Volume 2 Book 3
Reformation, Reaction, Relief
- Chapter 1 – Three Parties Divide England
- Chapter 2 - An “Appeal to Caesar” and its Outcome
- Chapter 3 - The “Whip of Six Strings”
- Chapter 4 - A Bitter Cup for Henry VIII
- Chapter 5 - The Disgrace and Death of Thomas Cromwell
- Chapter 6 - The Divorce of Anne of Cleves
- Chapter 7 - Catherine Howard, the Fifth Queen
- Chapter 8 - Cranmer Pursues his Task
- Chapter 9 - The Last Martyrs of Henry’s Reign
- Chapter 10 - Death Casts its Shadow over Catherine Parr
- Chapter 11 - The Last Days of Henry VIII
Three Parties Divide England 1536–1540
There were in 1536 three distinct parties in England, the papists, the evangelicals, and the Anglican Catholics who were halting between the two extremes. It was a question which of the three would gain the upper hand.
The Reformation in England was born of the power of the Word of God, and did not encounter there such obstacles as were raised against it in France by a powerful clergy and by princes hostile to evangelical faith and morality. The English prelates, weakened by various circumstances, were unable to withstand an energetic attack, and the sovereign was “the mad Henry,” as Luther had called him. His whims opened the doors to religious freedom, of which the Reformation was to take advantage. Thus England, which had remained in a state of rudeness and ignorance much longer than France, was early enlightened by the Reformation; and the nation awakened by the Gospel gave birth in the sixteenth century to such masterminds as France, though more highly civilized, failed to produce so early. Shakespeare was born in 1564, one month before the death of Calvin. The Reformation placed England a century ahead of the rest of Europe. The final triumph, however, of the Reformation was not reached without many conflicts; and the two adversaries more than once engaged hand to hand, before one overthrew the other.
About the middle of October 1537 an event occurred which was of great importance for the triumph of the Gospel. There was at that time great rejoicing in the palace of the Tudors and in all England, for Queen Jane (Seymour), on October 12, presented to Henry VIII the son which he had so much desired. Letters written beforehand, in the name of the Queen, announced it in every place, and congratulations arrived from all quarters. This birth was called “the most joyful news which for many years had been announced in England.” Bishop Latimer wrote, “Here is no less joying and rejoicing in these parts for the birth of our prince, whom we hungered so long, than there was, I trow, among the neighbors at the birth of St. John Baptist” (Luke 1:58). A prince born to reign! exclaimed the politicians. “God grant him long life and abundant honors!” they wrote from the Continent. “Our prince,” Cromwell sent word to the ambassadors of England, “our Lord be thanked, is in good health, and sucketh like a child of his puissance, which you my lord William can declare.” It was all the more important to declare this, because the very contrary was asserted. It was even reported by some that the child was dead. As Henry feared that some attempt might be made on his son’s life, he forbade that anyone should approach the cradle without an order signed by his own hand. Everything brought into the child’s room was to be perfumed, and measures of precaution against poison were taken. The infant was named Edward; Archbishop Cranmer baptized him, and was one of his godfathers. A fortnight after his birth Sir Edward Seymour, his uncle by the mother’s side, was created Earl of Hertford. It was alleged that a spell had been thrown upon the king to prevent his having a male child; and behold, he had now an heir in spite of the spell. His dynasty was strengthened. Henry VIII became more powerful at home, more respected abroad.
This great rejoicing was followed by a great mourning. The queen developed puerperal fever and died twelve days after the birth of her son. “Divine Providence,” wrote Henry to his fellow monarch of France, “has mingled my joy with the bitterness of the death of her who brought me this happiness.” Certainly Henry lamented her untimely death with all sincerity.
With the birth of the young prince the hopes of the partisans of the Catholic Mary disappeared, and the friends of the Reformation rejoiced at the thought that the young prince was godson of the archbishop. Many circumstances contributed to their encouragement. They witnessed the formation of unlooked-for ties between the evangelicals of England and those of Switzerland; and the pure Gospel as professed by the latter began to exercise a real influence over England. Edward, during his very short reign, was to fulfil the best hopes to which his birth had given rise, and the triumph to which his reign seemed destined was already visibly in preparation.
Simon Grynaeus, the friend of Erasmus and Melanchthon, and professor at the university of Basel, had as early as 1531 held intercourse with Henry VIII and Cranmer. Afterwards Cranmer and Henry Bullinger, successor of Zwingli at Zurich, had also become acquainted with each other; and, as early as 1536, some young Englishmen of good family had betaken themselves to Zurich, that they might drink at the full fountain of Christian knowledge and life which sprang forth there. Some of them lived in the house of Pellican, others with Bullinger himself. These young men were John Butler, who had a rich patrimony in England, a sagacious man and a Christian who persevered in prayer; Nicholas Partridge, from Kent, a man of active and devoted character; Bartholomew Traheron, who had already (1527 and 1528) declared at Oxford for the Reformation, and had been persecuted by Doctor London; Nicholas Eliot, who had studied law in England, and who afterwards held some government office; and others besides. Bullinger was strongly attached to these young Englishmen. He directed their studies, and, in addition to his public teaching, he explained to them in his own house the prophet Isaiah.
There was much talk at Zurich at this time about a young French theologian, Calvin by name, who was settled at Geneva, and had published a profound and eloquent exposition of Christian doctrines. The young Englishmen eagerly longed to make his acquaintance. Butler, Partridge, Eliot, and Traheron set out for Geneva in November 1537, bearing letters of introduction from Bullinger to the reformer. The latter received them in the most kindly manner. It was more than common courtesy, they wrote to Bullinger. They were delighted with his appearance and with his conversation, at once so simple and so fruitful. They felt a charm which drew them to his presence again and again. The master taught well, and the disciples listened well. The four Englishmen, being called elsewhere, took their departure deeply saddened by the painful separation. A letter written by Butler and Traheron shortly afterwards is the first communication addressed by England to the reformer of Geneva. It runs as follows: “We wish you the true joy in Christ. May as much happiness be appointed to us from henceforth as our going away from you has occasioned us sorrow! For although our absence, as we hope, will not be of very long continuance, yet we cannot but grieve at being deprived even for a few hours of so much suavity of disposition and delightful conversation. And this also distresses us in no small measure, lest there should be any persons who may regard us as resembling flies, which swarm everywhere in the summer, but disappear on the approach of winter. You may be assured that, if we had been able to assist you in any way, no pleasure should have called us away from you, nor should any peril have withdrawn us. This distress, indeed, which the disordered tempers of certain individuals have brought upon you, is far beyond our power to alleviate. But you have one, Christ Jesus, who can easily dispel by the beams of his consolation whatever cloud may arise upon your mind. He will restore to you a joyful tranquility; he will scatter and put to flight your enemies; he will make you gloriously to triumph over your conquered adversaries; and we will entreat him, as earnestly as we can, to do this as speedily as possible. We have written these few lines at present, most amiable and learned Master Calvin, that you may receive a memorial of our regard towards you. Salute in our names that individual of a truly heroic spirit and singular learning and godliness, Master Farel. Salute, too, our sincere friends Master Olivetan and your brother Fontaine. Our countrymen send abundant salutations. Farewell, very dear friend.”
England at this time did justice to the Genevan reformer.
Much admiration was likewise felt for Bullinger. “We confess ourselves to be entirely yours,” wrote to him the four Englishmen, “as long as we can be our own.” The works of the Zurich doctor were much read in England, and diffused there the spirit of the gospel. Nicholas Eliot wrote to him, “And how great weight all persons attribute to your commentaries, how greedily they embrace and admire them (to pass over numberless other arguments), the booksellers are most ample witnesses whom by the sale of your writings alone… you see suddenly become as rich as Crœsus. May God, therefore, give you the disposition to publish all your writings as speedily as possible, whereby you will not only fill the coffers of the booksellers, but will gain over very many souls to Christ, and adorn his church with most precious jewels.”
At the news that the king of England had separated from the pope, the Swiss theologians were filled with hope, and they vied with each other in speeding his progress towards the truth. Bullinger composed two works in Latin which he dedicated to Henry VIII, the first of them on The Authority, the Certitude, the Stability, and the Absolute Perfection of Holy Scripture, the second on The Institution and the Function of Bishops. He forwarded copies of these works to Partridge and Eliot for presentation to the king, to Cranmer, and to Cromwell. The two young Englishmen went first to the archbishop and delivered to him the volumes intended for the king and for himself. The archbishop consented to present the book to the prince, but not till after he had read it himself, and on condition that Eliot and Partridge should be present, that they might answer any questions asked by the king. Then going to Cromwell, they gave him the copy intended for him; and the vicegerent, more prompt than the archbishop, showed it the same day to Henry VIII, to whom Cranmer then hastened to present his own copy. The king expressed a wish that the work should be translated into English. “Your books are wonderfully well received,” wrote Eliot to Bullinger, “not only by our king, but equally so by the lord Cromwell, who is keeper of the king’s privy seal and vicar-general of the church of England.”
Other Continental divines who held the same views as the Swiss likewise dedicated some theological writings both to the king and to Cranmer. Wolfgang Capito, who was at the time at Strasburg, dedicated to Henry VIII a book in which he treated, among other subjects, of the mass (Responsum de Missa, &c.). The king, as usual, handed it to two persons belonging to the two opposing parties, in order to get their opinions. He then examined their verdict, and announced his own. Cranmer wrote to Capito that the king “could by no means digest” his piece on the mass, although at the same time he approved some of the other pieces. Martin Bucer, a colleague of Capito, having written a commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, dedicated it to Cranmer, and wrote to him as follows: “It is not enough to have shaken off the yoke of the pope, and to be unwilling to take upon us the yoke of Christ; but if God be for us who can be against us? And Christianity is a warfare.”
While the Swiss and the Strasburgers were seeking to enlighten England, the Roman party on the Continent and the Catholic party in England itself were striving to keep her in darkness. The pope, in sorrow and in anger, saw England lost to Rome. Nevertheless the Catholic rising in the northern counties in October, 1536, allowed him still to cherish hope. The king of France and the Emperor, both near neighbors of England, could if necessary strike with the sword. The pope must therefore stir up to action not only the English Catholics, but also the courts of Paris and Brussels. Whom should he select for the mission? Reginald Pole, an Englishman, a zealous Roman Catholic, and a kinsman of Henry VIII, seemed to be the man made for the occasion. It was he who had lately written these words: “There was never a greater matter entreated, of more importance to the wealth of the realm and the whole church than this (the re-establishment of papal authority). And this same that you go about to take away, the authority of one head in the church, was a more principal and groundle cause of the loss of the Orient, to be in infidels’ hands, and all true religion degenerate, than ever was the Turk’s sword, as most wisest men have judged. For if they had agreed all with the Occidental Church, they had never come to that misery; and like misery, if God have not mercy on us to return to the church, is most to be feared in our realm. … Your sweet liberty you have got, since you were delivered from the obedience papal, speaketh for itself. Whereof the rest of the realm hath such part that you be without envy of other countries, that no nation wisheth the same to have such liberty granted them.” This last assertion was doubtful.
Pole was at this time at Padua, where he had studied, and where he was resident by permission of the king. He avoided going to Rome lest he should offend Henry. But he received one day an invitation from Paul III, who summoned him to the Vatican to take part in a consultation about the general council. To comply with this summons would be to cross the Rubicon; it would make Henry VIII his irreconcilable enemy, and would expose to great danger not only himself but all his family. Pole therefore hesitated. The advice, however, of the pious Contarini, the command of the pope, and his own enthusiasm for the cause, brought him to a decision. On his arrival at Rome he gave himself up entirely; and when Christmas was drawing near, on December 20, 1536, the pope created him cardinal, together with del Monte, afterwards Julius III; Caraffa, afterwards Paul IV; Sadoleto, Borgia, Cajetan, and four others. These proceedings were very seriously criticized in England. For the vainglory of a red hat, said Tunstall and Stokesley, Pole is, in fact, an instrument of the pope to set forth his malice, to depose the king from his kingdom, and to stir his subjects against him. There, was, however, something more in his case than a cardinal’s hat; there was, we must acknowledge, a faith, doubtless fanatical but sincere, in the papacy. Not long afterwards the pope nominated him the new cardinal legate beyond the Alps, the object of this measure being to excite men’s minds. He was to induce the king of France and the Emperor to enter into the views of the Roman court, to inflame the Catholics of England, and, if he should be unable to go there himself, to take up his residence in the Netherlands, and thence conspire for the overthrow of Protestantism in England.
At the beginning of Lent 1537, Pole, attended by a numerous suite, set out from Rome. The pope, who was not thoroughly sure of his new legate, had appointed as his adviser the bishop of Verona, who was to make up for any deficiency of experience on the part of the legate, and to put him on his guard against pride. Henry VIII, on learning the nature of his young cousin’s mission, was exceedingly angry. He declared Pole a rebel, set a price on his head, and promised fifty thousand crowns to anyone who should kill him. Cromwell, following his master’s example, exclaimed, “I will make him eat his own heart.” This was only a figure of speech, but it was rather a strong one. No sooner had Henry VIII heard of the arrival of Pole in France than he demanded that Francis I should deliver him up, as a subject in rebellion against his king. Pole had not been long at Paris before he heard of this demand. It aroused in his heart more pride than fear. It revealed to him his own importance, and turning to his attendants he said, “This news makes me glad; I know now that I am a cardinal.” Francis I did not concede the demand of the angry Tudor, but he did consider the mission of Pole as one of those attacks on the power of kings in which the papacy from time to time indulged. When Pole, therefore, made his appearance at the palace he was refused admission. While still only at the door, and even before he had had time to knock, he himself tells us, he was sent away. “I am ready to weep,” he added, “to find that a king does not receive a legate of Rome.” Francis I having sent him an order to leave France, he fled to Cambrai, which at that time formed part of the Netherlands.
No sooner was he there then, under great excitement about what had occurred to him at Paris, he wrote to Cromwell, complaining bitterly that Henry VIII, in order to get him into his power, did not scruple to violate both God’s law and man’s, and even “to disturb all commerce between country and country.” “I was ashamed to hear that… a prince of honor should desire of another prince of like honor, ‘Betray thine own ambassador, betray the legate, and give him into my ambassador’s hands to be brought to me.’” The like, he says, was never heard of in Christendom. Pole had more hope of the Emperor than of Francis I, but he was soon undeceived. He was not permitted to go out of the town, and a courier entrusted with his dispatches was arrested by the Imperialists at Valenciennes and sent back to him. He now resolved on taking a step towards opening communication with the English government, and as he did not venture to present himself to the ambassadors of Henry VIII in France, he sent to them the bishop of Verona. But this prelate, likewise, was not received, and he was only allowed to speak to one of the secretaries. He endeavored to convince him of the perfect innocence of Pole and of his mission. “The cardinal-legate,” he said, “is solely charged by the pope to treat of the safety of Christendom.” This was true in the sense intended by Rome, but it is well known what this safety, in her view, required.
Fresh movements in the North of England tended to increase the anger of Henry VIII. It was not enough that Pole had been driven from France. The king himself now wrote to Hutton, his envoy at Brussels, “You shall deliver unto the regent (Margaret) our letters for the stay of his entry into the Emperor’s dominions; … you shall press them… neither to admit him to her presence, nor to suffer unto him to have any other entertainment than beseemeth the traitor and rebel of their friend and ally. … You shall in any wise cause good secret and substantial espial to be made upon him from place to place where he shall be.” Pole, on his part, spoke as a Roman legate. He summoned the queen to prove her submission to the apostolic see and to grant him an audience, and he made use of serious menaces. “If traitors, conspirators, rebels, and other offenders,” said the English ambassador, “might under the shadow of legacy have sure access into all places, and thereby to trouble and espy all things, that were overmuch dangerous.” This was no question of rebellion—Pole sent word to the regent by the bishop of Verona—but of the Reformation, and he was sent to refute the errors which it was spreading in England. Her opinion was that he should return, “for that she had no commission of the Emperor to intermeddle in any point of his legacy.”
Hereupon Pole went from Cambrai to Liége, but in consequence of the advice of the bishop of Liége, he only ventured to go there in disguise. He was received into the bishop’s palace, but his stay there was “not without great fear.” He set out again on August 22, and went to Rome. Never had any mission of a Roman pontiff so entirely failed. The ambitious projects of the pope against the Reformation in England had proved abortive. But one of the secrets of Roman policy is to put a good face on a bad case. The less successful Pole had been, the more necessary it was to assume an air of satisfaction with him and his embassy. In any case, was it not a victory for him to have returned safe and sound after having to do with Francis I, Henry VIII, and Charles V? It was November when he reached Rome, and he was received as generals used to be received by the ancient Romans after great victories. They carried him, so to speak, on their arms; everyone heaped upon him demonstrations of respect and joy; and his secretary, on the last day of the year 1537, wrote to the Catholics of England, to describe to them the great triumph that was made at Rome for the safe arrival of his master. Rome may win or lose, she always celebrates a triumph.
This mission of Reginald Pole had fatal consequences. In the following year, his brother, Henry lord Montague, and his kinsmen, Henry the marquis of Exeter, and Sir Edward Nevil, were arrested and committed to the Tower. Some time afterwards his mother, Margaret countess of Salisbury, the last of the Plantagenets, a woman of remarkable spirit, was likewise arrested. They were charged with aiming at the deposition of Henry and at placing Reginald on the throne. “I do perceive,” it was said, “it should be for my lord Montague’s brother, which is beyond the sea with the bishop of Rome, and is an arrant traitor to the king’s Highness.” They were condemned and executed in January 1539. The countess was not executed till May 1541.
Paul III had been mistaken is selecting the cousin of the king to stir up Catholic Europe against him. But some other legate might have a chance of success. Henry felt the necessity of securing allies upon the Continent. Cranmer promptly availed himself of this feeling to persuade Henry to unite with the Protestants of Germany. The elector of Saxony, the landgrave of Hesse, and the other Protestant princes, finding that the king had resolutely broken with the pope, had suppressed the monasteries and begun other reforms, consented to send a deputation. On May 12, 1538,Francis Burkhardt, vice-chancellor of Saxony, George von Boyneburg, doctor of law, and Frederick Myconius, superintendent of the church of Gotha—a diplomatist, a jurist, and a theologian—set out for London. The princes wished to be worthily represented, and the envoys were to live in magnificent style and keep a liberal table. The king received them with much good will. He thanked them that, laying aside their own affairs, they had undertaken so laborious a journey, and he especially spoke of Melanchthon in the most loving terms. But the delegates, whilst they were so honorably treated by their own princes and by the king of England, were much less so by inferior agents. They were hardly settled in the house assigned to them than they were attacked by the inhabitants, “a multitude of rats daily and nightly running in their chambers.” In addition to this annoyance, the kitchen was adjacent to the parlor in which they were to dine, so that the house was full of smells, and all who came in were offended.
But certain bishops were to give them more trouble than the rats. Cranmer received them as friends and brethren, and endeavored to take advantage of their presence to promote the triumph of the Gospel in England, but Tunstall, Stokesley, and others left no stone unturned to render their mission abortive. The discussion took place in the archbishop’s palace at Lambeth, and they did their best to protract it, obstinately defending the doctrines and the customs of the Middle Ages. They were willing, indeed, to separate from Rome, but this was in order to unite with the Greek church, not with the evangelicals. Each of the two conflicting parties endeavored to gain over to itself those English doctors who were still wavering. One day, Richard Sampson, bishop of Chichester, who usually went with the Scholastic party, having come to Lambeth at an early hour, Cranmer took him aside and so forcibly urged on him the necessity of abandoning tradition that the bishop, a weak man, was convinced. But Stokesley, who had doubtless noticed something in the course of the discussion, in his turn took Sampson aside into the gallery, just when the meeting was breaking up, and spoke to him very earnestly in behalf of the practices of the church. These customs are essential, said Stokesley, for they are found in the Greek church. The bishop of Chichester, driven in one direction by the bishop of London and in the opposite by the archbishop of Canterbury, was much embarrassed, and did not know which way to turn. His decision was for the last speaker. The semi-Roman doctors at this period, who sacrificed to the king the Roman rite, felt it incumbent upon them to cross all Europe for the purpose of finding in the Turkish empire the Greek rite, which was for them the Gospel. England must be dressed in a Grecian garb. But Cranmer would not hear of it, and he presented to his countrymen the wedding garment of which the Savior speaks.
The summer was now drawing to an end. The German delegates had been in London for some three months without having made any progress. Wearied with fruitless discussions, they began to think of their departure. But before setting out, about the middle of August, they forwarded to the king a document in which they argued from Holy Scripture, from the testimony of the most ancient of the Fathers, and from the practice of the primitive church, against the withdrawal of the cup from the laity, private masses, and the celibacy of priests, three errors which they looked upon as having essentially contributed to the deformation of Christendom. When Cranmer heard of their intention to leave England, he was much affected. Their departure dissipated all his hopes. Must he then renounce the hope of seeing the Word of God prevail in England as it was prevailing in evangelical Germany? He summoned them to Lambeth, and entreated them earnestly and with much kindliness for the king’s sake to remain. They replied “that at the king’s request they would be very well content to tarry during his pleasure, not only a month or two, but a year or two, if they were at their own liberty. But forasmuch they had been so long from their princes, and had not all this season any letters from them, it was not to be doubted but that they were daily looked for at home, and therefore they durst not tarry.” However, after renewed entreaties, they said, “We will consult together.” They discussed with one another the question whether they ought to leave England just at the time when she was perhaps on the point of siding with the truth. Shall we refuse to sacrifice our private convenience to interests so great? They adopted the least convenient but most useful course. We will tarry, they said, for a month, “upon hope that their tarrying should grow into some good success concerning the points of their commission,” and “trusting that the king’s Majesty would write unto their princes for their excuse in thus long tarrying.” The evangelicals of Germany believed it to be their duty to tolerate certain secondary differences, but frankly to renounce those errors and abuses which were contrary to the essential doctrines of the Gospel, and to unite in the great truths of the faith. This was precisely what the Catholic party and the king himself had no intention of doing. When Cranmer urged the bishops to apply themselves to the task of answering the Germans, they replied “that the king’s grace hath taken upon himself to answer the said orators in that behalf… and therefore they will not meddle with the abuses, lest they should write therein contrary to that the king shall write.” It was, indeed, neither pleasant nor safe to contradict Henry VIII. But in this case the king’s opinion was only a convenient veil, behind which the bishops sought to conceal their ill will and their evil doctrines. Their reply was nothing but an evasion. The book was written, not by the king, but by one of themselves, Tunstall bishop of Durham. He ran no risk of contradicting himself. In spite of this ill will, the Germans remained not only one month but two. Their conduct, like that of Cranmer, was upright, devoted, noble, and Christian; while the bishops of London and Durham and their friends, clever men no doubt, were souls of a lower cast, who strove to escape by chicanery from the free discussion proposed to them, and passed off their knavery as prudence.
The German doctors had now nothing more to do. They had offered the hand and it had been rejected. The vessel which was to convey them was waiting. They were exhausted with fatigue, and one of them, Myconius, whom the English climate appeared not to suit, was very ill. They set out at the beginning of October, and gave an account of their mission to their sovereigns and to Melanchthon. The latter thought that, considering the affection which the king displayed towards him, he might, if he intervened at this time, do something to incline the balance the right way. He therefore wrote to Henry VIII a remarkable letter, in which, after expressing his warm gratitude for the king’s good will, he added, “I commend to you, Sire, the cause of the Christian religion. Your Majesty knows that the principal duty of sovereigns is to protect and propagate the heavenly doctrine, and for this reason God gives them the same name as his own, saying to them, Ye are gods (Psalm 82:6). My earnest desire is to see a true agreement, so far as regards the doctrine of piety, established between all the churches which condemn Roman tyranny, an agreement which should cause the glory of God to shine forth, should induce the other nations to unite with us and maintain peace in the churches.” Melanchthon was right as to the last point, but was he right as to the office he assigned to kings? In his view it was a heroic action to take up arms for the church. But what church was it necessary to protect and extend sword in hand? Catholic princes, assuredly, drew the sword against the Protestants rather than the Protestants against the Catholics. The most heroic kings, by this rule, would be Philip II and Louis XIV. Melanchthon’s principle leads by a straight road to the Inquisition. To express our whole thought on the matter, what descendant of the Huguenots could possibly acknowledge as true, as divine, a principle by virtue of which his forefathers, men of whom the world was not worthy, were stripped of everything, afflicted, tormented, scattered in the deserts, mountains, and caves of the earth, cast into prison, tortured, banished, and put to death? Conscience, which is the voice of God, is higher than all the voices of men.
An “Appeal to Caesar” and its Outcome 1538
The Romish party in England did not confine itself to preventing the union of Henry with the Protestants of Germany, but contended at all points against evangelical reformation, and strove to gain over the king by a display of enthusiastic devotion to his person and his ecclesiastical supremacy. This was especially the policy of Bishop Stephen Gardiner. Endowed with great acuteness of intellect, he had studied the king’s character, and he put forth all his powers to secure his adoption of his own views. Henry did not esteem his character, but highly appreciated his talents, and on this account employed him. Now Gardiner was the mainstay of the Scholastic doctrines and the most inflexible opponent of the Reformation. He had been employed by the King and Wolsey in numerous diplomatic missions on the Continent, where his extensive knowledge of canon law gave him great advantages. He had visited the court of the Emperor, and had had interviews with the Roman legate. One day, at Ratisbon, an Italian named Ludovico, a servant of the legate, while talking with one of the attendants of Sir Henry Knyvet, who was a member of the English embassy, had confided to him the statement that Gardiner had secretly been reconciled with the pope, and had entered into correspondence with him. Knyvet, exceedingly anxious to know what to think of it, had had a conference with Ludovico, and had come away convinced of the reality of the fact. No sooner did Gardiner get wind of these things, than he betook himself to Granvella, chancellor of the Empire, and sharply complained to him of the calumnies of Ludovico. The chancellor ordered the Italian to be put in prison, but in spite of this measure many continued to believe that he had spoken truth. We are inclined to think that Ludovico said more than he knew. The story, however, indicates from which quarter the wind was blowing in the sphere in which Gardiner moved. He had set out for Paris on October 1, 1535; and on September 28, 1538, there was to be seen entering London a brilliant and numerous band, mules and chariots hung with draperies on which were embroidered the arms of the master, lackeys, gentlemen dressed in velvet, with many ushers and soldiers. This was Gardiner and his suite.
The three years’ absence of this formidable adversary of the Gospel had been marked by a slackening of the persecution, and by a more active propagation of the Holy Scriptures. His return was to be distinguished by a vigorous renewal of the struggle against the Gospel. This was the main business of Gardiner. To this he consecrated all the resources of the most acute understanding and the most persistent character. He began immediately to lay snares round the king, whom in this respect it was not very hard to entrap. Two difficulties, however, arose. At first Henry VIII, by the influence of the deceased queen as some have supposed, had been somewhat softened towards the Reformation. Then the rumors of the reconciliation of Gardiner with the pope might have alienated the king from him. The crafty man proceeded cleverly and killed two birds with one stone. “The pope,” he said to the king, “is doing all he can to ruin you.” Henry, provoked at the mission of Pole, had no doubt of that. “You ought then, Sire,” continued the bishop, “to do all that is possible to conciliate the Continental powers, and to place yourself in security from the treacherous designs of Rome. Now the surest means of conciliating Francis I, Charles V, and other potentates, is to proceed rigorously against heretics.” Henry agreed to the means proposed with the more readiness because he had always been a fanatic for the corporal presence, and because the Lutherans, in his view, could not take offense at seeing him burn some who denied it.
A beginning was made with the Anabaptists. These wretched people were persecuted in all European countries. Some of them had taken refuge in England. In October 1538 the king appointed a commission to examine certain people “lately come into the kingdom, who are keeping themselves in concealment in various nooks and corners.” The commission was authorized to proceed, even supposing this should be in contravention of any statutes of the realm.
Four Anabaptists bore the faggots at Paul’s church, and two others, a man and a woman, originally from the Netherlands, were burnt in Smithfield. Cranmer and Bonner sat on this commission, side by side with Stokesley and Sampson. This fact shows what astonishing error prevailed at the time in the minds of men. Gardiner wanted to go further; and while associating, when persecution was in hand, with such men as Cranmer, he had secret conferences with Stokesley, bishop of London, Tunstall of Durham, Sampson of Chichester, and others who were devoted to the doctrines of the Middle Ages. They talked over the means of resisting the reforms of Cranmer and Cromwell, and of restoring Catholicism.
Bishop Sampson, one of Gardiner’s allies, was a staunch friend of ancient superstitions, and attached especial importance to the requirement that God should not be addressed in a language understood by the common people. “In all places,” he said, “both with the Latins and the Greeks, the ministers of the church sung or said their offices or prayers in the Latin or Greek grammatical tongue, and not in the vulgar. That the people prayed apart in such tongues as they would… and he wished that all the ministers were so well learned that they understood their offices, service, or prayers which they said in the Latin tongue.” In his view, it was not lawful to speak to God except grammatically.
Sampson, a weak and narrow-minded man, was swayed by prejudices and ruled by stronger men, and he had introduced in his diocese customs contrary to the orders of the king. Weak minds are often in the van when important movements are beginning; the strong ones are in the rear and urge them on. This was the case with Sampson and Gardiner. Cromwell, who had a keen and penetrating intellect, and whose glance easily searched the depths of men’s hearts and pierced to the core of facts, perceived that some project was hatching against the Reformation, and as he did not dare to attack the real leaders, he had Sampson arrested and committed to the Tower. The bishop was not strong-minded and trembled for a slight cause; it may, therefore, be imagined how it was with him when he found himself in the state prison. He fell into great trouble and extraordinary dejection of mind. His imagination was filled with fatal presentiments, and his soul was assailed by great terrors. To have displeased the king and Cromwell, what a crime! One might have thought that he would die of it, says a historian. He saw himself already on the scaffold of Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More. At this time the powerful minister summoned him to his presence. Sampson admitted the formation of an alliance between Gardiner, Stokesley, Tunstall, and himself to maintain the old religion, its traditions and rites, and to resist any innovation. He avowed the fact that his colleagues and himself stood pledged to put forth all their efforts for the restoration of degenerated Catholicism. In their opinion, nothing which the Greeks had preserved ought to be rejected in England. One day when Bishop Sampson was passing over the Thames in a barge, in company with the bishop of Durham, to Lambeth Palace, the latter produced an old Greek book which he used to carry in his pocket, and showed Sampson several places in that book wherein matters that were then in controversy were ordained by the Greek Church. These bishops, who spoke so courageously to each other, did not speak so with the king. They feigned complete accordance with him, and for him they had nothing but flatteries. Cranmer was not strong, but at least he was never a hypocrite. Sampson, however, exhibited so much penitence and promised so much submission that he was liberated. But Cromwell now knew what to think of the matter. A conspiracy was threatening the work which he had been at so much pains to accomplish. He observed that the archbishop’s influence was declining at court, and he began to have secret forebodings of calamity in which he would be himself involved.
Gardiner, in fact, energetically urged the king to re-establish all the ancient usages. Thus, although but a little while before orders had been given to place Bibles in the churches, and to preach against pilgrimages, tapers, kissing of relics, and other like practices, it was now forbidden to translate, publish, and circulate any religious works without the king’s permission; and injunctions were issued for the use of holy water, for processions, for kneeling down and crawling before the cross, and for lighting of tapers before the Corpus Christi. Discussions about the sacrament of the Eucharist were prohibited. It was Gardiner’s wish to seal these ordinances with the blood of martyrs. He proceeded therefore to strike a blow at an evangelical and esteemed Englishman, and to invest his death with a certain importance.
We have previously mentioned a certain young minister, John Nicholson, surnamed Lambert, who had been arrested and imprisoned in 1532, but afterwards released. The passing of the years only deepened his firm evangelical convictions.
In 1538, being informed one day that Doctor Taylor was to preach at St. Peter’s Church, Cornhill, Lambert went to hear him, not only because of his well-known gifts, but also because he was not far from the Gospel. He was later appointed bishop of Lincoln under pious King Edward, and was deprived of that office under the fanatical Mary. Taylor preached that day on the real presence of Christ in the bread and the wine. Lambert also believed, indeed, in the presence of the Lord in the Supper, but this presence, he believed, was in the hearts of the faithful. After the service he went to see Taylor, and with modesty and kindliness urged various arguments against the doctrines which he had been setting forth. “I have not time just now,” said the doctor, “to discuss the point with you, as other matters demand my attention, but oblige me by putting your thoughts in writing and call again when I am more at leisure.” Lambert applied himself to the task of writing, and against the doctrine of the presence in the bread he adduced ten arguments, which were, says Foxe, very powerful. It does not appear that Taylor replied to them. He was an upright man, who gave impartial consideration to these questions, and by Lambert’s reasoning he seems to have been somewhat shaken. As Taylor was anxious to be enlightened himself and to try to satisfy his friendly opponent, he communicated the document to Dr. Barnes. The latter, a truly evangelical Christian, was nevertheless of opinion that to put forward the doctrine of this little work would seriously injure the cause of the Reformation. He therefore advised Taylor to speak to Archbishop Cranmer on the subject. Cranmer, who was of the same opinion, invited Lambert to a conference, at which Barnes, Taylor, and Latimer were also present. These four divines had not at this time abandoned the view which the ex-chaplain of Antwerp opposed; and considering the fresh revival of sacramental Catholicism, they were not inclined to do so. They strove therefore to change the opinion of the pious minister, but in vain. Finding that they unanimously condemned his views, he exclaimed, “Well then, I appeal to the king.” This was a foolish and fatal appeal.
Gardiner did not lose a minute, but promptly took the business in hand, because he saw in it an opportunity of striking a heavy blow; and, what was an inestimable advantage, he would have on his side, he thought, Cranmer and the other three evangelical divines. He therefore “went straight to the king,” and requesting a private audience, addressed him in the most flattering terms. Then, as if the interests of the king were dearer to him than to the king himself, he respectfully pointed out that he had everywhere excited by various recent proceedings suspicion and hatred; but that at this moment a way was open for pacifying men’s minds, “if only in this matter of John Lambert, he would manifest unto the people how strictly he would resist heretics; and by this new rumor he would bring to pass not only to extinguish all other former rumors, and as it were with one nail to drive out another, but also should discharge himself of all suspicion, in that he now began to be reported to be a favorer of new sects and opinions.”
The vanity as well as the interests of Henry VIII dictated to him the same course as Gardiner advised. He determined to avail himself of this opportunity to make an ostentatious display of his own knowledge and zeal. He would make arrangements of an imposing character; it would not be enough to hold a mere conversation, but there must be a grand show. He therefore ordered invitations to be sent to a great number of nobles and bishops to attend the solemn trial at which he would appear as head of the church. He was not content with the title alone; he would show that he acted the part. One of the principal characteristics of Henry VIII was a fondness for showing off what he conceived himself to be or what he supposed himself to know, without ever suspecting that display is often the ruin of those who wish to seem more than they are.
Meanwhile Lambert, confined at Lambeth, wrote an apology for his faith which he dedicated to the king, and in which he solidly established the doctrine which he had professed. He rejoiced that his request to be heard before Henry VIII had been granted. He desired that his trial might be blessed, and he indulged in the pleasing illusion that the king, once set in the presence of the truth, must needs be enlightened and would publicly proclaim it. These pleasant fancies gave him courage, and he lived and hoped.
On the appointed day, Friday, November 16, 1538, the assembly was constituted in Westminster Hall. The king, in his robes of state, sat upon the throne. On his right were the bishops, judges, and jurisconsults; on his left the lords temporal of the realm and the officers of the royal house. The guards, attired in white, were near their master, and a crowd of spectators filled the hall. The prisoner was placed at the bar. The bishop of Chichester spoke to the following effect: that the king in this session would have all states, degrees, bishops, and all others to be admonished of his will and pleasure, that no man should conceive any sinister opinion of him, as that now, the authority and name of the bishop of Rome being utterly abolished, he would also extinguish all religion, or give liberty unto heretics to perturb and trouble, without punishment, the churches of England, whereof he is the head. And moreover that they should not think that they were assembled at that present to make any disputation upon the heretical doctrine, but only for this purpose, that by the industry of him and other bishops the heresies of this man here present (meaning Lambert), and the heresies of all such like, should be refuted or openly condemned in the presence of them all. Henry’s part then began. His look was sternly fixed on Lambert, who stood facing him; his features were contracted, his brows were knit. His whole aspect was adapted to inspire terror, and indicated a violence of anger unbecoming in a judge, and still more so in a sovereign. He rose, stood leaning on a white cushion, and looking Lambert full in the face, he said to him in a disdainful tone, “Ho! good fellow, what is thy name?” The accused, humbly kneeling down, replied, “My name is John Nicholson, although of many I be called Lambert.” “What!” said the king, “have you two names? I would not trust you, having two names, although you were my brother.” “O most noble prince,” replied the accused, “your bishops forced me of necessity to change my name.” Thereupon the king, interrupting him, commanded him to declare what he thought as touching the sacrament of the altar. “Sire,” said Lambert, “first of all I give God thanks that you do not disdain to hear me. Many good men, in many places, are put to death, without your knowledge. But now, forasmuch as that high and eternal King of kings, in whose hands are the hearts of all princes, hath inspired and stirred up the king’s mind to understand the causes of his subjects, specially whom God of His divine goodness hath so abundantly endued with so great gifts of judgment and knowledge, I do not mistrust but that God will bring some great thing to pass through him, to the setting forth of the glory of His Name.” Henry, who could not bear to be praised by a heretic, rudely interrupted Lambert, and said to him in an angry tone, “I came not hither to hear mine own praises thus painted out in my presence; but briefly go to the matter, without any more circumstance.” There was so much harshness in the king’s voice that Lambert was agitated and confused. He had dreamed of something very different. He had conceived a sovereign just and elevated above the reach of clerical passions, whose noble understanding would be struck with the beauty of the Gospel. But he saw a passionate man, a servant of the priests. In astonishment and confusion he kept silence for a few minutes, questioning within himself what he ought to do in the extremity to which he was reduced.
Lambert was especially attached to the great verities of the Christian religion, and during his previous trial he made unreserved confession of them. “Our Savior would not have us greatly esteem our merits,” said he, “when we have done what is commanded by God, but rather reckon ourselves to be but servants unprofitable to God… not regarding our merit, but His grace and benefit. Woe be to the life of men, said St. Augustine, be they ever so holy, if Thou shalt examine them, setting Thy mercy aside. … Again he says, Doth any man give what he oweth not unto Thee, that Thou should’st be in his debt? and hath any man aught that is not Thine? … All my hope is in the Lord’s death. His death is my merit, my refuge, my health, and my resurrection. And thus,” adds Lambert, “we should serve God with hearty love as children, and not for need or dread, as unloving thralls and servants.”
On this occasion the king wanted to localize the attack and to limit the examination of Lambert to the subject of the sacrament. Finding that the accused stood silent, the king said to him in a hasty manner with anger and vehemency, “Why standest thou still? Answer as touching the sacrament of the altar, whether dost thou say that it is the body of Christ or wilt deny it?” After uttering these words, the king lifted up his cap adorned with pearls and feathers, probably as a token of reverence for the subject under discussion. “I answer with St. Augustine,” said Lambert, “that it is the body of Christ after a certain manner.” The king replied, “Answer me neither out of St. Augustine, nor by the authority of any other; but tell me plainly whether thou sayest it is the body of Christ or no.” Lambert felt what might be the consequences of his answer, but without hesitation he said, “Then I deny it to be the body of Christ.” “Mark well!” exclaimed the king, “for now thou shalt be condemned even by Christ’s own word, Hoc est corpus meum (this is my body).”
The king then turning to Cranmer commanded him to refute the opinion of the accused. The archbishop spoke with modesty, calling Lambert “brother,” and although opposing his arguments he told him that if he proved his opinion from Holy Scripture, he (Cranmer) would willingly embrace it. Gardiner, finding that Cranmer was too weak, began to speak. Tunstall and Stokesley followed. Lambert had put forward ten arguments, and ten doctors were appointed to deal with them, each doctor to impugn one of them. Of the whole disputation the passage which made the deepest impression on the assembly was Stokesley’s argument. “It is the doctrine of the philosophers,” he said, “that a substance cannot be changed but into a substance.” Then, by the example of water boiling on the fire, he affirmed the substance of the water to pass into the substance of the air. On hearing this argument, the aspect of the bishops, hitherto somewhat uneasy, suddenly changed. They were transported with joy, and considered this transmutation of the elements as giving them the victory, and they cast their looks over the whole assembly with an air of triumph. Loud shouts of applause for some time interrupted the sitting. When silence was at length restored, Lambert replied that the moistness of the water, its real essence, remained even after this transformation, that nothing was changed but the form; while in their system of the corpus domini (the body of the Lord) the substance itself was changed, and that it is impossible that the qualities and accidents of things should remain in their own nature apart from their own subject. But Lambert was not allowed to finish his refutation. The king and the bishops, indignant that he ventured to impugn an argument which had transported them with admiration, gave vent to their rage against him, so that he was forced to silence, and had to endure patiently all their insults.
The sitting had lasted from noon till five o’clock. It had been a real martyrdom for Lambert. Loaded with rebukes and insults, intimidated by the solemnity of the proceedings and by the authority of the persons with whom he had to do, alarmed by the presence of the king and by the terrible threats which were uttered against him, his body too, which was weak before, giving way under the fatigue of a session of five hours, during which, standing all the time, he had been compelled to fight a fierce battle, convinced that the clearest and most irresistible demonstrations would be smothered amidst the outcries of the bystanders, he called to mind these words of Scripture, “Be still,” and was silent. This self-restraint was regarded as defeat. “Where is the knowledge so much boasted of?” they said. “Where is his power of argumentation?” The assembly had looked for great bursts of eloquence, but the accused was silent. The palm of victory was awarded to the king and the bishops by noisy and universal shouts of applause.
It was now night. The servants of the royal house appeared in the hall and lighted the torches. Henry began to find his part as head of the church somewhat wearisome. He determined to bring the business to a conclusion, and by his severity to give to the pope and to Christendom a brilliant proof of his orthodoxy. “What sayest thou now,” he said to Lambert, “after all these great labors which thou hast taken upon thee, and all the reasons and instructions of these learned men? Art thou not yet satisfied? Wilt thou live or die? What sayest thou? Thou hast yet free choice.” Lambert answered, “I commend my soul into the hands of God, but my body I wholly yield and submit unto your clemency.” Then said the king, “In that case you must die, for I will not be a patron unto heretics.” Unhappy Lambert! He had committed himself to the mercy of a prince who never spared a man who offended him, were it even his closest friend. The monarch turned to his vicar-general and said, “Cromwell, read the sentence of condemnation.” This was a cruel task to impose upon a man universally considered to be the friend of the evangelicals. But Cromwell felt the ground already trembling under his feet. He took the sentence and read it. Lambert was condemned to be burnt.
Four days afterwards, on Tuesday, November 20, the evangelist was taken out of the prison at eight o’clock in the morning and brought to Cromwell’s house. Cromwell summoned him to his room and announced that the hour of his death was come. The tidings greatly consoled and gladdened Lambert. It is stated that Cromwell added some words by way of excuse for the part which he had taken in his condemnation, and sent him into the room where the gentlemen of his household were at breakfast. He sat down and at their invitation partook of the meal with them, with all the composure of a Christian. Immediately after breakfast he was taken to Smithfield, and was there placed on the pile, which was not raised high. His legs only were burnt, and nothing remained but the stumps. He was, however, still alive; and two of the soldiers, observing that his whole body could not be consumed, thrust into him their halberds, one on each side, and raised him above the fire. The martyr, stretching towards the people his hands now burning, said, “None but Christ! None but Christ!” At this moment the soldiers withdrew their weapons and let the pious Lambert drop into the fire, which speedily consumed him.
Henry VIII, however, was not satisfied. The hope which he had entertained of inducing Lambert to recant had been disappointed. The Anglo-Catholic party made up for this by everywhere extolling his learning and his eloquence. They praised his sayings to the skies—every one of them was an oracle; he was in very deed the defender of the faith. There was one, not belonging to that party, who wrote to Sir Thomas Wyatt, then foreign minister to the king, as follows: “It was marvelous to see the gravity and the majestic air with which his Majesty discharged the functions of Supreme Head of the Anglican Church, the mildness with which he tried to convert that unhappy man, the force of reasoning with which he opposed him. Would that the princes and potentates of Christendom could have been present at the spectacle; they would certainly have admired the wisdom and judgment of his Majesty, and would have said that the king is the most excellent prince in the Christian world.”
This writer was Cromwell himself. He suppressed at this time all the best aspirations of his nature, believing that, as is generally thought, if one means to retain the favor of princes, it is necessary to adapt one’s self to all their wishes. A mournful fall, which was not to be the only one of the kind! It has been said, “Every flatterer, whoever he may be, is always a treacherous and hateful creature.”
The “Whip of Six Strings” 1538–1540
While the English Catholic party were recovering their former influence over Henry’s mind, some members of the Roman Catholic party were laboring to re-establish the influence of the pope. They supposed that they had found a clue by means of which the king might be brought back to the obedience of Rome. Henry who, while busy in preparing fires for the martyrs, did not forget the marriage altar, was very desirous of obtaining the hand of Christina of Denmark, duchess of Milan and a widow. Now, it was this princess, a niece of Charles V, of whom it was thought possible to make use for gaining over the king to the pope. She was now at the court of Brussels, and it is related that to the first offer of Henry VIII she had replied with a smile, “I have but one head; if I had two, one of them should be at the service of his Majesty.” If she did not say this, as some friends of Henry VIII have maintained, something like it was doubtless said by one of the courtiers. However this may be, the king did not meet with a refusal. Francis I, alarmed at the prospect of an alliance between Henry VIII and Charles V, sent word to Henry that the Emperor was deceiving him. The king did not believe it. The queen regent of the Netherlands endeavored to bring about this union; Spanish commissioners arrived to conduct the negotiation, and Wriothesley, the English envoy at Brussels, devoted himself zealously to the business. One of the principal officers of the court, taking supper with the latter, in June 1538, inquired of him for news about the negotiation. Wriothesley expressed his surprise “that the Emperor had been so slack therein.” His companion remarked that the only difficulty in the matter was that Henry VIII had “married the lady Catherine, to whom the duchess is near kinswoman,” so that the marriage could not be solemnized without a dispensation from the pope.
The Emperor spoke more clearly still. Wyatt was instructed to tell the king that the hand of the duchess of Milan would be given to him, with a dowry of one hundred thousand crowns, and an annuity of fifteen thousand, secured on the duchy, and that for the gift of this beautiful and accomplished young widow all they required of him was that he should be reconciled with the bishop of Rome. This was fixing a high price on the hand of Christina. The princess, considering perhaps that it was a glorious task to bring back Henry VIII to the bosom of the papacy, declared her readiness to obey the Emperor. The pope, on his part, was willing to grant the necessary dispensation, but the king must first make his submission. To the great regret of the Roman party nothing came of these proposals. One circumstance might have influenced the king’s decision. Before the negotiations were closed, in December 1538, the pope published the bull of 1535, in which he excommunicated Henry VIII. Had the pontiff no hope of good from the matrimonial intrigue, or did he intend to catch the king by fear?
During the late summer of 1538, while these mundane negotiations were continuing, a remarkable decision had been taken on a totally different matter. It had been strangely resolved by the king’s Majesty that the Bible in an English translation should be made available to all his Majesty’s subjects. “Strangely” in respect of the king’s character and religious inclinations, but perhaps not so when looked at in the light of the dying Tyndale’s prayer, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” The royal sanction was transmitted to the nation through Injunctions issued by Thomas Cromwell to all the clergy, and dated the 5th of September:
“In the name of God, Amen. By the authority and commission of… Henry… I, Thomas lord Cromwell, lord privy seal, vicegerent to the king’s said highness, for all his jurisdiction ecclesiastical within this realm, do for the advancement of the true honour of Almighty God, increase of virtue, and discharge of the king’s majesty, give and exhibit unto you (Parson So and so) these injunctions following:
Item, That ye shall provide… one book of the whole Bible of the largest volume in English, and the same shall be set up in some convenient place within the… church… whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it; the charge of which book shall be ratably borne between you the parson and the parishioners aforesaid, the one half by you and the other half by them.
Item, That you shall discourage no man privily or apertly from the reading and hearing of the said Bible, but shall expressly provoke, stir, and exhort every person to read the same, as that which is the very lively Word of God, that every Christian person is bound to embrace, believe and follow, if they look to be saved; admonishing them nevertheless to avoid all contention and altercation therein, but to use an honest sobriety in the inquisition of the true sense of the same, and to refer the explication of obscure places to men of higher judgment in Scripture. …”
Other Items deal with the memorizing of the Pater Noster, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments; the turning away from objects of superstition and idolatry; a warning not to repose trust in works devised by men, such as pilgrimages, and the offering of money to images and at the shrines of relics; and the necessity for keeping a parish register of weddings, christenings, and burials.
A truly momentous series of Injunctions! the first official recognition of the authority, necessity, and availability of the Holy Book of God! the first clear declaration of the infinite value to men’s souls of God’s Word written!
It is remarkable that another king than Henry played a part in introducing the Bible into the churches. The Emperor and Francis I, king of France, occasionally coquetted with the king of England, whom each of them was anxious to win over to his own side. Francis, knowing how sensitive Henry was on the subject of marriage, offered him his son Henry of Orleans for the princess Mary. Cromwell, who was now giving way to the Anglo-Catholic party on many points essential to reform, was all the more desirous of holding by those which his master would really permit. Amongst these was the translation of the Bible. He saw in the offer made by Francis I an opening of which he might avail himself. An edition of the Bible, extending to 2,500 copies, published the year before by the eminent printer Richard Grafton in conjunction with Whitchurch, was now exhausted. Cromwell determined to issue a new one; and as printing was better executed at Paris than in London, the French paper also being superior, he begged the king to request permission of Francis I to have the edition printed at Paris. Francis addressed a royal letter to his beloved Grafton and Whitchurch, saying that having received credible testimonies to the effect that his very dear brother, the king of the English, whose subjects they were, had granted full and lawful liberty to print, both in Latin and in English, the Holy Bible, and to import it into his kingdom, he gave them himself his authorization so to do. Francis comforted himself with the thought that his own subjects spoke neither English nor Latin; and, besides, this book so much dreaded would be immediately exported from France.
Grafton and the pious and learned Coverdale arrived at Paris, at the end of spring 1538, to undertake this new edition of Tyndale’s translation. They lodged in the house of the printer Francis Regnault, who had for some time printed missals for England. As the sale of these had very much fallen off, Regnault changed his course, and determined to print the Bible. The two Englishmen selected a fine type and the best paper to be had in France. But these were expensive, and as early as June 23 they were obliged to apply to Cromwell to furnish them with the means for carrying on his edition of the Bible. They were moreover beset with other difficulties. They could not make their appearance out of doors in Paris without being exposed to threats, and they were in daily expectation that their work would be interrupted. Francis I, their reputed protector, was gone to Nice. By December 13, after six months’ labor, their fears had become so serious that when Bonner, who had succeeded Gardiner as English ambassador in France, was setting out from Paris on his way to London, they begged him to take with him the portion already printed and deliver it to Cromwell. The hypocritical Bonner, not satisfied with all the benefices he now held, was grasping at the bishopric of Hereford, which he called a great good fortune, and which he succeeded in getting. He was at this time bent on currying favor with Cromwell, on whose influence the election depended, and therefore, hiding his face under a gracious mask, which he was ere long impudently to throw off, he had most eagerly complied with the request.
Four days later, December 17, the officers of the French inquisitor-general entered the printing office and presented a document signed by Le Tellier, summoning Regnault and all whom it concerned to appear and make answer touching the printing of the Bible. He was at the same time enjoined to suspend the work, and forbidden to take away what was already printed. Are we to suppose that the Inquisition did not trouble itself about the royal letters of Francis I, or that the prince had changed his mind? Either of these suppositions might be entertained. In consequence of the dispatch of the packet to London, there were but a few sheets to be seized, and these were condemned to be burnt in the Place Maubert. But the officer was even more greedy of gain than fanatical, and gold being offered him by the Englishmen for the property, almost all the sheets were restored to them. His compliance is perhaps partly to be explained by the consideration that this was not a common case. The proprietors of the sheets seized were the lord Cromwell, first secretary of state, and the king of England. The matter did not rest here; the bold Cromwell was not to be baffled. Agents sent by him to Paris got possession of the presses, the types, and even the printers, and took the whole away with them to London. In two months from the time of their arrival the printing was completed. On the last page appeared the statement, The whole Bible finished in 1539, and the grateful editors added, To the Lord the achievement is due. The violent proceeding of the Inquisition turned to a great gain for England. Many French printers and a large stock of type had been imported, and henceforward many and more beautiful editions of the Bible were printed in England. “The wicked diggeth a pit and falleth into it.”
Two parties therefore existed in England, and these frequently concerned themselves more with the points on which they differed than with the great facts of their religion. In one pulpit a preacher would call for reformation of the abuses of Rome; in a neighboring church, another preacher would advocate their maintenance at any cost. One monk of York preached against purgatory, while some of his colleagues defended the doctrine. All this gave rise to most exciting discussion amongst the hearers. In addition to the two chief parties, there were the profane, animated by a spirit of unbelief and without reverence for sacred things. While pious men were peacefully assembled for the reading of the Holy Scriptures these mockers sat in public-houses over their pots of beer, uttering their sarcasms against everybody, and especially against the priests. If they spoke of those who gave only the wafer, and not the wine, they would say, “That is because he has drunk the whole of it; the bottle is empty.” At times they undertook even to discuss, as in old times was done at Byzantium, the most difficult points in theology, and this was still worse. The king, anxious to play his part as head of the church, was desirous of bringing about a union of the two chief parties, and had no doubt that the party of the profane would then disappear. His favorite notion, like that of princes in general, was to have but one single religious opinion in his kingdom. In a royal proclamation he required that the party of reformation and the party of tradition should “draw in one yoke,” like a pair of good oxen at the plough. He did not omit, however, to read the priests a lesson. He rebuked them for busying themselves far more with the distribution of the consecrated wafer and with the sprinkling of their flocks with holy water than with teaching them what these acts meant.
When the parliament met on April 28, 1539, the lord chancellor announced that the king was very anxious to see all his subjects holding one and the same opinion in religion, and required that a committee should be nominated to examine the various opinions, and to draw up articles of agreement to which everyone might give his consent. On May 5, nine commissioners were named, five of whom were rigid Catholics, and at their head was Lee, archbishop of York. A project was presented “for extirpating heresies among the people.” A catalogue of heresies was to be drawn up and read at all the services. The commissioners held discussion for one day, but neither of the two parties would make any concession. As the vicegerent Cromwell and the archbishop of Canterbury were in the ranks of the reformation party, the majority was unable to gain the ascendancy, and the commission arrived at no decision.
The king was very much dissatisfied with this result. He had been willing to leave the work of conciliation in the hands of the bishops, and now the bishops did not agree. His patience, of which he had no large stock, was exhausted. The Catholic party took advantage of his dissatisfaction, and hinted to him that if he really aimed at unity he would have to take the matter into his own hands, and settle the doctrine to which all must assent. Why should he allow his subjects the liberty of thinking for themselves? Was he not in England master and ruler of everything?
Another circumstance, of an entirely different kind, acted powerfully, about this time, upon the king’s mind. The pope had just entered into an alliance with the Emperor and the king of France. Invasion threatened. A fact of such importance could not fail to make a great noise in England. “Methinks,” said one of the foreign diplomatists now in England, “that if the pope sent an interdict and excommunications, with an injunction that no merchant should trade in any way with the English, the nation would, without further trouble, bestir itself and compel the king to return to the church.” Henry, in alarm, adopted two measures of defense against this triple alliance. He gave orders for the fortification of the ports, examination of the condition of various landing places, and reviewing of the troops; and at the same time, instead of endeavoring after a union of the two parties, he determined to throw himself entirely on the Scholastic and Catholic side. He hoped thereby to satisfy the majority of his subjects, who still adhered to the Roman church, and perhaps also to appease the powers. “The king is determined on grounds of policy,” it was said, “that these articles should pass.”
Six articles were therefore drawn up of a reactionary character, and the duke of Norfolk was selected to bring them forward. He did not pride himself on scriptural knowledge. “I have never read the Holy Scriptures and I never will read them,” he said, “all that I want is that everything should be as it was of old.” But if Norfolk was not a great theologian, he was the most powerful and the most Catholic lord of the Privy Council and of the kingdom. On the 16th of May, the duke rose in the upper house and spoke to the following effect: “The commission which you had named has done nothing, and this we had clearly foreseen. We come, therefore, to present to you six articles, which, after your examination and approval, are to become binding. They are the following: 1st, if anyone allege that after consecration there remains any other substance in the sacrament of the altar than the natural body of Christ conceived of the Virgin Mary, he shall be adjudged a heretic and suffer death by burning, and shall forfeit to the king all his lands and goods, as in the case of high treason; 2nd, if anyone teach that the sacrament is to be given to laymen under both kinds; or 3rd, that any man who has taken holy orders may nevertheless marry; 4th, that any man or woman who has vowed chastity may marry; 5th, that private masses are not lawful and should not be used; or 6th, that auricular confession is not according to the law of God—any such person shall be adjudged to suffer death, and forfeit lands and goods as a felon.”
Cromwell had been obliged to sanction, and perhaps even to prepare, this document. When once the king energetically announced his will the minister bowed his head, knowing well that if he raised it in opposition he would certainly lose it. Nevertheless, that he might to some extent be justified in his own sight, he had resolved that the weapon should be two-edged, and had added an article purporting that any priest giving himself up to uncleanness should for the first offense be deprived of his benefices, his goods, and his liberty, and for the second should be punished with death like the others.
These articles, which have been called the Whip with six strings and the Bloody Statute, were submitted to the parliament. But none of the lords temporal, or of the commons, aware that the king was fully resolved, ventured to assail them. One man, however, rose, and this was Cranmer. “Like a constant patron of God’s cause,” says the chronicler, “he took upon him the earnest defence of the truth, oppressed in the parliament; three days together disputing against those six wicked articles; bringing forth such allegations and authorities as might easily have helped the cause, if the majority, as is often the case, had not overthrown the better.” Cranmer spoke temperately, with respect for the sovereign, but also with fidelity and courage. “It is not my own cause that I defend,” he said, “it is that of God Almighty.”
The archbishop of Canterbury was not, however, alone. The bishops who belonged to the evangelical party, Latimer of Worcester, Hilsey of Rochester, Barlow of St. David’s, Goodrich of Ely, and Shaxton of Salisbury, likewise spoke against the articles. But the king insisted, and the act passed. These articles, said Cranmer at a later time, were “in some things so enforced by the evil counsel of certain papists against the truth and common judgment both of divines and lawyers, that if the king’s Majesty himself had not come personally into the parliament house, those laws had never passed.” Cranmer never signed nor consented to the Six Articles.
The parliament at the same time conferred on the king unlimited powers. A bill was carried purporting that some having by their disobedience shown that they did not well understand what a king can do by virtue of his royal power, it was decreed that every proclamation of his Majesty, even when inflicting fines and penalties, should have the same force as an Act of parliament. The Act was not passed without difficulty and as soon as Henry died it was repealed. But the fact was clearly shown in 1539 that when truth was sacrificed, liberty became the next victim.
Latimer, bishop of Worcester, immediately after the close of the Parliamentary session, received word from Cromwell that the king requested him to resign his office. His heart leaped for joy as he laid aside his episcopal vestments. “Now I am rid of a heavy burden,” he said, “and never did my shoulders feel so light.” One of his former colleagues having expressed his surprise, he replied, “I am resolved to be guided only by the Book of God, and sooner than depart one jot from that, let me be trampled under the feet of wild horses!” It seems highly probable that, although the king must have been offended at Latimer’s resistance to the Six Articles, he had not himself actually informed Cromwell that Latimer must be removed from his post. But the resignation having been tendered (“freely” says the subsequent ‘writ to elect’ a successor), Henry allowed it to stand, and, to show his royal displeasure, he ordered the ex-bishop to be kept in custody in the house of Sampson, bishop of Chichester, near Chancery Lane. It seems probable that after several months he was allowed his liberty. The fact is, however, that his activities between 1540 and 1547 when the king died, are very obscure. He certainly ended this period as a prisoner in the Tower of London. Shaxton, bishop of Salisbury, likewise resigned his see, after the Six Articles were passed. Under Queen Mary he became a violent persecutor. Many evangelical Christians quitted England, and among them especially to be noted are John Hooper, John Rogers, and John Butler. Cranmer remained in his archiepiscopal palace at Lambeth. Historians have generally stated that he sent away his wife and children to his wife’s relations in Germany, but there is no strong evidence for such a belief. Cranmer, during his trial in Mary’s reign, admitted that he had kept his wife secretly during the latter years of Henry’s reign and had brought her out during the reign of Edward, but no suggestion was made that her years of hiding were spent with her relations in Germany.
That Cranmer did not resign is only explicable on the ground of the efforts made by Henry VIII to retain him. On the day of the prorogation of parliament, June 28, 1539, Henry, fearing lest the archbishop, disheartened and distrusted, should offer to him his resignation, sent for him, and, receiving him with all the graciousness of manner which he knew so well how to assume when he wished, said, “I have heard with what force and learning you opposed the Six Articles. Pray state your arguments in writing, and deliver the statement to me.” Nor was this all that Henry did. Desirous that all men, and particularly the adherents of English Catholicism, should know the esteem which he felt for the primate, he commanded the leader of this party, the duke of Norfolk, his brother-in-law, the duke of Suffolk, Norfolk’s rival, lord Cromwell, and several other lords to dine the next day with the archbishop at Lambeth. “You will assure him,” he said, “of my sincere affection, and you will add that although his arguments did not convince the parliament, they displayed much wisdom and learning.”
The company, according to the king’s request, arrived at the archbishop’s palace, and Cranmer gave his guests an honorable reception. The latter executed the king’s commission, adding that he must not be disheartened although the parliament had come to a decision contrary to his opinion. Cranmer replied that “he was obliged to his Majesty for his good affection, and to the lords for the pains they had taken.” Then he added resolutely, “I have hope in God that hereafter my allegations and authorities will take place, to the glory of God and commodity of the realm.” They sat down to table. Every guest apparently did his best to make himself agreeable to the primate. “My lord of Canterbury,” said Cromwell, “you are most happy of all men, for you may do and speak what you list, and, say what all men can against you, the king will never believe one word to detriment or hindrance.” The meal, however, did not pass altogether so smoothly. The king had brought together, in Cromwell and Norfolk, the most heterogeneous elements, and the feast of peace was disturbed by a sudden explosion. Cromwell, continuing his praises, instituted a parallel between cardinal Wolsey and the archbishop of Canterbury. “The cardinal,” he said, “lost his friends by his haughtiness and pride, while you gain over your enemies by your kindliness and your meekness.” “You must be well aware of that, my lord Cromwell,” said the duke of Norfolk, “for the cardinal was your master.” Cromwell, stung by these words, acknowledged the obligations under which he lay to the cardinal, but added, “I was never so far in love with him as to have waited upon him to Rome if he had been chosen pope, as I understand, my lord duke, that you would have done.” Norfolk denied this. But Cromwell persisted in his assertion, and even specified a considerable sum which the duke was to receive for his services as admiral to the new pope, and for conducting him to Rome. The duke, no longer restraining himself, swore with great oaths that Cromwell was a liar. The two speakers, forgetting that they were attending a feast of peace, became more and more excited and did not spare hard words. Cranmer interposed to pacify them. But from this time these two powerful ministers of the king swore deadly hatred to each other. One or other of them must needs fall.
The king’s course with respect to Cranmer is not so strange as it appears. Without Cranmer, he would have been under the necessity of choosing another primate, and what a task would that have been. Gardiner, indeed, was quite ready to take the post, but the king, although he listened to him, did not place complete confidence in him. Not only did it seem to Henry difficult to find any other man than Cranmer, but there was a further difficulty of appointing an archbishop in due form. Could it be done by the aid of the pope? Impossible. Without the pope? This too was very difficult. The priesthood would not concede such a power to the king, nor was it probable that they would accept his choice. The king foresaw troubles and conflicts without end. The best course was to keep the present primate, and this was the course adopted. Herein lay the security of the archbishop in the midst of the misfortunes and scenes of blood around him. He had made a declaration of his faith, and he did not withdraw from it. He hoped for better things, according to the advances which were made him. He believed that by keeping his post he might prevent many calamities. The Six Articles were a storm which must be allowed to blow over, and, in accordance with his character, he bowed his head while the wind blew in that direction.
It should further be remembered that, in the sixteenth century, the idea of the overriding obligation of duty to the State and the Sovereign normally held the rights of the individual conscience in abeyance, whenever the two came into conflict. In modern times men feel free to resign public posts which begin to trouble their consciences. In the time of the Tudors this was rarely the case; the martyrs were exceptions. Men in office esteemed the royal power and prerogative to be so great that most of them would have considered opposition to the king’s will almost tantamount to rebellion against God.
Moreover, Henry’s absolutism was in practice modified by a spasmodic consideration and understanding which he showed towards servants he favored. In certain circumstances he was prepared to permit the exercise of their private consciences. Thus, Sir Thomas More, Chancellor though he was, disapproved of the king’s desire for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Accordingly, Henry was careful not to require him to put his hand to the business. Similarly, the king exempted Archbishop Cranmer from the awful work of enforcing the penalties imposed by the “whip of six strings.” Cranmer, therefore, continued to hold office. Never had he passed through a sadder term of years.
The “bloody statute” was the cause of profound sorrow among the evangelical Christians. Some of them, more hasty than others, making use of the strong language of the time, asserted that the Six Articles had been written, not with Gardiner’s ink, as people said, “but with the blood of a dragon, or rather the claws of the devil.” They have been spoken of, by Roman Catholics of a later age, as “the enactments of this severe and barbarous statute.” But the Catholics of that age rejoiced in them, and believed that it was all over with the Reformation. Commissioners were immediately named to execute this cruel law, and there was always a bishop among them. These commissioners, who sat in London in Mercer’s Chapel, formerly a dwelling house and reputed to be the place of Becket’s birth, even exaggerated the harshness of the Six Articles. Fifteen days had not elapsed before five hundred persons were imprisoned, some for having read the Bible, others for their posture at church. The greatest zeal was displayed by Norfolk among the lords temporal, and by Stokesley, Gardiner, and Tunstall among the lords spiritual. Their aim was to get a Book of Ceremonies, a strange farrago of Romish superstitions, adopted as the rule of worship.
The violent thunderclap which had suddenly pealed over England, and occasioned so much trouble, was nowhere on the Continent more unexpected, nowhere excited a greater commotion than at Wittenberg. Bucer on one side, and several refugees arriving at Hamburg on the other, had made known this barbarous statute to the reformers, and had entreated the Protestants of Germany to interpose with Henry in behalf of their fellow religionists. Luther, Melanchthon, Jonas, and Bugenhagen met together, and were unanimous in their indignation. “The king,” they said, “knows perfectly well that our doctrine concerning the sacrament, the marriage of priests, and other analogous subjects, is true. How many books he has read on the subject! How many reports have been made to him by the most competent judges! He has even had a book translated, in which the whole matter is explained, and he makes use of this book every day in his prayers. Has he not heard and approved Latimer, Cranmer, and other pious divines? He has even censured the king of France for condemning this doctrine. And now he condemns it himself more harshly than the king or the pope. He makes laws like Nebuchadnezzar and declares that he will put to death anyone who does not observe them. Great sovereigns of our day are taking it into their heads to fashion for themselves religions which may turn to their own advantage, like Antiochus Epiphanes of old. ‘I have power,’ says the king of England, ‘to require that any one of my courtiers shall not marry so long as he intends to remain at court; for the same reason I have also power to forbid the marriage of priests.’ We are now entreated to address remonstrances to this prince. The Scripture certainly teaches us to endeavor to bring back the weak, but it requires that the proud who compound with their conscience should be left to go in their own way. It is clear that the king of England makes terms with conscience. He has already been warned, and has paid no attention; there is, therefore, no hope that he will listen to reason if he be warned anew. Consider, besides, what kind of men those are in whose hands he places himself. Look at Gardiner, who while exposing before all the nation his scandalous connexions (liaisons) dares to assert that it is contrary to the law of God for a minister of God to have a lawful wife.”
Thus did the theologians of Wittenberg talk of the matter. Calvin thought with them, and he wrote, almost on the same day, that the king of England had distinctly shown his disposition by the impious edict which he had published. On behalf of the theologians, Melanchthon wrote to Henry; and after an exordium in which he endeavored to prepare the king’s mind, he said, “What affects and afflicts me is not only the danger of those who hold the same faith as we do, but it is to see you making yourself the instrument of the impiety and cruelty of others; the doctrine of Christ is set aside in your kingdom, superstitious rites are perpetuated, and debauchery is sanctioned; in a word, the Roman antichrist is rejoicing in his heart because you take up arms on his side and against us, and is hoping, by means of your bishops, easily to recover what by wise counsel has been taken from him.” Melanchthon then combats the several articles and refutes the sophisms of the Catholic party on the subject. “Illustrious king,” he continued, “I am grieved at heart that you, while condemning the tyranny of the bishop of Rome, should undertake the defence of institutions which are the very sinews of his power. You are threatening the members of Jesus Christ with the most atrocious punishments, and you are putting out the light of evangelical truth which was beginning to shine in your churches. Sire, this is not the way to put away antichrist, this is establishing him… this is confirmation of his idolatry, his errors, his cruelty, and his debaucheries.
“I implore you, therefore, to alter the decree of your bishops. Let the prayers offered up to God by so many pious souls throughout the world for the true reformation of the Church, for the suppression of impious rites, and for the propagation of the Gospel, move you. Do justice to those pious men who are now in prison for the Lord’s sake. If you do this, your great clemency will be praised by posterity as long as learning exists. Behold how Jesus Christ wandered about from place to place. He was hungry, He was thirsty, naked and bound; He complained of the raging of the priests, of the unjust cruelty of kings; He commands that the members of His body should not be torn in pieces, and that His Gospel should be honoured. It is the duty of a pious king to receive this Gospel and to watch over it. By doing so, you will he rendering to God acceptable worship.”
Had these eloquent exhortations any influence on Henry VIII? On a former occasion he had shown himself provoked rather than pleased by letters of the reformer. However, after the loud peal of thunder which had alarmed evangelical Christians in every part of Europe, the horizon cleared a little, and the future looked less threatening.
About this time a bill was passed withdrawing heretics from the jurisdiction of the bishops, and subjecting them to the secular courts. The chancellor, supported by Cranmer, Cromwell, and Suffolk, and with the sanction of the king, set at liberty the five hundred persons who had been committed to prison. The thunderbolt had indeed trenched the seas, but nobody was hurt—at least for the moment.
Henry resorted to other means for the purpose of reassuring those who imagined that the pope was already re-established in England. He exhibited to the citizens of London the spectacle of one of those sea-fights on which the ancient Romans used to lavish such enormous sums. Two galleys, one of them decorated with the royal ensigns, the other with the papal arms, appeared on the Thames, and a naval combat began. The two crews attacked each other; the struggle was sharp and obstinate; at length the soldiers of the king boarded the enemy and threw into the water amidst the shouts of the people an effigy of the pope and images of several cardinals. The pontifical phantom, seized by bold hands, was dragged through the streets; it was then hanged and burnt. It would have been better for the king to let alone such puerile and vulgar sports, which pleased none but the mob, and to give more serious proofs of his attachment to the Gospel.
A Bitter Cup for Henry VIII 1539–1540
At the period which we have now reached, Henry VIII displayed to an increasingly marked degree that autocratic disposition which submits to no control. He lifted up or cast down; he crowned men with honors or sent them to the scaffold. He pronounced things white or black as suited him, and there was no other rule but his own absolute and arbitrary power. A simple and modest princess was one of the first to learn by experience that he was a despot in his family as well as in church and state.
Henry had now been a widower for two years—a widower against his will; for shortly after the death of Jane Seymour he had sought in almost all quarters for a wife, but he had failed. The two great Continental sovereigns had just been reconciled with each other, and the Emperor had even cast a slight upon the king of England in the affair of the duchess of Milan. Henry was therefore now desirous of contracting a marriage which should give offense to Charles, and should at the same time win for himself allies among the enemies of that potentate. Cromwell, for his part, felt the ground tremble under his feet; Norfolk and Gardiner had confirmed their triumph by getting the Six Articles passed. The vicegerent was therefore aiming to strengthen at once his own position and that of the Reformation, both of them impaired. Some have supposed it possible that his scheme was to unite the nations of the Germanic race, England, Germany, and the North, in support of the Reformation against the nations of the Latin race. We do not think that Cromwell went so far as this. A young Protestant princess, Anne, daughter of the duke of Cleves and sister-in-law of the elector of Saxony, who consequently possessed both the religious and the political qualifications looked for by the king and his minister, was proposed to Henry by his ambassadors on the Continent, and Cromwell immediately took the matter in hand. This union would bring the king of England into intimate relations with the Protestant princes, and would ensure, he thought, the triumph of the Reformation in England, for Henry’s wives appeared to have great influence over him, at least so long as they were in favor. Henry was, however, seeking something more in his betrothed than diplomatic advantages. Cromwell knew this, and did not fail to make use of that argument. “Everyone praises the beauty of this lady,” he wrote to the king (March 18, 1539), “and it is said that she surpasses all other women, even the duchess of Milan. She excels the latter both in the features of her countenance and in her whole figure as much as the golden sun excelleth the silver moon. Her portrait shall be sent you. At the same time, everyone speaks of her virtue, her chastity, her modesty, and the seriousness of her aspect.” The portrait of Anne, painted by Hans Holbein, was presented to the king, and it gave him the idea of a lady not only very beautiful, but of tall and majestic stature. He was charmed and hesitated no longer. On September 16, the Count Palatine of the Rhine and other ambassadors of the elector of Saxony and the duke of Cleves arrived at Windsor. Cromwell having announced them to the king, the latter desired his minister to put all other matters out of his head, saving this only. The affair was arranged, the marriage contract signed on October 4 at Hampton Court, and the ambassadors on their departure received magnificent presents.
The princess, whose father was dead and had been succeeded by his son, left Germany towards the close of the year 1539. Her suite numbered two hundred and sixty-three persons, among them a great many seigneurs, thirteen trumpeters, and two hundred and twenty-eight horses. The earl of Southampton, lord Howard, and four hundred other noblemen and gentlemen, arrayed in damask, satin, and velvet, went a mile out of Calais to escort her. The superb cortège entered the town, and came in sight of the English vessels decorated with a hundred banners of silk and gold, and the marines all under arms. As soon as the princess appeared, the trumpets sounded, volleys of cannon succeeded each other, and so dense was the smoke that the members of the suite could no longer see each other. Everyone was in admiration. After a repast provided by Southampton, there were jousts and tourneys. The progress of the princess being delayed by rough weather, Southampton, aware of the impatience of his master, felt it necessary to write to him to remember “that neither the winds nor the seas obey the commands of men.” He added that “the surpassing beauty of the princess did not fall short of what had been told him.” Anne was of simple character and timid disposition, arid very desirous of pleasing the king, and she dreaded making her appearance at the famous and sumptuous court of Henry VIII. Southampton having called the next day to pay his respects to her, she invited him to play with her some game at cards which the king liked, with a view to her learning it and being able to play with his Majesty. The earl took his seat at the card table in company with Anne and lord William Howard, while other courtiers stood behind the princess and taught her the game. “I can assure your Majesty,” wrote the courtier, “that she plays with as much grace and dignity as any noble lady that I ever saw in my life.” Anne, resolved on serving her apprenticeship to the manners of the court, begged Southampton to return to sup with her, bringing with him some of the nobles, because she was “much desirous to see the manner and fashion of Englishmen sitting at their meat.” The earl replied that this would be contrary to English custom, but at length he yielded to her wish.
As soon as the weather appeared more promising, the princess and her suite crossed the Channel and reached Dover, whence, in the midst of a violent storm, they proceeded to Canterbury. The archbishop, accompanied by several other bishops, received Anne in his episcopal town, in a high wind and heavy rain; the princess appearing as if she might be the sun which was to disperse the fogs and the darkness of England, and to bring about there the triumph of evangelical light. Anne went on to Rochester, about half way between Canterbury and London. The king, unable to rest, eagerly longing to see his intended spouse, set out accompanied by his grand equerry, Sir Anthony Brown, and went incognito to Rochester. He was announced, and entered the room in which the princess was; but no sooner had he crossed the threshold and seen Anne, than he stopped confused and troubled. Never had any man been more deceived in his expectation. His imagination—that mistress of error and of falsehood, as it has been called—had depicted to him a beauty full of majesty and grace, and one glance had dispersed all his dreams. Anne was good and well-meaning, but rather weak-minded. Her features were coarse; her brown complexion was not at all like roses and lilies; she was very corpulent, and her manners were awkward. Henry had exquisite good taste; he could appreciate beauties and defects, especially in the figure, the bearing, and the attire of a woman. Taste is not without its corresponding distaste. Instead of love, the king felt for Anne only repugnance and aversion. Struck with astonishment and alarm, he stood before her, amazed and silent. Moreover, any conversation would have been impossible, for Anne was not acquainted with English nor Henry with German. The betrothed couple could not even speak to each other. Henry left the room, not having courage even to offer to the princess the handsome present which he brought for her. He threw himself into his bark, and returned gloomy and pensive to Greenwich. “He was woe,” he said to himself, “that ever she came unto England.” He deliberated with himself how to break it off. How could men in their senses have made him reports so false? He was glad, he said, that “he had kept himself from making any pact of bond with her.” He thought, however, that the matter was too far gone for him to break it off. “It would drive the duke her brother into the Emperor or French king’s hands.” The inconvenience of a flattering portrait had never been so deeply felt. It is not to be doubted that if at this very moment the Emperor and the king of France had not been together at Paris, Henry would have immediately sent back the unfortunate young lady.
Shortly after the king’s arrival at Greenwich, Cromwell, the promoter of this unfortunate affair, presented himself to his Majesty, not without fear, and inquired how he liked the lady Anne. The king replied, “Nothing so well as she was spoken of. Had I known as much before as I do now, she should not have come within this realm.” Then, with a deep sigh, he exclaimed, “What remedy?” “I know none,” said Cromwell, “and I am very sorry therefor.” The agents of the king had given proof neither of intelligence nor of integrity in the matter. Southampton, who had had a good view of her at Calais, had spoken to the king only of her beauty. On the following day Anne arrived at Greenwich; the king conducted her to the apartment assigned to her, and then retired to his own, very melancholy and in an ill humor. Cromwell again presented himself. “My lord,” said the king, “say what they will, she is nothing so fair as she hath been reported… howbeit, she is well and seemly.” “By my faith, sir,” replied Cromwell, “ye say truth, but I think she has a queenly manner.” “Call together the council,” said Henry.
The princess made her entry into London in great pomp, and appeared at the palace. The court had heard of Henry’s disappointment and was in consternation. “Our king,” they said, “could never marry such a queen.” In default of speech, music would have been a means of communication; it speaks and moves. Henry and his courtiers were passionately fond of it, but Anne did not know a single note. She knew nothing but the ordinary occupations of women. In vain did Cromwell venture to say to his master that she had, nevertheless, a portly and fine person. Henry’s only thought was how to get rid of her. The marriage ceremony was deferred for a few days. The council took into consideration the question whether certain projects of union between Anne and the son of the duke of Lorraine did not form an obstacle to her marriage with Henry. But they found here no adequate ground of objection. “I am not well treated,” the king said to Cromwell. Many were afraid of a rupture. The divorce between Henry and Catherine, the cruelty with which he had treated the innocent Anne Boleyn, had already given rise to so much discontent in Europe that people dreaded a fresh outbreak. The cup was bitter, but he must drink it. The 6th of January was positively fixed for the fatal nuptials. The king was heard the day before murmuring in a low tone with an accent of despair, “It must be; it must be,” and presently after, “I will put my neck under the yoke.” He determined to live in a becoming way with the queen. An insuperable antipathy filled his heart, but courteous words were on his lips. In the morning the king said to Cromwell, “If it were not for the great preparations that my states and people have made for her, and for fear of making a ruffle in the world, and of driving her brother into the hands of the Emperor and the French king’s hands, being now together, I would never have married her.” Cromwell’s position had been first shaken by his quarrel with Norfolk; it sustained a second shock from the king’s disappointment. Henry blamed him for his misfortune, and Cromwell in vain laid the blame on Southampton.
On January 6 the marriage ceremony was performed at Greenwich by the archbishop, with much solemnity but also with great mournfulness. Henry comforted himself for his misfortune by the thought that he should be allied with the Protestant princes against the Emperor, if only they would consent somewhat to modify their doctrine. On the morrow Cromwell again asked him how he liked the queen. Worse than ever, replied the king. He continued, however, to testify to his wife the respect due to her.
It was generally anticipated that this union would be favorable to the Reformation. Butler, in a letter to Bullinger at Zurich, wrote, “The state and condition of that kingdom is much more sound and healthy since the marriage of the queen than it was before. She is an excellent woman, and one who fears God; great hopes are entertained of a very extensive propagation of the Gospel by her influence.” And in another letter he says, “There is great hope that it [the kingdom] will ere long be in a much more healthy state, and this every good man is striving for in persevering prayer to God.” Religious books were publicly offered for sale, and many faithful ministers, particularly Barnes, freely preached the truth with much power, and no one troubled them. These good people were under a delusion. “The king,” they said, “who is exceedingly merciful, would willingly desire the promotion of the truth.”
But the Protestantism of the king of England was displayed not so much in matters of faith as in public affairs. He showed much irritation against the Emperor, and this gave rise to a characteristic conversation. Henry having instructed (January 1540) his ambassador in the Netherlands, Sir Thomas Wyatt, to make certain representations and demands on various subjects which concerned his government, “I shall not interfere,” Charles dryly replied. Wyatt having further made complaint that the English merchants in Spain were interfered with by the Inquisition, the Emperor laconically answered that he knew nothing about it, and referred him to Granvella. Wyatt then having been so bold as to remark that the monarch answered him in an ungracious manner, Charles interrupted him and said that he “abused his words toward him.” But the ambassador, who meant exactly to carry out his master’s orders, did not stop, but uttered the word ingratitude. Henry considered Charles ungrateful on the ground that he had greatly obliged him on one important occasion. In fact, the Emperor Maximilian having offered to secure the Empire for the king of England, the thought of encircling his brows with the crown of the Roman emperors inflamed the ardent imagination of the young prince, who was an enthusiast for the romantic traditions of the Middle Ages. But, after the death of Maximilian, the Germans decided in favor of Charles. The latter then came to England, and the two kings met. Not very much is known of what they said in their interview; but whatever it might be, Henry yielded, and he believed that to his generosity Charles was indebted for the Empire. “Ingratitude,” replied the Emperor to the ambassador. “From whom mean you to proceed that ingratitude? … I would ye knew I am not ingrate, and if the king your master hath done me a good turn I have done him as good or better. And I take it so, that I cannot be toward him ingrate; the inferior may be ingrate to the greater. But peradventure because the language is not your natural tongue, ye may mistake the term.”
“Sir,” replied Wyatt, “I do not know that I misdo in using the term that I am commanded.”
The Emperor was much moved. “Monsieur l’ambassadeur,” he said, “the king’s opinions be not always the best.”
“My master,” Wyatt answered, “is a prince to give reason to God and to the world sufficient in his opinions.”
“It may be,” Charles said coolly. His intentions were evidently becoming more and more aggressive.
Henry VIII clearly perceived what his projects were. “Remember,” said the king the same month to the duke of Norfolk, whom he had sent as envoy extraordinary to France, “that Charles has it in his head to bring Christendom to a monarchy. For if he be persuaded that he is a superior to all kings, then it is not to be doubted that he will by all ways and means… cause all those whom he so reputeth for his inferiors to acknowledge his superiority in such sort as their estates should easily be altered at his will.” These words show that Henry possessed more political good sense than was usually attributed to him, but they are not exactly a proof of his evangelical zeal.
He did something, however, in this direction. Representatives of the elector of Saxony and the landgrave of Hesse had accompanied Anne of Cleves to England. Henry received them kindly and entertained them magnificently; he succeeded so well in dazzling them by his converse and his manners, that these grave ambassadors sent word to their masters how the nuptials of his Majesty had been celebrated under joyful and sacred auspices. Nevertheless, they did not conceal from Henry VIII that the elector and the landgrave “had been thrown into consternation, as well as many others, by an atrocious decree, the result of the artifices of certain bishops, partisans of Roman impiety.” Thereupon the king, who wished by all means to gain over the evangelical princes, declared to their representatives “that his wisdom should soften the harshness of the decree, that he would even suspend its execution, and that there was nothing in the world that he more desired than to see the true doctrine of Christ shine in all churches, and that he was determined always to set heavenly truth before the tradition of men.” In consequence of these statements of the king, the Wittenberg theologians sent to him some evangelical articles, to which they requested his adherence, and which were entirely opposed to those of Gardiner. We shall presently see how Henry proceeded to fulfil his promises.
Cromwell was anxious to take advantage of these declarations to get the Gospel preached, and he knew men capable of preaching it. He relied most of all on Barnes, who had returned to England with the most flattering testimonials from the Wittenberg reformers, and even from the elector of Saxony and the king of Denmark. Barnes had been employed by Henry in the negotiation of his marriage with Anne of Cleves, and had thus contributed to this union, a circumstance which did not greatly recommend him to the king. There were, besides, Thomas Garret, curate of All Saints’ Church, in Honey-lane, of whom we have elsewhere spoken; William Jerome, vicar of Stepney, and others. Bonner, who on his return from France was elected bishop of London, and who was afterwards a zealous persecutor, designated these three evangelical ministers to preach at Paul’s Cross during Lent in 1540. Bonner, perhaps, still wished to curry favor with Cromwell, or perhaps these preachers had been complained of, and the king wished to put them to the test. Barnes was to preach the first Sunday (February 14), but Gardiner, foreboding danger, wished to prevent him, and consequently sent word to Bonner that he would himself preach that day. Barnes resigned the pulpit to this powerful prelate, who, well aware what doctrine the three evangelicals would proclaim at St. Paul’s, was determined to prevent them, and craftily to stir up prejudices against the innovators and their innovations. Confutation beforehand, he thought, is more useful than afterwards. It is better to be first than second, better to prevent evils than to cure them. He displayed some ingenuity and wit. Many persons were attracted by the notion that the Reformation was a progress and advance. He alleged that it was the contrary; and, taking for his text the words addressed to Jesus by the tempter on the pinnacle of the temple,Cast thyself down, he said, “Now-a-days the devil tempteth the world and biddeth them to cast themselves backward. There is no ‘forward’ in the new teaching, but all backward. Now the devil teacheth, ‘Come back from fasting, come back from praying, come back from confession, come back from weeping for thy sins’; and all is backward, insomuch that men must now learn to say their Pater-Noster backward.” The bishop of Winchester censured with especial severity the evangelical preachers, on the ground that they taught the remission of sins through faith and not by works. Of old, he said, heaven was sold at Rome for a little money; now that we have done with all that trumpery the devil hath invented another—he offers us heaven for nothing! A living faith which unites us to the Savior was counted as nothing by Gardiner.
On a subsequent Sunday Barnes preached. The lord mayor and Gardiner, side by side, and many other reporters, says the chronicle, were present at the service. The preacher vigorously defended the doctrine attacked by the bishop; but unfortunately, he indulged, like him, in attempts at wit, and even in a play upon his name, complaining of the gardener who “had planted such evil herbs in the garden of God’s Scripture.” This punning would anywhere have been offensive; it was doubly offensive in the pulpit in the presence of the bishop himself. “Punning,” says one, “is the poorest kind of would-be wit.” Garret preached energetically the next Sunday, but he studiously avoided offending anyone. Lastly, Jerome preached, and taking up the passage relating to Sarah and Hagar in the epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians, maintained that all those who are born of Sarah, the lawful wife, that is, who have been regenerated by faith, are fully and positively justified.
Bishop Gardiner and his friends lost no time in complaining to the king of the “intolerable arrogance of Barnes.” “A prelate of the kingdom to be thus insulted at Paul’s Cross!” said the former ambassador to France. Henry sent for the culprit to his cabinet. Barnes confessed that he had forgotten himself, and promised to be on his guard against such rash speeches in future. Jerome and Garret likewise were reprimanded, and the king commanded the three evangelists to read in public on the following Sunday, at the solemn Easter service celebrated in the church of St. Mary’s Hospital, a retractation which was delivered to them in writing. They felt bound to submit unreservedly to the commands of the king. Barnes, therefore, when the 4th of April was come, ascended the pulpit and read word for word the official paper which he had received. After this, turning to the bishop of Winchester, who was present by order of the king, he earnestly and respectfully begged his pardon, asking him twice to lift up his hand, if he forgave him. Gardiner “with much ado, wagged his finger a little.” Having thus discharged, as he believed, his duty, first as a subject, then as a Christian, Barnes felt bound to discharge also that of a minister of God. He therefore preached powerfully the doctrine of salvation by grace, the very doctrine for which he was persecuted. The lord mayor, who was sitting by Gardiner’s side, turned to the bishop and asked him whether he should send him from the pulpit to prison for preaching so boldly contrary to his retractation. Garret and Jerome having followed the example of Barnes, the king gave orders that the three evangelists should be taken and confined in the Tower. “Three of our best ministers,” wrote Butler to Bullinger, “are confined in the Tower of London. You may judge from this of our misfortunes.”
At the same time that Henry VIII was imprisoning the ministers of God’s Word, he was giving more liberty to the Word itself. It must be confessed that in his conflict with the pope he did make use of the Bible. He interpreted it, indeed, in his own way, but still he used it and helped to circulate it. This was a fact of importance for the Reformation in England.
The edition of the Bible sometimes called “Cranmer’s Bible” appeared at this time (April 1540). Actually it was the second edition of the Great Bible already mentioned, but as the archbishop supplied a preface to it, his name has thus been honorably linked with the Word. The preface commends to the subjects of Henry the widespread reading of the Holy Scriptures, and appeals to the authority of the ancient fathers of the church in support of the claim that the Word is the sufficient rule of faith and life.
“Here may all manner of persons: men, women, young, old; learned, unlearned; rich, poor; priests, laymen; lords, ladies; officers, tenants, and mean men; virgins, wives, widows; lawyers, merchants, artificers, husbandmen; and all manner of persons, of what estate or condition soever they be; may in This Book learn all things, what they ought to believe, what they ought to do, and what they should not do, as well concerning Almighty God, as also concerning themselves, and all others… to the reading of Scripture none can be enemy. … I would advise you all, that come to the reading or hearing of This Book, which is the Word of God, the most precious jewel and most holy relic that remaineth upon earth, that ye bring with you the fear of God… and use not your knowledge thereof to vain glory of frivolous disputation, but to the honour of God, increase of virtue, and edification both of yourselves and of others.”
Thus ran Cranmer’s preface. In the fourth and sixth editions the title includes mention of the fact that Cuthbert Tunstall was one of the two bishops made responsible for the oversight of the work of printing and publishing. We may well conjecture whether Tunstall did this work with a willing mind; he was the bishop of London who had refused help and permission to Tyndale to translate the Word into English, and who had previously bought up copies of the Testaments in order to burn them at Paul’s Cross, and the book he now helped to bring before the people was based, in part, on the work he had so vigorously opposed!
A magnificent copy on vellum was presented to the king. In the same month appeared another Bible, printed in smaller type; in July another great Bible; in November a third in folio, authorized by Henry VIII, “supreme head of his church.” It would seem even that there was one more edition this year. The enemies of the Bible were in power. Nevertheless the Bible was gaining the victory, and the luminary which was to enlighten the world was beginning to shed abroad its light everywhere.
The Disgrace and Death of Thomas Cromwell 1540
Eight days after the imprisonment of Barnes and his two friends (April 12, 1540), parliament opened for the first time without abbots or priors. Cromwell was thoughtful and uneasy; he saw everywhere occasions of alarm; he felt his position insecure. The statute of the Six Articles, the conviction which possessed his mind that the doctrines of the Middle Ages were regaining an indisputable ascendancy over the king, the wrath of Norfolk, and Henry’s ill will on account of the queen whom Cromwell had chosen for him—these were the dark points which threatened his future. His friends were scattered or persecuted; his enemies were gathered about the throne. Henry, however, made no sign, but secretly meditated a violent blow. He concealed the game he was playing so that others, and especially Cromwell himself, should have no perception of it. The powerful minister, therefore, appeared in parliament, assuming a confident air, as the ever-powerful organ of the supreme will of the king. Henry VIII, the man of extremes, thought proper at this time to exhibit himself as an advocate of a middle course. The country is agitated by religious dissensions, said the vicegerent, his representative; and in his speech to the House he set forth on the one hand the rooted superstition and obstinate clinging to popery, and on the other thoughtless and impertinent and culpable rashness (referring doubtless to Barnes). He said that the king desired a union of the two parties, that he leaned to neither side, that he would equally repress the license of heretics and that of the papists, and that he “set the pure and sincere doctrine of Christ before his eyes.” These words of Cromwell were wise. Union in the truth is the great want of all ages. But Henry added his comment. He refused to turn to the right or to the left. He would not himself hold, nor did he intend to permit England to hold, any other doctrine than that prescribed by his own sovereign authority, sword in hand. Cromwell did not fail to let it be known by what method the king meant to bring about this union; he insisted on penalties against all who did not submit to the Bible and against those who put upon it a wrong interpretation. Henry intended to strike right and left with his vigorous hand. To carry out the scheme of union a commission was appointed, the result of which, after two years’ labors, was a confused medley of truths and errors.
Strange to say, although Cromwell was now on the brink of an abyss, the king still heaped favors upon him. He was already chancellor of the exchequer, first secretary of state, vicegerent and vicar-general of England in spiritual affairs, lord privy seal, and knight of the Garter; but he was now to see fresh honors added to all these. The earl of Essex had just died, and a week later died William, lord Sandys of “The Vyne,” who had been lord chamberlain. Hereupon Henry made Cromwell, “the blacksmith’s son,” whom Norfolk and the other nobles despised so heartily, earl of Essex and lord chamberlain, and had his name placed at the head of the roll of peers. Wealth was no more wanting to him than honors. He received a large portion of the property of the deceased lord Essex; the king conferred on him numerous manors taken from the suppressed monasteries; he owned great estates in eight counties; and he still continued to superintend the business of the crown. We might well ask how it came to pass that such a profusion of favors fell to his lot just at the time when the king was angry with him as the man who had given him Anne of Cleves for a wife; when the imprisonment of Barnes, his friend and confidential agent, greatly compromised him; and when, in addition to these things, Norfolk, Gardiner, and the whole Catholic party were striving to put down this parvenu, who offended them and stood in their way. Two answers may be given to this question. Henry was desirous that Cromwell should make a great effort to secure the assent of parliament to bills of a very extraordinary character but very advantageous to the king, and it was his hope that the titles under which Cromwell would appear before the houses would make success easier. Several contemporaries, however, assigned a different cause for these royal favors. “Some persons now suspect,” wrote Hilles to Bullinger, “that this was all an artifice, to make people conclude that he [Cromwell] must have been a most wicked traitor, and guilty of treason in every possible way, or else the king would never have executed one who was so dear to him, as was made manifest by the presents he had bestowed upon him.” Besides, was it not the custom of the ancients to crown their victims with flowers before sacrificing them?
Henry was greedy of money, and was in want of it, for he spent it prodigally. He applied to Cromwell for it. The latter was aware that in making himself the king’s instrument in this matter he was estranging from himself the mind of the nation; but he considered that a great sovereign must have great resources, and he was always willing to sacrifice himself for the king, for to him he owed everything, and he loved him in spite of his faults. On April 23, four days after receiving from the king such extraordinary favors, Cromwell proposed to the House to suppress the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, and urged that their estates, which were considerable, should be given to the king. This was agreed to by Parliament. On May 3 he demanded for his Majesty a subsidy of unparalleled character, namely, four tenths and fifteenths, in addition to ten per cent on the rents of lands and five per cent on the value of merchandise. This also he obtained. Next he went to the convocation of the clergy, and claimed from them two tenths and twenty per cent on ecclesiastical revenues for two years. Again he succeeded. By May 8 the king had obtained through Cromwell’s energy all that he wished for.
On the very next day, Sunday, May 9, Cromwell received in his palace a note from the king thus worded:
“Henry R. By the King.
“Right trusty and well beloved cousin, We greet you well; signifying unto you our pleasure and commandment is that forthwith, and upon the receipt of these our letters, setting all other affairs apart, ye do repair unto us, for the treaty of such great and weighty matters as whereupon doth consist the surety of our person, the preservation of our honour, and the tranquillity and quietness of you, and all other our loving and faithful subjects, like as at your arrival here ye shall more plainly perceive and understand. And that ye fail not hereof, as we specially trust you.
“Given under our signet, at our manor of Westminster, the 9th day of May.”
What could this urgent and mysterious note mean? Cromwell could not rest after reading it. “The surety of our person, the preservation of our honour” are in question, said the king. We may imagine the agitation of his mind, his fears as to the result of the visit, and the state of perplexity in which, without losing a minute, he went in obedience to the king’s command. We have no information as to what passed at this interview. Probably the minister supposed that he had justified himself in his master’s sight. On the following day, Monday, the earl of Essex was present as usual in the House of Lords and introduced a bill. The day after, parliament was prorogued till May 25. What could be the reason for this? It has been supposed that Cromwell’s enemies wished to gain the time needful for collecting evidence in support of the charges which they intended to bring against him. When the fifteen days had elapsed, parliament met again, and the earl of Essex was in his place on the first and following days. He was still in the assembly as minister of the king on June 10, on which day, at three o’clock, there was a meeting of the Privy Council. The duke of Norfolk, the earl of Essex, and the other members were quietly seated round the table, when the duke rose and accused Cromwell of high treason. Cromwell understood that Norfolk was acting under the sanction of the king, and he recollected the note of May 9. The lord chancellor arrested him and had him conducted to the Tower.
Norfolk was more than ever in favor, for Henry, husband of Anne of Cleves, was at this time enamored of Norfolk’s niece. He believed—and Gardiner, doubtless, did not fail to encourage the belief—that he must promptly take advantage of the extraordinary good will which the king testified to him to overthrow the adversary of English Catholicism, the powerful protector of the Bible and the Reformation. In the judgment of this party, Cromwell was a heretic and a chief of heretics. This was the principal motive, and substantially the only motive of the attack made on the earl of Essex. In a letter addressed at this time by the Council to Sir John Wallop, ambassador at the court of France, a circular letter sent also to the principal officers and representatives of the king, the crime of which Cromwell was accused is distinctly set forth. “The lord privy seal,” it was therein said, “to whom the king’s said Majesty hath been so special good and gracious lord, neither remembering his duty herein to God, nor yet to his Highness… hath not only wrought clean contrary to this his Grace’s most godly intent, secretly and indirectly advancing the one of the extremes, and leaving the mean indifferent true and virtuous way which his Majesty sought and so entirely desired; but also hath showed himself so fervently bent to the maintenance of that his outrage that he hath not spared most privily, most traitorously, to devise how to continue the same, and plainly in terms to say, as it hath been justified to his face by good witness, that if the king and all his realm would turn and vary from his opinions, he would fight in the field in his own person, with his sword in his hand, against him and all other; adding that if he lived a year or two he trusted to bring things to that frame that it should not lie in the king’s power to resist or let it, if he would; binding his words with such oaths and making such gesture and demonstration with his arms, that it might well appear he had no less fixed in his heart than was uttered with his mouth. For the which apparent and most detestable treasons, and also for… other enormities… he is committed to the Tower of London, there to remain till it shall please his Majesty to have him thereupon tried according to the order of his laws.” It was added that the king, remembering how men wanting the knowledge of the truth would speak diversely of the matter, desired them to declare and open the whole truth.
Nothing could be more at variance with the character and the whole life of Cromwell than the foolish sayings attributed to him. Every intelligent man might see that they were mere falsehoods invented by the Catholic party to hide its own criminal conduct. But at the same time it most clearly pointed out in this letter the real motive of the blow aimed at Cromwell, the first, true, efficient cause of his fall, the object which his enemies had in view and towards which they were working. They fancied that the overthrow of Cromwell would be the overthrow of the Reformation. Wallop did not fail to impart the information to the court to which he was accredited, and Henry VIII was delighted to hear of “the friendly rejoyce of our good brother the French king, the constable and others there,” on learning of the arrest of the lord privy seal. This rejoicing was very natural on the part of Francis I, Montmorency, and the rest of them.
As soon as the arrest of June 10 was known, the majority of those who had most eagerly sought after the favor of Cromwell, and especially Bonner, bishop of London, immediately turned round and declared against him. He had gained no popularity by promoting the last bills passed to the king’s advantage, and the news of his imprisonment was therefore received with shouts of joy. In the midst of the general dejection, one man alone remained faithful to the prisoner—this was Cranmer. The man who had formerly undertaken the defense of Anne Boleyn now came forward in defense of Cromwell. The archbishop did not attend the Privy Council on Thursday, June 10, but being in his place on the Friday, he heard that the earl of Essex had been arrested as a traitor. The tidings astonished and affected him deeply. He saw in Cromwell at this time not only his personal friend, not only the prudent and devoted supporter of the Reformation, but also the ablest minister and the most faithful servant of the king. He saw the danger to which he exposed himself by undertaking the defense of the prisoner, and he felt that it was his duty not recklessly to offend the king. He therefore wrote to him in a prudent manner, reminding him, nevertheless, energetically of all that Cromwell had been. His letter to the king was written the day after he heard of the fall of the minister. “I heard yesterday in your Grace’s council,” he says, “that he [Cromwell] is a traitor; yet who cannot be sorrowful and amazed that he should be a traitor against your Majesty, he that was so advanced by your Majesty; he whose surety was only by your Majesty; he who loved your Majesty (as I ever thought) no less than God; he who studied always to set forwards whatsoever was your Majesty’s will and pleasure; he that cared for no man’s displeasure to serve your Majesty; he that was such a servant, in my judgment, in wisdom, diligence, faithfulness, and experience, as no prince in this realm ever had; he that was so vigilant to preserve your Majesty from all treasons that few could be so secretly conceived but he detected the same in the beginning? If the noble princes of memory, king John, Henry II, and Richard II had had such a counsellor about them, I suppose that they should never have been so traitorously abandoned and overthrown as those good princes were. … I loved him as my friend, for so I took him to be, but I chiefly loved him for the love which I thought I saw him bear ever towards your Grace, singularly above all other. But now, if he be a traitor, I am sorry that ever I loved him or trusted him, and I am very glad that his treason is discovered in time. But yet again I am very sorrowful, for who shall your Grace trust hereafter, if you might not trust him? Alas! I bewail and lament your Grace’s chance herein, I wot not whom your Grace may trust. But I pray God continually night and day to send such a counsellor in his place whom your Grace may trust, and who for all his qualities can and will serve your Grace like to him, and that will have so much solicitude and care to preserve your Grace from all dangers as I ever thought he had.”
Cranmer was doubtless a weak man; but assuredly it was a proof of some devotion to truth and justice, and of some boldness too, thus to plead the cause of the prisoner before a prince so absolute as Henry VIII, and even to express the wish that some efficient successor might be found. Cranmer wrote to the king boldly. The prince being intolerant of contradiction, this step of the archbishop was more than was needed to ruin him as well as Cromwell.
Meanwhile, the enemies of the prisoner were trying to find other grounds of accusation besides that which they had first brought forward. Indeed, it seemed to some persons a strange thing that he who, under Henry VIII, was head of the church, vicegerent in spiritual affairs, should be a heretic and a patron of heretics; and many found in this charge an “occasion of merriment.” They set to work, therefore, after the blow, to discover offenses on the part of the accused. After taking great pains, this is what they discovered and set forth in the bill of attainder: 1. That he had set at liberty some prisoners suspected of treason, a crime indeed in the eyes of a gloomy despot, but in the judgment of righteous men an act of justice and virtue. 2. That he had granted freedom of export of corn, horses, and other articles of commerce—the crime of free trade which would be no crime now. Not a single instance can be specified in which Cromwell had received a present for such license. 3. That he had, though a low-born man, given places and orders, saying only that he was sure that the king would approve them. On this point Cromwell might reasonably allege the multiplicity of matters entrusted to his care, and the annoyance to which it must have subjected the king, had he continually troubled him to decide the most trifling questions. 4. That he had given permission, both to the king’s subjects and to foreigners, to cross the sea “without any search.” This intelligent minister appears to have aimed at an order of things less vexatious and more liberal than that established under Henry VIII, and in this respect he stood ahead of his age. 5. That he had made a large fortune, that he had lived in great state, and had not duly honored the nobility. There were not a few of the nobles who were far from being honorable, and this great worker had no liking for drones and idlers. With respect to his fortune, Cromwell incurred heavy expenses for the affairs of the realm. In many countries he kept well-paid agents, and the money which he had in his hands was spent more in state affairs than in satisfying his personal wishes. In all this there was evidently more to praise than to blame. But Cromwell had enemies who went further than his official accusers. The Roman Catholics gave out that he had aspired to the hand of the king’s daughter, the princess Mary.
These groundless charges were followed by the true motives for his disgrace. It was alleged that he had adopted heretical (that is to say, evangelical) opinions, that he had promoted the circulation of heretical works, that he had settled in the realm many heretical ministers, and that he had caused men accused of heresy to be set at liberty. That when anyone went to him to make complaint of detestable errors, he defended the heretics and severely censured the informers; and that in March last, persons having complained to him of the new preachers, he answered that “their preaching was good.” For these crimes, the acts of a Christian, honest, and beneficent man, condemnation must be pronounced. Cromwell indeed was guilty.
The conduct of the prosecution was entrusted to Richard Rich, formerly speaker of the House of Commons, now solicitor-general and chancellor of the court of augmentations. He had already rendered service to the king in the trials of Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More; the same might be expected of him in the trial of Cromwell. It appears that he accused Cromwell of being connected with Throgmorton, the friend and agent of Cardinal Pole. Now the mere mention of Pole’s name would put Henry out of temper. Cromwell’s alliance with this friend of the pope was the pendant of his scheme of marriage with the lady Mary; the one was as probable as the other. Cromwell wrote from his prison to the king on the subject, and stoutly denied the fable. It was not introduced into the formal pleadings, but the charge was left vaguely impending over him, and it was reasserted that he was guilty of treason. Cromwell was certainly not faultless. He was above all a politician, and political interests had too much weight with him. He was the advocate of some vexatious and unjust measures, and he acted sometimes in opposition to his own principles. But his main fault was a too servile devotion to the prince who pretended that he had been betrayed by him. His fall, in certain respects, resembles that of his earlier master, Cardinal Wolsey.
His enemies were afraid that, if the trial were conducted openly before his peers according to law, he would make his voice heard and clear himself of all their imputations. They resolved therefore to proceed against him without trial and without discussion, by the parliamentary method, by bill of attainder—a course pronounced by Roman Catholics themselves “a most iniquitous measure.” He ought to have been tried, and he was not tried. He was, however, confronted on Friday, June 11, the day after his arrest, with one of his accusers, and thus learned what were the charges brought against him. Conducted again to the Tower, he became fully aware of the danger which was impending over him. The power of his enemies, Gardiner and Norfolk, the increasing disfavor of Anne of Cleves, which seemed inevitably to involve his own ruin, the proceedings instituted against Barnes and other evangelists, the anger of the king—all these things alarmed him and produced the conviction in his mind that the issue was doubtful, and that the danger was certain. He was in a state of great distress and deep melancholy; gloomy thoughts oppressed him, and his limbs trembled. The prison has been called the porch of the grave, and Cromwell indeed looked upon it as a grave. On June 30 he wrote to the king from his gloomy abode an affecting letter, “with heavy heart and trembling hand,” as he himself said.
About the end of June, the duke of Norfolk, the lord chancellor, and the lord high admiral went to the Tower, instructed to examine Cromwell and to make various declarations to him on the part of the king. The most important of these related to the marriage of Henry VIII with Anne of Cleves. They called upon him to state all that he knew touching this marriage, “as he might do before God on the dread day of judgment.” On June 30 Cromwell wrote to the king a letter in which he set forth what he knew on the subject, and he added, “And this is all that I know, most gracious and most merciful sovereign lord, beseeching Almighty God… to counsel you, preserve you, maintain you, remedy you, relieve and defend you, as may be most to your honour, with prosperity, health, and comfort of your heart’s desire… [giving you] continuance of Nestor’s years. … I am a most woeful prisoner, ready to take the death, when it shall please God and your Majesty; and yet the frail flesh inciteth me continually to call to your Grace for mercy and grace for mine offences: and thus Christ save, preserve, and keep you.
“Written at the Tower this Wednesday, the last day of June, with the heavy heart and trembling hand of your Highness’ most heavy and most miserable prisoner and poor slave,
After having signed the letter, Cromwell, overpowered with terror at his future prospects, added, “Most gracious prince, I cry for mercy, mercy, mercy.”
The heads of the clerical party, impatient to be rid of an enemy whom they hated, hurried on the fatal decree. The parliament met on Thursday, June 17, seven days after Cromwell’s imprisonment; and Cranmer, who had attended the sittings of the House of Lords on the previous days, was not present on this occasion. The earl of Southampton, who had become lord keeper of the privy seal in Cromwell’s place, entered and presented the bill of attainder against his predecessor. It was read a first time. The second and third readings followed on Saturday the 19th. Cranmer, whose absence had probably been noticed, was present, and, according to his lamentable system, adapted to the despotism of his master; after having complied with the dictate of his conscience by calling to mind the merits of Cromwell, he complied with the will of the king, and by his silence acquiesced in the proceedings of the House. The bill was sent to the lower House. It appears that the commons raised some scruples or objections, for the bill remained under consideration for ten days. It was not until June 29 that the commons sent the bill back to the peers, with some amendments, and the peers, ever in haste, ordered that the three readings should take place at the same sitting. They then sent it to the king, who gave his assent to it. The man who was prosecuted had been so powerful that it was feared lest he should regain his strength and begin to advance with fresh energy.
The king, meanwhile, seems to have hesitated. He was less decided than those who at this time enjoyed his favor.
Although the lord chancellor, the duke of Norfolk, and lord Russell had come to announce to Cromwell that the Bill of Attainder had passed, he remained still a whole month in the Tower. The royal commissioners interrogated him at intervals on various subjects. It seems even that the king sent him relief, probably to mitigate the severities of his imprisonment. Cromwell habitually received the king’s commissioners with dignity, and answered them with discretion. Whether the questions touched on temporal or ecclesiastical affairs, he ever showed himself better informed than his questioners.
Henry sent word to him that he might write anything that he thought meet under his present circumstances. From this, Cromwell appears to have conceived a hope that the king would not permit his sentence to be executed. He took courage and wrote to the king. “Most gracious king,” he said, “your most lamentable servant and prisoner, prostrate at the feet of your most excellent Majesty, have heard your pleasure… that I should write. … First, where I have been accused to your Majesty of treason, to that I say, I never in all my life thought willingly to do that thing that might or should displease your Majesty. … What labours, pains, and travails I have taken, according to my most bounden duty God also knoweth. … If it had been or were in my power, to make your Majesty so puissant, as all the world should be compelled to obey you, Christ He knoweth I would, … for your Majesty hath been… more like a dear father… than a master. Should any faction or any affection to any point make me a traitor to your Majesty, then all the devils in hell confound me, and the vengeance of God light upon me. … Yet our Lord, if it be His will, can do with me as he did with Susan, who was falsely accused. … Other hope than in God and your Majesty I have not. … Amongst other things, most gracious Sovereign, master comptroller shewed me that your Grace shewed him that within these fourteen days ye committed a matter of great secrecy, which I did reveal. … This I did. … I spake privily with her [the queen’s] lord chamberlain… desiring him… to find some mean that the queen might be induced to order your Grace pleasantly in her behaviour towards you. … If I have offended your Majesty therein, prostrate at your Majesty’s feet I most lowly ask mercy and pardon of your Highness. … Written with the quaking hand and most sorrowful heart of your most sorrowful subject and most humble servant and prisoner, this Saturday at the Tower of London.
Cromwell was resigned to death, and the principal object of his concern was the fate of his son, his grandchildren, and likewise of his domestic servants. His son was in a good position, having married a sister of the queen Jane Seymour. “Sir, upon my knees,” he said, “I most humbly beseech your gracious Majesty to be a good and gracious lord to my poor son, the good and virtuous woman his wife, and their poor children, and also to my servants. And this I desire of your Grace for Christ’s sake.” The unhappy father, returning to his own case, finished by saying, “Most gracious prince, mercy, mercy, mercy!” Cromwell wrote twice in this manner, and the king was so much affected by the second of these letters that he “commanded it thrice to be read to him.”
Would Cromwell then, after all, escape? Those who were ignorant of what was passing at court looked upon it as impossible that he should be sacrificed so long as Anne of Cleves was queen of England. But the very circumstances which seemed to them the guarantee of his safety were to be instead the occasion of his ruin.
Henry’s dislike to his wife was ever increasing, and he was determined to get rid of her. But, as usual, he concealed beneath flowers the weapon with which he was about to strike her. In the month of March, the king gave, in honor of the queen, a grand fete with a tournament, as he had done for Anne Boleyn; and amongst the numerous combatants who took part in the jousting were Sir Thomas Seymour, the earl of Sussex, Harry Howard, and Richard Cromwell, nephew of the earl of Essex, and ancestor of the great Protector Oliver.
One circumstance contributed to hasten the decision of the king. There was at the court a young lady, small of stature, of a good figure and beautiful countenance, of ladylike manners, coquettish and forward, who at this time made a deep impression on Henry. This was Catherine Howard, a niece of the duke of Norfolk, now residing with her grandmother, the duchess dowager, who allowed her great liberty. Catherine was in every respect a contrast to Anne of Cleves. Henry resolved to marry her, and for this purpose to get rid forthwith of his present wife. As he was desirous of being provisionally relieved of her presence, he persuaded her that a change of air would be very beneficial to her, and that it was necessary that she should make a stay in the country. On June 24 he sent the good princess, who felt grateful for his attentions, to Richmond. At the same time he dispatched the bishop of Bath to her brother, the duke of Cleves, with a view to prepare him for the very unexpected decision which was impending over his sister, and to avert any vexatious consequences.
Cromwell, then, had no aid to look for at the hands of a queen already forsaken and ere long repudiated. He could not hope to escape death. His enemies were urgent for the execution of the bill. They professed to have discovered a correspondence which he had carried on with the Protestant princes of Germany.
Cromwell’s determination to offer no opposition to the king led him to commit serious mistakes, unworthy of a Christian. Nevertheless, according to documents still extant, he died like a Christian. He was not the first, nor the last, who in the presence of death, of capital punishment, has examined himself, and confessed himself a sinner. While he spurned the accusations made by his enemies, he humbled himself before the weightier and more solemn accusations of his own conscience. How often had his own will been opposed to the commandments of the divine will! But at the same time he discovered in the Gospel the grace which he had but imperfectly known, and the doctrines which the Catholic church of the first ages had professed became dear to him.
On July 28, 1540, Cromwell was taken to Tower Hill, the place of execution. On reaching the scaffold he said, “I am come hither to die, and not to purge myself. … For since the time that I have had years of discretion, I have lived a sinner and offended my Lord God, for the which I ask Him heartily forgiveness. And it is not unknown to many of you that I have been a great travailler in this world, and being but of a base degree, was called to high estate; and since the time I came thereunto I have offended my prince, for the which I ask him heartily forgiveness, and beseech you all to pray to God with me, that He will forgive me. O Father, forgive me! O Son, forgive me! O Holy Ghost, forgive me! O Three Persons in one God, forgive me! … I die in the Catholic faith. … I heartily desire you to pray for the king’s grace, that he may long live with you in health and prosperity.”
By insisting in so marked a manner on the doctrine of the Trinity, professed in the fourth century by the councils of Nicæa and Constantinople, Cromwell doubtless intended to show that this was the Catholic doctrine in which he asserted that he died. But he did not omit to give evidence that his faith was that of the Scriptures.
After his confession, he knelt down, and at this solemn hour he uttered this Christian and fervent prayer: “O Lord Jesu! which art the only health of all men living and the everlasting life of them which die in Thee, I, wretched sinner, do submit myself wholly unto Thy most blessed will, and being sure that the thing cannot perish which is committed unto Thy mercy, willingly now I leave this frail and wicked flesh, in sure hope that Thou wilt, in better wise, restore it to me again at the last day in the resurrection of the just. I beseech Thee, most merciful Lord Jesus Christ! that Thou wilt by Thy grace make strong my soul against all temptations, and defend me with the buckler of Thy mercy against all the assaults of the devil. I see and acknowledge that there is in myself no hope of salvation, but all my confidence, hope, and trust is in Thy most merciful goodness. I have no merits nor good works which I may allege before Thee. Of sins and evil works, alas! I see a great heap, but yet through Thy mercy I trust to be in the number of them to whom Thou wilt not impute their sins, but wilt take and accept me for righteous and just, and to be the inheritor of everlasting life. Thou, merciful Lord! wast born for my sake; Thou didst suffer both hunger and thirst for my sake; Thou didst teach, pray, and fast for my sake; all Thy holy actions and works Thou wroughtest for my sake; Thou sufferedst most grievous pains and torments for my sake; finally, Thou gayest Thy most precious body and Thy blood to be shed on the cross for my sake. Now, most merciful Savior! let all these things profit me, that Thou freely hast done for me, which hast given Thyself also for me. Let Thy blood cleanse and wash away the spots and foulness of my sins. Let Thy righteousness hide and cover my unrighteousness. Let the merits of Thy passion and blood-shedding be satisfaction for my sins. Give me, Lord! Thy grace, that the faith of my salvation in Thy blood waver not in me, but may ever be firm and constant, that the hope of Thy mercy and life everlasting never decay in me, that love wax not cold in me. Finally, that the weakness of my flesh be not overcome with the fear of death. Grant me, merciful Savior! that when death hath shut up the eyes of my body, yet the eyes of my soul may still behold and look upon Thee, and when death hath taken away the use of my tongue, yet my heart may cry and say unto Thee, ‘Lord! into Thy hands I commend my soul; Lord Jesu! receive my Spirit!’ Amen.”
This is one of the most beautiful prayers handed down to us in Christian times.
Cromwell having finished his prayer and being now ready, a stroke of the axe severed his head from his body.
Thus died a man who, although he had risen from the lowliest to the loftiest estate, never allowed himself to be seduced by pride, nor made giddy by the pomps of the world, who continued attached to his old acquaintances, and was eager to honor the meanest who had rendered him any service; a man who powerfully contributed to the establishment of Protestantism in England, although his enemies, unaware of the very different meanings of the words “Catholicism” and “Popery,” took pleasure in circulating the report in Europe, after his death, that he died a Roman Catholic; a man who for eight years governed his country, the king, the parliament, and convocation, who had the direction of all domestic as well as foreign affairs; who executed what he had advised, and who, in spite of the blots which he himself lamented, was one of the most intelligent, most active, and most influential of English ministers. It is said that the king ere long regretted him. However this may be, he protected his son and gave him proofs of his favors, doubtless in remembrance of his father.
Another nobleman, Walter, lord Hungerford, was beheaded at the same time with Cromwell, for having endeavored to ascertain, by “conjuring,” how long the king would live.
The Divorce of Anne of Cleves 1540
The Catholic party was triumphant. It had set aside the Protestant queen and sacrificed the Protestant minister; and it now proceeded to take measures of a less startling character, but which were a more direct attack on the very work of the Reformation. It thought proper to put to death some of those zealous men who were boldly preaching the pure Gospel, not only for the sake of getting rid of them, but even more for the purpose of terrifying those who were imitating them or who were willing to do so.
Of these men, Barnes, Garret, and Jerome were best known. They were in prison, but Henry had hitherto scrupled about sacrificing men who preached a doctrine opposed to the pope. The party, moreover, united all their forces to bring about the fall of Cromwell, who had been confined within the same walls. After his death, the death of the preachers followed as a matter of course; it was merely the corollary; it was a natural consequence, and needed no special demonstration; the sentence, according to the Romish party, had only to be pronounced to be evidently justified. On these principles the king’s council and the parliament proceeded; and two days after the execution of Cromwell, these three evangelists, without any public hearing, without knowing any cause of their condemnation, without receiving any communication whatsoever, were taken out of prison, July 30, 1540, to be conducted to Smithfield, where they were to be deprived, not only of their ministry, but of their lives.
Henry, however, was not free from uneasiness. He had openly asserted that he leaned neither to one side nor to the other; that he weighed both parties in a just balance; and now, while he is boasting of his impartiality, everybody persists in saying that he gives all the advantage to the papists. What is he to do in order to be just and impartial? Three papists must be found to be put to death at the same time with the evangelicals. Then nobody will venture to assert that the king does not hold the balance even. The measure shall be faultless and one of the glories of his reign. The three papists selected to be placed in the other scale bore the names of Abel, Powel, and Fetherstone. The first two were political pamphleteers who had supported the cause of Catherine of Aragon, and the third was, like them, an opponent of royal supremacy. It seems that in this matter the king also made allowance for the composition of his own council, which comprised both friends and enemies of the Reformation. Amongst the former were the archbishop of Canterbury, the duke of Suffolk, viscounts Beauchamp and Lisle, Russell, Paget, Sadler, and Audley. Amongst the latter were the bishops of Winchester and Durham, the duke of Norfolk, the earl of Southampton, Sir Anthony Browne, Paulet, Baker, Richard, and Wingfield. There was therefore a majority of one against the Reformation, just enough to turn the scale. Henry, with a show of impartiality, assigned three victims to each of these parties. Preparations were made at the Tower for carrying out this equitable sentence. In the courtyard were three hurdles, of oblong shape, formed of branches of trees closely intertwined, on which the culprits were to be drawn to the place of execution. Why three only, as there were six condemned? The reason was soon to be seen. When the three prisoners of each side were brought out, they proceeded to lay one evangelical on the first hurdle, and by his side a papist, binding them properly to each other to keep them in this strange coupling. The same process was gone through with the second and the third hurdles; they then set out, and the six prisoners were drawn two and two to Smithfield. Thus, in every street through which the procession passed, Henry VIII proclaimed by this strange spectacle that his government was impartial, and condemned alike the two classes of divines and of doctrines.
The three hurdles reached Smithfield. Two and two, the prisoners were unbound, and the three evangelicals were conducted to the stake. No trial having been allowed them by the court, these upright and pious men felt it their duty to supply its place at the foot of the scaffold. The day of their death thus became for them the day of hearing. The tribunal was sitting and the assembly was large. Barnes was the first speaker. He said, “I am come hither to be burned as a heretic. … God I take to record, I never (to my knowledge) taught any erroneous doctrine… and I neither moved nor gave occasion of any insurrection. … I believe in the Holy and Blessed Trinity, … and that this blessed Trinity sent down the second person, Jesus Christ, into the womb of the most blessed and purest Virgin Mary. … I believe that through His death he overcame sin, death and hell; and that there is none other satisfaction to the Father, but this His death and passion only.” At these words Barnes, deeply moved, raised his hands to heaven, and prayed God to forgive him his sins. This profession of faith did not satisfy the sheriff. Then some one asked him what he thought of praying to the saints. “I believe,” answered Barnes, “that they are worthy of all the honor that Scripture willeth them to have. But, I say, throughout all Scripture we are not commanded to pray to any saints. … If saints do pray for us, then I trust to pray for you within the next half-hour.” He was silent, and the sheriff said to him, “Well, have you anything more to say?” He answered, “Have ye any articles against me for the which I am condemned?” The sheriff answered, “No.” Barnes then put the question to the people whether any knew wherefore he died. No one answered. Then he resumed, “They that have been the occasion of it, I pray God forgive them, as I would be forgiven myself. And Doctor Stephen, bishop of Winchester that now is, if he have sought or wrought this my death, either by word or deed, I pray God forgive him. … I pray that God may give [the king] prosperity, and that he may long reign among you, and after him that godly prince Edward may so reign that he may finish those things that his father hath begun.” Then collecting himself, Barnes addressed three requests to the sheriff, the prayer of a dying man. The first was that the king might employ the wealth of the abbeys which had been poured into the treasury in relieving his poor subjects who were in great need of it. The second was that marriage might be respected, and that men might not live in uncleanness. The third, that the name of God might not be taken in vain in abominable oaths. These prayers of a dying man, who was sent to the scaffold by Henry himself, ought to have produced some impression on the heart of the king. Jerome and Garret likewise addressed affecting exhortations to the people. After this, these three Christians uttered together their last prayer, shook hands with and embraced one another, and then meekly gave themselves up to the executioner. They were bound to the same stake, and breathed their last in patience and in faith.
On the same day, at the same hour, and at the same place where the three friends of the Gospel were burnt, the three followers of the pope, Abel, Fetherstone, and Powel were hanged. A foreigner who was present exclaimed: “What strange people live here? Here they hang papists, there they burn anti-papists!” The simple-minded and ignorant asked what kind of religion people should have in England, seeing that both Romanism and Protestantism led to death. A courtier exclaimed: “Verily, henceforth I will be of the king’s religion, that is to say, of none at all!”
Cromwell and these six men were not to be the only objects of the king’s displeasure. Even before they had undergone their sentence, the king had caused his divorce to be pronounced. In marrying Anne of Cleves, his chief object had been to form an alliance with the Protestants against the Emperor. Now these two opponents were by this time reconciled with each other. Henry, therefore, deeply irritated, no longer hesitated to rid himself of the new queen. He was influenced, moreover, by another motive. He was smitten with the charms of another woman. However, as he dreaded the raillery, the censures, and even the calamities which the divorce might bring upon him, he was anxious not to appear as the originator of it, and should the accusation be made, to be able to repel it as a foul imposture without shadow of reality. He resolved, therefore, to adopt such a course that this strange proceeding should seem to have been imposed upon him. This intention he hinted to one of the lords in whom he had full confidence, and the latter made some communications about it, on July 3, to the Privy Council. On the 6th his Majesty’s ministers pointed out to the upper house the propriety of their humbly requesting the king, in conjunction with the lower house, that the convocation of the clergy might examine into his marriage with Anne of Cleves, and see whether it were valid. The lords adopted the proposal; and a commission consisting of the lord chancellor, the archbishop of Canterbury, and the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, presented it to the commons, who gave their assent to it. Consequently the whole house of lords and a commission of twenty members of the lower house appeared before the king, and stated that the matter about which they had to confer with him was of such an important character that they must first request his permission to lay it before them. Henry, feigning utter ignorance of what they meant, commanded them to speak. They then said, “We humbly pray your Majesty to allow the validity of your marriage to be investigated by the convocation of the clergy; we attach all the more importance to this proceeding because the question bears upon the succession to the throne of your Majesty.” It was well known that the king did not love Anne, and that he was even in love with another. This is a striking instance of the degree of meanness to which Henry VIII had reduced his parliament; for an assembly, even if some mean souls are to be found in it, undertakes not to be despicable, and what is noblest in it usually comes to the surface. But if the shameful compliances of the parliament astonish us, the audacious hypocrisy of Henry VIII surprises us still more. He stood up to answer as if in the presence of the Deity, and concealing his real motives he said, “There is nothing in the world more dear to me than the glory of God, the good of England, and the declaration of the truth.” All the actors in this comedy played their parts to perfection. The king immediately sent to Richmond some of his councilors, amongst them Suffolk and Gardiner, to communicate to the queen the demand of the parliament and to ascertain her opinion with respect to it. Without delay, Anne gave her consent to the proposal.
The next day, July 7, the matter was brought before convocation by Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, who was very anxious to see a Roman Catholic queen upon the throne of England. A committee was nominated for the purpose of examining the witnesses, and of this committee the bishop was a member. An autograph declaration of the king was produced, in which he dwelt strongly on the fact that he took such a dislike to Anne as soon as he saw her that he thought instantly of breaking off the match, that he never inwardly consented to the marriage, and that in fact it had never been consummated. Within two days all the witnesses were heard. Henry was impatient, and the Roman party urgently appealed to the assembly to deliver a judgment which would rid England of a Protestant queen. Cranmer, out of fear or feebleness (he had just seen Cromwell lose his head), went with the rest of them.
On July 9, convocation, relying upon the two reasons given by the king, and upon the fact that there was something ambiguous in Anne’s engagement with the son of the duke of Lorraine, decided that his Majesty “was at liberty to contract another marriage for the good of the realm.” None of these reasons had any validity. Nor did Henry escape the condemnation and the raillery which he had so much feared. “It appears,” said Francis I, “that over there they are pleased to do with their women as with their geldings, bring a number of them together and make them trot, and then take the one which goes easiest.”
The archbishop of Canterbury on July 10 reported to the upper house that convocation had declared the marriage null and void by virtue both of the law of God and of the law of England. The bishop of Winchester read the judgment and explained at length the grounds of it, and the house declared itself satisfied. The archbishop and the bishop made the same report to the commons. On the following day Henry did not intend that any time should be lost—the lord chancellor, the duke of Norfolk, the earl of Southampton, and the bishop of Winchester betook themselves to Richmond again, and informed Anne, on the king’s behalf, of the proceedings of parliament and of convocation. Anne was distressed by the communication. She had supposed that the clergy would acknowledge, as it was their duty to do, the validity of her marriage. However it may be, so sharp was the stroke that she fainted away. The necessary care was bestowed on her, and she recovered, and gradually reconciled herself to the thought of submission to Henry’s will. The delegates told her that the king, while requiring her to renounce the title of queen, conferred on her that of his adopted sister, and gave her precedence in rank of all the ladies of the court, immediately after the queen and the daughters of the king. Anne was modest; she did not think highly of herself, and had often felt that she was not made to be queen of England. She therefore submitted, and the same day, July 11, wrote to the king, “Though this case must needs be most hard and sorrowful unto me, for the great love which I bear to your most noble person, yet having more regard to God and His truth than to any worldly affection, as it beseemed me. … I knowledge myself hereby to accept and approve the same [determination of the clergy] wholly and entirely putting myself, for my state and condition, to your Highness’s goodness and pleasure, most humbly beseeching your Majesty… to take me for one of your most humble servants.” She subscribed herself “Your Majesty’s most humble sister and servant, Anne of Cleves.”
The king sent word to her that he conferred on her a pension of four thousand pounds a year, and the palace at Richmond. Anne wrote to him again, July 16, to thank him for his great kindness, and at the same time sent him her ring. She preferred—and herein she showed some pride—to remain in England, rather than to go home after such a disgrace had fallen upon her. “I account God pleased,” she wrote to her brother, “with what is done, and know myself to have suffered no wrong or injury. … I find the king’s Highness… to be as a most kind, loving and friendly father and brother. … I am so well content and satisfied, that I much desire my mother, you, and other mine allies so to understand it, accept and take it.” Seldom has a woman carried self-renunciation to such a length.
Catherine Howard, the Fifth Queen 1540
Who should take the place of the repudiated queen? This was the question discussed at court and in the town. The Anglican Catholics, delighted at the dismissal of the Protestant queen, were determined to do all they possibly could to place on the throne a woman of their own party. Such a one was already found. The bishop of Winchester, for some time past, had frequently been holding feasts and entertainments for the king. To these he invited a young lady, who though of small stature was of elegant carriage, and had handsome features and a graceful figure and manners. She was the fifth child and second daughter of Lord Edmund Howard, and niece of the duke of Norfolk, the leader of the Catholic party. She very soon attracted the attention of the king, who took increasing pleasure in her society. This occurred before the divorce of Anne. “It is a certain fact,” says a contemporary, “that about the same time many citizens of London saw the king very frequently in the daytime, and sometimes at midnight, pass over to her on the river Thames in a little boat. … The citizens regarded all this not as a sign of divorcing the queen, but of adultery.” Whether this supposition was well founded or not we cannot say. The king, when once he had decided on a separation from Anne of Cleves, had thought of her successor. He was quite determined, after his mischance, to be guided neither by his ministers, nor by his ambassadors, nor by political considerations, but solely by his own eyes, his own tastes, and the happiness he might hope for. Catherine pleased him very much, and his union with Anne was no sooner annulled than he proceeded to his fifth marriage. The nuptials were celebrated on the 8thof August, eleven days after the execution of Cromwell, and on the same day Catherine was presented at court as queen. The king was charmed with Catherine Howard, his pretty young wife; she was so amiable, her intercourse was so pleasant, that he believed he had, after so many more or less unfortunate attempts, found his ideal at last. Her virtuous sentiments, the good behavior which she resolved to maintain filled him with delight; and he was ever expressing his happiness in “having obtained such a jewel of womanhood.” He had no foreboding of the terrible blow which was soon to shatter all this happiness.
The new queen was distinguished from the former chiefly by the difference in religion, with a corresponding difference in morality. The niece of the duke of Norfolk, Gardiner’s friend, was of course an adherent of the Catholic faith, and the Catholic party hailed her as at once the symbol and the instrument of reaction. They had had plenty of Protestant queens, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, and Anne of Cleves. Now that they had a Catholic queen, Catholicism—many said popery—would recover its power. Henry was so much enamored of his new spouse that, in honor of her, he once more became a fervent Catholic. He celebrated all the Saints’ days, frequently received the holy sacrament, and publicly offered thanksgiving to God for this happy union which he hoped to enjoy for a long time. The conversion of Henry, for the change was nothing less, brought with it a change of policy. He now abandoned France and the German Protestants in order to ally himself with the Empire, and we find him ere long busily engaged in a project for the marriage of his daughter Mary to the Emperor Charles V. This project, however, came to nothing. Gardiner, Norfolk, and the other leaders of the Catholic party, rejoicing in the breeze which bore their vessel onward, set all sails to the wind. Just after the divorce of Anne of Cleves, and by way of a first boon to the Romish party, the penalties for impure living imposed on the priests and nuns were mitigated. In contempt of the authority of Holy Scripture as well as of that of parliament itself, Henry got an Act passed by virtue of which every determination concerning faith, worship, and ceremonies, adopted with the sanction of the king by a commission of archbishops, bishops, and other ecclesiastics nominated by him, was to be received, believed, and observed by the whole nation, just as if parliament had approved every one of these articles, even if this decree were contrary to former usages and ordinances. This was a proclamation of infallibility in England, for the benefit of the pope-king, under cover of which he might found a religion to his own taste. Cranmer had established in all cathedral churches professors entrusted with the teaching of Hebrew and Greek, in order that students might become well acquainted with sacred literature, and that the church might never want ministers capable of edifying it. But the enemies of the Reformation, who now enjoyed royal favor, fettered or abolished this institution and other similar ones, to the great damage both of religion and the country. On the other hand, the Catholic ceremonies, abrogated by Cranmer and Cromwell—the consecration of bread and of water, the embers with which the priest marked the foreheads of the faithful, the palm branches blessed on Palm Sunday, the tapers carried at Candlemas, and other like customs—were re-established, and penalties were imposed on those who should neglect them. A new edition of the Institution of a Christian Man explained to the people the king’s doctrine. It treated of the seven sacraments, the mass, transubstantiation, the salutation of the Virgin, and other doctrines of the kind to which conformity was required. At length, as if with a view to ensure the permanence of this system, Bonner was made bishop of London; and this man, who had been the most abject flatterer and servant of Cromwell during his life, turned about after his death and became the persecutor of those whom Cromwell had protected.
At the spectacle of this reaction, so marvelous in their eyes, the Anglican Catholics and even the papists broke out with joy, and awaited with impatience “the crowning of the edifice.” England, in their view, was saved. The church was triumphant. But while there was rejoicing on the one side, there was mourning on the other. The establishment of superstitious practices, the prospect of the penalties contained in the statute of the Six Articles, penalties which had not yet been enforced but were on the point of being so, spread distress and alarm among the evangelicals. Those who did not add to their faith manly energy shut up their convictions in their own breasts, carefully abstained from conversation on religious subjects, and looked with suspicion upon every stranger, fearing that he might be one of Gardiner’s spies.
Bonner was active and eager, going forward in pursuit of his object and allowing nothing to check him. Cromwell and Cranmer, to whom he used to make fair professions, believed that he was capable of being of service to the Reformation, and therefore gave him promotion in ecclesiastical offices. But no sooner had Cromwell been put in prison than his signal deceitfulness showed itself. Grafton, who printed the Bible under the patronage of the vicegerent, having met Bonner, to whom Cromwell had introduced him, exclaimed, “How grieved I am to hear that lord Cromwell has been sent to the Tower!” “It would have been much better,” replied Bonner, “if he had been sent there long ago.” Shortly after, Grafton was cited before the council, and was accused of having printed, by Cromwell’s order, certain suspected verses; and Bonner, for the purpose of aggravating his criminality, did not fail to report what the accused had said to him about the man who had been his own personal benefactor. The chancellor, however, a friend of Grafton, succeeded in saving the printer of the Bible. Bonner indemnified himself for this disappointment by persecuting a great many citizens of London. He vented his rage especially on a poor youth of fifteen, ignorant and uncultivated, named Richard Mekins, whom he accused of having spoken against the Eucharist and in favor of Barnes, but the grand jury found him “not guilty.” Hereupon Bonner became furious. “You are perjured,” he said to the jury. “The witnesses do not agree,” they replied. “The one deposed that Mekins had said the sacrament was nothing but a ceremony, and the other that it was nothing but a signification.” “But did he not say,” exclaimed the bishop, “that Barnes died holy?” “But we cannot find these words,” said the jury, “to be against the statute.” Upon which Bonner cursed and was in a great rage. “Retire again,” he said, “consult together, and bring in the bill.” Mekins was condemned to die. In vain was it shown that he was a poor ignorant creature and that he had done nothing worse than repeat what he had heard, and this without even understanding it. In vain, too, did his father and mother, who were in great distress, attempt to mitigate the harsh treatment to which he was subjected in prison. The poor lad was ready to say or do anything to escape being burnt. They made him speak well of Bonner and of his great charity towards him; they made him declare that he hated all heretics, and then they burnt him. This was only the beginning, and Bonner hoped by such proceedings to prepare the way for greater triumphs.
The persecution became more general. Two hundred and two persons were prosecuted in thirty-nine London parishes. The offenses were such as the following: having read the Holy Scriptures aloud in the churches; having refused to carry palm branches on Palm Sunday; having had one or other of their kinsfolk buried without the masses for the dead; having received Latimer, Barnes, Garret, or other evangelicals; having held religious meetings in their houses of an evening; having said that the holy sacrament was a good thing, but was not, as some asserted, God Himself; having spoken much about the Holy Scriptures; having declared that they liked better to hear a sermon than a mass; and other the like offenses. Among the delinquents were some of the priests. One of these was accused of having caused suspected persons to be invited to his sermons by his beadle, without having the bells rung; another of having preached without the orders of his superior; others, of not making use of holy water, of not going in procession, and so on.
The inquisition which was made at this time was so rigorous that all the prisons of London would not hold the accused. They had to place some of them in the halls of various buildings. The case was embarrassing. The Catholics of the court were not alone in instigating the king to persecution. Francis I sent word to him by Wallop, “that it had well liked him to hear that his Majesty wasreforming the Lutheran sect, for that he was ever of opinion that no good could come of them but much evil.” But there were other influences at court besides that of Francis I, Norfolk, and Gardiner. Lord Audley obtained the king’s sanction for the release of the prisoners, who, however, had to give their promise to appear at the Star Chamber on All Souls’ Day. Ultimately they were let alone.
But this does not mean that all the evangelicals were spared. Two ministers were at this time distinguished both for their high connections and for their faith and eloquence. One of these was the Scotsman, Alexander Seaton, chaplain to the duke of Suffolk. Preaching powerfully at St. Antholin’s church, in London, he said, “Of ourselves we can do nothing, says St. Paul; I pray thee, then, where is thy will? Art thou better than Paul, James, Peter, and all the apostles? Hast thou any more grace than they? Tell me now if thy will be anything or nothing? … Paul said he could do nothing. … If you ask me when we will leave preaching only Christ, even when they do leave to preach that works do merit, and suffer Christ to be a whole satisfier and only mean to our justification.” Seaton was condemned to bear a faggot at Paul’s Cross. Another minister, Dr. Crome, was a learned man and a favorite of the archbishop. This did not prevent the king from commanding him to preach that the sacrifice of the mass is useful both for the living and the dead. Crome preached the Gospel in its simplicity at St. Paul’s on the appointed day, and contented himself with reading the king’s order after the sermon. He was immediately forbidden to preach.
Laymen were treated with greater severity. Bibles, it is known, had been placed in all the churches, and were fastened by chains to the pillars. A crowd of people used to gather about one of these pillars. On one occasion a young man of fine figure, possessed of great zeal, and gifted with a powerful voice, stood near the pillar holding the Bible in his hands, and reading it aloud so that all might hear him. His name was John Porter. Bonner sharply rebuked him. “I trust I have done nothing against the law,” said Porter, and this was true. But the bishop committed him to Newgate. There this young Christian was put in irons; his legs, his arms, and his head were attached to the wall by means of an iron collar. One of his kinsmen, by a gift of money, induced the gaoler to deliver him from this punishment, and the favor they accorded him was to place him in the company of thieves and murderers. Porter exhorted them to repent, and taught them the way of salvation. The unhappy man was then cast into the deepest dungeon, was cruelly treated, and loaded with irons. Eight days afterwards he died. Cries and groans had been heard in the night. Some said that he had been subjected to the torture called “the devil on the neck,” a horrible instrument by which, in three or four hours, the back and the whole body were torn in pieces.
Meanwhile, a far more formidable blow was preparing. Cromwell, the lay protector of the Reformation, had already been sacrificed; its ecclesiastical protector, Cranmer, must now fall in the same way. This second blow seemed easier than the first. Since the fall of Cromwell, men of the utmost moderation thought “there was no hope that reformed religion should any one week longer stand.” All those of feeble character sided with the opposite party. Cranmer alone, amongst the bishops and the ecclesiastical commissioners of the king, still upheld evangelical truth. This obstacle in the way of the extension of English catholicism must be utterly overthrown.
Plot after plot was formed against him, but Cranmer’s foes retired baffled. New plans were concocted. Doctor London and other agents of the party which looked up to Gardiner as its head took in hand to go over the diocese of the archbishop with a view to collecting all the sayings and all the facts, true or false, which they might turn to account as weapons against him. In one place a conversation was reported to them; in another a sermon was denounced; elsewhere neglected ritual was talked about. “Three of the preachers of the cathedral church,” they were told, namely, Ridley, Drum and Scory, “are attacking the ceremonies of the church.” Some of the canons, opponents of the primate, brought various charges against him, and strove to depict his marriage in the most repulsive colors. Sir John Gostwick, whose accounts as treasurer of war and of the court were not correct, accused Cranmer before the parliament of being the pastor of heretics. All these grievances were set forth in a memorial which was presented to the king. At the same time, the most influential members of the privy council declared to the king that the realm was infested with heresies; that thereby “horrible commotions and uproars” might spring up, as had been the case in Germany; and that these calamities must be chiefly imputed to the archbishop of Canterbury, who both by his own preaching and that of his chaplains had filled England with pernicious doctrines. “Who is his accuser?” said the king. The lords replied, “Forasmuch as Cranmer is a councilor, no man durst take upon him to accuse him. But if it please your Highness to commit him to the Tower for a time, there would be accusations and proofs enough against him.” “Well then,” said the king, “I grant you leave to commit him tomorrow to the Tower for his trial.” The enemies of the archbishop and of the Reformation went away well content.
Meanwhile, Henry VIII began to reflect on the answer which he had given to his councilors. There is nothing to show that it was not made in earnest, but he foresaw that Cranmer’s death would leave an awkward void. When Cranmer was gone, how should he maintain the conflict with the pope and the papists, with whom he had no mind to be reconciled? The primate’s character and services came back to his memory. Time was passing. At midnight the king, unable to sleep, sent for Sir Antony Denny and said to him, “Go to Lambeth and command the archbishop to come forthwith to the court.” Henry then, in a state of excitement, began to walk about in one of the corridors of the palace, awaiting the arrival of Cranmer. At length the primate entered and the king said to him, “Ah, my lord of Canterbury, I can tell you news. … It is determined by me and the council, that you tomorrow at nine o’clock shall be committed to the Tower, for that you and your chaplains (as information is given us) have taught and preached, and thereby sown within the realm such a number of execrable heresies, that it is feared the whole realm being infected with them no small contentions and commotions will rise thereby amongst my subjects, … and therefore the council have requested me, for the trial of this matter, to suffer them to commit you to the Tower.”
The story of Cromwell was to be repeated, and this was the first step. Nevertheless, Cranmer did not utter a word of opposition or supplication. Kneeling down before the king, according to his custom, he said, “I am content, if it please your Grace, with all my heart to go thither at your Highness’ commandment, and I most humbly thank your Majesty that I may come to my trial, for there be that have many ways slandered me, and now this way I hope to show myself not worthy of such a report.” The king, touched by his uprightness, said, “Oh Lord, what manner of man be you! What simplicity is in you! … Do you not know… how many great enemies you have? Do you consider what an easy thing it is to procure three or four false knaves to witness against you? Think you to have better luck that way than Christ your master had? I see it, you will run headlong to your undoing, if I would suffer you. Your enemies shall not so prevail against you, for I have otherwise devised with myself to keep you out of their hands. Yet, notwithstanding, tomorrow when the council shall sit and send for you, resort unto them; and if in charging you with this matter they do commit you to the Tower, require of them… that you may have your accusers brought before them and that you may answer their accusations. … If no entreaty or reasonable request will serve, then deliver unto them this ring”—the king at the same time delivered his ring to the archbishop—”and say unto them, ‘If there be no remedy, my lords, but that I must needs go to the Tower, then I revoke my cause from you and appeal to the king’s own person by this his token to you all.’ So soon as they shall see this my ring, they know it so well, that they shall understand that I have resumed the whole cause into mine own hands.” The archbishop was so much moved by the king’s kindness that he “had much ado to forbear tears.” “Well,” said the king, “go your ways, my lord, and do as I have bidden you.” The archbishop bent his knee in expression of his gratitude, and taking leave of the king returned to Lambeth before day.
On the morrow, about eight o’clock, the council sent an usher of the palace to summon the archbishop. He set out forthwith and presented himself at the door of the council chamber. But his colleagues, glad to complete the work which they had begun by putting the vicegerent to death, were not content with sending the primate to the scaffold, but were determined to subject Cranmer to various humiliations before the final catastrophe. The archbishop could not be let in, but was compelled to wait there among the pages, lackeys, and other serving-men. Doctor Butts, the king’s physician, happening to pass through the room, and observing how the archbishop was treated, went to the king and said, “My lord of Canterbury, if it please your Grace, is well promoted; for now he is become a lackey or a serving-man, for yonder he standeth this half-hour without the council-chamber door amongst them.” “It is not so,” said the king, “I trow, nor the council hath not so little discretion as to use the metropolitan of the realm in that sort, specially being one of their own number, but let them alone, and we shall hear more soon.”
At length the archbishop was admitted. He did as the king had bidden him, and when he saw that none of his statements or reasons were of any avail with the council, he presented the king’s ring, appealing at the same time to his Majesty. Hereupon, the whole council was struck with astonishment, and the earl of Bedford, who was not one of Gardiner’s party, with a solemn oath exclaimed, “When you first began this matter, my lords, I told you what would come of it. Do you think that the king will suffer this man’s finger to ache? Much more, I warrant you, will he defend his life against brabbling varlets. You do but cumber yourselves to hear tales and fables against him.” The members of the council immediately rose and carried the king’s ring to him, thus surrendering the matter, according to the usage of the time, into his hands.
When they had all come into the presence of the king, he said to them with a severe countenance, “Ah, my lords, I thought I had had wiser men of my council than now I find you. What discretion was this in you, thus to make the primate of the realm, and one of you in office, to wait at the council-chamber door amongst serving-men? … You had no such commission of me to handle him. I was content that you should try him as a councilor, and not as a mean subject. But now I well perceive that things be done against him maliciously, and if some of you might have had your minds, you would have tried him to the uttermost. But I do you all to wit, and protest, that if a prince may be beholding unto his subject” (and here Henry laid his hand solemnly upon his breast), “by the faith I owe to God, I take this man here, my lord of Canterbury, to be of all other a most faithful subject unto us, and one to whom we are much beholding.” The Catholic members of the council were disconcerted, confused, and unable to make any answer. One or two of them, however, took courage, made excuses, and assured the king that their object in trying the primate was to clear him of the calumnies of the world, and not to proceed against him maliciously. The king, who was not to be imposed upon by these hypocritical assertions, said, “Well, well, my lords, take him and well use him, as he is worthy to be, and make no more ado.” All the lords then went up to Cranmer, and took him by the hand as if they had been his dearest friends. The archbishop, who was of a conciliatory disposition, forgave them. But the king sent to prison for a certain time some of the archbishop’s accusers; and he sent a message to Sir John Gostwick, to the effect that he was a wicked varlet, and that unless he made his apologies to the metropolitan, he would make of him an example which should be a warning to all false accusers. These facts are creditable to Henry VIII. It was doubtless his aim to keep a certain middle course, and like many other despots he had happy intervals.
At the end of August 1541, Henry went to York, for the purpose of holding an interview with his nephew, the king of Scotland, whom he was anxious to persuade to declare himself independent of the pope. Henry made magnificent preparations for his reception, but Cardinal Beaton prevented the young prince from going. This excited the bitterest discontent in Henry’s mind, and became afterwards the cause of a breach. The queen, who accompanied him, endeavored to divert him from his vexation; and the king, more and more pleased with his marriage, after his return to London, made public thanksgiving on All Saints Day (October 24) that God had given him so amiable and excellent a wife, and even requested the bishop of Lincoln to join in his commendations of her. This excessive satisfaction was ere long to be interrupted.
During the king’s journey, one John Lascelles, who had a married sister living in the county of Sussex, paid her a visit. This woman had formerly been in the service of the old duchess of Norfolk, grandmother to the queen, and by whom Catherine had been brought up. In the course of conversation the brother and sister talked about this young lady, whom the sister had known well, and who had now become wife to the king. The brother, ambitious for his sister’s advancement, said to her, “You ought to ask the queen to place you among her attendants.” “I shall certainly not do so,” she answered, “I cannot think of the queen but with sadness.”
“She is so frivolous in character and in life.”
Then the woman related that Catherine had had improper intercourse with one of the officers of the ducal house of Norfolk, named Francis Derham, and that she had been very familiar with another whose name was Manox. Lascelles perceived the importance of these statements, and as he could not take upon himself the responsibility of concealing them, he determined to report them to the archbishop. The communication greatly embarrassed Cranmer. If he should keep the matter secret and it should afterwards become known, he would be ruined. Nor would he less certainly be ruined if he should divulge it, and then no proof be forthcoming. But what chiefly weighed upon his mind was the thought of the agitation which would be excited. To think of another wife of the king executed at the Tower! To think of this prince, his country, and perhaps also the work which was in process of accomplishment in England, becoming the objects of ridicule and perhaps of abhorrence! As he was unwilling to assume alone the responsibility imposed by so grave a communication, he opened his mind on the subject to the lord chancellor and to other members of the privy council, to whom the king had entrusted the dispatch of business during his absence. “They were greatly troubled and inquieted.” After having well weighed the reasons for and against, they came to the conclusion that, as this matter mainly concerned the king, Cranmer should inform him of it. This was a hard task to undertake, and the archbishop, who was deeply affected, durst not venture to make viva voce so frightful a communication. He therefore put down in writing the report which had been made to him, and had it laid before the king. The latter was terribly shocked, but as he tenderly loved his wife and had a high opinion of her virtue, he said that it was a calumny. However, he privately assembled in his cabinet the lord privy seal, the lord admiral, Sir Anthony Browne, and Sir Thomas Wriothesley, a friend of the duke of Norfolk, who had taken a leading part in the divorce of Anne of Cleves, and laid the case before them, declaring at the same time that he did not believe in it. These lords privately examined Lascelles and his sister, who persisted in their depositions; next Manox and Derham, who asserted the truth of their statements; the latter, moreover, mentioning three of the duchess of Norfolk’s women who likewise had knowledge of the facts. The members of the council made their report to the king, who, pierced with grief, remained silent for some time. At length he burst into tears, and commanded the duke of Norfolk, the queen’s uncle, the archbishop of Canterbury, the high chamberlain, and the bishop of Winchester, who had promoted the marriage, to go to Catherine and examine her. At first she denied everything. But when Cranmer was sent to her, on the evening of the first inquisition, the words of the primate, his admonitions, the reports which he made to her, which proved that her conduct was perfectly well known, convinced her of the uselessness of her denials, and she then made full confession, and even added some strange details. It does not appear that the queen felt it her duty to confess her offenses to God, but she resolved at least to confess them to men. While making her confession she was in a state of so great agitation that the archbishop was in dread every moment of her losing her reason. He thought, according to her confessions, that she had been seduced by the infamous Derham, with the privity even of his own wife. The household of the duchess dowager of Norfolk appears to have been very disorderly. Cranmer wrote down or caused to be written this confession, and Catherine signed it. He had scarcely left the unhappy woman, when she fell into a state of raving delirium.
The king was thrown into great excitement by the news of Catherine’s confession of the reality of his misfortune. The very intensity of his love served to increase his trouble and his wrath, but, for all this, some feeling of pity remained in his heart. “Return to her,” he said to Cranmer, “and first make use of the strongest expressions to give her a sense of the greatness of her offenses; second, state to her what the law provides in such cases, and what she must suffer for her crime; and lastly express to her my feelings of pity and forgiveness.” Cranmer returned to Catherine and found her in a fit of agitation so violent that he never remembered—so he wrote to the king—seeing any creature in such a state. The keepers told him that this had continued from his departure from her. “It would have pitied,” said the good archbishop, “any man’s heart in the world to have looked upon her.” Indeed, she was almost in a frenzy; she was not without strength, but her strength was that of a frantic person. The archbishop had had too much experience in the cure of souls to adopt the order prescribed by the king. He saw that if he spoke first to her of the crime and its punishment, he might throw her into some dangerous ecstasy, from which she could not be rescued. He therefore began with the last part of the royal message, and told the queen that his Majesty’s mercy extended to her, and that he had compassion on her misfortune. Catherine hereupon lifted up her hands, became quiet, and gave utterance to the humblest thanksgivings to the king who showed her so much mercy. She became more self-possessed, continuing, however, to sob and weep. But “after a little pausing, she suddenly fell into a new state of agony, much worse than she was before.”
Cranmer, desirous of delivering her from this frightful delirium, said to her, “Some new fantasy has come into your head, madam; pray open it to me.” After a time, when her passion subsided and she was capable of speech, she wept freely and said, “Alas, my lord, that I am alive! The fear of death grieved me not so much before, as doth now the remembrance of the king’s goodness. For when I remember how gracious and loving a prince I had, I cannot but sorrow; but this sudden mercy, and more than I could have looked for, showed unto me so unworthy at this time, maketh mine offenses to appear before mine eyes much more heinous than they did before; and the more I consider the greatness of his mercy, the more I do sorrow in my heart that I should so misorder myself against his Majesty.” The fact that the compassion of the king touched Catherine more than the fear of a trial and of death, seemed to indicate a state of mind less wayward than one might have expected. But in vain Cranmer said to her everything calculated to pacify her; she remained for a long time “in a great pang,” and even fell soon into another fearful state of agitation. At length, in the afternoon she came gradually to herself, and was in a quiet state till night. Cranmer, during this interval of relief, had “good communications with her.” He rejoiced at having brought her into some quiet. She told him that there had been a marriage contract between her and Derham, only verbal indeed, she said; but that nevertheless, though never announced and acknowledged, it had been consummated. She added that she had acted under compulsion of that man. At six o’clock, she had another fit of frenzy. “Ah,” she said afterwards to Cranmer, “when the clock struck, I remembered the time when Master Heneage was wont to bring me knowledge of his Grace.” In consequence of Cranmer’s report, Henry commanded that the queen should be conducted to Sion House, where two apartments were to be assigned to her and attendants nominated by the king.
Charges against Catherine were accumulating. She had taken into her service, as queen, the wretched Derham and, employing him as secretary, had often admitted him into her private apartments; and this the council regarded as evidence of adultery. She had also again attached to herself one of the women implicated in her first irregularities. At length it was proved that another gentleman, one Culpepper, a kinsman of her mother, had been introduced, in the king’s absence on a journey, into the queen’s private apartments by Lady Rochford, at a suspicious hour and under circumstances which usually indicate crime. Culpepper confessed it.
Now began the condemnations and the executions, and Henry VIII included in the trial not only those who were guilty but also the near relatives and servants of the queen, who, though well knowing her offenses, had not reported them to the king. On the 7th the council determined that the duchess-dowager of Norfolk, grandmother to the queen, her uncle, Lord William Howard, her aunts Lady Howard and Lady Bridgewater, together with Alice Wilks, Catherine Tylney, Damport, Walgrave, Malin Tilney, Mary Lascelles, Bulmer, Ashby, Anne Haward and Margaret Benet were all guilty of not having revealed the crime of high treason, and that they should be prosecuted. On the 13th the king ordered that all these persons, Mary Lascelles excepted, should be committed to the Tower, and this was done. Lord William Howard was imprisoned on December 9, the Duchess of Norfolk on the 10th, and Lady Bridgewater on the 13th. All of them stoutly protested their ignorance and their innocence. On December 10, 1541, Culpepper was beheaded at Tyburn, and the same day Derham was hanged, drawn, and quartered.
Meanwhile, the Duke of Norfolk had taken refuge at Kenninghall, about ninety miles from London. On December 15, he wrote to the king, saying that by reason of the offenses committed by his family he found himself in the utmost perplexity. Twice in his letter he “prostrates himself at the king’s feet,” and he expresses “some hope that your Highness will not conceive any displeasure in your most gentle heart against me, that, God knoweth, never did think thought which might be to your discontentation.” There did, however, remain something in the “most gentle heart” of Henry VIII.
Parliament met, by the king’s command, on January 16, 1542, to give its attention to this business. Thus it was to the highest national assembly that the king entrusted the regulation of his domestic interests. On January 21, the chancellor introduced in the upper house a bill in which the king was requested not to trouble himself about the matter, considering that it might shorten his life, to declare guilty of high treason the queen and all her accomplices, and to condemn the queen and Lady Rochford to death. The bill passed both houses and received the royal assent.
On February 12, the queen—she was only about twenty years of age—and Lady Rochford, her accomplice, were taken to Tower Hill and beheaded. The queen, while she confessed the offenses which had preceded her marriage, protested to the last before God and His holy angels that she had never violated her faith to the king. But her previous offenses gave credibility to those which were subsequent to her marriage. With regard to Lady Rochford, the confidant of the queen, she was universally hated. People called to mind the fact that her calumnies had been the principal cause of the death of the innocent Anne Boleyn and of her own husband, and nobody was sorry for her. The king pardoned the old duchess of Norfolk and some others who had been prosecuted for not disclosing the crime.
These events did not call forth within the realm many remarks of a painful kind for Henry VIII, but the great example of immorality presented by the English court lessened the esteem in which it was held in Europe. There was no lack of similar licentiousness in France and elsewhere, but there a veil was thrown over it, while in England it was public talk. Opinion afterwards became severe with regard to the king; and when his conduct to three of his former wives was remembered, people said of the disgrace cast on him by Catherine Howard, that he well deserved it. As for the Catholic party, which had given Catherine to Henry and had cherished the hope that by her influence it should achieve its final triumph, it was greatly mortified. Some Catholics, referring to these offenses, have since tried to lessen the abhorrence and the shame of them by saying “that a conspiracy was hatched to bring the queen to the scaffold.” But the evidence produced against Catherine is so clear that they have been obliged to alter their tone. Catholicism assuredly has had its virtuous princesses in abundance, but it must be acknowledged that she who became its patroness in England in 1541 did not do it much honor.
The elevation of Catherine Howard to the throne had been followed by an elevation of Catholicism in England, and the fall of this unhappy woman was followed by a depression of the party to which she belonged. This is our reason for dwelling on her history. These last events appear to have given offense at Rome. Pope Paul III displayed more irritation than ever against Henry VIII. One of the king’s ambassadors at Venice wrote to him at this time, “The bishop of Rome is earnestly at work to bring about a union of the Emperor and the king of France for the ruin of your Majesty.” The zeal and the caution of Cranmer in the affair of Catherine had greatly increased the king’s liking for him. Cranmer, however, was in no haste to take advantage of this to get any bold measures passed in favor of the Reformation. He knew that any such attempt would have had a contrary result. But he lost no opportunity of diffusing in England the principles of the Reformation.
The convocation of the clergy met on the 20th of January. On Friday, February 17, the translation of the Holy Scriptures was on the order of the day. The suppression of the English Bible was desired by the majority of the bishops, most of all by Gardiner, who, since the fall of Catherine Howard, felt more than ever the necessity of resisting reformation. As he was unable to re-establish at once the Vulgate as a whole, he endeavored to retain what he could of it in the translation, so that the people might not understand what they read and might abandon it altogether. He proposed therefore to keep in the English translation one hundred and two Latin words “for the sake of their native meaning and their dignity.” Among these words were Ecclesia,pænitentia, pontifex, holocaustum, simulacrum, episcopus, confessio, hostia, and others. In addition to the design which he entertained of preventing the people from understanding what they read, he had still another in regard to such as might understand any part of it. If he was desirous of retaining certain words, this was for the purpose of retaining certain dogmas. “Witness,” says Fuller, “the word Penance, which according to vulgar sound, contrary to the original sense thereof, was a magazine of will-worship, and brought in much gain to the Priests who were desirous to keep that word, because that word kept them.” Cranmer gave the king warning of the matter, and it was agreed that the bishops should have nothing to do with the translation of the Bible. On March 10 the archbishop informed convocation that it was the king’s intention to have the translation examined by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The bishops were greatly annoyed, but Cranmer assured them that the king’s determination was to be carried out. All the prelates but two protested against this course. This decree, however, had no other object than to get rid of the bishops, for the universities were never consulted. This was obviously a blow struck at the convocation of the clergy.
The change which resulted from the disgrace of the Howard’s was apparent even in the case of the enemies of the Reformation. Bonner, bishop of London, a man at once violent and fickle, who after the death of Cromwell had suddenly turned against the Reformation, after the death of Catherine made a show of turning in the contrary direction. He published various admonitions and injunctions for the guidance of his diocese. “It is very expedient,” he said to the laity, “that whosoever repaireth hither [to the church] to read this book, or any such like, in any other place, he prepare himself chiefly and principally with all devotion, humility, and quietness to be edified and made the better thereby.” To the clergy he said, “Every parson, vicar and curate shall read over and diligently study every week one chapter of the Bible, … proceeding from chapter to chapter, from the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, to the end of the New Testament. … You are to instruct, teach, and bring up in learning the best ye can all such children of your parishioners as shall come to you for the same, or at the least to teach them to read English, … so that they may thereby the better learn and know how to believe, how to pray, how to live to God’s pleasure.”
Cranmer Pursues his Task 1542
The principles of the Reformation were spreading more and more, and especially among the London merchants, doubtless because they held more intercourse than other classes with foreigners. These men of business were much better informed than we in our days would suppose. One of them, Richard Hilles, had large business transactions with Strasburg and the rest of Germany, and while engaged in these he paid some attention to theological literature. He not merely read, but formed an opinion of the works which he read, and was thus at the same time merchant and critic. He read the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, as well as his Preparation and Demonstration, but he was not satisfied with Eusebius. He found in his writings false notions on free will and on the marriage of ministers. On the other hand he was exceedingly pleased with this author’s comments on Daniel’s seventy weeks. Tertullian charmed him by his simplicity, his piety, and likewise by the soundness of his judgment on the Eucharist, but he found much fault with his work on Prescriptions against Heretics. Cyprian edified him by the fulness of his piety, but he was shocked by his overmuch severity, and by his opinions on satisfaction, which in his view were derogatory to the righteousness of Christ. Lactantius he loved as the defender of the cause of God, but he sharply criticized his opinions on the virtue of almsgiving, on the necessity of abstinence from the use of flowers and perfumes, on the method of making up for evil works by good ones, on the millennium, and many other subjects. Origen, Augustine, and Jerome were also included in the cycle of his studious labors. Hilles considered it a great loss, even to a merchant, to pursue no studies. He found in them a remedy against the too strong influences of worldly affairs.
For him, however, the essential matter was the study of the Word of God. He used frequently to read and expound it in the houses of evangelical Christians in London. Bishop Gardiner, when examining one of Hilles’ neighbors, said to him, “Has not Richard Hilles been every day in your house, teaching you and others like you, and poisoning my flock?” Some ecclesiastics one day called upon him, while making a collection for placing tapers before the crucifix and the sepulchre of Christ in the parish church. He refused to contribute. The priests entreated his kinsmen and friends to urge him not to set himself against a practice which had existed for five centuries. No custom, said he, can prevail against the word of Christ—they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. The priests now increased their threatenings, and Hilles left London and went to Strasburg, keeping up at the same time his house of business in London. The reader of Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, and Augustine, on leaving the banks of the Rhine, went to Frankfort and to Nuremberg to sell his cloth. Moreover he made a good use of the money which he received. “I send herewith to your piety,” he wrote to Bullinger, “ten Italian crowns, which I desire to be laid out according to your pleasure, as occasion may offer, upon the poor exiles (rich, however, in Christ), and those especially, if such there be, who are in distress among you.”
While laymen thus joined knowledge with faith, and business with teaching, Cranmer was slowly pursuing his task. When parliament met, January 22, 1543, the archbishop introduced a Bill for the advancement of true religion. This Act at once prohibited and enjoined the reading of the Bible. Was this intentional or accidental? We are disposed to think it accidental. There were two currents of opinion in England, and both of them reappeared in the laws. Only it is to be noted that the better current was the stronger; it was the good cause which seemed ultimately to gain the ascendancy on this occasion. It was ordered that the Bibles bearing Tyndale’s name should be suppressed; but the printers still issued his translation with hardly any alteration, shielding it under the names of Matthew, Taverner, Cranmer, and even Tunstall and Heath. It was therefore read everywhere. The Act forbade that anyone should read the Bible to others, either in any church or elsewhere, without the sanction of the king or of some bishop. But at the same time the chancellor of England, officers of the army, the king’s judges, the magistrates of any town or borough, and the Speaker of the House of Commons, who were accustomed to take a passage of Scripture as the text of their discourses, were empowered to read it. Further, every person of noble rank, male or female, being head of a family, was permitted to read the Bible or to cause it to be read by one of their domestics, in their own house, their garden or orchard, to their own family. Likewise, every trader or other person being head of a household was allowed to read it in private; but apprentices, workpeople and such like, were to abstain. This enactment, thus interdicting the Bible to the common people, was both impious and absurd; impious in its prohibition, but also absurd, because reading in the family was recommended, and this might be done even by the domestics. The knowledge of the Scriptures might thus reach those to whom they were proscribed.
At the same time, on the demand of Cranmer, the Act of Six Articles was somewhat modified. Those who had infringed its clauses were no longer to be punished with death, if they were laymen, and priests were to incur this penalty only after the third offence. This was certainly no great gain, but the primate obtained what he could.
He also endeavored to render as harmless as possible the book, The necessary doctrine and erudition of any Christian Man, which was published in 1543, and was called The King’s Book, to distinguish it from The Institution of a Christian Man of 1537, which was called The Bishops’ Book. This book of the king held a middle course between the doctrine of the pope and that of the Reformation, leaning, however, towards the latter. The grace and the mercy of God were established as the principle of our justification. Some reforms were introduced with respect to the worship of images and of the saints; the article on purgatory was omitted; large rights were granted to the church of every country; the vulgar tongue was recognized as necessary to meet the religious wants of the people. Still, many obscurities and errors were to be found in this book.
An event was approaching which would draw the king more decisively to the side of the Reformation. Although he had now made five successive marriages, and had experienced, undoubtedly by his own fault, only a long series of disappointments and vexations, he was once more looking for a wife. A law which had been passed after the discovery of the misconduct of Catherine Howard terrified the maidens of England, even the most innocent among them; they would have been afraid of falling victims to the unjust suspicions of Henry VIII. The new law stated that any unchaste woman marrying a king of England without informing him of her unchastity would be guilty of high treason. Henry now determined to marry a widow.
Catherine Parr, a lady of some thirty years of age, already twice widowed, was now at the court. She was a woman of good sense, of virtuous and amiable character, beautiful, and agreeable in manners. But she was wanting in that human prudence, so necessary at the court, and particularly to the wife of Henry VIII, and hereby she was exposed to great danger. The king was now in a declining state, and his bodily infirmities as well as his irritable temper made it a necessity that some gentle and very considerate wife should take care of him. He married the noble dowager on July 12, 1543, and he found in her the affection and the kind attentions of a virtuous lady. The crown was to Catherine but a poor compensation, but she discharged her duty devotedly, and shed some rays of sunshine over the last years of the king. The queen was favorable to the Reformation, as was likewise her brother, who was created earl of Essex, and her uncle, made Lord Parr of Horton. Cranmer and all those who wished for a real reformation were on the side of the new queen; while Gardiner and his party, including the new chancellor, Wriothesley (now created Baron), taking alarm at this influence which was opposed to them, became more zealous than ever in the maintenance of the old doctrine. These men felt that the power which they had possessed under Catherine Howard might slip out of their hands, and they resolved to spread terror among the friends of the Reformation, not excepting the queen herself, by attacking Cranmer. It was always this man at whom they aimed and struck their blows, nor was this the last time they did so.
The prebendaries of Canterbury and other priests of the same diocese, strongly attached to the Catholic doctrine, and disquieted and shocked by the reforming principles of the archbishop, came to an understanding with Gardiner, held a great many meetings among themselves, and collected a large number of reports hostile to the archbishop. They accused him of having removed images and prohibited the partisans of the old doctrines from preaching, and the rumor was soon everywhere current that “the bishop of Winchester had bent his bow to shoot at some of the head deer.” The long list of charges brought against the primate was forwarded to the king. Amongst the accusers were found some members of Cranmer’s church, magistrates whom he had laid under obligation to him, and men who almost daily sat at his table.
Henry was pained and irritated; he loved Cranmer, but these numerous accusations disturbed him. Taking the document with him, he went out, as if going to take a walk alone on the banks of the Thames. He entered his bark. “To Lambeth,” he said to his boatmen. Some of the domestics of the archbishop saw the boat approaching; they recognized the king, and gave information to their master, who immediately came down to pay his respects to his Majesty. Henry invited him to enter the bark; and when they were seated together, the boatmen being at a distance, the king began to lament the growth of heresy, and the debates which would inevitably result from it, and declared that he was determined to find out who was the principal promoter of these false doctrines and to make an example of him. “What think you of it?” he added. “Sir,” replied Cranmer, “it is a good resolution, but I entreat you to consider well what heresy is, and not to condemn those as heretics who stand for the Word of God against human inventions.” After further explanations, the king said to him, “You are the man who, as I am informed, is the chief encourager of heresy.” The king then handed to him the articles of accusation collected by his opponents. Cranmer took the papers and read them. When he had finished, he begged the king to appoint a commission to investigate these grievances, and frankly explained to him his own view of the case. The king, touched by his simplicity and candor, disclosed to him the conspiracy, and promised to nominate a commission, insisting, however, that the primate should be the chief member and that he should proceed against his accusers. Cranmer refused to do this. The commission was nominated, but as some of its members secretly favored the cause of Cranmer’s opponents, it made little progress during the six long weeks of its sittings.
At this point the king’s favorite physician, and an influential gentleman of the chamber intervened. In consequence, Sir (Dr.) Thomas Legh, a layman of York, who had acquired a reputation for energy and thoroughness during the visitation of the monasteries, was introduced into the commission. He made diligent inquiry, and found that men to whom Cranmer had rendered great services were in the number of the conspirators. Cranmer bore himself with great meekness towards them. He declined to confound and put them to shame as the king had required him to do, and the result was that, instead of condemning Cranmer, every one of them acknowledged that he was the first to practice the virtues which he preached to others, and thus showed himself to be a true bishop and a worthy reformer.
As Gardiner and his colleagues had failed in their attempt to bring down the head deer, they determined to indemnify themselves by attacking lesser game. A society of friends of the Gospel had been formed at Oxford, the members of which were leading lowly and quiet lives, but at the same time were making courageous confession of the truth. Fourteen of them were apprehended by Doctor London, supported by the bishop of Winchester. The persecutors chiefly directed their attack against three of these men. Robert Testwood, famed for his musical attainments and attached as a “singing-man” to the chapel of Windsor College, used to speak with respect of Luther, ventured to read the Holy Scriptures, and exhorted his acquaintances not to bow down before dumb images, but to worship only the true and living God. Henry Filmer, a churchwarden, could not endure the fooleries which the priests retailed in the pulpit, and the latter, greatly stung by his criticism, accused him of being so thoroughly corrupted by heresy that he alone would suffice to poison the whole nation. Antony Peerson, a priest, preached with so much faith and eloquence that the people flocked in crowds to hear him, both at Oxford and in the surrounding country places.
A fourth culprit at length appeared before the council. He was a poor man, simple-minded, and of mean appearance. Some loose sheets of a book lay upon the table in front of the bishop of Winchester. “John Marbeck,” said the bishop, “dost thou know wherefore thou art sent for?” “No, my lord,” he replied. The bishop, taking up some of the sheets said to him, “Understandest thou the Latin tongue?” “No, my lord,” he answered, “but simply.” Gardiner then stated to the council that the book he held in his hand was a Concordance, and that it was translated word for word from the original compiled for the use of preachers. He asserted “that if such a book should go forth in English, it would destroy the Latin tongue.” Two days later Gardiner again sent for Marbeck. “Marbeck,” said the bishop, “what a devil made thee to meddle with the Scriptures? Thy vocation was another way… why the devil didst thou not hold thee there? … What helpers hadst thou in setting forth thy book?” “Forsooth, my lord,” answered Marbeck, “none.” “It is not possible that thou should’st do it without help,” exclaimed the bishop. Then addressing one of his chaplains: “Here is a marvelous thing; this fellow hath taken upon him to set out the Concordance in English, which book, when it was set out in Latin, was not done without the help and diligence of a dozen learned men at least, and yet will he bear me in hand that he hath done it alone.” Then, addressing Marbeck, he said, “Say what thou wilt, except God himself would come down from heaven and tell me so, I will not believe it.” Marbeck was taken back to prison, and was placed in close confinement, with irons on his hands and feet. He was five times examined, and on the fifth occasion a new charge was brought against him—he had written out with his own hand a letter of John Calvin. This was worse than spending his time over the Bible.
Gardiner exerted himself to the utmost to secure the condemnation of this man to death, in company with Testwood, Filmer, and Peerson. His efforts met with success. These three Christians were burnt alive; and they met death with so much humility, patience, and devotion to Jesus, their only refuge, that some of the bystanders declared that they would willingly have died with them and like them. But the persecutors failed in their attempt with respect to Marbeck. Cranmer was able to convince the king that the making of a Concordance to the Bible ought not to be visited with death. It is well known that Henry VIII attached much importance to the Holy Scriptures, which he considered the most powerful weapon against the pope. Marbeck, therefore, was spared.
It is, moreover, no wonder that there should still have been martyrs. The queen, indeed, was friendly to their cause, but political circumstances were not favorable. After forty years’ intermittent friendship with France, Henry VIII was about to declare war against that kingdom. The pretexts for this course were many. The first was the alliance of the king of France with the Turks, “who are daily advancing to destroy and ruin our holy faith and religion, to the great regret of all good Christians,” said the Privy Council. A second pretext was that the sums of money which France was bound to pay annually to the king had fallen into arrear for nine years; there was also the question of the subsidies granted by France to Scotland during the war between Henry VIII and the Scots in 1542; the reception and protection of English rebels by Francis I; and the detention in French ports of faithful subjects of the king, merchants and others, with their ships and merchandise. In the dispatch which we have just cited, the king also declared that, if within twenty days the grievances set forth were not redressed, he should claim the kingdom of France unjustly held by Francis I. The French ambassador replied in a conciliatory manner. Diplomacy made no reference to other grounds of complaint of a more private character, which perhaps throw light upon those which occasioned the rupture. Francis I had jested about the way in which Henry VIII dealt with his wives. Henry had sought the hand of French princesses, and they had no mind for this foreign husband; and lastly, Francis did not fulfil the promise which he had made to separate from Rome. There were many other pretexts besides, more or less reasonable, which determined the king to invade France.
While withdrawing from alliance with Francis I, Henry could not but at the same time enter into closer relation with Charles V. This reconciliation seemed natural, for the king of England was really, in respect to religion, more in harmony with the Emperor than with the Protestants of Germany, whose alliance he had for some time desired. But Charles required first of all that the legitimacy and the rights of his cousin, the princess Mary, should be acknowledged; and this Henry refused to do, because it would have involved an acknowledgment of his injustice to Catherine of Aragon. A solution which satisfied the Emperor was ultimately devised. It was provided by Act of Parliament that if Prince Edward should die without children, “the crown should go to the lady Mary.” But in this Act no mention was made of her legitimacy. The result of the concession of this point to Charles V was to bring on England a five years’ bloody persecution, and to give her people Philip II of Spain for their king. In default of any issue of Mary, Elizabeth was to succeed to the throne. This matter being arranged, the Emperor Charles V and Henry concluded a treaty of alliance in February 1543, agreeing to attack France jointly within the next two years.
The war which Henry VIII, “king of England, France, and Ireland,” said the parliament, now carried on against Francis I has little to do with the history of the Reformation. The king, having named the queen regent of his kingdom, embarked for Calais on July 14, 1544, on a vessel hung with cloth of gold. He was now feeble and corpulent and he suffered from an open ulcer in his leg, but his vanity and love of display were always conspicuous, even when setting out for a war. He arrived on the frontier of France at the head of a considerable force, but he himself did not take active control. The Emperor, who had got the start of him, was already within two days’ march of Paris, and the city was in alarm at the approach of the Germans. “I cannot prevent my people of Paris from being afraid,” said Francis, “but I will prevent them from suffering injury.” Charles paid little respect to his engagement with Henry VIII, and now treated separately with Francis at Crêpy, near Laon, September 19, and left the king of England to get out of the affair as well as he could. Henry captured Boulogne, but this was all that he had of his kingdom of France. On September 30 he returned to London.
The war, however, continued until 1546. England, abandoned by the Emperor, found sympathy in a quarter where it might least have been expected—in Italy. Some of the Italians, who were conscious of the evils brought on their own land by the papacy, were filled with admiration for the prince and the nation which had cast off its yoke. Edmund Harvel, ambassador of Henry VIII in Italy, being at this time at Venice, was continually receiving visits from captains of high reputation, who came to offer their services. Among these was Ercole Visconti of Milan, a man of high birth, a great captain, and one who, having extensive connections in Italy, might render great service to the king. The French were now making an attempt to retake Boulogne, but the Italian soldiers who were serving in their army were constantly going over to the English, at the rate of thirty per day. The Italian companies were thus so largely reduced that the captains requested permission to leave the camp for want of soldiers to command, and permission was given them. In this matter the pope was involved in difficulty. He had undertaken to furnish Francis I with a body of four thousand men; but as the king was afraid that these Roman soldiers would pass over to the English army, he requested Paul III to substitute for these auxiliaries a monthly subsidy of 16,000 crowns. “As the Italian nation,” added the English ambassador optimistically in his letter to Henry VIII, “is alienate from the French king, so the same is more and more inclined to your Majesty.”
But if in Italy there were many supporters of Protestantism, in England its opponents were still more numerous. The fanatical party had attempted in 1543 to expel the reformed party from the town of Windsor by means of martyrdom. But the account was not settled; it still remained to purify the castle. It was known that Testwood, Filmer, Peerson, and Marbeck himself had had patrons in Sir Thomas and Lady Cardine, Sir Philip and Lady Hobby, Dr. Haynes, dean of Exeter, and other persons at the court. Dr. London, who was always on the lookout for heretics, and a pleader named Simons, sent to Gardiner one Robert Ockam, a secretary, with letters, accusations, and secret documents as to the way in which they intended to proceed. But one of the queen’s servants reached the court before him and gave notice of the scheme. Ockam, on his arrival, was arrested, all the papers were examined, and evidence was discovered in them of an actual conspiracy against many persons at the court. This aroused great indignation in the king’s mind. It is highly probable that these gentlemen and their wives owed their safety to the influence of the queen and of Cranmer. London and Simons, unaware that their letters and documents had fallen into the hands of their judges, denied the plot, and this even upon oath. Their own writings were now produced, it was proved that they were guilty of perjury, and they were condemned to ignominious punishment. London, that great slayer of heretics, and his colleague were conducted on horseback, facing backwards, with the name of perjurer on their foreheads, through the streets of Windsor, Reading, and Newbury, the king being now at the last-named town. They were afterwards set in the pillory, and then taken back to prison. London died there of distress caused by this public disgrace. It was well that the wind should change, and that persecutors should be punished instead of the persecuted, but the manners of the time subjected these wretches to shocking sufferings which it would have been better to spare them.
The Last Martyrs of Henry’s Reign 1545
Henry VIII, sick and fretful, was easily drawn first to one side, then to the other. He was a victim of indecision of violent excitement and of irresolution. His brother-in-law, the duke of Suffolk, who of all the members of the Privy Council was the most determined supporter of the Reformation, had died in August 1545, and that body was thenceforward impelled in an opposite direction, and carried the king along with it.
Shaxton, having resigned his see of Salisbury after the publication of the Six Articles, had been put in prison, and had long rejected all proposals of recantation addressed to him. Having aggravated his offense while in prison by asserting that the natural body of Christ was not in the sacrament, he was condemned to be burnt. The bishops of London and Worcester, sent by the king, visited him in the prison and strove to convince him. This weak unfortunate man readily professed himself persuaded, and thanked the king “for that he had delivered him at the same time from the temporal and from the everlasting fire.” On July 13, 1546, he was set at liberty. As he grew old his understanding became still weaker, and in Mary’s reign the unhappy man was one of the most eager to burn those whom he had called his brethren.
While there were men like Shaxton, whose fall was decisive and final, others were to be met with who, although in their own hearts decided for the truth, were alarmed when they found themselves in danger of death, and subscribed the Catholic declarations which were offered to them. But after having thus plunged into the abyss, they lifted up their heads as soon as possible and again confessed the truth. One of this class was Dr. Edward Crome, who, at this period, gave way on two occasions, but recovered himself.
Many other blemishes were visible in the general state of the Anglican church; and the obstinacy of the king, in particular, in maintaining in his kingdom, side by side, two things in opposition to each other, the Catholic doctrines and the reading of the Bible, subjected the sacred volume to strange honors. The king in person prorogued the parliament on December 24, and on this occasion made his last speech to the highest body in the state. He spoke as vicar of God, and gave a lecture to the ministers and the members of the church. It was his taste; he believed that he was born for this position, and there was in his nature as much of the preceptor as of the king. Moreover, there was nothing which offended him so much as the attempt to address a lecture to himself. Anyone who did so risked his own life. But while he was easily hurt, he did not shrink from hurting the feelings of others. He handled the rod more easily than the scepter. The Speaker of the house of commons having delivered an address to the king in which he extolled his virtues, Henry replied as follows: “Whereas you… have both praised and extolled me for the notable qualities you have conceived to be in me, I most heartily thank you all that you put me in remembrance of my duty, which is to endeavor myself to obtain and get such excellent qualities and necessary virtues. … No prince in the world more favoreth his subjects than I do you, nor any subjects or commons more love and obey their sovereign lord than I perceive you do me. Yet, although I with you, and you with me, be in this perfect love and concord, this friendly amity cannot continue except you, my lords temporal, and you, my lords spiritual, and you, my loving subjects, study and take pains to amend one thing, which is surely amiss and far out of order, … which is, that charity and concord is not among you, but discord and dissension beareth rule in every place. St. Paul saith to the Corinthians, in the thirteenth chapter, ‘Charity is gentle, charity is not envious, charity is not proud,’ and so forth. Behold then what love and charity is amongst you when one calleth the other heretic and anabaptist; and he calleth him again papist, hypocrite, and pharisee. Be these things tokens of charity amongst you? Are these the signs of fraternal love between you? No, no, I assure you that this lack of charity amongst yourselves will be the hindrance and assuaging of the fervent love between us, except this wound be salved and clearly made whole. I must needs judge the fault and occasion of this discord to be partly by the negligence of you, the fathers and preachers of the spiritualty. … I see and hear daily that you of the clergy preach one against another, … and few or none do preach truly and sincerely the Word of God. … Alas! how can the poor souls live in concord when you preachers sow amongst them, in your sermons, debate and discord? Of you they look for light, and you bring them to darkness. Amend these crimes, I exhort you, and set forth God’s Word, both by true preaching and good example-giving; or else I, whom God hath appointed His vicar and high minister here, will see these divisions extinct. … Although (as I say) the spiritual men be in some fault… yet you of the temporalty be not clean and unspotted of malice and envy, for you rail on bishops, speak slanderously of priests, and rebuke and taunt preachers. … Although you be permitted to read Holy Scripture, and to have the Word of God in your mother tongue, you must understand that it is licensed you so to do, only to inform your own conscience, and to instruct your children and family, not to dispute and make Scripture a railing and a taunting stock against priests and preachers, as many light persons do. I am very sorry to know and hear how unreverently that most precious jewel, the Word of God, is disputed, rhymed, sung, and jangled in every alehouse and tavern, contrary to the true meaning and doctrine of the same. … Be in charity one with another, … to the which I, as your supreme head and sovereign lord, exhort and require you; and then I doubt not but that love and league, which I spake of in the beginning, shall never be dissolved or broken between us.”
The schoolmaster had not spoken amiss. The parliament did not make the retort, “Physician, heal thyself,” though it might have been applicable. One of the measures by which the king manifested his sweet charity proves that, if he were not, like some old schoolmasters, a tyrant of words and syllables, he tyrannized over the peace and the lives of his people.
There were at the court a certain number of ladies of the highest rank who loved the Gospel—the duchess of Suffolk, the countess of Sussex, the countess of Hertford, lady Denny, lady Fitzwilliam, and above all the queen. Associated with these was a pious, lively, and beautiful young lady, of great intelligence and amiable disposition, whose fine qualities had been improved by education. Her name was Anne Askew. She was the second daughter of Sir William Askew, member of a very ancient Lincolnshire family. She had two brothers and two sisters. Her brother Edward was a member of the king’s bodyguard. The queen frequently received Anne and other Christian women in her private apartments, and there prayer was made and the Word of God expounded by an evangelical minister. The king, indeed, was aware of these secret meetings, but he feigned ignorance. Anne was at this time in great need of the consolations of the Gospel. Her father, Sir William, had a rich neighbor named Thomas Kyme, with whom he was intimate; and being anxious that his eldest daughter, Martha, should marry a rich man, he arranged with Kyme that she should wed his eldest son. The young lady died before the nuptials took place; and Sir William, reluctant to let slip so good a chance, compelled his second daughter Anne to marry the betrothed of her sister, and by him she became the mother of two children. The Holy Scriptures in the English version attracted Anne’s attention, and ere long she became so attached to them that she meditated on them day and night. Led by them to a living faith in Jesus Christ, she renounced Romish superstitions. The priests, who were greatly annoyed, stirred up her young husband against her; being a rough man and a staunch papist, he “violently drove her out of his house.” Anne said, “Since, according to the Scripture, if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases—I claim my divorce.” She went to London to take the necessary proceedings, and either through her brother, or otherwise, made the acquaintance of the pious ladies of the court and of the queen herself.
It was a great vexation to the enemies of the Reformation to see persons of the highest rank almost openly professing the evangelical faith. As they did not dare to attack them, they determined to make a beginning with Anne Askew, and thereby to terrify the rest. She had said one day, “I would sooner read five lines in the Bible than hear five masses in the church.” On another occasion she had denied the corporeal presence of the Savior in the sacrament. She was sent to prison. When she was taken to Sadler’s Hall, the judge, Christopher Dare, asked her, “Do you not believe that the sacrament hanging over the altar is the very body of Christ really?” Anne replied, “Wherefore was St. Stephen stoned to death?” Dare, doubtless, remembered that Stephen had said, “I see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God.” From this it followed that He was not in the sacrament. He preferred to answer, “I cannot tell.” It is possible, however, that his ignorance was not feigned. “No more,” said Anne, “will I solve your vain question.” Anne was afterwards taken before the lord mayor, Sir Martin Bowes, a passionate bigot. He was under-treasurer of the Mint, and in 1550 obtained the king’s pardon for all the false money which he had coined. The magistrate gravely asked her whether a mouse, eating the host, received God or no? “I made no answer, but smiled,” says Anne. The bishop’s chancellor, who was present, sharply said to her, “St. Paul forbade women to speak or to talk of the Word of God.” “How many women,” said she in reply, “have you seen go into the pulpit and preach?” “Never any,” he said. “You ought not to find fault in poor women, except they have offended the law.” She was unlawfully committed to prison, and for eleven days no one was allowed to see her. At this time she was about twenty-five years of age.
One of her cousins, named Brittayne, was admitted to see her. He immediately did everything he could to get Anne released on bail. The lord mayor bade him apply to the chancellor of the bishop of London. The chancellor replied to him, “Apply to the bishop.” The bishop said, “I will give order for her to appear before me tomorrow at three o’clock in the afternoon.” He then subjected her to a long examination. He asked her, amongst other things, “Do you not think that private masses help the souls departed?” “It is great idolatry,” she replied, “to believe more in private masses than in the healthsome death of the dear Son of God.” “What kind of answer is this?” said the bishop of London. “It is a mean one,” replied Anne, “but good enough for your question.” After the examination, at which Anne made clear and brief replies, Bonner wrote down a certain number of articles of faith, and required that Anne should set her hand to them. She wrote, “I believe so much thereof as the Holy Scripture doth agree unto.” This was not what Bonner wanted. The bishop pressed the point, and said, “Sign this document.” Anne then wrote, “I, Anne Askew, do believe all manner of things contained in the faith of the Catholic Church.” The bishop, well knowing what Anne meant by this word, hurried away into an adjoining room in a great rage. Her cousin Brittayne followed him and implored him to treat his kinswoman kindly. “She is a woman,” exclaimed the bishop, “and I am nothing deceived in her.” “Take her as a woman,” said Brittayne, “and do not set her weak woman’s wit to your lordship’s great wisdom.” At length, Anne’s two sureties, to wit, Brittayne and Master Spilman of Grays Inn, were on the following day accepted, and she was set at liberty. These events took place in the year 1545.
Anne having continued to profess the Gospel and to have meetings with her friends, she was again arrested three months later, and was brought before the privy council at Greenwich. On the opening of the examination she refused to go into the matter before the council, and said, “If it be the king’s pleasure to hear me, I will show him the truth.” “It is not meet,” they replied, “for the king to be troubled with you.” She answered, “Solomon was reckoned the wisest king that ever lived, yet misliked he not to hear two poor common women, much more his Grace a single woman and his faithful subject.” “Tell me your opinion on the sacrament,” said the Lord Chancellor.” “I believe,” she said, “that so oft as I, in a Christian congregation, do receive the bread in remembrance of Christ’s death, and with thanksgiving… I receive therewith the fruits also of His most glorious passion.” “Make a direct answer to the question,” said Gardiner. “I will not sing a new song of the Lord,” she said, “in a strange land.” “You speak in parables,” said Gardiner. “It is best for you,” she answered, “for if I show the open truth, ye will not accept it.” “You are a parrot,” said the incensed bishop. She replied, “I am ready to suffer all things at your hands, not only your rebukes, but all that shall follow besides, yea, and all that gladly.”
The next day Anne once more appeared before the council. They began the examination on the subject of transubstantiation. Seeing lord Parr, uncle to the queen, and lord Lisle, she said to them, “It is a great shame for you to counsel contrary to your knowledge.” “We would gladly,” they answered, “all things were well.” Gardiner wished to speak privately with her, but this she refused. Wriothesley, the lord chancellor, then began to examine her again. “How long,” said Anne, “will you halt on both sides?” “Where do you find that saying?” said he. “In the Scripture,” replied Anne. “You shall be burnt,” said the bishop of London. She replied, “I have searched all the Scriptures, yet could I never find that either Christ or His apostles put any creature to death.”
Anne was sent back to prison. She was very ill, and believed herself to be near death. Never had she had to endure such attacks. She requested leave to see Latimer, friend and comforter of evangelicals, but this consolation was not allowed her. Resting firmly, as she did, on Scriptural grounds, she did not suffer herself to swerve. To her constitutional resolution she added that which was the fruit of communion with God, and she was thus placed by faith above the attacks which she experienced. Having a good foundation, she resolutely defended the freedom of her conscience and her full trust in Christ; and not only did she encounter her enemies without wavering, but she spoke to them with a power sufficient to awe them, and gave home-thrusts which threw them into confusion. Nevertheless she was only a weak woman, and her bodily strength began to fail. In Newgate she said, “In all my life afore I was never in such pain. The Lord strengthen us in the truth. Pray, pray, pray.” She composed while in prison some stanzas which have been pronounced extraordinary, not only for simple beauty and sublime sentiment, but also for the noble structure and music of the verse:
Like as the armèd knight Appointed to the field, With this world will I fight, And faith shall be my shield.
Faith is that weapon strong Which will not fail at need; My foes therefore among Therewith will I proceed.
I now rejoice in heart, And hope bids me do so, For Christ will take my part, And ease me of my woe.
Thou saidst, Lord, whoso knock, To him wilt Thou attend; Undo therefore the lock, And Thy strong power send.
More enemies now I have Than hairs upon my head, Let them not me deprave But fight Thou in my stead.
On Thee my care I cast, For all their cruel spite I set not by their haste, For Thou art my delight.
I am not she that list My anchor to let fall For every drizzling mist; My ship’s substantial.
Not oft use I to write In prose nor yet in rhyme, Yet will I shew one sight That I saw in my time.
I saw a royal throne Where justice should have sit, But in her stead was one Of moody cruel wit;
Absorpt was righteousness, As by the raging flood; Satan, in his excess, Suck’d up the guiltless blood.
Then thought I, Jesus Lord! When Thou shalt judge us all, Hard is it to record On these men what will fall.
Yet, Lord, I Thee desire, For that they do to me, Let them not taste the hire Of their iniquity.
By law, Anne had a right to be tried by jury; but on June 28, 1546, she was condemned by the lord chancellor and the council, without further process, to be burnt, for having denied the corporeal presence of Christ in the sacrament. “They would needs know,” said Anne, “whether the bread in the box were God, or no; I said ‘God is a Spirit and will be worshipped in spirit and truth.’” They asked her whether she wished for a priest; she smiled and said she would confess her faults unto God, for she was sure that He would hear her with favor. She added, “I think His grace shall well perceive me to be weighed in an uneven pair of balances. … Here I take heaven and earth to record that I shall die in mine innocency.”
It was proved that Anne had derived her faith from the Holy Scriptures. Gardiner and his partisans therefore prevailed upon the government, eight days before the death of this young Christian, to draw up a proclamation purporting “that from henceforth no man, woman, or person of what estate, condition or degree soever he or they be [consequently including the ladies and gentlemen of the court as well as others], shall, after the last day of August next ensuing, receive, have, take or keep in their possession the text of the New Testament, of Tyndale’s or Coverdale’s translation in English, nor any other than is permitted by the Act of Parliament; … nor after the said day shall receive, have, take or keep in his or their possession any manner of books printed or written in the English tongue which be or shall be set forth in the names of Fryth, Tyndale, Wycliffe, … Barnes, Coverdale, … or by any of them…” and it was required that all such books should be delivered to the mayor, bailiff, or chief constable of the town to be openly burned (Proclamation of July 8, 1546).
This was a remarkable proceeding on the part of Henry VIII. But events were stronger than the proclamation, and it remained a dead letter.
Anne’s sentence was pronounced before the issue of the proclamation. The trial was over, and there was to be no further inquiry. But her death was not enough to satisfy Rich, Wriothesley and their friends. They had other designs, and were about to perpetrate the most shameful and cruel acts. The object which these men now proposed to themselves was to obtain such evidence as would warrant them in taking proceedings against those ladies of the court who were friends of the Gospel. They went (July 13) to the Tower, where Anne was still confined, and questioned her about her accomplices, naming the duchess-dowager of Suffolk, the countess of Sussex and several others. Anne answered, “If I should pronounce anything against them, I should not be able to prove it.” They next asked her whether there were no members of the royal council who gave her their support. She said, none. “The king is informed,” they replied, “that if you choose you can name a great many persons who are members of your sect.” She answered that “the king was as well deceived in that behalf as dissembled with in other matters.” The only effect of these denials was to irritate Wriothesley and his colleague; and, determined at any cost to obtain information against influential persons at the court, they ordered the rack to be applied to the young woman. This torture lasted a long time, but Anne gave no hint, nor even uttered a cry. The lord chancellor, more and more provoked, said to Sir Antony Knyvet, lieutenant of the Tower, “Strain her on the rack again.” The latter refused to do this. It was to no purpose that Wriothesley threatened him if he would not obey. Rich, a member of the privy council, had frequently given proof of his baseness. Wriothesley was ambitious, inflated with self-conceit, haughty, and easily angered if his advice was not taken. These two men now forgot themselves, and the spectacle was presented of the lord chancellor of England and a privy councilor of the king turned into executioners. They set their own hands to the horrible instrument, and so severely applied the torture to the innocent young woman, that she was almost broken upon it and quite dislocated. She fainted away and was well-nigh dead. “Then the lieutenant caused me to be loosed; incontinently I swooned, and then they recovered me again. After that I sat two long hours, reasoning with my lord chancellor on the bare floor, where he, with many flattering words, persuaded me to leave my opinion. But my Lord God (I thank His everlasting goodness) gave me grace to persevere and will do, I hope, to the very end.”
Henry VIII himself censured Wriothesley for his cruelty, and excused the lieutenant of the Tower. “Then was I brought to a house,” says Anne, “and laid in a bed, with as weary and painful bones as ever had patient Job.” The chancellor sent word to her that if she renounced her faith she would be pardoned and should want for nothing, but that otherwise she should be burnt. She answered, “I will sooner die than break my faith.” At the same time she fell on her knees in the dungeon and said, “O Lord, I have more enemies now than there be hairs on my head; yet, Lord, let them never overcome me with vain words, but fight Thou, Lord, in my stead, for on Thee I cast my care. With all the spite they can imagine, they fall upon me, who am Thy poor creature. Yet, sweet Lord, let me not set by them that are against me, for in Thee is my whole delight. And Lord, I heartily desire of Thee, that Thou wilt of Thy most merciful goodness forgive them that violence which they do, and have done, unto me. Open also Thou their blind hearts, that they may hereafter do that thing in Thy sight, which is only acceptable before Thee, and to set forth Thy verity aright, without all vain fantasies of sinful men. So be it, O Lord, so be it.”
The 16th of July, the day fixed for the last scene of this tragedy, had arrived; everything was ready for the burning of Anne at Smithfield. The execution was to take place not in the morning, the usual time, but at nightfall, to make it the more terrible. It was thus, in every sense, a deed of darkness. They were obliged to carry Anne to the place of execution, for in her state at that time she was unable to walk. When she reached the pile, she was bound to the post by her waist, with a chain which prevented her from sinking down. The wretched Shaxton, nominated for the purpose, then completed his apostasy by delivering a sermon on the sacrament of the altar, a sermon abounding in errors. He had visited Anne in prison and advised her to recant as he had done. She had replied that it had been better for him if he had never been born. In reply to his sermon, Anne, who was in full possession of her faculties, contented herself with saying, “He misseth, and speaketh without the Book.” Three other evangelical Christians were to die at the same time with her—Nicholas Belenian, a priest of Shropshire; John Lacels (Lascelles), of the king’s household, probably the man who had revealed the incontinence of Catherine Howard, a deed for which the Roman party hated him; and one John Adams, a Colchester tailor. “Now, with quietness,” said Lacels, “I commit the whole world to their pastor and herdsman Jesus Christ, the only Savior and true Messias. …” The letter from which we quote is subscribed, “John Lacels, late servant to the king, and now I trust to serve the everlasting King, with the testimony of my blood in Smithfield.”
There was an immense gathering of the people. On a platform erected in front of St. Bartholomew’s church were seated, as presidents at the execution, Wriothesley, lord chancellor of England, the old duke of Norfolk, the old earl of Bedford, the lord mayor Sir Martin Bowes, and various other notables. When the fire was about to be lighted, the chancellor sent a messenger to Anne Askew, instructed to offer her the king’s pardon if she would recant. She answered, “I am not come hither to deny my Lord and Master.” The same pardon was offered to the other martyrs, but they refused to accept it and turned away their heads. Then stood up the ignorant and fanatical Bowes, and exclaimed with a loud voice, “Fiat justitia“ (let justice be done). Anne was soon wrapped in the flames, and this noble victim who freely offered herself a sacrifice to God, gave up her soul in peace. Her companions did likewise.
These four persons were the last victims of the reign of Henry VIII. The enemies of the Reformation were especially annoyed at this time to see women of the first families of England embrace the faith which they hated. On a woman of most superior mind, but young and weak, fell the last blow leveled against the Gospel by the defender of the faith. Anne Askew fell, but the great doctrines which she had so courageously professed were soon to be triumphant in the midst of her fellow countrymen.
Death Casts its Shadow over Catherine Parr 1546
It might be asked how it came to pass that the queen did not put a stop to these cruel executions. The answer is easy—she was herself in danger. The enemies of the Reformation, perceiving her influence over the king, bethought themselves that the execution of Anne Askew and of her companions did not advance their cause; that to make it triumphant the death of the queen was necessary; and that if Catherine were ruined, the Reformation would fall with her. Shortly after the king’s return from France, these men approached him and cautiously insinuated that the queen had made large use of her liberty during his absence; that she diligently read and studied the Holy Scriptures; that she chose to have about her only women who shared her opinions; that she had engaged certain would-be wise and pious persons to assist her in attaining a thorough knowledge of the sacred writings; that she held private conferences with them on spiritual subjects all the year round, and that “in Lent every day in the afternoon, for the space of an hour, one of her said chaplains, in her privy chamber,” expounded the Word of God to the queen, to the ladies of her court and of her bedchamber and others who were disposed to hear these expositions; that the minister frequently attacked what he called the abuses of the existing church; that the queen read heretical books proscribed by royal ordinances; further, that she, the queen of England, employed her leisure hours in translating religious works, and in composing books of devotion; and that she had turned some of the psalms into verse, and had made a collection entitled Prayers or Meditations. The king had always ignored these meetings, determined not to see what was nevertheless clear, that the queen was an evangelical Christian like Anne Askew who had lately been burnt.
Catherine was encouraged by this consideration on the part of the king. She professed her faith in the Gospel unreservedly, and boldly took up the cause of the evangelicals. Her one desire was to make known the truth to the king, and to bring him to the feet of Jesus Christ to find forgiveness for the errors of his life. Without regard to consequences she allowed her overflowing zeal to have free and unrestricted course. She longed to transform not the king alone, but England also. She often exhorted the king “that as he had, to the glory of God and his eternal fame, begun a good and a godly work in banishing that monstrous idol of Rome, so he would thoroughly perfect and finish the same, cleansing and purging his church of England clean from the dregs thereof, wherein as yet remained great superstition.”
Was the passionate Henry going to act rigorously towards this queen as he had towards the others? Catherine’s blameless conduct, the affection which she testified for him, her respectful bearing, her unwearied endeavor to please him, the attentions which she lavished on him had so much endeared her to him that he allowed her the privilege of being freespoken; and had it not been for the active opposition of its enemies, she might have propagated the Gospel throughout the kingdom. As these determined enemies of the Reformation were beginning to fear the total ruin of their party, they strove to rekindle the evil inclinations of Henry VIII, and to excite his anger against Catherine. In their view it seemed that the boldness of her opinions must inevitably involve her ruin.
But the matter was more difficult than they thought. The king not only loved his wife, but he also liked discussion, especially on theological subjects, and he had too much confidence in his own cleverness and knowledge to dread the arguments of the queen. The latter therefore continued her petty warfare, and in respectful terms advanced good scriptural proofs in support of her faith. Henry used to smile and take it all in good part, or at least never appeared to be offended. Gardiner, Wriothesley and others who heard these discussions were alarmed at them. They were almost ready to give up all for lost, and trembling for themselves, they renounced their project. Not one of them ventured to breathe a word against the queen either before the king or in his absence. At length, they found an unexpected auxiliary.
The ulcer burst in the king’s leg, and gave him acute pain which constantly increased. Henry had led a sensual life, and had now become so corpulent, that it was exceedingly difficult to move him from one room to another. He insisted that no one should take notice of his failing powers, and those about him hardly dared to speak of the fact in a whisper. His condition made him peevish; he was restless, and thought that his end was not far off. The least thing irritated him; gloomy and passionate, he had frequent fits of rage. To approach and attend to him had become a difficult task, but Catherine, far from avoiding it, was all the more zealous. Since his illness Henry had given up coming into the queen’s apartments, but he invited her to come to see him, and she frequently went of her own accord, after dinner, or after supper, or at any other favorable opportunity. The thought that Henry was gradually drawing near to the grave filled her heart with the deepest emotion, and she availed herself of every opportunity of bringing him to a decision in favor of evangelical truth. Her endeavors for this end may sometimes have been made with too much urgency. One evening when Wriothesley and Gardiner, the two leaders of the Catholic party, were with the king, Catherine, who ought to have been on her guard, carried away by the ardor of her faith, endeavored to prevail upon Henry to undertake the reformation of the church. The king was hurt. His notion that the queen was lecturing him as a pupil in the presence of the lord chancellor and the bishop of Winchester, increased his vexation. He roughly “brake off that matter and took occasion to enter into other talk.” This he had never before done, and Catherine was surprised and perplexed. Henry, however, did not reproach her, but spoke affectionately, which was certainly on his part the mark of real love. The queen having risen to retire, he said to her as usual, “Farewell! sweet heart.” Catherine meanwhile was disquieted, and felt that keen distress of mind which seizes upon a refined and susceptible woman when she has acted imprudently.
The chancellor and the bishop remained with the king. Gardiner had observed the king’s breaking off the conversation, and he thought, says a contemporary, “that he must strike while the iron was hot,” that he must take advantage of Henry’s ill humor, and by a skillful effort get rid of Catherine and put an end to her proselytism. It was a beaten track; the king had already in one way or another rid himself of four of his queens, and it would be an easy matter to do as much with a fifth.
Henry furnished them with the wished-for opportunity. Annoyed at having been humiliated in the presence of the two lords, he said to them in an ironical tone, “A good hearing it is when women become such clerks, and a thing much to my comfort, to come in mine old days to be taught by my wife.” The bishop adroitly availed himself of this opening, and put forth all his powers and all his malice to increase the anger of the king. He urged that it was lamentable that the queen “should, so much forget herself as to take upon her to stand in any argument with his Majesty”; he praised the king to his face “for his rare virtues, and especially for his learned judgment in matters of religion, above not only princes of that and other ages, but also above doctors professed in theology.” He said “that it was an unseemly thing for any of his Majesty’s subjects to reason and argue with him so malapertly,” and that it was “grievous to him (Gardiner) for his part, and other of his Majesty’s counselors and servants to hear the same.” He added “that they all by proof knew his wisdom to be such that it was not needful for any to put him in mind of any such matters, inferring, moreover, how dangerous and perilous a matter it is… for a prince to suffer such insolent words at his subjects’ hands, who, as they take boldness to contrary their sovereign in words, so want they no will, but only power and strength, to overthwart him in deeds. Besides this, that the religion by the queen so stiffly maintained did not only disallow and dissolve the policy and politic government of princes, but also taught the people that all things ought to be in common.” The bishop went on to assert that “whosoever (saving the reverence due to her for his Majesty’s sake) should defend the principles maintained by the queen, deserved death.” He did not, however, dare, he said, to speak of the queen, unless he were sure that his Majesty would be his buckler. But with his Majesty’s consent his faithful counselors would soon tear off the hypocritical mask of heresy and would disclose treasons so horrible that his Majesty would no longer cherish a serpent in his own bosom.
The lord chancellor spoke in his turn, and the two conspirators did everything they could to stir up the anger of the king against the queen. They filled his head with a variety of tales, both about herself and about some of her lady-attendants; they told him that they had been favorable to Anne Askew, that they had in their possession heretical books, and that they were guilty of treason as well as of heresy. Suspicion and distrust, to which the king’s disposition was too naturally inclined, took possession of him, and he required his two councilors to ascertain whether any articles of law could be brought forward against the queen, even at the risk of her life. They quitted the king’s presence, promising to make very good use of the commission entrusted to them.
The bishop and the chancellor set to work immediately. They resorted to means of every kind—tricks, intrigues, secret correspondence—for the purpose of making out an appearance of guilt on the part of the queen. By bribing some of her domestics they were enabled to get a catalogue of the books which she had in her cabinet. Taking counsel with some of their accomplices, it occurred to them that if they began by attacking the queen, this step would excite almost universal reprobation. They determined, therefore, to prepare men’s minds by making a beginning with the ladies who enjoyed her confidence, and particularly with those of her own kindred—lady Herbert, afterwards countess of Pembroke, the queen’s sister, and first lady of her court; lady Lane, her cousin-german; and lady Tyrwhitt, who by her virtues had gained her entire confidence. Their plan was to examine these three ladies on the Six Articles; to institute a rigorous search in their houses with a view to finding some ground of accusation against Queen Catherine; and, in case they should succeed, to arrest the queen herself and carry her off by night, in a barge, to the Tower. The further they proceeded with their work of darkness, the more they encouraged and cheered each other on; they considered themselves quite strong enough to strike at once the great blow, and they resolved to make the first attack on the queen. They therefore drew up against her a bill of indictment, which purported especially that she had contravened the Six Articles, had violated the royal proclamation by reading prohibited books, and, in short, had openly maintained heretical doctrine. Nothing was wanting but to get the king’s signature to the bill, for if, without the sanction of this signature, they should cast suspicions on the queen, they would expose themselves to a charge of high treason.
Henry VIII was now at Whitehall, and in consequence of the state of his health he very seldom left his private apartments. But few of his councilors, and these only by special order, were allowed to see him. Gardiner and Wriothesley alone came to the palace more frequently than usual to confer with him on the mission which he had entrusted to them. Taking with them their hateful indictment, they went to the palace, were admitted to the king’s presence, and after a suitable introduction they laid before him the fatal document, requesting him to sign it. Henry read it, and took careful note of its contents; then asked for writing materials, and notwithstanding his feebleness he signed it. This was a great victory for the bishop, the chancellor and the Catholic party, and it was a great defeat for the Reformation party, apparently the signal for its ruin. Nothing was now wanting but a writ of arrest, and the chancellor of England would send the queen to the Tower. Once there, her situation would be hopeless.
So cleverly had the plot been managed that during the whole time the queen had neither known nor suspected anything; she paid her usual visits to the king, and had gradually allowed herself to speak to him on religion as she used to do. The king permitted this without gainsaying her; he did not choose to enter into explanations with her. He was, however, ill at ease. The burden was oppressive, and one evening, just after the queen left him, he opened his mind to one of his physicians—his name appears to have been Thomas Wendy—in whom he placed full confidence, and said, “I do not like the queen’s religion, and I do not intend to be much longer worried by the discourses of this doctoress.” He likewise revealed to the physician the project formed by some of his councilors, but forbade him, upon pain of death, to say a word about it to any living soul. Apparently forgetting the wives whom he had already sacrificed, Henry was thus coolly preparing, at the very time when he was himself about to go down to the grave, to add another victim to the hecatomb.
The queen, although encompassed with deadly enemies who were contriving her ruin, was in a state of perfect calmness, when suddenly there burst upon her one of those heavy squalls which so unexpectedly dash the most powerful vessels against the rocks. The chancellor, contented with his triumph, but at the same time agitated, snatched up the paper which, now bearing the king’s signature, ensured the ruin of the queen. Vehement passions sometimes distract men and produce absence of mind. In this case it appears that Wriothesley carelessly thrust the paper into his bosom, and dropped it while crossing one of the apartments of the palace. A pious woman of the court, happening to pass that way shortly afterwards, saw the paper and picked it up. Perceiving at the first glance its importance she took it immediately to the queen. Catherine opened it, read the articles with fear and trembling, and as soon as she saw Henry’s signature, was struck as by a thunderbolt, and fell into a frightful agony. Her features were completely changed; she uttered loud cries, and seemed to be in her death-struggle. She too, then, was to lay down her life on the scaffold. All her attentions, all her devotion to the king had availed nothing; she must undergo the common lot of the wives of Henry VIII. She bewailed her fate and struggled against it. At other times she had glimpses of her own faults and uttered reproaches against herself, and then her distress and her lamentations increased. Those of her ladies who were present could hardly bear the sight of so woeful a state, and, trembling themselves, and supposing that the queen was about to be put to death, they were unable to offer her consolation. The remembrance of this harrowing scene was never effaced from their minds.
Someone brought word to the king that the queen was in terrible distress, and that her life seemed to be in danger. A feeling of compassion was awakened in him, and he sent to her immediately the physicians who were with him. They, finding Catherine in this extremity, endeavored to bring her to herself, and gradually she recovered her senses. The physician to whom Henry had revealed Gardiner’s project, discovering from some words uttered by the queen that the conspiracy was the cause of her anxiety, requested leave to speak to her in private. He told her that he was risking his life by thus speaking to her, but that his conscience would not allow him to take part in the shedding of innocent blood. He therefore confirmed the foreboding of danger which was impending over her, but added that if she henceforward endeavored to behave with humble submission to his Majesty, she would regain, he did not doubt, his pardon and his favor.
These words were not enough to deliver Catherine from her disquietude. Her danger was not concealed from the king, and, unable to endure the thought that she might die of grief, he had himself carried into her room. At the sight of the king Catherine rallied sufficiently to explain to him the despair into which she was thrown by the belief that he had totally abandoned her. Henry then spoke to her as an affectionate husband, and comforted her with gentle words, and this poor heart, till then agitated like a stormy sea, gradually became calm again.
The king could now forget the faults of the queen, but the queen herself did not forget them. She understood that she had habitually assumed a higher position than belonged to a wife, and that the king was entitled to an assurance that this state of things should be changed. After supper the next evening, therefore, Catherine rose and, taking with her only her sister, lady Herbert, on whom she leaned, and lady Jane Grey, who carried a candle before her, went to the king’s bedchamber. When the three ladies were introduced, Henry was seated and speaking with several gentlemen who stood round him. He received the queen very courteously, and of his own accord, contrary to his usual practice, began to talk with her about religion, as if there was one point on which he wished for further information from the queen. She replied discreetly and as the circumstances required. She then added meekly and in a serious and respectful tone, “Your Majesty doth right well know, neither I myself am ignorant, what great imperfection and weakness by our first creation is allotted unto us women, to be ordained and appointed as inferior and subject unto man as our head, from which head all our direction ought to proceed. And that as God made man in his own shape and likeness, whereby he being endued with more special gifts of perfection, might rather be stirred to the contemplation of heavenly things and to the earnest endeavor to obey His commandments, even so also made He woman of man, of whom and by whom she is to be governed, commanded and directed. … Your Majesty being so excellent in gifts and ornaments of wisdom, and I a silly poor woman, so much inferior in all respects of nature unto you, how then cometh it now to pass that your Majesty in such diffuse causes of religion will seem to require my judgment? Which when I have uttered and said what I can, yet must I, will I, refer my judgment… to your Majesty’s wisdom, as my only anchor, supreme head and governor here in earth, next under God, to lean unto.”
“Not so,” said the king, “you are become a doctor, Kate, to instruct us (as we take it), and not to be instructed or directed by us.”
“If your Majesty take it so,” replied the queen, “then hath your Majesty very much mistaken me, who have ever been of the opinion, to think it very unseemly and preposterous for the woman to take upon her the office of an instructor or teacher to her lord and husband, but rather to learn of her husband and be taught by him. And whereas I have, with your Majesty’s leave, heretofore been bold to hold talk with your Majesty, wherein sometimes in opinions there hath seemed some difference, I have not done it so much to maintain opinion, as I did it rather to minister talk, not only to the end your Majesty might with less grief pass over this painful time of your infirmity, being attentive to our talk, and hoping that your Majesty should reap some ease thereby; but also that I, hearing your Majesty’s learned discourse, might receive to myself some profit thereby; wherein I assure your Majesty, I have not missed any part of my desire in that behalf, always referring myself in all such matters unto your Majesty, as by ordinance of nature it is convenient for me to do.”
“And is it even so, sweet heart?” answered the king, “and tended your arguments to no worse end? Then perfect friends we are now again, as ever at any time heretofore.” Then, as if to seal this promise, Henry, who was sitting in his chair, embraced the queen and kissed her. He added, “It does me more good at this time to hear the words of your mouth, than if I had heard present news that a hundred thousand pounds in money had fallen unto me.”
Lavishing on Catherine tokens of his affection and his happiness, he promised her that such misapprehensions with regard to her should never arise again. Then, resuming general conversation, he talked on various interesting subjects with the queen and with the lords who were present, until the night was advanced, when he gave the signal for their departure. There may possibly have been somewhat of exaggeration in Catherine’s words. She had not been altogether so submissive a learner as she said, but she felt the imperative necessity of entirely dispersing the clouds which the ill will of her enemies had gathered over the king’s mind, and it is not to be doubted that in saying what she did she uttered her inmost thought.
Meanwhile, the queen’s enemies, who had no suspicion of the turn things were taking, gave their orders and made their preparations for the great work of the morrow, which was to confine Catherine in the Tower. The day was fine, and the king, wishing to take an airing, went in the afternoon into the park, accompanied only by two of the gentlemen of his bedchamber. He sent an invitation to the queen to bear him company, and Catherine immediately arrived, attended by her three favorite ladies in waiting. Conversation began, but they did not talk of theology. Never had the king appeared more amiable, and his good humor inspired the rest with cheerfulness. In his conversation there was all the liveliness of a frank communicative disposition, and the mirth, it seems, was even noisy. Suddenly, forty halberds were seen gleaming through the park trees. The lord chancellor was at the head of the men, and forty bodyguards followed him. He was coming to arrest the queen and her three ladies and to conduct them to the Tower. The king, breaking off the conversation which entertained him so pleasantly, glanced sternly at the chancellor, and stepping a little aside called him to him. The chancellor knelt down and addressed to the king, in a low voice, some words which Catherine could not understand. She heard only that Henry replied to him in insulting terms, “Fool, beast, arrant knave!” At the same time he commanded the chancellor to be gone. Wriothesley and his followers disappeared. Such was the end of the conspiracy formed against the king’s Protestant wife by Wriothesley, Gardiner, and their friends. Henry then rejoined the queen. His features still reflected his excitement and anger, but as he approached her he tried to assume an air of serenity. She had not clearly understood what was the subject of conversation between the king and the chancellor, but the king’s words had startled her. She received him gracefully and sought to excuse Wriothesley, saying, “Albeit I know not what just cause your Majesty has at this time to be offended with him, yet I think that ignorance, not will, was the cause of his error, and so I beseech your Majesty (if the cause be not very heinous), at my humble suit to take it.” “Ah, poor soul!” said the king, “thou little knowest how evil he deserveth this grace at thy hands. On my word, sweet heart, he hath been to thee a very knave.” Says Foxe, “Thus departed the lord chancellor out of the king’s presence as he came, with all his train, the whole mould of all his device being utterly broken.”
The Last Days of Henry VIII 1546 to January 1547
Weighty consequences followed the miscarriage of the conspiracy formed against the queen. It had been aimed at the queen and the Reformation, but it turned against Roman Catholicism and its leaders. The proverb was again fulfilled—whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein. The wind changed; Romanism suffered an eclipse, it was no longer illumined by the sun of royalty. The first to fall into disgrace with Henry VIII was, as we have seen, Wriothesley. The king displayed his coolness in various ways. The chancellor, disquieted and alarmed for his own pecuniary interests, was annoyed to see preparations for establishing a new Court of Augmentations, by which his privileges and emoluments would be lessened. He earnestly entreated the king that it might not be established in his time. “I shall have cause,” he wrote on October 16, “to be sorry in my heart during my life, if the favour of my gracious master shall so fail, that partly in respect of his poor servant he do not somewhat of his clemency temper it. Thus I make an end, praying God long to preserve his Majesty.” In spite of all his efforts, he lost the royal favor, and the new court which he so much dreaded was erected.
A still heavier blow fell upon Gardiner. After the reconciliation between Henry and Catherine, he was obliged to abstain from making his appearance at the court. On December 2, he wrote to the king, “I am so bold to molest your Majesty with these very letters, which be only to desire your Highness, of your accustomed goodness and clemency, to be my good and gracious lord, and to continue such opinion of me as I have ever trusted and, by manifold benefits, certainly known your Majesty to have had of me… declare mine inward rejoice of your Highness’ favour, and that I would not willingly offend your Majesty for no worldly thing.” This man, at other times so strong, now saw before him nothing but disgrace and became excessively fearful. He might be overtaken by a long series of penalties. Who could tell whether Henry, like Ahasuerus of old, would not inflict upon the accuser the fate which he had designed for the accused? The bishop, restless, wrote to Paget, secretary of state, “I hear no specialty of the king’s Majesty’s miscontentment in this matter of lands, but confusedly that my doings should not be well taken.” No answer to either of these two letters is extant. Towards the end of December, the king excluded Gardiner from the number of his executors and from the council of regency under his successor, Edward; and this involved a heavy loss of honor, money, and influence. Henry felt that for the guardianship of his son and of his realm, he must make his choice between Cranmer and Gardiner. Cranmer was selected. It was in vain that Sir Anthony Browne appealed to him, and requested him to reinstate the bishop of Winchester in this office. “If he be left among you,” said the king, “he would only sow trouble and division. Do not speak of it.” The conspiracy against the queen was not the sole, although probably it was the determining cause of Gardiner’s disgrace.
This, however, was but the beginning of the storm. The first lord of the realm and his family were about to be attacked. If Henry no longer struck to the right, he struck to the left, but he dealt his blows without intermission; in one thing he was ever consistent—cruelty.
In addition to the suffering caused by his disease, the king was oppressed by anxiety at the thought of the ambition and rebellion which might snatch the crown from his son and create disturbances in the kingdom after his death. The court was at this time divided into two parties. One of these was headed by the duke of Norfolk, who, owing to his position as chief of the ancient family of the Howard’s, allied even to the blood royal, was next to the king the most influential man in England. He had been lord treasurer for twenty-five years, and had rendered signal services to the crown. Opposed to this party was that of the Seymour’s, who had not hitherto played any great part, but who now, as uncles to the young prince, found themselves continually advancing in esteem and authority. Norfolk was the chief of the Catholic party, and a great number of evangelical Christians had been burnt while his influence was dominant. His son, Henry, the earl of Surrey, was likewise attached to the doctrines of the Middle Ages, and was even suspected of having associated in Italy with Cardinal Pole. The Seymour’s, on the other hand, had always shown themselves friendly to the Reformation, and while Norfolk supported Gardiner, they supported Cranmer. It appeared inevitable that, after the king’s death, war would break out between these chiefs, and what would happen then? The more Henry’s strength declined, the more numerous became the partisans of the Seymour’s. The sun was rising for the uncles of the young prince, and was setting for Norfolk. The duke, perceiving this, made advances to the Seymour’s. He would have liked his son to marry the daughter of Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, and his daughter, widow of the duke of Richmond, the natural son of the king, to marry Sir Thomas Seymour, Hertford’s brother. But neither Surrey nor the duchess were disposed to the match. There was therefore nothing to expect but a vigorous conflict, and the king chose that the victory of the one party and the defeat of the other should be determined in his lifetime and through his intervention. To which of the two parties would the king give the preference? He had always leaned for support upon Norfolk, and the religious views of this old servant were his own. Would he separate from him at this critical moment? After having from the first resisted the Reformation, would he, on the brink of the grave, give it the victory? The past had belonged to Roman Catholicism; should the future belong to the Gospel preached by the party of reform? Should his death belie his whole life? The infamous conspiracy formed against the queen by the Catholic party would not have been enough in itself to induce the king to adopt so strange a resolution. A circumstance of another kind occurred to determine his course.
At the beginning of December 1546, Sir Richard Southwell, who had been one of Cromwell’s men, and was afterwards a member of the privy council under Queen Mary, gave the king a warning that the powerful family of the Howard’s would expose his son to great danger. Before the birth of Edward, Norfolk had been designated as one of the claimants of the crown. His eldest son was a young man of great intelligence, high spirit, and indomitable courage, and excelled in military exercises. To these qualifications he added the polish of a courtier, fine taste, and an ardent love for the fine arts; his contemporaries were charmed by his poems, and he was looked upon as the flower of the English nobility. These brilliant endowments formed a snare for him. “His head,” people said to the king, “is filled with ambitious projects.” He had borne the arms of Edward the Confessor in the first quarter, which the king alone had the right to do; if, it was added, he has refused the hand of the daughter of the earl of Hertford, it is because he aspires to that of the princess Mary, and if he should marry her after the death of the king, prince Edward will lose the crown.
The king ordered his chancellor to investigate the charges against the duke of Norfolk and his son, the earl of Surrey, and Wriothesley ere long presented to him a paper, in the form of questions, in his (Wriothesley’s) own handwriting. The king read it attentively, pen in hand, hardly able to repress his anger, and underlined with a trembling hand those passages which appeared to him the most important. The following sentences are specimens of what he read:
“If a man coming of the collateral line to the heir of the crown, who ought not to bear the arms of England but on the second quarter… do presume… to bear them in the first quarter, … how this man’s intent is to be judged. …
“If a man compassing with himself to govern the realm do actually go about to rule the king, and should for that purpose advise his daughter or sister to become the king’s harlot, thinking thereby to bring it to pass… what this importeth.
“If a man say these words, ‘If the king die, who should have the rule of the prince but my father or I?’ what it importeth.”
[The words underlined by the king are here printed in italics.]
On Saturday, December 12, the duke and the earl were separately arrested and taken to the Tower, one by land, the other by the river, neither of them being aware that the other was suffering the same fate. The king had often shown himself very hasty in a matter of this kind, but in this case he was more so than usual. He had not long to live, and he desired that these two great lords should go before him to the grave. The same evening the king sent Sir Richard Southwell, Sir John Gate, and Wymound Carew to Kenninghall, in Norfolk, a principal seat of the family, about ninety miles from London. They traveled as swiftly as they could, and arrived at the mansion by daybreak on Tuesday. They had orders to examine the members of the family, and to affix seals to the effects.
The Howard family, unhappily for itself, was deeply divided. Elizabeth, duchess of Norfolk, daughter of the duke of Buckingham, an irritable and passionate woman, had been separated from her husband since 1533, and apparently not without reason. She said of one of the ladies who were in attendance on her, Elizabeth Holland, “This woman is the cause of all my unhappiness.” There was a certain coolness between the earl of Surrey and his sister, the duchess of Richmond, probably because the latter leaned to the side of the Reformation. Surrey had also had a quarrel with his father, and he was hardly yet reconciled to him. A house divided against itself will not stand. The members of the family, therefore, accused one another; the duchess, it may be believed, did not spare her husband, and the duke called his son a fool. When Sir Richard Southwell and his two companions arrived at Kenninghall on Tuesday morning, they caused all the doors to be securely closed so that no one might escape; and after having taken some evidence of the almoner, they requested to see the duchess of Richmond, the only member of the family then at the mansion, and Mistress Elizabeth Holland, who passed for the duke’s favorite. These ladies had only just risen from their beds, and were not ready to make their appearance. However, when they heard that the king’s envoys requested to see them, they betook themselves as quickly as possible to the dining room. Sir John Gate and his friends informed them that the duke and the earl had just been committed to the Tower. The duchess, deeply moved at this startling news, trembled and almost fainted away. She gradually recovered herself, and kneeling down humbled herself as though she were in the king’s presence. She said, “Although nature constrains me sore to love my father, whom I have ever thought to be a true and faithful subject, and also to desire the well-doing of his son my natural brother, whom I note to be a rash man, yet for my part I would nor will hide or conceal anything from his Majesty’s knowledge, specially if it be of weight.” The king’s agent searched the house of the duchess of Richmond, inspected her cabinets and her coffers, but they found nothing tending to compromise her. They found no jewels, for she had parted with her own to pay her debts. Next, they visited Elizabeth Holland’s room, where they found much gold, many pearls, rings and precious stones, and of these they sent a list to the king. They laid aside the books and manuscripts of the duke, and the next day by their direction the duchess of Richmond and Mistress Holland set out for London, where they were to be examined.
Mistress Holland was examined first. She deposed that the duke had said to her “that the king was sickly, and could not long endure, and the realm like to be in an ill case through diversity of opinions.” The duchess of Richmond deposed “that the duke her father would have had her marry Sir Thomas Seymour, brother to the earl of Hertford, which her brother also desired, wishing her withal to endear herself so into the king’s favor, as she might the better rule here as others had done, and that she refused.” The deposition appears to corroborate one of the charges brought against Norfolk by the chancellor. Nevertheless, the supposition that a father, from ambitious motives, could urge his daughter to consent to incestuous intercourse is so revolting, that one can hardly help asking whether there really was anything more in the case than an exercise of the natural influence of a daughter-in-law over her father-in-law. The duchess corroborated the accusation touching the royal arms borne by Surrey, his hatred of the Seymour’s, and the ill which he meditated doing them after the king’s death, and she added that he had urged her not to carry too far the reading of the Holy Scriptures.
Various other depositions having been taken, the duke and his son were declared guilty of high treason (January 7). On the 13th, Surrey was tried before a jury at Guildhall. He defended himself with much spirit, but he was condemned to death after a special message from the king had settled the mind of the hesitant jury. This young nobleman, only about thirty years of age, the idol of his countrymen, was executed on Tower Hill. Public feeling was shocked by this act of cruelty, and everyone extolled the high qualities of the earl. His sister, the duchess of Richmond, took charge of his five children, and admirably fulfilled her duty as their aunt, appointing as their tutor John Foxe, author of the Acts and Monuments of the Martyrs.
The king was now dangerously ill, but he showed no signs of tenderness. People said that he had never hated or ruined anyone by halves, and he was determined, after the death of the eldest son, to sacrifice the father. Norfolk was very much surprised to find himself a prisoner in the Tower, to which he had consigned so many prisoners. He wrote to the lords to let him have some books, for he said that unless he could read he fell asleep. He asked also for a confessor, as he was desirous of receiving his Creator, and for permission to hear mass and to walk outside his apartment in the daytime. At the age of seventy-three, after having taken the lead in the most cruel measures of the reign of Henry VIII, from the death of Anne Boleyn to the death of Anne Askew, he now found that the day of terror was approaching for himself. His heart was agitated, and fear chilled him. He knew the king too well to have any hope that the great and numerous services which he had rendered to him would avail to arrest the sword already suspended over his head. Meanwhile the prospect of death alarmed him, and in his distress he wrote from his prison in the Tower to his royal master, “Most gracious and merciful sovereign lord, I your most humble subject prostrate at your foot, do most humbly beseech you to be my good and gracious lord. … In all my life I never thought one untrue thought against you or your succession, nor can no more judge or cast in my mind what should be laid to my charge than the child that was born this night. … I know not that I have offended any man… unless it were such as are angry with me for being quick against such as have been accused for sacramentaries.” And fancying that he detected the secret motive of his trial, he added, “Let me recover your gracious favor, with taking of me all the lands and goods I have, or as much thereof as pleaseth your Highness.”
The charges brought against Norfolk and Surrey were mere pretexts. No notice having been taken of the letter just cited, the old man, who was anxious by any means to save his life, determined to humble himself still further. On January 12, nine days before the death of Surrey, in the hope of satisfying the king, he made, in the presence of the members of the privy council, the following confession: “I, Thomas, duke of Norfolk do confess and acknowledge myself… to have offended the king’s most excellent Majesty, in the disclosing… of his privy and secret counsel… to the great peril of his Highness. … That I have concealed high treason, in keeping secret the false and traitorous act… committed by my son… against the king’s Majesty… in the putting and using the arms of Edward the Confessor, … in his scutcheon or arms. … Also, that to the peril, slander, and disinherison of the king’s majesty and his noble son, Prince Edward, I have… borne in the first quarter of my arms… the arms of England. … Although I be not worthy to have… the king’s clemency and mercy to be extended to me, … yet with a most sorrowful and repentant heart do beseech his Highness to have mercy, pity, and compassion on me.”
All was fruitless; Norfolk must die like the best servants and friends of the king—like Fisher, Sir Thomas More, and Cromwell. But the duke, the chief nobleman of the land, could not be tried as was his son. The king assembled the parliament; a bill of attainder was presented to the house of lords, and the three readings were hurried through on January 18, 19, 20. The bill, sent down to the commons, was passed by them, and was sent back on the 24th. Although it was customary to reserve the final step to the close of the session, the king, who was in haste, gave his assent on Thursday the 27th, and the execution of Norfolk was fixed for the morning of the next day. All the preparations for this last act were made during the night, and but a few moments were to intervene before this once powerful man was to be led to the scaffold.
Two victims were now awaiting the remorseless scythe of destiny. Death was approaching at the same time the threshold of the palace and that of the prison. Two men who had filled the world with their renown, who during their lifetime had been closely united, and were the foremost personages of the realm, were about to pass the inexorable gates and to be bound with those bonds which God alone can burst. The only question was which of the two would be the first to receive the final stroke. The general expectation was, no doubt, that Norfolk would be the first, for the executioner was already sharpening the axe which was to smite him.
While the duke, still full of vigorous life, was awaiting in his dungeon the cruel death which he had striven so much to avert, Henry VIII was prostrate on his sickbed at Whitehall. Although everything showed that his last hour was at hand, his physicians did not venture to inform him of it, as it was against the law for anyone to speak of the death of the king. One might almost have said that he was determined to have himself declared immortal by act of parliament. At length, however, Sir Antony Denny, chief gentleman of the chamber, who hardly ever left him, took courage and, approaching the bedside of the dying monarch, cautiously told him that all hope, humanly speaking, was lost, and entreated him to prepare for death. The king, conscious of his failing strength, accused himself of various offenses, but added that the grace of God could forgive him all his sins. It has been asserted that he did really repent of his errors. “Several English gentlemen,” says Thevet, “assured me that he was truly repentant, and among other things, on account of the injury and crime committed against the said queen (Anne Boleyn).” This is not certain, but we know that Denny, glad to hear him speak of his sins, asked him whether he did not wish to see some ecclesiastic. “If I see anyone,” said Henry, “it must be Archbishop Cranmer.” “Shall I send for him?” said Denny. The king replied, “I will first take a little sleep, and then, as I feel myself, I will advise upon the matter.” An hour or two later the king awoke, and finding that he was now weaker, he asked for Cranmer. The archbishop was at Croydon, and when he arrived the dying man was unable to speak, and was almost unconscious. However, when he saw the primate, he stretched out his hand, but could not utter a word. The archbishop exhorted him to put all his trust in Christ and to implore His mercy. “Give some token with your eyes or hand,” he said, “that you trust in the Lord.” The king wrung Cranmer’s hand as hard as he could, and soon after breathed his last. He died at two o’clock in the morning, Friday, January 28, 1547. By Henry’s death Norfolk’s life was saved. The new government declined to begin the new reign by putting to death the foremost peer of England. Norfolk lived for eight years longer. He spent, indeed, the greater part of it in prison, but for more than a year he was at liberty, and died at last at Kenninghall.
Henry died at the age of fifty-six years. It is no easy task to sketch the character of a prince whose principal feature was inconsistency. Moreover, as Lord Herbert of Cherbury said, his history is his best portrait. The epoch in which he lived was that of a resurrection of the human mind. Literature and the arts, political liberty, and evangelical faith were now coming forth from the tomb and returning to life. The human mind, since the outburst of bright light which then illumined it, has sometimes given itself up, it must be confessed, to strange errors, but it has never again fallen into its old sleep. There were some kings, such as Henry VIII and Francis I, who took an interest in the revival of letters, but the greater number were alarmed at the revival of freedom and of faith, and instead of welcoming tried to stifle them. Some authors, and particularly Foxe, the martyrologist, have asserted that if death had not prevented him, Henry VIII would have so securely established the Reformation as not to leave a single mass in the kingdom. This is nothing more than a hypothesis, and it appears to us a very doubtful one. The king had made his will some two years before his death, when he was setting out for the war with France. In it, his chief object was to regulate the order of succession and the composition of the council of regency, but at the same time it contains positive signs of scholastic Catholicism. In this document the king says, “We do instantly desire and require the blessed Virgin Mary His mother, with all the holy company of heaven, continually to pray for us and with us while we live in this world, and in time of passing out of the same.”
Moreover, he ordained that the dean and canons of the chapel royal, Windsor, and their successors forever, should have two priests to say masses at the altar. The will was rewritten on December 13, 1546, and the members of the Privy Council signed it as witnesses. But the only change which the king introduced was the omission of Gardiner’s name among the members of the council of regency. The passages respecting the Virgin and masses for his soul were retained.
Henry had brought into the world with him remarkable capacities, and these had been improved by education. He has been praised for his application to the business of the State, for his wonderful cleverness, his rare eloquence, his high courage. His abilities certainly give him a place above the average of kings. He regularly attended the council, corresponded with his ambassadors, and took much pains. In politics he had some clear views; he caused the Bible to be printed, but the moral sentiment is shocked when he is held up as a model. The two most conspicuous features of his character were pride and sensuality, and by these vices he was driven to most blameworthy actions, and even to crimes. Pride led him to make himself head of the church, to claim the right to regulate the faith of his subjects, and to punish cruelly those who had the audacity to hold any other opinions on matters of religion than his own. The Reformation of which he is assumed to be the author was hardly a pseudo-reform; we might rather see in it another species of deformation. Claiming autocracy in matters of faith, he naturally claimed the same in matters of state. All the duties of his subjects were summed up by him in the one word obedience, and those who refused to bow the head to his despotic rule were almost sure to lose it. He was covetous, prodigal, capricious, suspicious; not only was he fickle in his friendships, but on many occasions he did not hesitate to take his victims from amongst his best friends. His treatment of his wives, and especially of Anne Boleyn, condemns him as a man; his bloody persecutions of the evangelicals condemn him as a Christian; the scandalous servility which he endeavored, and not unsuccessfully, to engraft in the nobles, the bishops, the house of commons and the people, condemn him as a king.
The End of Volume 2, Book Three