance at St. Paul’s Cross. After that he was set at liberty, on the 17th of February.
Bainham returned to the midst of his brethren; they looked sorrowfully at him, but did not reproach him with his fault. That was quite unnecessary. The worm of remorse was preying on him; he abhorred the fatal kiss by which he had sealed his fall; his conscience was never quiet; he could neither eat nor sleep, and trembled at the thought of death. At one time he would hide his anguish and stifle it within his breast; at another his grief would break forth, and he would try to relieve his pain by groans of sorrow. The thought of appearing before the tribunal of God made him faint. The restoration of conscience to all its rights was the foremost work of the Reformation. Luther, Calvin, and an endless number of lesser reformers had reached the haven of safety through the midst of such tempests. “A tragedy was being acted in all protestant souls,” says a writer who does not belong to the Reformation—the eternal tragedy of conscience.
Bainham felt that the only means of recovering peace was to accuse himself openly before God and man. Taking Tyndale’s New Testament in his hand, which was at once his joy and his strength, he went to St. Austin’s church, sat down quietly in the midst of the congregation, and then at a certain moment stood up and said, “I have denied the truth.” … He could not continue for his tears. On recovering, he said, “If I were not to return again to the doctrine I have abjured, this Word of Scripture would condemn me both body and soul at the day of judgment.” And he lifted up the New Testament before all the congregation. “O my friends,” he continued, “rather die than sin as I have done. The fires of hell have consumed me, and I would not feel them again for all the gold and glory of the world.” He wrote in a similar strain to the bishop.
Then his enemies seized him again and shut him up in the bishop’s coal-house, where, after putting him in the stocks, with his legs in irons, they left him for almost fourteen days. He was afterwards taken to the Tower, where he was scourged every day for a fortnight, and at last condemned as a relapsed heretic.
On the eve of the execution, four distinguished men, one of whom was Latimer, were dining together in London. It was commonly reported that Bainham was to be put to death for saying that Thomas Becket was a traitor. “Is it worth a man’s while to sacrifice his life for such a trifle?” said the four friends. “Let us go to Newgate and save him if possible.” They were taken along several gloomy passages, and found themselves at last in the presence of a man sitting on a little straw, holding a book in one hand and a candle in the other. He was reading; it was Bainham. Latimer drew near him. “Take care,” he said, “that no vainglory make you sacrifice your life for motives which are not worth the cost.” “I am condemned,” answered Bainham, “for trusting in Scripture and rejecting purgatory, masses, and meritorious works. … I acknowledge that for such truths a man must be ready to die.” Bainham was ready, and yet he burst into tears. “Why do you weep?” asked Latimer. “I have a wife,” answered the prisoner, “the best that man ever had. A widow, destitute of everything and without a supporter, everybody will point at her and say, ‘That is the heretic’s wife.’” Latimer and his friends tried to console him, and then they departed from the gloomy dungeon.
The next day (30th April, 1532) Bainham was taken to the scaffold. Soldiers on horseback surrounded the pile. Master Pave, the city clerk, directed the execution. Bainham, after a prayer, rose up, embraced the stake, and was fastened to it with a chain. “Good people,” he said to the persons who stood round him, “I die for having said it is lawful for every man and woman to have God’s book. I die for having said that the true key of heaven is not that of the bishop of Rome, but the preaching of the Gospel. I die for having said that there is no other purgatory than the cross of Christ, with its consequent persecutions and afflictions.” “Thou liest, thou heretic,” exclaimed Pave, “thou hast denied the blessed sacrament of the altar.” “I do not deny the sacrament of Christ’s body,” resumed Bainham, “but I do deny your transubstantiation and your idolatry to a piece of bread.” “Light the fire,” shouted Pave. The executioners set fire to a train of gunpowder, and as the flame approached him, Bainham lifted up his eyes towards heaven, and said to the city clerk, “God forgive thee! and show thee more mercy than thou showst to me! the Lord forgive Sir Thomas More… pray for me, all good people!” The arms and legs of the martyr were soon consumed, and thinking only how to glorify his Savior, he exclaimed, “Behold! you look for miracles, you may see one here; for in this fire I feel no more pain than if I were on a bed of down, but it is to me as sweet as a bed of roses.” The primitive Church hardly had a more glorious martyr.
Pave had Bainham’s image continually before his eyes, and his last prayer rang day and night in his heart. In the garret of his house, far removed from noise, he had fitted up a kind of oratory, where he had placed a crucifix, before which he used to pray and shed bitter tears. He abhorred himself; half mad, he suffered indescribable sorrow, and struggled under great anguish. The dying Bainham had said to him, “May God show thee more mercy than thou hast shown to me!” But Pave could not believe in mercy; he saw no other remedy for his despair than death. About a year after Bainham’s martyrdom, he sent his domestics and clerks on different errands, keeping only one servant-maid in the house. As soon as his wife had gone to church, he went out himself, bought a rope, and hiding it carefully under his gown, went up into the garret. He stopped before the crucifix, and began to groan and weep. The servant ran upstairs. “Take this rusty sword,” he said, “clean it well, and do not disturb me.” She had scarcely left the room when he fastened the rope to a beam and hanged himself.
The maid, hearing no sound, again grew alarmed, went up to the garret, and seeing her master hanging, was struck with terror. She ran crying to the church to fetch her mistress home; but it was too late: the wretched man could not be recalled to life.
If the deaths of the martyrs plunged the wicked into the depths of despair, it often gave life to earnest souls. The crowd which had surrounded the scaffold of these men of God dispersed in profound emotion. Some returned to their fields, others to their shops or workrooms; but the pale faces of the martyrs followed them, their words sounded in their souls, their virtues softened many hearts most averse to the Gospel. “Oh! that I were with Bainham!” exclaimed one. These people continued for some time to frequent the Romish churches, but ere long their consciences cried aloud to them, “It is Christ alone who saves us,” and they forsook the rites in which they could find no consolation. They courted solitude; they procured the writings of Wycliffe and of Tyndale, and especially the New Testament, which they read in secret, and if anyone came near, hid them hastily under a bed, at the bottom of a chest, in the hollow of a tree, or even under stones, until the enemy had retired and they could take the books up again. Then they whispered about them to their neighbors, and often had the joy of meeting with men who thought as they did. A surprising change was taking place. While the priests were loudly chanting in the cathedrals the praises of the saints, of the Virgin, and of the Corpus Domini, the people were whispering together about the Savior meek and lowly in heart. All over England was heard a still, small voice such as Elijah heard, and on hearing it wrapped his face in his mantle and stood silent and motionless, because the Lord was there. Great changes were about to take place.
It is not without a reason that we describe in some detail in this history the lives and deaths of these evangelical men. We desire to show that the Church in England, as in all the world, is not a mere ecclesiastical hierarchy, in which prelates exercise dominion over the inheritance of the Lord, nor a confused assemblage of men whose spirit imagines about religion all kinds of doctrines contrary to the revelation from heaven, and whose profession of faith comprehends all the opinions that are found in the nation, from catholic scholasticism to pantheistic materialism. The Church of God, raised above the human systems of the superstitious and the incredulous alike, is the assembly of those who by a living faith are partakers of the righteousness of Christ, and of the new life of which the Holy Ghost is the creator—of those in whom selfishness is vanquished, and who give themselves up to the Savior to achieve with their brethren the conquest of the world. Such is the true Church of God—very different, it will be seen, from all those invented by man.
The New Primate of All England February, 1532 to March, 1533
A man who for more than thirty years had had an important voice in the management of the ecclesiastical affairs of the kingdom now disappeared from the scene to give place to the most influential of the reformers of England. Warham, archbishop of Canterbury, a learned canonist, a skillful politician, a dexterous courtier, and the friend of letters, had made it his special work to exalt the sacerdotal prerogative, and to that end had had recourse to the surest means, by fighting against the idleness, ignorance, and corruption of the priests. He had even hoped for a reform of the clergy, provided it emanated from episcopal authority. But when he saw another reformation accomplished in the name of God’s Word, without priests and against the priests, he turned round and began to persecute the reformers and to strengthen the papal authority. Alarmed at the proceedings of the Commons, he sent for three notaries, on the 24th of February, 1532, and protested in their presence against every act of parliament derogatory to the authority of the Roman pontiff.
On the 22nd of August of the same year, just at the very height of the crisis, “the second pope,” as he was sometimes called, was removed from his see by death, and the people anxiously wondered who would be appointed to his vacant place.
The choice was important, for the nomination might be the symbol of what the Church of England was to be. Would he be a prelate devoted to the pope, like Fisher; or a catholic favorable to the divorce, like Gardiner; or a moderate evangelical attached to the king, like Cranmer; or a decided reformer, like Latimer? At this moment, when a new era was beginning for Christendom, it was of consequence to know whom England would take for her guide; whether she would march at the head of civil and religious progress, like Germany; or bring up the rear, like Spain and Italy. The king did not favor either extreme, and hesitated between the two other candidates. All things considered, he had no confidence in such bishops as Longland of Lincoln, and Gardiner of Winchester, who might promise and not fulfil. He wanted somebody less political than the one, and less fanatical than the other—a man separated from the pope on principle, and not merely for convenience.
Cranmer, after passing a few months at Rome, had returned to England. Then departing again for Germany on a mission from the king, he had arrived at Nuremberg, probably in the autumn of 1531. He examined with interest that ancient city, its beautiful churches, its monumental fountains, its old and picturesque castle; but there was something that attracted him more than all these things. Being present at the celebration of the sacrament, he noticed that while the priest was muttering the gospel in Latin at the altar, the deacon went up into the pulpit and read it aloud in German. He saw that, although there was still some appearance of catholicism in Nuremberg, in reality the Gospel reigned there. One man’s name often came up in the conversations he had with the principal persons in the city. They spoke to him of Andreas Osiander as of a man of great eloquence. Cranmer followed the crowd which poured into the church of St. Lawrence, and was struck with the minister’s talents and piety. He sought his acquaintance, and the two doctors had many a conversation together, either in Cranmer’s house or in Osiander’s study; and the German divine, being gained over to the cause of Henry VIII, published shortly after a book on unlawful marriages.
Cranmer, who had an affectionate heart, loved to join the simple meals, the pious devotions, and the friendly conversations at Osiander’s house; he was soon almost like a member of the family. But although his intimacy with the Nuremberg pastor grew stronger every day, he did not adopt all his opinions. When Osiander told him that he must substitute the authority of Holy Scripture for that of Rome, Cranmer gave his full assent; but the Englishman perceived that the German entertained views different from Luther’s on the justification of the sinner. “What justifies us,” said Osiander, “is not the imputation of the merits of Christ by faith, but the inward communication of His righteousness.” “On the contrary,” said Cranmer, “Christ has paid the price of our redemption by the sacrifice of His body and the fulfilling of the law; and if we heartily believe in this work which He has perfected, we are justified. The justified man must be sanctified, and must work good works, but it is not the works that justify him.” The conversation of the two friends turned also upon the Lord’s Supper. Whatever may have been Cranmer’s doctrine before, he soon came (like Calvin) to place the real presence of Christ not in the wafer which the priest holds between his fingers, but in the heart of the believer.
In June 1532 protestant and Roman Catholic delegates arrived at Nuremberg to arrange the religious peace. The celibacy of the clergy immediately became one of the points discussed. It appeared to the chiefs of the papacy impossible to concede that article. “Rather abolish the mass entirely,” exclaimed the archbishop of Mayence, “than permit the marriage of priests.” “They must come to that at last,” said Luther, “God is overthrowing the mighty from their seat.” Cranmer was of his opinion. “It is better,” he said, “for a minister to have his own wife, than to have other men’s wives, like the priests.” “What services may not a pious wife do for the pastor her husband,” added Osiander, “among the poor, the women, and the children?”
Cranmer had lost his wife at Cambridge, and his heart yearned for affection. Osiander’s family presented him a touching picture of domestic happiness. One of its members was a certain Margaret, a niece of Osiander’s wife. Cranmer, charmed with her piety and candor, and hoping to find in her the virtuous woman who is a crown to her husband, asked her hand and married her, not heeding the unlawful command of those who “forbid to marry.”
Still Cranmer did not forget his mission. The king of England was desirous of forming an alliance with the German Protestants, and his agent made overtures to the electoral prince of Saxony. “First of all,” answered the pious John Frederick, “the king must be in harmony with us as to the articles of faith.” The alliance failed, but, at the same moment, affairs took an unexpected turn. The Emperor Charles V, who was marching against Solyman the Magnificent, the greatest of all the Ottoman sultans, desired the help of the King of England, and Granvella, his minister, had some talk with Cranmer on the subject. The latter was procuring carriages, horses, boats, tents, and other things necessary for his journey, with the intention of rejoining the Emperor at Linz, when a courier suddenly brought him orders to return to London. It was very vexatious. Just as he was on the point of concluding an alliance with the nephew of Queen Catherine, in which the matter of the divorce would consequently be arranged, Henry’s envoy had to give up everything. He wondered anxiously what could be the motive of this sudden and extraordinary recall; the letters of his friends explained it.
Warham was dead, and the king thought of Cranmer to succeed him as archbishop of Canterbury and primate of all England. The reformer was greatly moved. “Alas!” he exclaimed, “no man has ever desired a bishopric less than myself. If I accept it, I must resign the delights of study and the calm sweetness of an obscure condition.” Knowing Henry’s domineering character and his peculiar religious principles, Cranmer thought that with him the reformation of England was impossible. He saw himself exposed to disputes without end—there would be no more peace for the most peaceable of men. A brilliant career, an exalted position—he was terrified. “My conscience,” he said, “rebels against this call. Wretch that I am! I see nothing but troubles, and conflicts, and insurmountable dangers in my path.”
Upon mature reflection, Cranmer thought he might get out of his difficulty by gaining time, hoping that the king, who did not like delays, would doubtless give the see to another. He sent an answer that important affairs prevented his return to England. Solyman had retreated before the Emperor; the latter had determined to pass through Italy to Spain, and had appointed a meeting with the pope at Piacenza or Genoa. Henry’s ambassador thought it his duty to neutralize the fatal consequences of this interview; and Charles having left Vienna on the 4th of October, Cranmer followed him two days later. The exalted dignity that awaited him oppressed him like the nightmare. On his road he found neither inhabitants nor food, and hay was his only bed. Sometimes he crossed battlefields covered with the carcasses of Turks and Christians. A comet appeared in the east foreboding some tragic event. Many declared they had seen a flaming sword in the heavens. “These strange signs,” he wrote to Henry, “announce some great mutation.” Cranmer and his colleagues could not gain the pope to their side. Several months passed away, during which men’s minds became so excited, that the cardinals forgot all decorum. “Alas!” says a catholic historian, “all the time this affair continued, they went to the consistory as if they were going to a play.” Charles V prevailed at last.
A report having circulated in Italy that the king was about to place Cranmer at the head of the English Church, the imperial court treated him with unusual consideration. Charles V, his ministers, and the foreign ambassadors said openly that such a man richly deserved to hold a high place in the favor and government of the king his master. In November, the Emperor gave Cranmer his farewell audience, and the latter returned to England not long after. But he did so reluctantly enough, knowing what awaited him and prolonging to seven weeks a journey which could easily have been accomplished in three. Not wishing to act in opposition to general usage and clerical opinion, he thought it more prudent to leave his wife for a time with Osiander. He sent for her somewhat later, but she was never presented at court. It was not necessary, and it might only have embarrassed the pious German lady.
As soon as Cranmer reached London, he waited upon the king, being quite engrossed in thinking of what was about to take place between his sovereign and himself. Henry went straight to the point; he told him that he had nominated him archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer objected, but the king would take no refusal. In vain did the divine urge his reasons; the monarch was firm. It was no slight matter to contend with Henry VIII. Cranmer was alarmed at the effect produced by his resistance. “Your Highness,” he said, “I most humbly implore your Grace’s pardon.”
When he left the king, he hurried off to his friends, particularly to Cromwell. The burden which Henry was laying upon him seemed more insupportable than ever. Knowing how difficult it is to resist a prince of despotic character, he foresaw conflicts and perhaps compromises, which would embitter his life, and he could not make up his mind to sacrifice his happiness to the imperious will of the monarch. “Take care,” said his friends, “it is as dangerous to refuse a favor from so absolute a prince as to insult him.” But Cranmer’s conscience was concerned in his refusal. “I feel something within me,” he said, “which rebels against the supremacy of the pope, and all the superstitions to which I should have to submit as primate of England. No, I will not be a bishop!” He might sacrifice his repose and his happiness, expose himself to painful struggles, but to recognize the pope and submit to his jurisdiction was an insurmountable obstacle. His friends shook their heads. “Your nolo episcopari,” they said, “will not hold against our master’s volo to episcopum esse. ["I am unwilling to be made a bishop." "I desire you to be a bishop."] And after all, what is it? Permitting the king to place you at the summit of honors and power. … You refuse all that men desire.” “I would sooner forfeit my life,” answered Cranmer, “than do anything against my conscience to gratify my ambition.”
Henry, vexed at all these delays, again summoned Cranmer to the palace, and bade him speak without fear. “If I accept this office,” replied that sincere man, “I must receive it from the hands of the pope, and this my conscience will not permit me to do. … Neither the pope nor any other foreign prince has authority in this realm.” Such a reason as this had great weight with Henry. He was silent for a little while, as if reflecting, and then said to Cranmer, “Can you prove what you have just said?” “Certainly I can,” answered the doctor, “Holy Scripture and the Fathers support the supreme authority of kings in their kingdoms, and thus prove the claims of the pope to be a miserable usurpation.”
Such a statement bound Henry to take another step in his reforms. As he had not yet thought of establishing bishops and archbishops without the pope, he sent for some learned lawyers, and asked them how he could confer the episcopal dignity on Cranmer without wounding the conscience of the future primate. The lawyers proposed that, as Cranmer refused to submit to the Roman primacy, someone should be sent to Rome to do in his stead all that the law required. “Let another do it, if he likes,” said Cranmer, “but super animam suam, at the risk of his soul. As for me, I declare I will not acknowledge the authority of the pope any further than it agrees with the Word of God, and that I reserve the right of speaking against him and of attacking his errors.”
The lawyers found bad precedents to justify a bad measure. “Archbishop Warham,” they said, “while preserving the advantages he derived from the state, protested against everything the state did prejudicial to Rome. If the deceased archbishop preserved the rights of the papacy, why should not the new one preserve those of the kingdom? … Besides (they added) the pope knows very well that when they make oath to him, every bishop does so salvo ordine meo, without prejudice to the rights of his order.”
It having been conceded that in the act of consecration “the rights of the Word of God” should be reserved, Cranmer consented to become primate of England. Henry VIII, who was less advanced in practice than in theory, all the same demanded of Clement VII the bulls necessary for the inauguration of the new archbishop. The pontiff, only too happy still to have something to say to England, hastened to dispatch them, addressing them directly to Cranmer himself. But the latter, who would accept nothing from the pope, sent them to the king, declaring that he would not receive his appointment from Rome.
By accepting the call that was addressed to him, Cranmer meant to break with the order of the Middle Ages, and re-establish, so far as was in his power, that of the Gospel. But he would not conceal his intentions; all must be done in the light of day. On the 30th of March, 1533, he summoned to the chapter-house of Westminster Watkins, the king’s prothonotary, with other dignitaries of the Church and State. On entering, he took up a paper, and read aloud and distinctly, “I, Thomas, archbishop of Canterbury, protest openly, publicly, and expressly, that I will not bind myself by oath to anything contrary to the law of God, the rights of the king of England, and the laws of the realm; and that I will not be bound in aught that concerns liberty of speech, the government of the Church of England, and the reformation of all things that may seem to be necessary to be reformed therein. If my representative with the pope has taken in my name an oath contrary to my duty, I declare that he has done so without my knowledge, and that the said oath shall be null. I desire this protest to be repeated at each period of the present ceremony.” Then turning to the prothonotary: “I beg you to prepare as many copies as may be necessary of this my protest.”
Cranmer left the chapter-house and entered the abbey, where the clergy and a numerous crowd awaited him. He was not satisfied with once declaring his independence of the papacy; he desired to do it several times. The greater the antiquity of the Romish power in Britain, the more he felt the necessity of proclaiming the supremacy of the divine Word. Having put on his sacerdotal robes, Cranmer stood at the top of the steps of the high altar, and said, turning towards the assembly, “I declare that I take the oath required of me only under the reserve contained in the protest I have made this day in the chapter-house.” Then bending his knees before the altar, he read it a second time in presence of the bishops, priests, and people; after which the bishops of Lincoln, Exeter, and St. Asaph consecrated him to the episcopate.
The archbishop, standing before the altar, prepared to receive the pallium, but first he had a duty to fulfill—if he sacrificed his repose, he did not intend to sacrifice his convictions. For the third time he took up the protest, and again read it before the immense crowd that filled the cathedral. The accustomed order of the ceremony having been twice interrupted by an extraordinary declaration, all were at liberty to praise or blame the action of the prelate as they pleased. Cranmer, having thus thrice published his reserves, read at last the oath which the archbishops of Canterbury were accustomed to make to St. Peter and to the holy apostolic Church of Rome, with the usual protest: salvo meo ordine (without prejudice to my order).
Cranmer’s triple protest was an act of Christian decision. Some time afterwards he said, “I made that protest in good faith; I always loved simplicity and hated falseness.” But it was wrong of him to use after it the formula ordinarily employed in consecrations. Doubtless it was nothing more than a form—a form that was imposed by the king—and Cranmer protested against all the bad it might contain; still “it is necessary to walk consistently in all things,” as Calvin says, and we here meet with one of those weaknesses which sometimes appear in the life of the pious reformer of England. He ought at no price to have made oath to the pope; that oath was a stain which in some measure tinged the whole of his episcopate. Yet if we were to condemn him severely, we should be forgetting that striking truth—in many things we offend all. Cranmer was the first in the breach, and he has claims to the consideration of those who are comfortably established in a position gained by him with so much suffering. The energy with which he thrice proclaimed his independence deserves our admiration. Nevertheless all weakness is a fault, and when that fault is committed in high station it may lead to fatal consequences. The sanctity of the oath taken by churchmen was compromised by Cranmer’s act, and we have seen in later times other divines secretly communing with Romish doctrines while appearing to reject popery. There have sometimes been disguised papists in the Protestant Church of England.
After the ceremony, the new archbishop returned to his palace at Lambeth. From that hour, this patron of letters, a scholar himself, a truly pious man, a distinguished preacher, and of indefatigable industry, never ceased to labor for the good of the Church. He was able to introduce Christian faith into many hearts, and sometimes to defend it against the king’s ill humor. He constantly endeavored to spread around him moderation, charity, truth, piety, and peace. When Cranmer became primate of all England, on the 30th of March, 1533, in St. Stephen’s, Westminster, the papal order was interred, and it might be foreseen that the apostolic order would be revived. England preserved episcopacy, but she rejected that Roman superstition which makes bishops the sole successors of the apostles and maintains (as at the Council of Trent) that they are invested with an indelible character and a spiritual power which no other minister possesses. “Most assuredly,” said Cranmer, “at the beginning of the religion of Christ, bishops and presbyters (priests) were not two things, but one only.” He declared that a bishop was not necessary to make a pastor, that not only presbyters possessed this right, but “the people also by their election.” “Before there were Christian princes, it was the people,” he said, “who generally elected the bishops and priests.” Cranmer was not the only man who professed these principles, which make of the episcopalian and the Presbyterian constitution two varieties, having many things in common. The most venerable fathers of the Anglican Church—Pilkington, Coverdale, Whitgift, Fulke, Tyndale, Jewel, Bradford, Becon, and others—have acknowledged the identity of bishops and presbyters. By the Reformation, England belongs not to the papistical system of episcopacy, but to the evangelical system. A public act which would bring back that Church to her holy origin, would be a source of great prosperity to her.
The great reformers of England did not separate from Rome only, but also from the semi-catholicism that was intended to be substituted for it. To them, the spirit and the life were in the ministry of the Word of God, and not in rites and ceremonies. By their noble example they have called all men of God to follow them.
Catherine Descends from the Throne and Anne Boleyn Ascends It November, 1532 to July, 1533
Cranmer was on the archiepiscopal throne; if Anne Boleyn were now to take her seat on the royal throne by the side of Henry, it was the pope’s opinion that everything would be lost. Clement recurred once more to his favorite suggestion of bigamy, already advised by him in 1528 and 1530. True, this suggestion could not be acceptable either to Henry or to Charles V, but that made it all the better in the eyes of the pontiff; he would then have the appearance of assenting to the king’s plans without running the least risk of seeing them realized. “Rather than do what his Majesty asks,” he said to one of the English envoys, “I would prefer granting him the necessary dispensation to have two wives; that would be a smaller scandal.”
The tenacity with which the pope advised Henry again and again to commit the crime of bigamy has not prevented the most illustrious advocates of Catholicism from exclaiming that “to have two wives at once is a mystery of iniquity, of which there is no example in Christendom.” A singular assertion after a cardinal and then a pope had on several occasions advised what they call “a mystery of iniquity.” Again, for the third time, the king refused a remedy that was worse than the disease.
The pope wished at any price to prevent Rome from losing England; and turning to the other side, he resolved to try to gain over Charles V and prevail upon him not to oppose the divorce. In order to succeed, Clement determined to undertake a journey to Bologna in the worst season of the year. He started on the 18th of November with six cardinals and a certain number of attendants, and took twenty days to reach that city by way of Perugia. Most of his officers had done everything to dissuade him from this painful expedition, but in vain. The rain fell in torrents; the rivers were swollen and unfordable; the roads muddy and broken up; the mules sank of fatigue one after another; the couriers who preceded him solicited the pope to travel on foot; and at last his Holiness’ favorite mule broke its leg. It mattered not; he must oppose the Reformation of England. But the discomforts of the journey increased; the pope often arrived at inns where there was no bed, and had to sleep among the straw. At last he reached Bologna on the 7th of December, but in such a plight that, notwithstanding his love for ceremonies, he entered the city furtively.
Another disappointment awaited him. The cardinal of Ancona died, the most influential member of the Sacred College, and on whom Clement relied to gain over the Emperor, who greatly respected him. But this did not cool the pontiff’s zeal. “I am thoroughly decided to please the kings in this great matter,” he said to Henry’s envoys, and added, “To have universal concord between all the princes of Christendom, I would give a joint of my hand.” In fact Clement set to work and went so far as to tell Charles that, according to the theologians, the pope had no right to grant a dispensation for a marriage between brother and sister, but the Emperor was immovable. The pope then proposed a truce of three or four years between Henry, Francis, and Charles, during which he would convoke a general council, to whom he would remit the whole affair. Francis informed Henry that all this was nothing but a trick.
The king, convinced that the pope was trifling with him, no longer hesitated to follow the course which the interests of his people and his own happiness seemed to point out. He determined that Anne Boleyn should be his wife and queen of England also. It was now that the marriage took place. Cranmer states in a letter written on the 17th of June, 1533 that he did not perform the ceremony, that he did not hear of it until a fortnight after, and that it was celebrated privately “much about Saint Paul’s day last” (25th January, 1533).
Whatever may have been the exact date of the marriage, it became the universal topic of conversation in the early months of 1533; people did not speak of it publicly, but in private, some attacking and others defending it. If the members of the Romish party circulated ridiculous stories and outrageous calumnies against Anne, the members of the national party replied that the purity of her life, her moderation, her chastity, her mildness, her discretion, her noble and exalted parentage, her pleasing manners, and (they added somewhat later) her fitness to give a successor to the crown of England, made her worthy of the royal favor. Men are apt to go too far in reproaches as well as in eulogies.
This important step on the part of Henry VIII was accompanied with an explosion of murmurs against Clement VII. “The pope,” he said, “wanders from the path of the Redeemer, who was obedient in this world to princes. What! must a prince submit to the arrogance of a human being whom God has put under him? Must a king humble himself before that man above whom he stands by the will of God? No! that would be a perversion of the order God has established.” This is what Henry represented to Francis through Lord Rochford; but the words did not touch the King of France, for the Emperor was just then making several concessions to him, and the evangelicals of Paris were annoying him. From that hour the cordial feeling between the two monarchs gradually decreased. England turned her eyes more and more towards the Gospel, and France towards Rome. Just at the time when Anne Boleyn was about to reign in the palaces of Whitehall and Windsor, Catherine de Medici was entering those of St. Germain and Fontainebleau. The contrast between the two nations became ever more distinct and striking; England was advancing towards liberty, and France towards the dragonnades.
The divorce between Rome and Whitehall soon became manifest. A brief of Clement VII posted in February on the doors of all the churches in Flanders, in the states of the king’s enemy, and as near to England as possible, attracted a great number of readers. “What shall we do?” said the pontiff to Henry. “Shall we neglect thy soul’s safety? … We exhort thee, our son, under pain of excommunication, to restore Queen Catherine to the royal honors which are due to her, to cohabit with her, and to cease to associate publicly with Anne, and that within a month from the day on which this brief shall be presented to thee. Otherwise, when the said term shall have elapsed, we pronounce thee and the said Anne to be ipso facto excommunicate, and command all men to shun and avoid your presence.” It would appear that this document, demanded by the imperialists, had been posted throughout Flanders without the pope’s knowledge.
A copy was immediately forwarded to the king by his agents. He was surprised and agitated, but believed at last that it was forged by his enemies. How could he imagine that the pope, just at the very time he was showing the king especial marks of his affection, would (even conditionally) have anathematized and isolated him in the midst of his people? Henry sent a copy of the document to Benet, his agent at Rome, and desired him to ascertain carefully whether it did really proceed from the pope or not.
Benet presented the document to Clement as a paper forwarded to him by his friend in Flanders. The latter was “ashamed and in great perplexity,” wrote the envoy. He then read it again more attentively, stopped at certain passages, and seemed as if he were choking. Having come to the end, he expressed his surprise, and pretended that the copy differed from the original. “There is one mistake in particular which almost chokes the pope every time it is mentioned,” wrote Benet to Cromwell. This mistake was the inclusion of Queen Anne Boleyn in the censure, without giving her previous warning, which (they said) was contrary to all the commandments of God. Accordingly Dr. Benet received orders to bring up this mistake frequently in his audiences with the pope, and he did not fail to do so. At this moment, in which he was about to lose England, the pope was more uneasy at having committed an error of form with regard to Anne Boleyn, than with having struck the monarch of a powerful kingdom with an interdict. There is, besides, no doubt that he dictated the unhappy phrase himself.
Benet and his friends took advantage of the pope’s vexation, and even increased it; they communicated the brief to the dignitaries of the Church in Clement’s household, and the latter acknowledged that the document must be offensive to his Majesty of England, and that “the pope was much to blame.” Benet transmitted the pontiff’s errata to the king, but it was too late; the blow had taken effect. The indignant Henry was about to proceed ostentatiously to the very acts which Rome threatened with her thunders.
Whilst the pope was hesitating, England firmly pursued her emancipation. Parliament met on the 4th of February, and the boldest language was uttered. “The people of England, in accord with their king,” said eloquent speakers, “have the right to decide supremely on all things both temporal and spiritual, and certainly the English possess intelligence enough for that. And yet, in spite of the prohibitions issued by so many of our princes, we see bulls arriving every moment from Rome to regulate wills, marriages, divorces, everything in short. We propose that henceforward these matters be decided solely before the national tribunals.” The law passed. It was Cromwell’s legislative masterpiece. Appeals, instead of being made to Rome, were to be made in the first instance to the bishop, then to the archbishop, and, if the king was interested in the cause, to the Upper Chamber of the ecclesiastical Convocation.
The king took immediate advantage of this law to inquire of Convocation whether the pope could authorize a man to marry his brother’s widow. Out of sixty-six present, and one hundred and ninety-seven who voted by proxy, there were only nineteen in the Upper House who voted against the king. The opposition was stronger in the Lower House; but even this agreed with the other house in declaring that Pope Julius II had exceeded his authority in giving Henry a dispensation, and that the marriage was consequently null from the very first.
Nothing remained now but to proceed to the divorce. On the 11th of April, two days before Easter, Cranmer, as archbishop, wrote a letter to the king, in which he set forth that, desiring to fill the office of archbishop of Canterbury, “according to the laws of God and Holy Church, for the relief of the grievances and infirmities of the people, God’s subjects and yours in spiritual causes,” he prayed his Majesty’s favor for that office. Cranmer did not decline the royal intervention, but he avoided confounding spiritual with temporal affairs.
Henry, who was doubtless waiting impatiently for this letter, was alarmed as he read the words, “according to the laws of God and Holy Church.” God and the Church. … Well! but what of the king and the royal supremacy? The primate seemed to assert the right of acting proprio motu, and, while asking the king’s favor, to be doing a simple act of courtesy. … Did the Church of England claim to take the pontiff’s place and station, and leave the king aside? … That was not what Henry meant. Tired of the pretensions of the pope of Rome, would he suffer a pope on a small scale at his side? He intended to be master in his own kingdom—master of everything. The letter must be modified, and this Henry intimated to Cranmer.
That day, or the next after the one on which this letter had been written, there was a great festival at the court in honor of Anne Boleyn. “Queen Anne that evening went in state to her apartments openly as queen,” says Hall. It was probably during this festival that the king, taking the prelate aside, desired him to suppress the unwelcome passage. The idea suggested by an eminent historian, that Cranmer sent both the letters together to Henry, that he might choose which he would prefer, seems to me inadmissible. Cranmer, as it would appear, submitted, waiting for better days. On returning to Lambeth, he recopied his letter, omitting the words which had been pointed out. Not content with asking the king’s favor, he desired his license, his authorization to proceed. (Actually, appropriate resolutions of Convocation had already virtually decided the issues, and Cranmer knew that he could take action with the Church supporting him.) He dated his second letter the same day, and sent it to his master, who was satisfied with it.
This alone did not satisfy Henry; in his reply to the archbishop, he marked still more strongly his intention not to have in England a primate independent of the crown: “Ye therefore duly recognizing that it becometh you not, being our subject, to enterprise any part of your said office without our license obtained so to do. … In consideration of these things, albeit we being your king and sovereign, do recognize no superior upon earth but only God; yet because ye be under us, by God’s calling and ours, the most principal minister of our spiritual jurisdiction, we will not refuse your humble request.”
This language was clear. Henry VIII did not, however, claim the arbitrary authority to which the pope pretended human and divine laws were to be the supreme rule in England, but he, the king, was to be their chief interpreter. Cranmer must understand that. “To these laws we, as a Christian king,” wrote Henry, “have always heretofore submitted, and shall ever most obediently submit ourselves.” The ecclesiastical system which Henry VIII established in England in 1533 was not a free Church in a free State, and there is no reason to be surprised at it.
Cranmer having received the royal license, now prepared the measure for disposing of the problem which, for six years, had kept England and the continent in suspense. Taking the bishops of Lincoln and Winchester and some lawyers with him, he proceeded quietly, and without ostentation, to the priory of Dunstable, five miles from Ampthill in Bedfordshire, where Queen Catherine was staying. He wished to avoid the notoriety of a trial held in London.
The ecclesiastical court being duly formed, Henry and Catherine were summoned to appear before it on the 10th of May. The king was present by attorney, but the queen replied, “My cause is before the pope; I accept no other judge.” A fresh summons was immediately made out for the 12th of May, and as the queen appeared neither in person nor by any of her servants, she was pronounced contumacious, and the trial went forward. The king was informed every night of each day’s proceedings, and he was often in great anxiety. Some unexpected event, an appeal from Catherine, the sudden intervention of the pope or of the Emperor, might stop everything. His courtiers were on the watch for news. Anne said nothing, but her heart beat quick, and the ambitious Cromwell, whose fortunes depended on the success of the matter, was sometimes in great alarm. Cranmer rested on the declarations of Scripture, and showed much equity and uprightness during the trial. “I have willingly injured no human being,” he said. But he knew the queen had numerous partisans; they would conjure her, perhaps, to appear before her judges; there would then be a great stir, and the voice of the people would be heard. The archbishop could hardly restrain his emotion as he thought of this. He must indeed expect an inflexible resistance on the part of the queen; but in the midst of all the agitation around her, she alone remained calm and resolute. Her hand had grasped the pope’s robe, and nothing could make her let it go. “I am the king’s lawful wife,” she repeated, “I am queen of England. My daughter is the king’s child; I place her in her father’s hands.”
On Wednesday, the 23rd of May, the primate, attended by all the archiepiscopal court, proceeded to the church of St. Peter’s priory at Dunstable, in order to deliver the final judgment of divorce. A few persons attracted by curiosity were present; but, although Dunstable was near Ampthill, all of Catherine’s household kept themselves respectfully aloof from an act which was to deal their mistress such a grievous blow. The primate, after reciting the decisions of the several universities, provincial councils, and other premises, continued, “Therefore we, Thomas, archbishop, primate, and legate, having first called upon the name of Christ, and having God altogether before our eyes, do pronounce and declare that the marriage between our sovereign lord King Henry and the most serene Lady Catherine, widow of his brother, having been contracted contrary to the law of God, is null and void; and therefore we sentence that it is not lawful for the said most illustrious Prince Henry and the said most serene Lady Catherine to remain in the said pretended marriage.” The announcement, drawn up very carefully by two notaries, was immediately sent to the king.
The divorce was pronounced, and Henry was free. Many persons gave way to feelings of alarm; they thought that all Europe would combine against England. “The pope will excommunicate the English,” said some, “and then the Emperor will destroy them.” But, on the other hand, the majority of the nation desired to have done with a subject which had been agitating their minds during the last seven years. England, getting out of a labyrinth from which she had never expected to find an issue, began to breathe again.
Catherine’s marriage was declared to be null; it only remained now to recognize Anne Boleyn’s. On the 28th of May, an archiepiscopal court held at Lambeth, in the primate’s palace, officially declared that Henry and Anne had been lawfully wedded, and the king had now no thought but how to seal his union by the pomp of a coronation. It would certainly have been preferable had the new queen taken her seat quietly on the throne, but slanderous reports made it necessary for the king to present his wife to the people in all the splendor of royalty.
At three o’clock in the afternoon of Thursday before Whitsuntide, a magnificent procession started from Greenwich. Fifty barges, adorned with rich banners, conveyed the representatives of the different city companies, and the metropolis joyfully hailed a union that promised to inaugurate a future of light and faith—it was almost a religious festival. On the banner of the Fishmongers was the inscription, All worship belongs to God alone; on that of the Haberdashers, My trust is in God only; on that of the Grocers, God gives grace; and on that of the Goldsmiths, To God alone be all the glory. The city of London thus asserted, in the presence of the immense crowd, the principles of the Reformation. The lord mayor’s barge immediately preceded the galley, all hung with cloth of gold, in which Anne was seated. Near it floated another gay barge, on which a little mountain was contrived, planted with red and white roses, in the midst of which sat a number of young maidens singing to the accompaniment of sweet music. A hundred richly ornamented barques, carrying the nobility of England, brought up the magnificent procession, and a countless number of boats and skiffs covered the river. The moment Anne set her foot on shore at the Tower, a thousand trumpets sounded notes of triumph, and all the guns of the fortress fired such a peal as had seldom been heard before.
Henry, who liked the sound of cannon, met Anne at the gate and kissed her, and the new queen entered in triumph that vast fortress from which, three years later, she was to issue, by order of the same prince, to mount, an innocent victim, the cruel scaffold. She smiled courteously on all around; and yet, seized with a sudden emotion, she sometimes trembled, as if, instead of the joyous flowers on which she trod with light and graceful foot, she saw a deep gulf yawning beneath her.
The king and queen passed the whole of the next day (Friday) at the Tower. On Saturday Anne left it for Westminster. The streets were gay with banners, and the houses were hung with velvet and cloth of gold. All the Orders of the State and Church, the ambassadors of France and Venice, and the officers of the court opened the procession. The queen was carried in a magnificent litter covered with white cloth shot with gold, her head, which she had modestly inclined, being encircled with a wreath of precious stones. The people who crowded the streets were full of enthusiasm, and seemed to triumph more than she did herself.
The next day, Whit-Sunday, she proceeded for the coronation to the ancient abbey of Westminster, where the bishops and the court had been summoned to meet her. She took her seat in a rich chair, whence she presently descended to the high altar and knelt down. After the prescribed prayers, she rose, and the archbishop placed the crown of St. Edward upon her head. She then took the sacrament and retired; the Earl of Wiltshire, her father, trembling with emotion, took her right hand… he was at the pinnacle of happiness, and yet he was uneasy. Alas! a caprice of the man who had raised his daughter to the throne might be sufficient to hurl her from it! Anne herself, in the midst of all these pomps, greater than any ever seen before at the coronation of an English queen, could not entirely forget the princess whose place she had now taken. Might not she be rejected in her turn? … In such a thought there was enough to make her shudder.
Anne did not find in her marriage with Henry the happiness she had dreamt, and a cloud was often seen passing across those features once so radiant. The idol to which this young woman had sacrificed everything—the splendor of a throne—did not satisfy her longings for happiness; she looked within herself, and found once more, as queen, that attraction towards the doctrine of the Gospel which she had felt in the society of Margaret of Valois, and which, amid her ambitious pursuits, had been almost extinguished in her heart. She discovered that for those who have everything, as well as for those who have nothing, there is only one single good—God Himself. She did not probably give herself up entirely to Him, for her best impressions were often fugitive, but there are occasional indications that she took advantage of her power to assist those who she knew were devoted to the Gospel. Foxe intimates that the pardon granted to John Lambert, who was still in prison was in part the result of “the coming of Queen Anne.” That faithful confessor of Jesus Christ settled in London, where he began to teach children Latin and Greek, without however neglecting the defense of truth.
The king, who had informed Catherine through Lord Mountjoy of the archiepiscopal sentence, officially communicated his divorce and marriage to the various crowned heads of Europe, and particularly to the king of France, the Emperor, and the pope. The pope on the 11th of July annulled the sentence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, declared the king’s marriage with Anne Boleyn unlawful, and threatened to excommunicate both, unless they separated before the end of September. Henry angrily commanded his theologians to demonstrate that the bull was a nullity, recalled his ambassador, the Duke of Norfolk, and said that the moment was come for all monarchs and all Christian people to withdraw from under the yoke of the bishop of Rome. “The pope and his cardinals,” he wrote to Francis I, “pretend to have princes, who are free persons, at their beck and commandment. Sire, you and I and all the princes of Christendom must unite for the preservation of our rights, liberties, and privileges; we must alienate the greatest part of Christendom from the see of Rome.”
But Henry had scholastic prejudices which made him fall into the strangest contradictions. While he was employing his diplomacy to isolate the pope, he still prayed him to declare the nullity of his marriage with Catherine. It is not at the court of this prince that we must look for the real Reformation—we must go in search of it elsewhere.
Fryth in the Tower August, 1532 to May, 1533
One of the leading scholars of England was about to seal the testimony of his faith with his blood. John Fryth had been one of the most brilliant stars of the university of Cambridge. “It would hardly be possible to find his equal in learning,” said many. Accordingly Wolsey had invited him to his college at Oxford, and Henry VIII had desired to place him among the number of his theologians. But the mysteries of the Word of God had more attraction for Fryth than mere scholastic renown; the claims of conscience prevailed in him over those of the intellect, and, neglecting his own glory, he sought only to be useful to mankind. A sincere, decided, and yet moderate Christian, preaching the Gospel with great purity and love, this man of thirty seemed destined to become one of the most influential reformers of England. Nothing could have prevented his playing the foremost part, if he had had Luther’s enthusiastic energy or Calvin’s indomitable will. There were less strong, but perhaps more amiable features in his character; he taught with gentleness those who were opposed to the truth, and while many, as Foxe says, “take the bellows in hand to blow the fire, but few there are that will seek to quench it,” Fryth sought after peace. Controversies between Protestants distressed him. “The opinions for which men go to war,” he said, “do not deserve those great tragedies of which they make us spectators. Let there be no longer any question among us of Zwinglians or Lutherans, for neither Zwingli nor Luther died for us, and we must be one in Christ Jesus.” This servant of Christ, meek and lowly of heart like his Master, never disputed even with papists, unless obliged to do so.
A true Catholicism which embraced all Christians was Fryth’s distinctive feature as a reformer. He was not one of those who imagine that a national Church ought to think only of its own nation, but of those who believe that if a Church is the depositary of the truth, she is so for all the earth, and that a religion is not good, if it has no longing to extend itself to all the races of mankind. There were some strongly marked national elements in the English Reformation—the activity of the king and the parliament—but there was also a universal element—a lively faith in the Savior of the world. No one in the sixteenth century represented this truly catholic element better than Fryth. “I understand the Church of God in a wide sense,” he said. “It contains all those whom we regard as members of Christ. It is a net thrown into the sea.” This principle, sown at that time as a seed in the English Reformation, was one day to cover the world with missionaries.
Fryth, having declined the brilliant offers the king had made to him through Cromwell and Vaughan, joined Tyndale in translating and publishing the Holy Scriptures in English. While laboring thus for England, an irresistible desire came over him to circulate the Gospel there in person. He therefore quitted the Low Countries, returned to London, and directed his course to Reading, where the prior had been his friend. Exile had not used him well, and he entered that town miserably clothed, and more like a beggar than one whom Henry VIII had desired to place near himself. This was in August 1532.
His writings had preceded him. Having received, when in the Netherlands, three works composed in defense of purgatory by three distinguished men—Rastell, Sir Thomas More’s brother-in-law, More himself, and Fisher, bishop of Rochester—Fryth had replied to them: “A purgatory! there is not one only, there are two. The first is the Word of God, the second is the cross of Christ; I do not mean the cross of wood, but the cross of tribulation. But the lives of the papists are so wicked that they have invented a third.”
Sir Thomas, exasperated by Fryth’s reply, said with that humorous tone he often affected, “I propose to answer the good young father Fryth, whose wisdom is such that three old men like my brother Rastell, the bishop of Rochester, and myself are mere babies when confronted with father Fryth alone.” The exile having returned to England, More had now the opportunity of avenging himself more effectually than by his jokes.
At Reading, Fryth’s strange air and his look as of a foreigner arriving from a distant country attracted attention, and he was taken up for a vagabond. “Who are you?” asked the magistrate. Fryth, suspecting that he was in the hands of enemies of the Gospel, refused to give his name, which increased the suspicion, and he was set in the stocks. As they gave him but little to eat, with the intent of forcing him to tell his name, his hunger soon became insupportable. Knowing the name of the master of the grammar school, he asked to speak with him. Leonard Coxe had scarcely entered the prison, when the pretended vagabond all in rags addressed him in correct Latin, and began to deplore his miserable captivity. Never had words more noble been uttered in a dungeon so vile. The schoolmaster, astonished at so much eloquence, compassionately drew near the unhappy man and inquired how it came to pass that such a learned scholar was in such profound wretchedness. Presently he sat down, and the two men began to talk in Greek about the universities and languages. Coxe could not make it out; it was no longer simple pity that he felt, but love, which turned to admiration when he heard the prisoner recite with the purest accent those noble lines of the Iliad which were so applicable to his own case:
Sing, O Muse,
The vengeance deep and deadly, whence to Greece
Un-numbered ills arose, which many a soul
Of mighty warriors to the viewless shades
Filled with respect, Coxe hurried off to the mayor, complained bitterly of the wrong done to so remarkable a man, and obtained his liberation. Homer saved the life of a reformer.
Fryth departed for London and hastened to join the worshippers who were accustomed to meet in Bow Lane. He conversed with them and exclaimed, “Oh! what consolation to see such a great number of believers walking in the way of the Lord!” These Christians asked him to expound the Scriptures to them, and, delighted with his exhortations, they exclaimed in their turn, “If the rule of St. Paul were followed, this man would certainly make a better bishop than many of those who wear the miter.” Instead of the crosier he was to bear the cross.
One of those who listened was in great doubt relative to the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, and one day, after Fryth had been setting Christ before them as the food of the Christian soul through faith, this person followed him and said, “Our prelates think differently; they believe that the bread transformed by consecration becomes the flesh, blood, and bones of Christ, that even the wicked eat this flesh with their teeth, and that we must adore the host. … What you have just said refutes their errors, but I fear that I cannot remember it. Pray commit it to writing.” Fryth, who did not like discussions, was alarmed at the request, and answered, “I do not care to touch that terrible tragedy,” for so he called the dispute about the supper. The man having repeated his request, and promised that he would not communicate the paper to anybody, Fryth wrote an explanation of the doctrine of the Sacrament and gave it to this London Christian, saying, “We must eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, not with the teeth, but with the hearing and through faith.” The brother took the treatise, and, hurrying home with it, read it carefully.
In a short time everyone at the Bow Lane meeting spoke about this writing. One man, a false brother, named William Holt, listened attentively to what was said, and thought he had found an opportunity of destroying Fryth. Assuming a hypocritical look, he spoke in a pious strain to the individual who had the manuscript, as if he had desired to enlighten his faith, and finally asked him for it. Having obtained it, he hastened to make a copy, which he carried to Sir Thomas More, who was still chancellor.
Fryth soon perceived that he had tried in vain to remain unknown; he called with so much power those who thirsted for righteousness to come to Christ for the waters of life, that friends and enemies were struck with his eloquence. Observing that his name began to be talked of in various places, he quitted the capital and traveled unnoticed through several counties, where he found some little Christian congregations whom he tried to strengthen in the faith.
Tyndale, who remained on the continent, having heard of Fryth’s labors, began to feel great anxiety about him. He knew but too well the cruel disposition of the bishops and of More. “I will make the serpent come out of his dark den,” Sir Thomas had said, speaking of Tyndale, “as Hercules forced Cerberus, the watchdog of hell, to come out to the light of day. … I will not leave Tyndale the darkest corner in which to hide his head.” In Tyndale’s eyes Fryth was the great hope of the Church in England; he trembled lest the redoubtable Hercules should seize him. “Dearly beloved brother Jacob,” he wrote, calling him Jacob to mislead his enemies, “be cold, sober, wise, and circumspect, and keep you low by the ground, avoiding high questions that pass the common capacity. But expound the law truly, and open the veil of Moses to condemn all flesh and prove all men sinners. Then set abroach the mercy of our Lord Jesus, and let the wounded consciences drink of him. … All doctrine that casteth a mist on these two to shadow and hide them, resist with all your power. … Beloved in my heart, there liveth not one in whom I have so great hope and trust, and in whom my heart rejoiceth, not so much for your learning and what other gifts else you may have, as because you walk in those things that the conscience may feel, and not in the imagination of the brain. Cleave fast to the rock of the help of God, and if aught be required of you contrary to the glory of God and His Christ, then stand fast and commit yourself to God. He is our God and His is the glory. I hope our redemption is nigh.”
Tyndale’s fears were but too well founded. Sir Thomas More held Fryth’s new treatise in his hand; he read it and gave way by turns to anger and sarcasm. “Whetting his wits, calling his spirits together, and sharpening his pen,” to use the words of the chronicler, he answered Fryth, and described his doctrine under the image of a cancer. This did not satisfy him. Although he had returned the seals to the king in May, he continued to hold office until the end of the year. He ordered search to be made for Fryth, and set all his bloodhounds on the track. If the reformer was discovered he was lost; when Sir Thomas More had once caught his man, nothing could save him—nothing but a merry jest, perhaps. For instance, one day when he was examining a gospeller named Silver, “You know,” he said with a smile, “that silver must be tried in the fire.” “Yes,” retorted the accused instantly, “but not quicksilver.” More, delighted with the repartee, set the poor wretch at liberty. But Fryth was no jester; he could not hope, therefore, to find favor with the ex-chancellor of England.
Sir Thomas hunted the reformer by sea and by land, promising a great reward to anyone who should deliver him up. There was no county where More did not look for him, no sheriff or justice of the peace to whom he did not apply, no harbor where he did not post some officer to catch him. But the answer from every quarter was, “He is not here.” Indeed, Fryth, having been informed of the great exertions of his enemy, was fleeing from place to place, often changing his dress, and finding a safe retreat nowhere. Determining to leave England and return to Tyndale, he went to Milton Shone in Essex with the intention of embarking. A ship was ready to sail, and, quitting his hiding place, he went down to the shore with all precaution. But he had been betrayed. More’s agents, who were on the watch, seized him as he was stepping on board, and carried him to the Tower. This occurred in October 1532.
Sir Thomas More was uneasy and soured. He beheld a new power lifting its head in England and all Christendom, and he felt that in despite of his wit and his influence he was unable to check it. That man so amiable, that writer of a style so pure and elegant, did not so much dread the anger of the king; what exasperated him was to see the Scriptures circulating more widely every day, and a continually increasing number of his fellow citizens converted to the evangelical faith. These new men, who seemed to have more piety than himself—he an old follower of the old papacy!—irritated him sorely. He claimed to have alone—he and his friends—the privilege of being Christians. The zeal of the partisans of the Reformation, the sacrifice they made of their repose, their money, and their lives, confounded him. “These diabolical people,” he said, “print their books at great expense, notwithstanding the great danger; not looking for any gain, they give them away to everybody, and even scatter them abroad by night. They fear no labor, no journey, no expense, no pain, no danger, no blows, no injury. They take a malicious pleasure in seeking the destruction of others, and these disciples of the devil think only how they may cast the souls of the simple into hell-fire.” In such a strain as this did the elegant utopist give vent to his anger—the man who had dreamt all his life of the plan of an imaginary world for the perfect happiness of everyone. At last he had caught one of the chief of these disciples of Satan, and hoped to put him to death by fire.
The news soon spread through London that Fryth was in the Tower, and several priests and bishops immediately went thither to try to bring him back to the pope. Their great argument was that More had confuted his treatise on the Lord’s Supper. Fryth asked to see the confutation, but it was refused him. One day the Bishop of Winchester, having called upon the prisoner, showed it to Fryth, and, holding it up, asserted that the book quite shut his mouth; Fryth put out his hand, but the bishop hastily withdrew the volume. More himself was ashamed of the apology, and did all he could to prevent its circulation. Fryth could only obtain a written copy, but he resolved to answer it immediately. There was no one with whom he could confer, not a book he could consult, and the chains with which he was loaded scarcely allowed him to sit and write. But reading in his dungeon by the light of a small candle the insults of More, and finding himself charged with having collected all the poison that could be found in the writings of Wycliffe, Luther, Œcolampadius, Tyndale, and Zwingli, this humble servant of God exclaimed, “No! Luther and his doctrine are not the mark I aim at, but the Scriptures of God.” “He shall pay for his heresy with the best blood in his body,” said his enemies, and the pious disciple replied, “As the sheep bound by the hand of the butcher with timid look beseeches that his blood may soon be shed, even so do I pray my judges that my blood may be shed tomorrow, if by my death the king’s eyes should be opened.”
Before he died, Fryth desired to save, if it were God’s will, one of his adversaries. There was one of them who had no obstinacy, no malice—it was John Rastell, More’s brother-in-law. Being unable to speak to him or to any of the enemies of the Reformation, he formed the design of writing in prison a treatise which should be called the Bulwark. But strict orders had recently arrived that he should have neither pen, ink, nor paper. However, some evangelical Christians of London, who succeeded in getting access to him, secretly furnished him with the means of writing, and Fryth began. He wrote… but at every moment he listened for fear the lieutenant of the Tower or the warders should come upon him suddenly and find the pen in his hand. Often a bright thought would occur to him, but some sudden alarm drove it out of his mind, and he could not recall it. He took courage, however; he had been accused of asserting that good works were of no service; he proceeded to explain with much eloquence all their utility, and every time he repeated, “Is that nothing? Is that still nothing? Truly, Rastell,” he added, “if you only regard that as useful which justifies us, the sun is not useful, because it justifieth not.”
As he was finishing these words he heard the keys rattling at the door, and, being alarmed, immediately threw paper, ink, and pen into a hiding place. However, he was able to complete the treatise and send it to Rastell. More’s brother-in-law read it; his heart was touched, his understanding enlightened, his prejudices cleared away; and from that hour this choice spirit was gained over to the Gospel of Christ. God had given him new eyes and new ears. A pure joy filled the prisoner’s heart. “Rastell now looks upon his natural reason as foolishness,” he said. “Rastell, become a child, drinks the wisdom that cometh from on high.”
The conversion of Sir Thomas More’s brother-in-law made a great sensation, and the visits to Fryth’s cell became every day more numerous. Although separated from his wife and from Tyndale, whom he had been forced to leave in the Low Countries, he had never had so many friends, brothers, mothers, and fathers; he wept for very joy. He took his pen and paper from their hiding place, and, always indefatigable, began to write first the Looking-glass of Self-knowledge, and next a Letter to the Faithful Followers of the Gospel of Christ. “Imitators of the Lord,” he said to them, “mark yourselves with the sign of the cross, not as the superstitious crowd does, in order to worship it, but as a testimony that you are ready to bear that cross as soon as God shall please to send it. Fear not when you have it, for you will also have a hundred fathers instead of one, a hundred mothers instead of one, a hundred mansions already in this life (for I have made the trial), and after this life, joy everlasting.”
At the beginning of 1533, Anne Boleyn having been married to the King of England, Fryth saw his chains fall off; he was allowed to have all he asked for, and even permitted to leave the Tower at night on parole. He took advantage of this liberty to visit the friends of the Gospel, and consult with them about what was to be done. One evening in particular, after leaving the Tower, Fryth went to Petit’s house, anxious to embrace once more that great friend of the Reformation, that firm member of parliament, who had been thrown into prison as we have seen, and at last set free. Petit, weakened by his long confinement, was near his end; the persecution agitated and pained him, and it would appear that his emotion sometimes ended in delirium. As he was groaning over the captivity of the young and noble reformer, Fryth appeared. Petit was confused, his mind wandered. Is it Fryth or his ghost? He was like the believers, when Rhoda came to tell them that Peter was at the gate waiting to see them. But gradually recovering himself, Petit said, “You here! How have you escaped the vigilance of the warders?” “God Himself,” answered Fryth, “gave me this liberty by touching their hearts.” The two friends then conversed about the true Reformation of England, which in their eyes had nothing to do with the diplomatic proceedings of the king. In their opinion it was not a matter of loading the external Church with new frippery, but “to increase that elect, sanctified, and invisible congregation, elect before the foundation of the world.” Fryth did not conceal from Petit the conviction he felt that he would be called upon to die for the Gospel. The night was spent in such Christian conversation, and the day began to dawn before the prisoner hastened to return to the Tower.
The evangelist’s friends did not think as he did. Anne Boleyn’s accession seemed as if it ought to open the doors of Fryth’s prison, and in imagination they saw him at liberty, and laboring either on the continent or at home at that real reformation which is accomplished by the Scriptures of God.
But it was not to be so. Most of the evangelical men raised up by God in England during the reign of Henry VIII found, not the influence which they should have exercised, but death. Yet their blood has weighed in the divine balance; it has sanctified the Reformation of England, and been a spiritual seed for future ages. If the Church in England has witnessed the development of a powerful evangelical life in its bosom, it must not forget the cause, but understand, with Tertullian, that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.
A Reformer Chooses Rather to Lose His Life Than Save It May to July, 1533
The enemy was on the watch; the second period of Fryth’s captivity, that which was to terminate in martyrdom, was beginning. Henry’s bishops, who, while casting off the pope to please the king, had remained devoted to scholastic doctrines, feared lest the reformer should escape them; they therefore undertook to solicit Henry to put him to death. Fryth had on his side the queen, Cromwell, and Cranmer. This did not discourage them, and they represented to the king that although the man was shut up in the Tower of London, he did not cease to write and act in defense of heresy. It was the season of Lent, and Fryth’s enemies came to an understanding with Dr. Curwin, the king’s chaplain, who was to preach before the court. He had no sooner got into the pulpit than he began to declaim against those who denied the material presence of Christ in the host. Having struck his hearers with horror, he continued, “It is not surprising that this abominable heresy makes such great progress among us. A man now in the Tower of London has the audacity to defend it, and no one thinks of punishing him.”
When the service was over, the brilliant congregation left the chapel, and each as he went out asked what was the man’s name. “Fryth” was the reply, and loud were the exclamations on hearing it. The blow took effect, the scholastic prejudices of the king were revived, and he sent for Cromwell and Cranmer. “I am very much surprised,” he said, “that John Fryth has been kept so long in the Tower without examination. I desire his trial to take place without delay; and if he does not retract, let him suffer the penalty he deserves.” He then nominated six of the chief spiritual and temporal peers of England to examine him: they were the Archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of London and Winchester, the lord chancellor, the Duke of Suffolk, and the Earl of Wiltshire. This demonstrated the importance which Henry attached to the affair. Until now, all the martyrs had fallen beneath the blows either of the bishops or of More; but in this case it was the king himself who stretched out his strong hand against the servant of God.
Henry’s order plunged Cranmer into the cruellest anxiety. On the one hand, Fryth was in his eyes a disciple of the Gospel; but on the other, he attacked a doctrine which the archbishop then held to be Christian, for, like Luther and Osiander, he still believed in consubstantiation. “Alas!” he wrote to Archdeacon Hawkins, “he professes the doctrine of Œcolampadius.” He resolved, however, to do everything in his power to save Fryth.
The best friends of the young reformer saw that a pile was being raised to consume the most faithful Christian in England. “Dearly beloved,” wrote Tyndale from Antwerp, “fear not men that threat, nor trust men that speak fair. Your cause is Christ’s Gospel, a light that must be fed with the blood of faith. The lamp must be trimmed daily, that the light go not out.” There was no lack of examples to confirm these words. “Two have suffered in Antwerp unto the great glory of the Gospel; four at Ryselles in Flanders. At Rouen in France they persecute, and at Paris are five doctors taken for the Gospel. See, you are not alone—follow the example of all your other dear brethren, who choose to suffer in hope of a better resurrection. Bear the image of Christ in your mortal body, and keep your conscience pure and undefiled. … Una salus victis, nullam sperare salutem: the only safety of the conquered is to hope for no safety. If you may write, tell us how it goes with you.” In this letter from a martyr to a martyr there was one sentence honorable to a Christian woman: “Your wife is well content with the will of God, and would not for her sake have the glory of God hindered.”
If friends were thinking of Fryth on the banks of the Scheldt, they were equally anxious about him on the banks of the Thames. Worthy citizens of London asked what was the use of England’s quitting the pope to cling to Christ, if she burnt the servants of Christ? The little Church had recourse to prayer. Archbishop Cranmer wished to save Fryth; he loved the man and admired his piety. If the accused appeared before the commission appointed by the king, he was lost; some means must be devised without delay to rescue him from an inevitable death. The archbishop declared that, before proceeding to trial, he wished to have a conference with the prisoner, and to endeavor to convince him, which was very natural. But at the same time the primate appeared to fear that if the conference took place in London the people would disturb the public peace, as in the time of Wycliffe. He settled therefore that it should be held at Croydon, where he had a palace. The primate’s fear seems rather strange. A riot on account of Fryth, at a time when king, commons, and people were in harmony, appeared hardly probable. Cranmer had another motive.
Among the persons composing his household was a gentleman of benevolent character, and with a leaning towards the Gospel, who was distressed at the cruelty of the bishops, and looked upon it as a lawful and Christian act to rob them, if possible, of their victims. Giving him one of the porters of Lambeth Palace as a companion, Cranmer committed Fryth to his care to bring him to Croydon. They were to take the prisoner a journey of four or five hours on foot through fields and woods, without any constables or soldiers. A strange walk and a strange escort!
Lord Fitzwilliam, first Earl of Southampton and governor of the Tower, at the time lay sick in his house at Westminster, suffering such severe pain as to force loud groans from him. On the 10thof June, at the desire of my lord of Canterbury, the archbishop’s gentleman, and the Lambeth porter, Gallois, surnamed Perlebeane, were introduced into the nobleman’s bedchamber, where they found him lying upon his bed in extreme agony. Fitzwilliam, a man of the world, was greatly enraged against the evangelicals, who were the cause, in his opinion, of all the difficulties of England. The gentleman respectfully presented to him the primate’s letter and the king’s ring. “What do you want?” he asked sharply, without opening the letter. “His Grace desires your lordship to deliver Master Fryth to us.” The impatient Southampton flew into a passion at the name, and cursed Fryth and all the heretics. He thought it strange that a gentleman and a porter should have to convey a prisoner of such importance to the episcopal court—were there no soldiers in the Tower? Had Fitzwilliam any suspicion, or did he regret to see the reformer leave the walls within which he had been kept so long? We cannot tell, but he must obey, for they brought him the king’s signet. Accordingly, taking his own ring hastily from his finger, “Fryth,” he said, “Fryth. … Here, show this to the lieutenant of the Tower, and take away your heretic quickly. I am but too happy to get rid of him.”
A few hours later Fryth, the gentleman, and Perlebeane entered a boat moored near the Tower, and were rowed speedily to the archbishop’s palace at Lambeth. At first the three persons preserved a strict silence, only interrupted from time to time by the deep sighs of the gentleman. Being charged to begin by trying to induce Fryth to make some compromise, he broke the silence at last. “Master Fryth,” he said, “if you are not prudent you are lost. What a pity! You that are so learned in Latin and Greek and in the Holy Scriptures, the ancient doctors, and all kinds of knowledge, you will perish, and all your admirable gifts will perish with you, with little profit to the world, and less comfort to your wife and children, your kinsfolk and friends.” … The gentleman was silent a minute, and then began again, “Your position is dangerous, Master Fryth, but not desperate; you have many friends who will do all they can in your favor. On your part do something for them, make some concession, and you will be safe. Your opinion on the merely spiritual presence of the body and blood of the Savior is premature; it is too soon for us in England—wait until a better time comes!”
Fryth did not say a word; no sound was heard but the plash of the water and the noise of the oars. The gentleman thought he had shaken the young doctor, and after a moment’s silence he resumed, “My lord Cromwell and my lord of Canterbury feel great affection for you; they know that if you are young in years you are old in knowledge, and may become a most profitable citizen of this realm. … If you will be somewhat advised by their counsel, they will never permit you to be harmed, but if you stand stiff to your opinion, it is not possible to save your life, for as you have good friends so have you mortal enemies.”
The gentleman stopped and looked at the prisoner. It was by such language that Bilney had been seduced, but Fryth kept himself in the presence of God, ready to lose his life that he might save it. He thanked the gentleman for his kindness, and said that his conscience would not permit him to recede, out of respect to man, from the true doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. “If I am questioned on that point, I must answer according to my conscience, though I should lose twenty lives if I had so many. I can support it by a great number of passages from the Holy Scriptures and the ancient doctors, and if I am fairly tried I shall have nothing to fear.” “Indeed!” quoth the gentleman, “if you be fairly tried, you would be safe, but that is what I very much doubt. Our master Christ was not fairly tried, nor would He be, as I think, if He were now present again in the world. How then should you be, when your opinions are so little understood and are so odious?”
“I know,” answered Fryth, “that the doctrine which I hold is very hard meat to be digested just now, but listen to me.” As he spoke, he took the gentleman by the hand. “If you live twenty years more, you will see this whole realm of my opinion concerning this sacrament of the altar—all, except a certain class of men. My death, you say, would be sorrowful to my friends, but it will be only for a short time. But, all things considered, my death will be better unto me and all mine than life in continual bondage. God knoweth what He hath to do with His poor servant, whose cause I now defend. He will help me, and no man shall prevail on me to step backwards.”
The boat reached Lambeth. The travelers landed, entered the archbishop’s palace, and, after taking some refreshment, started on foot for Croydon, ten miles south of London.
The three travelers proceeded over the hills and through the plains of Surrey; here and there flocks of sheep were grazing in the scanty pastures, and to the east stretched vast woods. The gentleman walked mournfully by the side of Fryth. It was useless to ask him again to retract, but another idea engrossed Cranmer’s officer—that of letting Fryth escape. The country was then thinly inhabited; the woods which covered it on the east and the chalky hills might serve as a hiding place for the fugitive. The difficulty was to persuade Perlebeane. The gentleman slackened his pace, called to the porter, and they walked by themselves behind the prisoner. When they were so far off that he could not hear their conversation, the gentleman said, “You have heard this man, I am sure, and noted his talk since he came from the Tower.” “I never heard so constant a man,” Perlebeane answered, “nor so eloquent a person.”
“You have heard nothing,” resumed the gentleman, “in respect both of his knowledge and his eloquence. If you could hear him at the university or in the pulpit, you would admire him still more. England has never had such a one of his age with so much learning. And yet our bishops treat him as if he were a very dolt or an idiot. … They abhor him as the devil himself, and want to get rid of him by any means.”
“Surely,” said the porter, “if there were nothing else in him but the consideration of his person both comely and amiable, his disposition so gentle, meek, and humble, it were pity he should be cast away.”
“Cast away,” interrupted the gentleman, “he will certainly be cast away if we once bring him to Croydon.” And lowering his voice, he continued, “Surely before God I speak it, if thou, Perlebeane, wert of my mind, we should never bring him thither.”
“What do you mean?” asked the astonished porter. Then, after a moment’s silence, he added, “I know that you have a great deal more responsibility in this matter than I have, and therefore if you can honestly save this man, I will yield to your proposal with all my heart.” The gentleman breathed again.
Cranmer had desired that all possible efforts should be made to change Fryth’s sentiments, and these failing, he wished to save him in another way. It was his desire that the reformer should go on foot to Croydon, that he should be accompanied by two only of his servants, selected from those best disposed towards the new doctrine. The primate’s gentleman would never have dared take upon himself, except by his master’s desire, the responsibility of conniving at the escape of a prisoner who was to be tried by the first personages of the realm, appointed by the king himself. Happy at having gained the porter to his enterprise, he began to discuss with him the ways and means. He knew the country well, and his plan was arranged.
“You see yonder hill before us,” he said to Perlebeane, “it is Brixton Causeway, two miles from London. There are great woods on both sides. When we come to the top we will permit Fryth to escape into the woods on the left hand, whence he may easily get into Kent, where he was born, and where he has many friends. We will linger an hour or two on the road, after his flight, to give him time to reach a place of safety, and when night approaches we will go to Streatham, which is a mile and a half off, and make an outcry in the town that our prisoner has escaped into the woods on the right hand towards Wandsworth, that we followed him for more than a mile, and at length lost him because we were not many enough. At the same time we will take with us as many people as we can, to search for him in that direction; if necessary, we will be all night about it, and before we can send the news to Croydon of what has happened, Fryth will be in safety, and the bishops will be disappointed.”
The gentleman, we see, was not very scrupulous about the means of rescuing a victim from the Roman priests. Perlebeane thought as he did. “Your plan pleases me,” he answered, “now go and tell the prisoner, for we are already at the foot of the hill.”
The delighted gentleman hurried forward. “Master Fryth,” he said, “let us talk together a little. I cannot hide from you that the task I have undertaken, to bring you to Croydon, as a sheep to the slaughter, grieves me exceedingly, and there is no danger I would not brave to deliver you out of the lion’s mouth. Yonder good fellow and I have devised a plan whereby you may escape—listen to me.” The gentleman having described his plan, Fryth smiled amiably and said, “This then is the result of your long consultation together. You have wasted your time. If you were both to leave me here and go to Croydon, declaring to the bishops you had lost me, I should follow after as fast as I could, and bring them news that I had found and brought Fryth again.”
The gentleman had not expected such an answer. A prisoner refuse his liberty! … “You are mad,” he said, “do you think your reasoning will convert the bishops? At Milton Shone you tried to escape beyond the sea, and now you refuse to save yourself!” “The two cases are different,” answered Fryth, “then I was at liberty, and according to the advice of St. Paul I would fain have enjoyed my liberty for the continuance of my studies. But now the higher power, as it were by Almighty God’s permission, has seized me, and my conscience binds me to defend the doctrine for which I am persecuted, if I would not incur our Lord’s condemnation. If I should now run away, I should run from my God; if I should fly, I should fly from the testimony I am bound to bear to his Holy Word, and I should deserve a thousand hells. I most heartily thank you both for your good will towards me, but I beseech you to bring me where I was appointed to be brought, for else I will go thither all alone.”
Those who desired to save Fryth had not counted upon so much integrity. Such were, however, the martyrs of protestantism. The archbishop’s two servants continued their journey along with their strange prisoner. Fryth had a calm eye and cheerful look, and the rest of the journey was accomplished in pious and agreeable conversation. When they reached Croydon, he was delivered to the officers of the episcopal court, and passed the night in the porter’s lodge.
The next morning he appeared before the bishops and peers appointed to examine him. Cranmer and Lord Chancellor Audley desired his acquittal, but some of the other judges were men without pity.
The examination began.
“Do you believe,” they said, “that the sacrament of the altar is or is not the real body of Christ?” Fryth answered simply and firmly, “I believe that the bread is the body of Christ in that it isbroken, and thus teaches us that the body of Christ was to be broken and delivered unto death to redeem us from our iniquities. I believe the bread is the body of Christ in that it is distributed, and thus teaches us that the body of Christ and the fruits of His passion are distributed unto all faithful people. I believe that the bread is the body of Christ so far as it is received, and thus it teaches us that even as the outward man receiveth the sacrament with his teeth and mouth, so doth the inward man truly receive through faith the body of Christ and the fruits of his passion.”
The judges were not satisfied: they wanted a formal and complete retraction. “Do you not think,” asked one of them, “that the natural body of Christ, his flesh, blood, and bones, are contained under the sacrament and are there present without any figure of speech?” “No,” he answered, “I do not think so,” adding with much humility and charity, “notwithstanding I would not have that any should count my saying to be an article of faith. For even as I say, that you ought not to make any necessary article of the faith of your part; so I say again, that we make no necessary article of the faith of our part, but leave it indifferent for all men to judge therein, as God shall open their hearts, and no side to condemn or despise the other, but to nourish in all things brotherly love, and to bear one another’s infirmities.”
The commissioners then undertook to convince Fryth of the truth of transubstantiation, but he quoted Scripture, St. Augustine and Chrysostom, and eloquently defended the doctrine of the spiritual eating. The court rose. Cranmer had been moved, although he was still under the influence of Luther’s teaching. “The man spoke admirably,” he said to Dr. Heath as they went out, “and yet in my opinion he is wrong.” Not many years later he devoted one of the most important of his writings to an explanation of the doctrine now professed by the young reformer; it may be that Fryth’s words had begun to shake him.
Full of love for him, Cranmer desired to save him. Four times during the course of the examination he sent for Fryth and conversed with him privately, always asserting the Lutheran opinion. Fryth offered to maintain his doctrine in a public discussion against anyone who was willing to attack it, but nobody accepted his challenge. Cranmer, distressed at seeing all his efforts useless, found there was nothing more for him to do; the cause was transferred to the ordinary, the Bishop of London, and on the 17th of June the prisoner was once more committed to the Tower. The bishop selected as his assessors for the trial, Longland, bishop of Lincoln, and Gardiner, bishop of Winchester; there were no severer judges to be found on the episcopal bench. At Cambridge, Fryth had been the most distinguished pupil of the clever and ambitious Gardiner; but this, instead of exciting the compassion of that hard man, did but increase his anger. “Fryth and his friends,” he said, “are villains, blasphemers, and limbs of the devil.”
On the 20th of June, Fryth was taken to St. Paul’s before the three bishops, and though of a humble disposition and almost timid character, he answered boldly. A clerk took down all his replies, and Fryth, snatching up the pen, wrote, “I Fryth think thus. Thus have I spoken, written, defended, affirmed, and published in my writings.” The bishops having asked him if he would retract his errors, Fryth replied, “Let justice have its course and the sentence be pronounced.” Stokesley did not keep him waiting long. “Not willing that thou, Fryth, who art wicked,” he said, “shouldest become more wicked, and infect the Lord’s flock with thy heresies, we declare thee excommunicate and cast out from the Church, and leave thee unto the secular powers, most earnestly requiring them in the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ that thy execution and punishment be not too extreme, nor yet the gentleness too much mitigated.”
Fryth was taken to Newgate and shut up in a dark cell, where he was bound with chains on the hands and feet as heavy as he could bear, and round his neck was a collar of iron, which fastened him to a post, so that he could neither stand upright nor sit down. Truly the “gentleness” was not “too much mitigated.” His charity never failed him. “I am going to die,” he said, “but I condemn neither those who follow Luther nor those who follow Œcolampadius, since both reject transubstantiation.” A tailor’s apprentice, twenty-four years of age, Andrew Hewet by name, was placed in his cell. Fryth asked him for what crime he was sent to prison. “The bishops,” he replied, “asked me what I thought of the sacrament, and I answered, ‘I think as Fryth does.’ Then one of them smiled, and the Bishop of London said, ‘Why Fryth is a heretic, and already condemned to be burnt, and if you do not retract your opinion you shall be burnt with him.’ ‘Very well,’ I answered, ‘I am content.’ So they sent me here to be burnt along with you.”
On the 4th of July, they were both taken to Smithfield; the executioners fastened them to the post, back to back; the torch was applied, the flame rose in the air, and Fryth, stretching out his hands, embraced it as if it were a dear friend whom he would welcome. The spectators were touched, and showed marks of lively sympathy. “Of a truth,” said an evangelical Christian in after days, “he was one of those prophets whom God, having pity on this realm of England, raised up to call us to repentance.” His enemies were there. Dr. Cooke, a fanatic priest, observing some persons praying, called out, “Do not pray for such folks, any more than you would for a dog.” At this moment a sweet light shone on Fryth’s face, and he was heard beseeching the Lord to pardon his enemies. Hewet died first, and Fryth thanked God that the sufferings of his young brother were over. Committing his soul into the Lord’s hands, he expired. “Truly,” exclaimed many, “great are the victories Christ gains in His saints.”
So many souls were enlightened by Fryth’s writings, that this reformer contributed powerfully to the reformation in England. “One day, an Englishman,” says Thomas Becon, prebendary of Canterbury and chaplain to Archbishop Cranmer, “having taken leave of his mother and friends, traveled into Derbyshire, and from thence to the Peak, a marvelous barren country,” and where there was then “neither learning nor yet no spark of godliness.” Coming into a little village named Alsop in the Dale, he chanced upon a certain gentleman also named Alsop, lord of that village, a man not only ancient in years, but also ripe in the knowledge of Christ’s doctrine. After they had taken “a sufficient repast,” the gentleman showed his guest certain books which he called hisjewels and principal treasures; these were the New Testament and some books of Fryth’s. In these godly treatises this ancient gentleman occupied himself among his rocks and mountains, both diligently and virtuously. “He did not only love the Gospel,” adds Cranmer’s chaplain, “he lived it also.”
Fryth’s writings were not destined to be read always with the same avidity; the truth they contain is, however, good for all times. The books of the apostles and of the reformers which that gentleman of Alsop read in the sixteenth century are better calculated to bring joy and peace to the soul than the light works read with such avidity in the modern world.
The Isolation of England 1533
When Fryth was consigned to the flames, Anne Boleyn had been seated a month on the throne of England. The salvoes of artillery which had saluted the new queen had re-echoed all over Europe. There could be no more doubt—the Earl of Wiltshire’s daughter, radiant with grace and beauty, wore the Tudor crown; everyone, especially the imperial family, must bear the consequences of the act. One day Sir John Hacket, English envoy at Brussels, arrived at court just as Mary of Hungary, regent of the Low Countries, was about to mount her horse. “Have you any news from England?” she asked him in French. “None,” he replied.
Mary gave him a look of surprise, and added, “Then I have, and not over good, methinks.” She then told him of the king’s marriage, and Hacket rejoined with an unembarrassed air, “Madam, I know not if it has taken place, but everybody who considers it coolly and without family prejudice will agree that it is a lawful and a conscientious marriage.”
Mary, who was niece of the unhappy Catherine, replied, “Mr. Ambassador, God knows I wish all may go well, but I do not know how the Emperor and the king my brother will take it, for it touches them as well as me.”
“I think I may be certain,” returned Sir John, “that they will take it in good part.”
“That I do not know, Mr. Ambassador,” said the regent, who doubted it much, and then, mounting her horse, she rode out for the chase.
Charles V was exasperated; he immediately pressed the pope to intervene, and on the 12th of May Clement cited the king to appear at Rome. The pontiff was greatly embarrassed; having a particular liking for Benet, Henry’s agent, he took him aside, and said to him privately, “It is an affair of such importance that there has been none like it for many years. I fear to kindle a fire that neither pope nor Emperor will be able to quench.” And then he added unaffectedly, “Besides, I cannot pronounce the king’s excommunication before the Emperor has an army ready to constrain him.” Henry, being told of this aside, made answer: “Having the justice of our cause for us, with the entire consent of our nobility, commons, and subjects, we do not care for what the pope may do.” Accordingly, he appealed from the pope to a general council.
The pope was now more embarrassed than ever. “I cannot stand still and do nothing,” he said. On the 12th of July he revoked all the English proceedings and excommunicated the king, but suspended the effects of his sentence until the end of September. “I hope,” said Henry contemptuously, “that before then the pope will understand his folly.”
He reckoned on Francis I to help him to understand it, but that prince was about to receive the pope’s niece into his family. The King of England, who had already against him the Netherlands, the Empire, Rome, and Spain, saw France also slipping from him. He was isolated in Europe, and that became a serious matter. Agitated and indignant, he came to an extraordinary resolution, namely, to turn to the disciples and friends of that very Luther whom he had formerly so disdainfully treated.
Stephen Vaughan and Christopher Mann were dispatched, the former to Saxony, the other to Bavaria. Vaughan reached Weimar on the 1st of September, where he had to wait five days for the Elector of Saxony, who was away hunting. On the 5th of September he had an audience of the prince, and spoke to him first in French and then in Latin. Seeing that the elector, who spoke neither French, English, nor Latin, answered him only with nods, he begged the chancellor to be his interpreter. A written answer was sent to Vaughan at seven in the evening—the Elector of Saxony turned his back on the powerful King of England. He was unworthy, he said, to have at his court ambassadors from his royal Majesty, and besides, the Emperor, who was his only master, might be displeased. Vaughan’s annoyance was extreme. “Strange rudeness!” he exclaimed. “A more uncourteous refusal has never been made to such a gracious proposition. And to my greater misfortune, it is the first mission of this kind with which I have ever been entrusted.” He left Weimar, determined not to deliver his credentials either to the Landgrave of Hesse or to the Duke of Lauenberg, whom he was instructed to visit; he did not wish to run the chance of receiving fresh affronts.
A strange lot was that of the King of England! The pope excommunicating him, and the heretics desiring to have nothing to do with him! No more allies, no more friends! Be it so—if the nation and the monarch are agreed, what is there to fear? Besides, at the very moment this affront was offered him, his joy was at its height; the hope of soon possessing that heir, for whom he had longed so many years, quite transported him. He ordered an official letter to be prepared announcing the birth of a prince, “to the great joy of the king,” it ran, “and of all his loving subjects.” Only the date of the letter was left blank.
On the 7th of September, two days after the Elector’s refusal, Anne, then residing in the palace at Greenwich, gave birth to a fine well-formed child, reminding the gossips of the features of both parents; but alas! it was a girl. Henry, agitated by two strong affections, love for Anne and desire for a son, had been kept in great anxiety during the time of labor. When he was told that the child was a girl, the love he bore for the mother prevailed, and though disappointed in his fondest wishes, he received the babe with joy. But the famous letter announcing the birth of a prince… what must be done with it now? Henry ordered the queen’s secretary to add an s to the word prince, and dispatched the circular without making any change in the expression of his satisfaction. The christening was celebrated with great pomp; two hundred torches were carried before the princess, a fit emblem of the light which her reign would shed abroad. The child was named Elizabeth, and Henry declared her his successor in case he should have no male offspring. In London the excitement was great; Te Deums, bells, and music filled the air. The adepts of judicial astrology declared that the stars announced a glorious future. A bright star was indeed rising over England; and the English people, throwing off the yoke of Rome, were about to start on a career of freedom, morality, and greatness. Elizabeth was not destined to shine by the amiability which distinguished her mother, and the restrictions she placed upon liberty tend rather to remind us of her father. Yet while on the continent kings were trampling under foot the independence of their subjects, the English people, under Anne Boleyn’s daughter, were to develop themselves, to flourish in letters and in arts, to extend navigation and commerce, to reform abuses, to exercise their liberties, to watch energetically over the public good, and to set up the torch of the Gospel of Christ.
The King of France, very adverse to England’s becoming independent of Rome, at last prevailed upon Henry to send two English agents (Gardiner and Bryan) to Marseilles. “You will keep your eyes open,” said Henry VIII to them, “and lend an attentive ear, but you will keep your mouths shut.” The English envoys, being invited to a conference with Pope Clement and Francis I, and solicited by those great personages to speak, declared that they had no powers. “Why then were you sent?” exclaimed the king, unable to conceal his vexation. The ambassadors only answered with a smile. Francis, who meant to uphold the authority of the pope in France, was unwilling that England should be free. Accordingly he took the ambassadors aside, and prayed them to enter immediately on business with the pontiff. “We are not here for his Holiness,” dryly answered Gardiner, “or to negotiate anything with him, but only to do what the King of England commands us.” The tricks of the papacy had ruined it in the minds of the English people. Francis I, displeased at Gardiner’s silence and irritated by his stiffness, intimated to the King of England that he would be pleased to see “better instruments” sent. Henry did send another instrument to Marseilles, but he took care to choose one sharper still.
Edmund Bonner, late chaplain to Wolsey, and future bishop of London, was a clever, active man, but ambitious, coarse and rude, wanting in delicacy and consideration towards those with whom he had to deal, violent, and, as he showed himself later to the protestants, a cruel persecutor. For some time he had got into Cromwell’s good graces, and as the wind was against popery, Bonner was against the pope. Henry gave him his appeal to a general council, and charged him to present it to Clement VII; it was the “bill of divorcement” between the pope and England. Bonner, proud of being the bearer of so important a message, arrived at Marseilles, firmly resolved to give Henry a proof of his zeal. If Luther had burnt the pope’s bull at Wittenberg, Bonner would do as much; but while Luther had acted as a free man, Bonner was only a slave, pushing to fanaticism his submission to the orders of his despotic master.
Gardiner was astounded when he heard of Bonner’s arrival. What a humiliation for him! He hung his head, “making a plaicemouth with his lip” (says Foxe), and then lifted up his eyes and hands, as if cursing the day and hour when Bonner appeared. Never were two men more discordant to one another. Gardiner could not believe the news. A scheme contrived without him! A bishop to see one of his inferiors charged with a mission more important than his own! Bonner having paid him a visit, Gardiner affected great coldness, and brought forward every reason calculated to dissuade him from executing his commission. “But I have a letter from the king,” answered Bonner, “sealed with his seal, and dated from Windsor—here it is.” And he took from his satchel the letter in which Henry VIII intimated that he had appealed from the sentence of the pope recently delivered against him. “Good,” answered Gardiner, and taking the letter he read, “Our good pleasure is that if you deem it good and serviceable (Gardiner dwelt upon those two words) you will give the pope notice of the said appeal, according to the forms required by law; if not, you will acquaint us with your opinion in that respect.” “That is clear,” said Gardiner, “you should advise the king to abstain, for that notice just now will be neither good nor serviceable.” “And I say that it is both,” rejoined Bonner.
One circumstance brought the two Englishmen into harmony, at least for a time. Catherine de Medici, the pope’s niece, had been married to the son of Francis I, and Clement made four French prelates cardinals. But not one Englishman, not even Gardiner! That changed the question; there could be no more doubt. Francis is sacrificing Henry to the pope, and the pope insults England. Gardiner himself desired Bonner to give the pontiff notice of the appeal, and the English envoy, fearing refusal if he asked for an audience of Clement, determined to overleap the usual formalities, and take the place by assault.
On the 7th of November, Bonner, accompanied by Penniston, a gentleman who had brought him the king’s last orders, went early to the pontifical palace, preparing to let fall from the folds of his mantle war between England and the papacy. As he was not expected, the pontifical officers stopped him at the door, but the Englishman forced his way in, and entered a hall through which the pope must pass on his way to the consistory.
Ere long the pontiff appeared, wearing his stole, and walking between the cardinals of Lorraine and Medicis, his train following behind. His eyes, which were of remarkable quickness, immediately fell upon the distant Bonner, and as he advanced he did not take them off the stranger, as if astonished and uneasy at seeing him. At length he stopped in the middle of the hall, and Bonner, approaching the datary, said to him, “Be pleased to inform his Holiness that I desire to speak to him.” The officer refusing, the intrepid Bonner made as if he would go towards the pope. Clement, wishing to know the meaning of these indiscreet proceedings, bade the cardinals stand aside, took off the stole, and going to a window recess, called Bonner to him. The latter, without any formality, informed the pope that the King of England appealed from his decision to a general council, and that he (Bonner), his Majesty’s envoy, was prepared to hand him the authentic documents of the said appeal, taking them (as he spoke) from his portfolio. Clement, who expected nothing like this, was greatly surprised. “It was a terrible breakfast for him,” says a contemporary document. Not knowing what to answer, he shrugged his shoulders, “after the Italian fashion,” and at last, recovering himself a little, he told Bonner that he was going to the consistory, and desired him to return in the afternoon. Then beckoning the cardinals, he left the hall.
Henry’s envoy was punctual to the appointment, but had to wait for an hour and a half, his Holiness being engaged in giving audience. At length he and Penniston were conducted to the pope’s chamber. Clement fixed his eyes on the latter, and Bonner having introduced him, the pope remarked with a mistrustful air, “It is well, but I also must have some members of my council,” and he ordered Simonetta, Capisuchi, and the datary to be sent for. While awaiting their arrival, Clement leaned at the window, and appeared absorbed in thought. At last, unable to contain himself any longer, he exclaimed, “I am greatly surprised that his Majesty should behave as he does towards me.” The intrepid Bonner replied, “His Majesty is not less surprised that your Holiness, who has received so many services from him, repays him with ingratitude.” Clement started, but restrained himself on seeing the datary enter, and ordered that officer to read the appeal which Bonner had just delivered to him.
The datary began, “Considering that we have endured from the pope many wrongs and injuries (gravaminibus et injuriis).” … Clasping his hands and nodding dissent, Clement exclaimed ironically, “O questo è molto vero!” meaning to say that it was false, remarks Bonner. The datary continued, “Considering that his most holy Lordship strikes us with his spiritual sword, and wishes to separate us from the unity of the Church, we, desiring to protect with a lawful shield the kingdom which God has given us, appeal by these presents, for ourselves and for all our subjects, to a holy universal council.”
At these words, the pope burst into a transport of passion, and the datary stopped. Clement’s gestures and broken words uttered with vehemence, showed the horror he entertained of a council. … A council would set itself above the pope, a council might perhaps say that the Germans and the King of England were right.
The pope gave way to convulsive movements, folding and unfolding his handkerchief, which was always a sign of great anger in him. At last, as if to hide his passion, he said, “Continue, I am listening.” When the datary had ended, the pope said coldly to his officers, “It is well written!”
Then turning to Bonner, he asked, “Have you anything more to say to me?” Bonner was not in the humor to show the least consideration. A man of the North, he took a pleasure in displaying his roughness and inflexibility in the elegant, crafty, and corrupt society of Rome. He boldly repeated the protest, and delivered the king’s “provocation” to the pope, who broke out into fresh lamentations. “Ha!” he exclaimed vehemently, “his Majesty affects much respect for the Church, but does not show the least to me.” … Just at this moment, one of his officers announced the King of France. Francis could not have arrived at a more seasonable moment. Clement rose and went to the door to meet him. The king respectfully took off his hat, and holding it in his hand made a low bow, after which he enquired what his Holiness was doing. “These English gentlemen,” said the pontiff, “are here to notify me of certain provocations and appeals… and for other matters,” he added, displaying much ill humor. Francis sat down near the table at which the pope was seated, and turning their backs to Henry’s envoy, who had retired into an adjoining room, they began a conversation in a low tone, which Bonner, notwithstanding all his efforts, could not hear.
That conversation possibly decided the separation between England and France. The king showed that he was offended at a course of proceeding which he characterized as unbecoming, and Clement learned, to his immense satisfaction, that the English had not spoken to Francis about the council. “If you will leave me and the Emperor free to act against England,” he said to the king, “I will ensure you possession of the duchy of Milan.” Bonner, who had not lost sight of the two speakers, remarked that at this moment the king and the pope “laughed merrily together,” and appeared to be the best friends in the world.
The king having withdrawn, Bonner again approached the pope, and the datary finished the reading. The Englishman had not been softened by the mysterious conversation and laughter of Clement and Francis; he was as rough and abrupt as the Frenchman had been smooth and amiable. It was long since the papacy had suffered such insults openly, and even the German Reformation had not put it to such torture. The Cardinal de Medici, chief of the malcontents, who had come in, listened to Bonner, with head bent down and eyes fixed upon the floor; he was humiliated and indignant. “This is a matter of great importance,” said Clement, “I will consult the consistory and let you know my answer.”
In the afternoon of Monday, 10th of November, Bonner returned to the palace to learn the pope’s pleasure, but there was a grand reception that day. The lords and ladies of the court of Francis I were presented to Clement, who did nothing for two hours but bless chaplets, bless the spectators, and put out his foot for the nobles and dames to kiss.
At last Bonner was introduced. “Domine doctor, quid vultis?“ (Sir doctor, what do you want?), said the pope. “I desire the answer which your Holiness promised me.” Clement, who had had time to recover himself, replied, “A constitution of Pope Pius, my predecessor, condemns all appeals to a general council. I therefore reject his Majesty’s appeal as unlawful.” The pope had pronounced these words with calmness and dignity, but an incident occurred to put him out of temper. Bonner, hurt at the little respect paid to his sovereign, bluntly informed the pope that the archbishop of Canterbury—that Cranmer—desired also to appeal to a council. This was going too far; Clement, restraining himself no longer, rose, and approaching Henry’s envoy, said to him, “If you do not leave the room instantly, I will have you thrown into a caldron of molten lead.” “Truly,” remarked Bonner, “if the pope is a shepherd, he is, as the king my master says, a violent and cruel shepherd.” And not caring to take a leaden bath, he departed for Lyons. Such is the story told by the historian Burnet.
Clement was delighted not only at the departure, but still more at the conduct of Bonner; the insolence of the English envoy helped him wonderfully, and accordingly he made a great noise about it, complaining to everybody, and particularly to Francis. “I am wearied, vexed, disgusted with all this,” said that prince to his courtiers. “What I do with great difficulty in a week for my good brother (Henry VIII), his own ministers undo in an hour.” Clement endeavored in secret interviews to increase this discontent, and he succeeded. The mysterious understanding was apparent to everyone, and Vannes, the English agent, who never lost sight either of the pope or the king, informed Cromwell of the close union of their minds.
When Henry VIII learned that the King of France was slipping from him, he was both irritated and alarmed. Abandoned by that prince, he saw the pope launching an interdict against his kingdom, the Emperor invading England, and the people in insurrection. He had no repose by night or day; his anger against the pope continued to increase. Wishing to prevent at least the revolts which the partisans of the papacy might excite among his subjects, he dictated a strange proclamation to his secretary: “Let no Englishman forget the most noble and loving prince of this realm,” he said, “who is most wrongfully judged by the great idol and most cruel enemy to Christ’s religion, which calleth himself Pope. Princes have two ways to attain right—the general council and the sword. Now the king, having appealed from the unlawful sentence of the Bishop of Rome to a general council lawfully congregated, the said usurper hath rejected the appeal, and is thus outlawed. By holy Scripture, there is no more jurisdiction granted to the Bishop of Rome than to any other bishop. Henceforth honour him not as an idol, who is but a man usurping God’s power and authority, and a man neither in life, learning, nor conversation like Christ’s minister or disciple.”
Henry having given vent to his irritation, bethought himself, and judged it more prudent not to publish the proclamation. But to the subjects of Henry it was becoming increasingly clear that between the English throne and the papacy there was a great gulf fixed, and there seemed good reason to think that it would yet grow wider and deeper.
Parliament Abolishes Papal Usurpations in England January to March, 1534
While the papacy was intriguing with France and the Empire, England was energetically working at the utter abolition of the Roman authority. “One loud cry must be raised in England against the papacy,” said Cromwell to the council. “It is time that the question was laid before the people. Bishops, parsons, curates, priors, abbots, and preachers of the religious orders should all declare from their pulpits that the Bishop of Rome, styled the Pope, is subordinate, like the rest of the bishops, to a general council, and that he has no more rights in this kingdom than any other foreign bishop.”
It was necessary to pursue the same course abroad. Henry resolved to send ambassadors to Poland, Hungary, Saxony, Bavaria, Pomerania, Prussia, Hesse, and other German states, to inform them that he was touched with the zeal they had shown in defense of the Word of God and the extirpation of ancient errors, and to acquaint all men that he was himself “utterly determined to reduce the pope’s power to the just and lawful bounds of his mediocrity.”
He did not stop here. Keenly desiring to withdraw France from under the influence of Rome, he instructed his ambassadors to tell Francis I in his name and in the name of the people, “We shall shortly be able to give unto the pope such a buffet as he never had before.” This was quite in Henry’s style. “Things are going at such a rate here,” wrote the Duke of Norfolk to Montmorency, “that the pope will soon lose the obedience of England; and other nations, perceiving the great fruits, advantage, and profit that will result from it, will also separate from Rome.”
All this was serious—there was some chance that Norfolk’s prophecy would be fulfilled. The pontiff could think of nothing else, and began to believe that the idea of a council was not so unreasonable after all, since the place and time of meeting and mode of proceeding would lead to endless discussions, and if the meeting ever took place, he would thus be relieved of a responsibility which became more oppressive to him every day. He therefore bade Henry VIII be informed that he agreed to call a general council. But events had not stood still; the position was not the same. “It is no longer necessary,” the king answered coldly. In his opinion, the Church of England was sufficient of herself, and could do without the Church of Rome.
The King of France, in the interests of the pope, immediately resumed his part of mediator. Du Bellay, his ambassador at Rome, made indefatigable efforts to inspire the consistory with an opinion favorable to Henry VIII. According to that diplomatist, the King of England was ready to re-establish friendly relations with Clement VII, and it was parliament alone that desired to break with the papacy forever; it was the people who wished for reform, it was the king who opposed it. “Make your choice,” he exclaimed with eloquence. “All that the king desires is peace with Rome; all that the commonalty demands is war. With whom will you go—with your enemies or with your friend?” Du Bellay’s assertions, though strange, were based upon a truth that cannot be denied. It was the best of the people who wanted Protestantism in England, and not the king.
The court of Rome felt that the last hour had come, and determined to dispatch to London the papers necessary to reconcile Henry. It was believed on the continent that the King of England was going to gain his cause at last, and people ascribed it to the ascendancy of French policy at Rome since the marriage of Catherine de Medici with Henry of Orleans. But the more the French triumphed, the more indignant became the Imperialists. To no purpose did the pope say to them, “You do not understand the state of affairs; the thing is done. … The King of England is married to Anne Boleyn. If I annulled the marriage, who would undertake to execute my sentence ?” “Who?” exclaimed the ambassadors of Charles V, “who? … The Emperor.” The weak pontiff knew not which way to turn; he had but one hope left—if Henry VIII were to re-establish Roman Catholicism in his kingdom, a fact so important would silence Charles V.
This fact was not to be feared; a movement had begun in the minds of the people of England which it was no longer possible to stop. While many pious souls received the Word of God in their hearts, the king and the most enlightened part of the nation were agreed to put an end to the intolerable usurpations of the Roman pontiff. “We have looked in the Holy Scriptures for the rights of the papacy,” said the members of the Commons house of parliament, “but instead of finding therein the institution of popes, we have found that of kings—and, according to God’s commandments, the priests ought to be subject to them as much as the laity.” “We have reflected upon the wants of the realm,” said the royal council, “and have come to the conclusion that the nation ought to form one body, that one body can have but one head, and that head must be the king.” The parliament which met in January 1534 was to give the death blow to the supremacy of the pope.
This blow came strictly neither from Henry nor from Cranmer, but from Thomas Cromwell. Without possessing Cranmer’s lively faith, Cromwell desired that the preachers should open the Word of God and preach it “with pure sincereness” before the people, and he afterwards procured for every Englishman the right to read it. Being preeminently a statesman of sure judgment and energetic action, he was in advance of his generation, and it was his fate, like those generals who march boldly at the head of the army, to procure victory to the cause for which he fought; but, persecuted by the traitors concealed among his soldiers, to be sacrificed by the prince he had served, and to meet a tragical death before the hour of his triumph.
The Commons, wishing to put an end to the persecutions practiced by the clergy against the evangelical Christians, summoned—it was a thing unprecedented—the Lord-bishop of London to appear at their bar to answer the complaint made against him by Thomas Philips, one of the disciples of the Reformation. The latter had been lying in prison three years under a charge of heresy. The parliament, unwilling that a bishop should be able at his own fancy to transform one of his Majesty’s subjects into a heretic, brought in a bill for the repression of doctrines condemned by the Church. They declared that, the authority of the Bishop of Rome being opposed to Holy Scripture and the laws of the realm, the words and acts that were contrary to the decisions of the pontiff could not be regarded as heresies. Then turning to the particular case which had given rise to the grievance, parliament declared Philips innocent and discharged him from prison.
After having thus upheld the cause of religious liberty, the Commons proceeded to the definitive abolition of the privileges which the bishops of Rome had successively usurped to the great detriment of both Church and people. They restored to England the rights of which Rome had despoiled her. They prohibited all appeals to the pope, of what kind soever they might be, and substituted for them an appeal to the king in chancery. They voted that the election of bishops did not concern the court of Rome, but belonged to the chief ecclesiastical body in the diocese, to the chapter… at least in appearance; for it really appertained to the crown, the king designating the person whom the chapter was to elect. This strange constitution was abolished under Edward VI, when the nomination of the bishops was conferred purely and simply on the king. If this was not better, it was at least more sincere; but the singular congé d’élire was restored under Elizabeth.
At the same time, new and loud complaints of the Romish exactions were heard in parliament. “For centuries the Roman bishops have been deceiving us,” said the eloquent speakers, “making us believe that they have the power of dispensing with everything, even with God’s commandments. We send to Rome the treasures of England, and Rome sends us back in return… a piece of paper. The monster which has fattened on the substance of our people bears a hundred different names. They call it reliefs, dues, pensions, provisions, procurations, delegation, rescript, appeal, abolition, rehabilitation, relaxation of canonical penalties, licenses, Peter’s pence, and many other names besides. And after having thus caught our money by all sorts of tricks, the Romans laugh at us in their sleeves.” Parliament forbade all Englishmen, even the king himself, to apply to Rome for any dispensation or delegation whatsoever, and ordered them, in case of need, to have recourse to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Then, immediately putting these principles into practice, they declared the king’s marriage with Catherine to be null, for “no man has power to dispense with God’s laws,” and ratified the marriage between Henry and Anne, proclaiming their children heirs to the crown. At the same time, wishing England to become entirely English, they deprived two Italians, Campeggio and Ghinucci, of the sees of Salisbury and Worcester, which they held.
It was during the month of March 1534—an important date for England—that the main branches of the tree of popery were thus lopped off one after another. The trunk indeed remained, although stripped; but yet a few months, and that too was to strew the earth with its fall. Still the Commons showed a certain degree of consideration. When Clement had threatened the king with excommunication, he had given him three months’ grace; England, desiring to return his politeness, informed the pope that he might receive some compensation. At the same time she made an important declaration. “We do not separate from the Christian Church,” said the Commons, “but merely from the usurped authority of the Pope of Rome; and we preserve the catholic faith, as it is set forth in the Holy Scriptures.” All these reforms were effected with great unanimity, at least in appearance. The bishops, even the most scholastic, such as Stokesley of London, Tunstall of Durham, Gardiner of Winchester, and Rowland Lee of Coventry, declared the Roman papacy to be of human invention, and that the pope was, in regard to them, only a bishop, abrother, as his predecessors had been to the bishops of antiquity. Every Sunday during the session of parliament a prelate preached at St. Paul’s Cross “that the pope was not the head of the Church,” and all the people said Amen.
Meanwhile, Du Bellay, the French ambassador at Rome, was waiting for the act by which the King of England was to bind himself once more to the pope—an act which Francis I still gave him reason to expect. Every morning he fancied it would arrive, and every evening his expectations were disappointed. He called upon the English envoys, and afterwards at the Roman chancery, to hear if there was any news, but everywhere the answer was the same—nothing.
The term fixed by Clement VII having elapsed, he summoned the consistory for Monday, the 23rd of March. Du Bellay attended it, still hoping to prevent anything being done that might separate England from the papacy. The cardinals represented to him that, as the submission of Henry VIII had not arrived, nothing remained but for the pope to fulminate the sentence. “Do you not know,” exclaimed Du Bellay in alarm, “that the courier charged with that prince’s dispatches has seas to cross, and the winds may be contrary? The king of England waited your decision for six years, and cannot you wait six days?” “Delay is quite useless,” said a cardinal of the imperial faction, “we know what is taking place in England. Instead of thinking of reparation, the king is widening the schism every day. He goes so far as to permit the representation of dramas at his court, in which the holy conclave, and some of your most illustrious selves in particular, are held up to ridicule.” The last blow, although a heavy one, was unnecessary. The priests could no longer contain their vexation; the rebellious prince must be punished. Nineteen out of twenty-two cardinals voted against Henry VIII; the remaining three only asked for further enquiry. Clement could not conceal his surprise and annoyance. To no purpose did he demand another meeting, in conformity with the custom which requires two, and even three, consultations; overwhelmed by an imposing and unexpected majority, he gave way.
Simonetta then handed him the sentence, which the unhappy pope took and read with the voice of a criminal rather than of a judge. “Having invoked the name of Christ, and sitting on the throne of justice, we decree that the marriage between Catherine of Aragon and Henry king of England was and is valid and canonical, that the said king Henry is bound to cohabit with the said queen, to pay her royal honors, and that he must be constrained to discharge these duties.” After pronouncing these words, the pontiff, alarmed at the bold act he had just performed, turned to the envoys of Charles V and said to them, “I have done my duty; it is now for the Emperor to do his, and to carry the sentence into execution.” “The Emperor will not hold back,” answered the ambassadors, but the thing was not so easily done as said.
Thus the great affair was ended; the king of England was condemned. It was dark when the pope quitted the consistory; the news so long expected spread immediately through the city; the Emperor’s partisans, transported with joy, lit bonfires in all the open places, and cannons fired repeated salvoes. Bands of Ghibelines paraded the streets, shouting, Imperio e Espagna (the Empire and Spain). The whole city was in commotion. The pope’s disquietude was still further increased by these demonstrations. “He is tormented,” wrote Du Bellay to his master. Clement spent the whole night in conversation with his theologians. “What must be done? England is lost to us. How can I avert the king’s anger?” Clement VII never recovered from this blow; the thought that under his pontificate Rome lost England made him shudder. The slightest mention of it renewed his anguish, and sorrow soon brought him to the tomb.
Yet he did not know all. The evil with which Rome was threatened was greater than he had imagined. If in this matter there had been nothing more than the decision of a prince discontented with the court of Rome, a contrary decision of one of his successors might again place England under the dominion of the pontiffs; and these would be sure to spare no pains to recover the good graces of the English kings. But in despite of Henry VIII, a pure doctrine, similar to that of the apostolic times, was spreading over the different parts of the nation, a doctrine which was not only to wrest England from the pope, but to establish in that island a true Christianity—a vast evangelical propaganda which should ultimately plant the standard of God’s Word even at the ends of the world. The empire of Christendom was thus to be taken from a church led astray by pride, and which bade mankind unite with it that they might be saved, and to be given to those who taught that, according to the divine declarations, none could be saved except by uniting with Jesus Christ.
The End of Volume 2, Book One