Volume 2 Book 2
England Breaks with Rome
- CHAPTER 1 – A Conspiracy Against the Reformation
- CHAPTER 2 – The Church Becomes a Department of State
- CHAPTER 3 – Tyndale and His Enemies
- CHAPTER 4 – Henry VIII as King-Pontiff
- CHAPTER 5 – Henry Destroys His Opponents
- CHAPTER 6 – Two Notable executions
- CHAPTER 7 – The Dissolution of the Smaller Monasteries
- CHAPTER 8 – Henry Negotiates With German Lutherans
- CHAPTER 9 – The Accusation of the Queen
- CHAPTER 10 – The Execution of Anne Boleyn
- CHAPTER 11 – Catholicism Versus Protestantism
- CHAPTER 12 – Henry Enforces “Catholicism Minus the Pope”
- CHAPTER 13 – The Pilgrimage of Grace
- CHAPTER 14 – The Martyrdom of Tyndale
A Conspiracy against the Reformation March and April, 1534
The parliament of 1534 had greatly advanced the cause of the Reformation. The voices of the most enlightened men of England had been heard in it with still greater power than in 1529; and accordingly a historian, referring to the meeting of 1534, speaks of it as “that great session.” These enlightened men, however, formed but a small minority, and among them were many who, from a want of independence, never voted on the side of liberty but when the king authorized them. The epoch was a critical one for the nation. It might as easily fall back to the pope as advance towards the Gospel. Hesitating between the Middle Ages and modern times, it had to choose either life or death. Would it make a vigorous effort and reach those bracing heights, like travelers scaling the rugged sides of the Alps? England appeared too weak for so daring a flight. The mass of the people seemed chained by time-worn prejudices to the errors and practices of Rome. The king no doubt had political views which raised him above his age; but, a slave to his passions, and the docile disciple of the old ways, he detested a real Reformation and real liberty. The clergy were superstitious, selfish, and excitable; and the advisers of the crown knew no other rule than the will of their master. By none of these powers, therefore, could a transformation be accomplished. The safety of England came from that sovereign hand, that mysterious power, which was already stirring the western world. The nation began to feel its energetic impulse. A strange breeze seemed to be filling the sails and driving the bark of the state towards the harbor, notwithstanding the numerous shoals that lay around it.
The thought which at that time mainly engrossed the minds of the most intelligent men of England—men like Cranmer, Cromwell, and their friends—was the necessity of throwing off the papal authority. They believed that it was necessary to root out the foreign and unwholesome weed, which had spread over the soil of Britain, and tear it up so thoroughly that it could never grow again. Parliament had declared that all the powers exercised by the bishop of Rome in England must cease and be transferred to the crown; and that no one, not even the king, should apply to Rome for any dispensation whatsoever. A prelate had preached every Sunday at St. Paul’s Cross that the pope was not the head of the Church. On the other hand, the pontiff, who was reckoning on Henry’s promised explanations and satisfactory propositions, seeing that the messenger whom he expected from London did not arrive, had solemnly condemned that prince on the 23rd of March, 1534. But immediately startled at his own boldness, Clement asked himself with agony how he could repair this wrong and appease the king. He saw it was impossible, and in the bitterness of his heart exclaimed, “Alas! England is lost to us!”
Two days after the famous consistory in which Henry’s condemnation had been pronounced, an English courier entered Rome, still in a state of agitation and trouble, and went straight to the papal palace. “What is his business?” people said, “and what can give him such boldness?” The Englishman was bringing to the ministers of the Vatican the long-expected act by which the King of England declared himself prepared to enter into an arrangement with the pope, provided the cardinals of the imperial faction were excluded. The messenger at the same time announced that Sir Edward Carne and William Revett, two envoys from Henry VIII, would soon arrive to conclude the business. Cardinal Farnese, who erelong succeeded Clement under the title of Paul III, and the more moderate prelates of the sacred college waited upon the pope at once and begged him to summon the consistory without delay. It was just what Clement desired, but the imperialists, more furious than ever, insisted on the confirmation of the sentence condemning Henry, and spared no means to ensure success. Monks went about repeating certain stories which their English brethren sent them, and which they furthermore exaggerated. They asserted that the English people were about to rise in a body against the king and throw themselves at the feet of the holy father. The pope ratified the sentence, and the consistory, taking one more step, urged the Emperor to carry it out.
It has been said that a delay of two days was the cause of the Reformation of England. That is a mistake. The Reformation came from the Holy Scriptures, from God, from His mighty grace, and not from princes, their passions, or delays. Even had the pontifical court at last conceded to Henry the divorce he asked for, that prince would probably not have renounced the rights he had acquired, and which made him sole and true monarch of England. Had he done so, it is doubtful whether he was strong enough to check the Reformation. The people were in. motion, Christian truth had reappeared among them: neither pontifical agitations nor concessions could stop the rapid current that was carrying them to the pure and living waters of the Gospel.
However, Sir Edward Carne and William Revett, Henry’s envoys, arrived in Italy full of hope, and pledged themselves (as they wrote to the king) to reconcile England and the papacy “in conformity to his Highness’ purpose.” Having learnt on reaching Bologna that Du Bellay, the bishop of Paris, who was instructed to support them, was in that city, they hurried to him to learn the exact state of affairs. The bishop was one of those enlightened catholics who believed that the extreme papal party was exposing the papacy to great danger, and who would have prevented schism in the Church by giving some satisfaction to Germany and England. Hence the envoys from Henry VIII found the prelate dejected and embarrassed. “All is over,” he told them. “The pope has pronounced sentence against his Majesty.” Carne and Revett were thunderstruck; the burden was too heavy for them. “All our hopes have vanished in a moment,” they said. Du Bellay assured them that he had spared no pains likely to prevent so precipitate and imprudent an act on the part of a pope. “But the imperialists,” he said, “moved heaven and earth, and constrained Clement VII to deliver a sentence in opposition to his own convictions.” The ambassador of Francis I added that there was still one gleam of hope. “Raincé, secretary to the French embassy at Rome, with an oath, wished himself at perdition,” said Du Bellay rather coarsely, “if our holy father does not patch up all that has been damaged.” The Englishmen desired to go to the pope forthwith, in order to prevent the execution of the sentence. “Do nothing of the kind,” said the French bishop. “Do not go to Rome on any pretext whatsoever.”
Perhaps Du Bellay wanted first to know what his master thought of the matter. Carne, undecided what to do, dispatched a messenger to Henry VIII to ask for orders; and then, ten days later, wishing to do something, he appealed from the bishop of Rome ill-informed to the bishop of Rome better-informed.
When the King of England received his ambassador’s message, he could hardly restrain his anger. At the very moment when he had made a concession which appeared to him the height of condescension, Rome treated him with contempt and sacrificed him to Charles V. Even the nation was aroused. The pope, it was said, commissions a foreign prince to execute his decrees; soldiers, newly raised in Germany, and brimful of insults and threats, are preparing to land in England. National pride arrayed the people on the king’s side. Henry no longer hesitated; his offended honor demanded reparation—a complete rupture alone could satisfy it. Many writers supported him. “The pope,” said Dr. Sampson, dean of the Chapel Royal, “has no more power in England than the Archbishop of Canterbury in Rome. It was only by tacit consent that the pope crept into the kingdom, but we intend to drive him out now by express consent.” The two houses of parliament were almost unanimously of that opinion. The privy council proposed to call upon the lord mayor to see that anti-Romish doctrines were taught in every house in London. Lastly, the people showed their opposition after their fashion, indulging in games and masquerades, in which a cardinal at one time, the pope at another, were represented. To call a man a “papist” or “a priest of the pope” was one of the greatest insults. Even the clergy declared against Rome. On the 31st of March the lower house of convocation discussed whether the Roman pontiff had in England, according to Scripture, a higher jurisdiction than any other foreign bishop. Thirty-three voted in the negative, only four in the affirmative. The king immediately forwarded the same question to all the ecclesiastical corporations of the kingdom. The friends of the Gospel were filled with joy. The pope had made a great mistake when, imitating the style of ancient Rome, he had hurled the bolts of the Vatican, as Jupiter had in days of old launched the thunders of the Capitol. A great revolution seemed to be working itself out, unopposed in this island, so long the slave of the Roman pontiffs. There was just at this time nothing to be feared from without; Charles V was overwhelmed with business, the King of Scotland was on better terms with his uncle of England, and Francis I was preparing for a friendly interview with Henry VIII. And yet the danger had never been greater, but the mine was discovered in March 1534, before the match could be applied to it.
A dangerous political and clerical conspiracy had been for some time silently organizing in the monasteries. It was possible, no doubt, to find here and there in the cloisters monks who were learned, pious, and loyal; but the greater number were ignorant and fanatical, and terribly alarmed at the dangers which threatened their order. Their arrogance, grossness, and loose manners irritated the most enlightened part of the nation; their wealth, endowments, and luxury aroused the envy of the nobility. A religious and social transformation was taking place at this memorable epoch, and the monks foresaw that they would be the first victims of the revolution. Accordingly they were resolved to fight to the uttermost for their altars and homes. But who was to take the first step in the perilous enterprise—who to give the signal?
As in the days of the Maid of Orleans, it was a young woman who grasped the trumpet and sounded the charge. But if the first was a heroine, the other was an ecstatic—nay, a fanatic.
There lived in the village of Aldington in Kent a young woman of singular appearance. Although of an age which is usually distinguished by a fresh and clear complexion, her face was sallow and her eyes haggard. All of a sudden she would be seized with a trembling of the whole body; she lost the use of her limbs and of her understanding, uttered strange and incoherent phrases, and fell at last stiff and lifeless to the ground. She was, moreover, exemplary in her conduct. The people declared her state to be miraculous, and Richard Masters, the rector of the parish, a cunning and grasping priest, noticing these epileptic attacks, resolved to take advantage of them to acquire money and reputation. He suggested to the poor sufferer that the extraordinary words she uttered proceeded from the inspiration of Heaven, and declared that she would be guilty if she kept secret this wonderful work of God. An official of Canterbury, Dr. Edward Bocking, joined the priest with the intention of turning the girl’s disease to the profit of the Romish party. They represented to Elizabeth Barton—such was the name of the Kentish maiden—that the cause of religion was exposed to great danger in England, that it was intended to turn out the monks and priests; but that God, whose hand defends His Church by the humblest instruments, had raised her up in these inauspicious days to uphold that holy ark, which king, ministers, and parliament desired to throw down. Such language pleased the girl; on the faith of the priests, she regarded her attacks as divine transports; a feeling of pride carne over her; she accepted the part assigned her. On a sudden her imagination kindled; she announced that she had held communications with saints and angels, even with Satan himself. Was this sheer imposture or enthusiasm? There was, perhaps, a little of both; but, in her eyes, the end justified the means. When speaking, she affected strange turns, unintelligible figures, poetical language, and clothed her visions in rude rhymes, which made the educated smile, but helped to circulate her oracles among the people. Erelong she set herself unscrupulously above the truth, and, inspired by a feverish energy, did not fear to excite the people to bloodshed.
There was somewhere out in the fields, in one part of the parish, a wretched old chapel that had been long deserted, and where a coarse image of the Virgin still remained. Masters determined to make it the scene of a lucrative pilgrimage. He suggested the notion to Elizabeth Barton, and erelong she gave out that the Virgin would cure her of her disorder in that holy consecrated edifice. She was carried thither with a certain pomp, and placed devoutly before the image. Then a crisis came upon her. Her tongue hung out of her mouth, her eyes seemed starting from their sockets, and a hoarse sepulchral voice was heard speaking of the terrors of hell; and then, by a singular transformation, a sweet and insinuating voice described the joys of paradise. At last the ecstasy ended, Elizabeth came to herself, declared that she was perfectly cured, and announced that God had ordered her to become a nun and to take Dr. Bocking as her confessor. The prophecy of the Kentish maiden touching her own disease being thus verified, her reputation increased.
Elizabeth Barton’s accomplices imagined that the new prophetess required a wider stage than the fields of Aldington, and hoped that, once established in the ecclesiastical metropolis of England, she would see her followers increase throughout the kingdom. Immediately after her cure, the ventriloquist entered the convent of St. Sepulchre at Canterbury, to which Dr. Bocking belonged. Once in this primatial city, her oracles and her miracles were multiplied. Sometimes in the middle of the night, the door of her cell opened miraculously—it was a call from God, inviting her to the chapel to converse with Him. Sometimes a letter in golden characters was brought to her by an angel from heaven. The monks kept a record of these wonders, these oracles; and, selecting some of them, Masters laid the miraculous collection, this bible of the fanatics, before Archbishop Warham. The prelate, who appeared to believe in the nun’s inspiration, presented the document to the king, who handed it to Sir Thomas More, and ordered the words of the Kentish maiden to be carefully taken down and communicated to him. In this Henry VIII showed probably more curiosity and distrust than credulity.
Elizabeth and her advisers were deceived, and thought they might enter into a new phase, in which they hoped to reap the reward of their imposture. The Aldington girl passed from a purely religious to a political mission. This is what her advisers were aiming at. All, and especially Dr. Bocking, who contemplated restoring the authority of the papacy—even were it necessary to their end to take the king’s life—began to denounce in her presence Henry’s tolerance of heresy and the new marriage he desired to contract. Elizabeth eagerly joined this factious opposition. “If Henry marries Anne Boleyn,” she told Bishop Fisher, “in seven months’ time there will be no king in England.” The circle of her influence at once grew wider. The Romish party united with her. Abell, Queen Catherine’s agent, entered into the conspiracy; twice Elizabeth Barton appeared before the pope’s legates; Fisher supported her, and Sir Thomas More, one of the most cultivated men of his day, though at first little impressed in her favor, admitted afterwards the truth of some of her foolish and guilty revelations. One thing was yet wanting, and that was very essential in the eyes of the supporters of the movement—Elizabeth must appear before Henry VIII as Elijah appeared before Ahab; they expected great results from such an interview. At length they obtained permission, and the Kentish maiden prepared herself for it by exercises which over-excited her. When brought into the presence of the prince, she was at first silent and motionless, but in a moment her eyes brightened and seemed to flash fire; her mouth was drawn aside and stretched, while from her trembling lips there fell a string of incoherent phrases. “Satan is tormenting me for the sins of my people,” she exclaimed, “but our blessed Lady shall deliver me by her mighty hand. … O times! O manners! … Abominable heresies, impious innovations! … King of England, beware that you touch not the power of the holy Father. … Root out the new doctrines. … Burn all over your kingdom the New Testament in the vulgar tongue. Henry, forsake Anne Boleyn and take back your wife Catherine. … If you neglect these things, you shall not be king longer than a month, and in God’s eyes you will not be so even for an hour. You shall die the death of a villain, and Mary, the daughter of Catherine, shall wear your crown.”
This noisy scene produced no effect on the king. Henry, though prompt to punish, would not reply to Elizabeth’s nonsense, and was content to shrug his shoulders. But the fanatical young woman was not discouraged—if the king could not be converted, the people must be roused. She repeated her threats in the convents, castles, and villages of Kent, the theatre of her frequent excursions. She varied them according to circumstances. The king must fall, but at one time she announced it would be by the hands of his subjects; at another, of the priests; and at a third, by the judgment of God. One point alone was unchanged in her utterances—Henry Tudor must perish. Erelong, like a prophetess lifted above the ordinary ministers of God, she reprimanded even the sovereign pontiff himself. She thought him too timid, and, taking him to task, declared that if he did not bring Henry’s plans to naught, “the great stroke of God which then hung over his head” would inevitably fall upon him.
This boldness added to the number of her partisans. Monks, nuns, and priests, knights, gentlemen, and scholars, were carried away by her. Young folks especially and men of no culture eagerly embraced this mad cause. There were also men of distinction who did not fear to become her defenders. Bishop Fisher was gained over; he believed himself certain of the young woman’s piety. Being a man of melancholy temperament and mystic tendency, a lover of the marvelous, he thought that the soul of Elizabeth might well have a supernatural intercourse with the Infinite Being. He said in the House of Lords, “How could I anticipate deceit in a nun, to whose holiness so many priests bore witness?” The Roman Catholics triumphed. A prophetess had risen up in England, like Deborah in Israel.
One eminent and large-hearted catholic, Sir Thomas More, had however some doubts, and the monks who were Elizabeth’s advisers set every engine at work to win him over. During the Christmas of 1532, Father Risby, a Franciscan of Canterbury, arrived at Chelsea to pass the night there. After supper, he said, “What a holy woman this nun of Kent is! It is wonderful to see all that God is doing through her.” “I thank God for it,” answered More coldly. “By her mediation she saved the cardinal’s soul,” added the monk. The conversation went no farther. Some time later a fresh attempt was made; Father Rich, a Franciscan of Richmond, came and told More the story of the letter written in letters of gold and brought by an angel. “Well, father,” said the chancellor, “I believe the nun of Kent to be a virtuous woman, and that God is working great things by her, but stories like that you have told me are not part of our Credo, and before repeating them, one should be very sure about them.” However, as the clergy generally countenanced Elizabeth, More could not bear the idea of forming a sect apart, and went to see the prophetess at Sion monastery. She told him a silly story of the devil turned into a bird. More was satisfied to give her a double ducat and commend himself to her prayers. The chancellor, like other noble intellects among the catholics, was prepared to admit certain superstitions, but he would have had the nun keep in her religious sphere; he feared to see her touch upon politics. “Do not speak of the affairs of princes,” he said to her. “The relations which the late Duke of Buckingham had with a holy monk were in great part the cause of his death.” More had been Chancellor of England, and perhaps feared the duke’s fate.
Elizabeth Barton did not profit by this lesson. She again declared that, according to the revelations from God, no one should deprive the Princess Mary of the rights she derived through her birth, and predicted her early accession. Father Goold immediately carried the news to Catherine. The nun and her advisers, who chided the pope only through their zeal for the papacy, had communications with the nuncio; they thought it necessary for him to join the conspiracy. They agreed upon the course to be adopted; at a given time, monks were to mingle with the people and excite a seditious movement. Elizabeth and her accomplices called together such as were to be the instruments of their criminal design. “God has chosen you,” said the nun to them, “to restore the power of the Roman pontiff in England.” The monks prepared for this meritorious work by devout practices; they wore sackcloth next to their skin; they fastened iron chains round their bodies, fasted, watched, and made long prayers. They were seriously intent on disturbing the social order and banishing the Word of God.
The violent Henry VIII—easy-tempered for once in his life—persisted in his indifference. The seven months named by the prophetess had gone by, and the dagger with which she had threatened him had not touched him. He was in good health, had the approbation of parliament, saw the nation prosper under his government, and possessed the wife he had so passionately desired. Everything appeared to succeed with him, which disconcerted the fanatics. To encourage them Elizabeth said: “Do not be deceived. Henry is no longer really king, and his subjects are already released from every obligation towards him. But he is like King John, who, though rejected by God, seemed still to be a king in the eyes of the world.”
The conspirators intrigued more than ever; not content with Catherine’s alliance, they opened a communication with Margaret Plantagenet, Countess of Salisbury, niece of Edward IV, and with her children, the representatives of the party of the White Rose. Hitherto this lady had refrained from politics, but, her son Reginald Pole having united with the pope and quarreled with Henry VIII, they prevailed upon her to carry over to the Princess Mary, whose household she directed, the forces of the party of which she was the head.
The conspirators believed themselves sure of victory, but at the very moment when they imagined themselves on the point of restoring the papacy in England, their whole scheme suddenly fell to the ground. The country was in danger; the state must interfere. Cranmer and Cromwell were the first to discover the approaching storm. Canterbury, the primate’s archiepiscopal city, was the center of the criminal practices of the Kentish woman. One day the prioress of St. Sepulchre received the following note from Cranmer: “Come to my palace next Friday; bring your nun with you. Do not fail.” The two women duly came; Elizabeth’s head was so turned that she saw in everything that happened the opportunity of a new triumph. This time she was deceived. The prelate questioned her; she obstinately maintained the truth of her revelations, but did not convince the archbishop, who had her taken to Cromwell, by whom she was sent to the Tower with five other nuns of her party. At first Elizabeth proudly stuck to her character of prophetess; but imprisonment, the searching questions of the judges, and the grief she felt on seeing her falsehoods discovered, made her give way at last. The unhappy creature, a blind tool of the priests, was not entirely wanting in proper feeling. She began to understand her offense and to repent of it; she confessed everything. “I never had a vision in all my life,” she declared, “whatever I said was of my own imagination; I invented it to please the people about me and to attract the homage of the world.” The disorder which had weakened her head had much to do with her aberrations. Masters, Bocking, Goold, Deering, and others more guilty than she appeared before the Star Chamber. Elizabeth’s confession rendered their denials impossible, and they acknowledged having attempted to get up an insurrection with a view of re-establishing the papacy. They were condemned to make a public disavowal of their impostures, and the following Sunday at St. Paul’s was appointed for that purpose. The bishop of Bangor preached; the nun and her accomplices, who were exposed on a platform in front of him, confessed their crimes before the people, and were then led back to the Tower.
Personages far more illustrious than these were involved. Besides an epileptic woman and a few monks, the names of Fisher and of More were in the indictment. Cromwell urged both the bishop and the statesman to petition the king for pardon, assuring them they would obtain it. “Good Master Cromwell,” exclaimed Sir Thomas More, who was much excited and ashamed of his credulity, “my poor heart is pierced at the idea that his Majesty should think me guilty. I confess that I did believe the nun to be inspired, but I put away far from me every thought of treason. For the future, neither monk nor nun shall have power to make me faithless to my God and my king.” Cranmer, Cromwell, and the chancellor prevailed on Henry VIII to strike More’s name out of the bill. The illustrious scholar escaped the capital punishment with which he was threatened. His daughter, Margaret Roper, came in a transport of joy to tell him the news. “In faith, Meg,” said More with a smile, “quod differtur non aufertur” (what is postponed is not dropped).
The case of the bishop of Rochester was more serious; he had been in close communication with all those knaves, and the honest but proud and superstitious churchman would not acknowledge any fault. Cromwell, who desired to save the old man, conjured him to give up all idea of defending himself, but Fisher obstinately wrote to the House of Lords that he had seen no deception in the nun. The name of the king’s old tutor was left, therefore, in the bill of attainder, but he was charged with misprision, i.e., failure of duty in respect to the crime of another, and not with treason. In the outcome he was condemned to the loss of his goods and to imprisonment at the king’s pleasure, penalties from which he escaped by the payment to the king of a fine of £300.
The bill was introduced into the House of Lords on the 21st of February, and received the royal assent on the 21st of March. The prisoners charged with treason were brought together in the Star Chamber to hear their sentence. Their friends had still some hope, but the Bull which the pope had issued against Henry VIII on the 23rd of March, endangering the order of succession, made indulgence difficult. The king and his ministers felt it their duty to anticipate, by a severe example, the rebellion which the partisans of the pontiff were fomenting in the kingdom. Sentence of death was pronounced upon all the criminals.
During this time the unfortunate Elizabeth Barton saw all the evils she had caused rise up before her eyes; she was grieved and agitated, she was angry with herself and trembled at the idea of the temporal and eternal penalties she had deserved. Death was about to end this drama of fanaticism. On the 20th of April the false prophetess was carried to Tyburn with her accomplices, in the midst of a great crowd of people. On reaching the scaffold, she said, “I am the cause not only of my own death, which I have richly deserved, but of the death of all those who are going to suffer with me. Alas! I was a poor wretch without learning, but the praises of the priests about me turned my brain, and I thought I might say anything that came into my head. Now I cry to God and implore the king’s pardon.” These were her last words. She fell—she and her accomplices—under the stroke of the law.
These were the means to which fervent disciples of Rome had recourse to combat the Reformation in England. Such weapons recoil against those who employ them. The blindest partisans of the Church of the popes continued to look upon this woman as a prophetess, and her name was in great favor during the reign of Mary. But the most enlightened Roman Catholics are now careful not to defend the imposture. The fanatical episode was not without its use; it made the people understand what these pretended visions and false miracles were, through which the religious orders had acquired so much influence, and so far contributed to the suppression of the monasteries within whose walls such a miserable deception had been concocted.
The Church Becomes a Department of State Christmas, 1533 to June, 1534
The maid of Kent having been executed, her partisans rallied round another woman, who represented the Romish system in its highest features, as Elizabeth Barton had represented it in its more vulgar phase. After the nun came the queen.
Catherine had always claimed the honors due to the Queen of England, and her attendants yielded them to her. “We made oath to her as queen,” they said, “and the king cannot discharge our consciences.” Whenever Lord Mountjoy, royal commissioner to the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, called her “princess,” she raised her head haughtily and said to him, “You shall answer for this before God.” “Ah!” exclaimed Mountjoy, fretted by the vexations of his office, “I would a thousand times rather serve the king in the most dangerous cause!” Mary having also received an injunction to drop her title of princess, made answer, “I shall believe no such order, unless I see his Majesty’s signature.” The most notable partisans of Roman Catholicism, and even the ambassador of Charles V, paid the queen frequent visits. Henry became uneasy, and shortly before Christmas 1533 he took measures to remove her from her friends. Catherine opposed everything. Suffolk wrote to the king, “I have never seen such an obstinate woman.” But there was a man quite as obstinate, and that was Henry.
His most cherished desires had not been satisfied—he had no son. Should he chance to die, he would leave two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, the former supported by the partisans of the old times, the latter by those of the new. Civil war would probably decide to whom the crown should belong. It was necessary to prevent such a misfortune. The Lords and Commons, therefore, petitioned the king, no doubt at his instigation, that his marriage with Lady Catherine should be declared null, and her child illegitimate; that his marriage with Queen Anne should be recognized as valid, and the children issuing from it alone entitled to succeed. All classes of people immediately took the statutory oath; even the monks bowed their heads. They said, “Bound to render to our king Henry VIII, and to him alone after Jesus Christ, fidelity and worship, we promise inviolable obedience to our said lord as well as to our most serene Queen Anne, his wife, and to their children; and we profess perpetual respect for the holy and chaste marriage which they have legitimately contracted.” This forced testimony, borne to Anne by the monastic orders, is one of the numerous monuments of the despotism of Henry VIII and of the moral weakness of the monks.
But in this oath of allegiance the king had meditated a more important object—to banish the papacy from England. The monks bound themselves not only to recognize the prescribed order of succession, but further to substitute the primacy of the king for that of the pope. “We affirm,” they said, “that King Henry is the head of the Anglican Church, that the Roman bishop, falsely styled pope and sovereign pontiff, has no more authority than any other bishop; and we promise to preach Christ simply and openly according to the rule of Scripture and of the orthodox and catholic doctors.” A sign, a word from the State was sufficient to make the papal army pass from the camp of Rome to the camp of the king.
The “famous question,” that of the Romish jurisdiction, was also put before the two universities. On the 2nd of May, 1534, Cambridge declared that “all its doctors, having carefully examined the Holy Scriptures, had not discovered the primacy of the pope in them.” The clergy of the province of York, led by the archbishop, Edward Lee, a churchman full of talent, activity, and vanity, stoutly resisted at first, but eventually the prelate wrote to the king on the 2nd of June that “according to the unanimous opinion of his clergy, the pope in conformity with the Holy Scriptures had no more authority in England than any other foreign ecclesiastic.” Henry, not content with the proclamations of his council and the declarations of parliament, required for his separation from Rome the suffrage of the Church; and the Church, probably more from weakness than conviction, gave it. However, without reckoning the members of the clergy who, like the primate, wanted no pope, there were many bishops who, at heart, were not sorry to be liberated from the perpetual encroachments of the Roman court.
A rumor from the continent suddenly alarmed the king among all his easy triumphs; a more formidable enemy than monks and bishops was rising against him. It was reported that the Emperor was not only recruiting soldiers in Flanders, but was preparing considerable numbers from Bohemia, Germany, Italy, and Spain for the invasion of England. Francis I could not permit this kingdom, so close to his own, to be occupied by the armies of Charles V, his constant enemy; he determined therefore to have an interview with Henry, and to that intent sent over the Seigneur De la Guiche, his chamberlain and counselor. Henry replied that it would be difficult to leave England just at a time when pope and Emperor spoke of invading him; the more so as he must leave his “most dearly beloved queen” (Anne Boleyn) and his young daughter, the Princess Elizabeth; as well as another daughter and her mother, the aunt of Charles V, whose partisans were conspiring against him. “Ask my good brother the king,” said Henry to De la Guiche, “to collect a fleet of ships, galleys, and barks to prevent the Emperor’s landing. And in case that prince should invade either France or England, let us agree that the one who is not called upon to defend his own kingdom shall march into Charles’ territories.” However, Henry consented to go as far as Calais.
There was another invasion which, in Henry’s eyes, was much more to be dreaded. That king—a greater king perhaps than is ordinarily supposed—maintained that no prince, whether his name was Charles or Clement, had any business to meddle with his kingdom. The act of the 23rd of March, by which the pope had condemned him, had terminated his long endurance; Clement VII had declared war against him and Henry VIII accepted it. A man, though he be ordinarily the slave of his passions, has sometimes impulses which belong to great characters. Henry determined to finish with the pope as the pope had finished with him. He will declare himself master in his own island; dauntlessly he will brave Rome and the imperial power ready to assail him. Erelong the fire which consumed him appeared to kindle his subjects. The political party, at the head of which were Suffolk and Gardiner, was ready to give up the papacy, even while maintaining the dogmas of catholicism. The evangelical party desired to go farther, and drive the catholic doctrines out of England. These two hostile sections united their forces against the common enemy.
At the head of the evangelicals, who were eventually to prevail under the son of Henry VIII, were two men of great intelligence, destined to be powerful instruments in the enfranchisement of England. Cranmer, the ecclesiastical leader of the party, gave way too easily to the royal pressure; but, being a moderate theologian, a conscientious Christian, a skillful administrator, and indefatigable worker, he carefully studied the Scriptures, the Fathers, and even the Schoolmen; he took note of their sayings and, strengthened by their opinions, continued the work of the Reformation with calmness and perseverance. Beside him stood Cromwell, the lay leader of protestant feeling. Gifted in certain respects with a generous character, he loved to benefit those who had helped him in adversity; but too attentive to his own interests, he profited by the Reformation to increase his riches and honors. Inferior to Cranmer in moral qualities, he had a surer and a wider glance than the primate; he saw clearly the end for which he must strive and the means necessary to be employed, and combined much activity with his talents. These leaders were strongly supported. A certain number of ministers and lay members of the Church desired an evangelical reform in England. Latimer, a popular orator, was the tribune commissioned to scatter through the nation the principles whose triumph Cranmer and Cromwell sought. He preached throughout the whole extent of the province of Canterbury; but if his bold language enlightened the well-disposed, it irritated the priests and monks. His great reputation led to his being invited to preach before the king and queen. Cranmer, fearing his incisive language and sarcastic tone, begged him to say nothing in the pulpit that would indicate any soreness about his late disgrace. “In your sermon let not any sparkle or suspicion of grudge appear to remain in you. If you feel authorized by the Word of God to attack any sin or superstition, let not the reproof be given without affection.” Latimer preached, and Anne Boleyn was so charmed by his evangelical simplicity, Christian eloquence, and apostolic zeal, that shortly she used her influence with the king to have the preacher elevated to the see of Worcester. Latimer takes his place by the side of Cranmer among the reformers of the English Church.
The evangelical and the political parties being thus agreed to support the prince, Henry determined to strike the decisive blow. On the 9th of June, 1534, about three months after he had been condemned at Rome, he signed at Westminster the proclamation “for the abolishing of the usurped power of the pope.” The king declared, “That having been acknowledged next after God, supreme head of the Church of England, he abolished the authority of the bishop of Rome throughout his realm, and commanded all bishops to preach and have preached, every Sunday and holy day, the true and sincere Word of the Lord; to teach that the jurisdiction of the Church belongs to him alone, and to blot out of all canons, liturgies, and other works the name of the bishop of Rome and his pompous titles, so that his name and memory be never more remembered in the kingdom of England, except to his contumely and reproach. By so doing you will advance the honor of God Almighty, manifest the imperial majesty of your sovereign lord, and procure for the people unity, tranquility, and prosperity.”
Would these orders be executed? If there remained in any university, monastery, parish, or even in any wretched presbytery, a breviary in which the name of the pope was written; if on the altar of any poor country church a missal was found with these four letters unerased—it was a crime. If every weed be not plucked up, thought the king’s counselors, the garden will soon be entirely overrun. The obstinacy of the clergy, their stratagems, their pious frauds, were a mystery to nobody. Henry was persuaded, and his counselors still more so, that the bishops would make no opposition; they resolved therefore to direct the sheriffs to see that the king’s orders were strictly carried out. “We command you,” said that prince, “under pain of our high indignation, to put aside all human respect, to place God’s glory solely before you, and, at the risk of exposing yourselves to the greatest perils, to make and order diligent search to be made. Inform yourselves whether in every part of your county the bishop executes our commands without veil or dissimulation. And in case you should observe that he neglects some portion, or carries out our orders coldly, or presents this measure in a bad light, we command you strictly to inform us and our council with all haste.
“If you hesitate or falter in the commission we give you, rest assured that being a prince who loves justice, we will punish you with such severity that all our subjects will take care for the future not to disobey our commands.”
Everybody could see that Henry was in earnest, and, immediately after this energetic proclamation, those who were backward hastened to make their submission. The dean and chapter of St. Paul’s made their protest against the pope on the 20th of June. On the 27th the University of Oxford, in an act where they described the king as “that most wise Solomon,” declared unanimously that it was contrary to the Word of God to acknowledge any superiority whatsoever in the bishop of Rome. A great number of churches and monasteries set their seals to similar declarations.
Such was the first pastoral of the prince who claimed now to govern the Church. He seemed desirous of making it a mere department of the State. Henry allowed the bishops to remain, but he employed the functionaries of police and justice to overlook their episcopate, and that office was imposed upon them in such terms that they must necessarily look sharp after the transgressors. First and foremost the king wanted his own way in his family, in the State, and in the Church. The latter was to him as a ship which he had just captured; the captain was driven out, but for fear lest he should return, he threw overboard all who he thought might betray him. With haughty head and naked sword Henry VIII entered the new realm which he had conquered. He was far from resembling Him whom the prophets had announced: Behold thy king cometh unto thee, meek and lowly.
The power in the Church having been taken from the pope, to whom should it have been committed?
Scripture calls the totality of Christian people a holy nation, a royal priesthood; words which show that, after God, the authority belongs to them. And, in fact, the first act of the Church, the election of an apostle in the place of Judas, was performed by the brethren assembled in one place. When it became necessary to appoint deacons, the twelve apostles once more summoned “the multitude of the disciples.” And later still, the evangelists, the delegates of the flocks, were selected by the voice of the churches.
It is a principle of reason, that authority, where a corporate body is concerned, resides in the totality of its members. This principle of reason is also that of the Word of God.
When the Church became more numerous it was called upon to delegate (at least partially) a power that it could no longer exercise wholly of itself. In the apostolic age the Christians, called to form this delegation, adopted the forms with which they were familiar. After the pattern of the council of elders, which existed in the Jewish synagogues, and of the assembly of decurions, which exercised municipal functions in the cities of the pagans, the Christian Church had in every town a council, composed of men of irreproachable life, vigilant, prudent, apt to teach, but distinct from those who were called doctors, evangelists, or ministers of the Word. Still the Christians never entertained the idea of giving themselves a universal chief, after the image of the emperor. Jesus Christ and His Word were amply sufficient. It was not until many centuries later that this anti-Christian institution appeared in history.
The authority, which in England had been taken away from the pope, should return in accordance with scriptural principles to the members of the Church; and if, following the example of the primitive Christians, they had adopted the forms existing in their own country in the sixteenth century, they would have placed as directors of the Church—Christ remaining their sole king—one or two houses or assemblies, authorized to provide for the ecclesiastical administration, the maintenance of a pure faith, and the spiritual prosperity of that vast body. These assemblies would have been composed, as in the primitive times, of a majority of Christian laymen, with the addition of ministers; and both would have been elected by believers whose faith was in conformity with that of the Church.
But was there at that time in England a sufficient number of enlightened Christians to become members of these assemblies, and even to hold the elections which were to appoint them? It is doubtful. They were not to be found even in Germany. “I have nobody to put in them,” said Luther, “but if the thing becomes feasible, I shall not be wanting in my duty.”
This form of government not being possible in England then, according to the Reformer’s expression, two other forms offered themselves. If the first were adopted, the authority would be remitted to the clergy; but that would have been to perpetuate the doctrines and rites of popery and to lead back infallibly to the domination of Rome. The most dangerous government for the Church is the government of priests; they commonly rob it of liberty, spontaneousness, evangelical faith, and life.
There remained no alternative then but to confide the supreme authority in the Church to the State, and this is what was generally done in the sixteenth century. But men of the greatest experience in these matters have agreed that the government of the religious society by the civil power can only be a temporary expedient, and have universally proclaimed the great principle “that the essence of all society is to be governed by itself” (Grotius). To deny this axiom would be utterly contrary not only to liberty, but, further still, contrary to justice.
We must not forget, when we speak of the relations between Church and State, that there are three different systems—the government of the Church by the State; the union of the Church, governing itself, with the State; and their complete separation. There is no reason for pronouncing here upon the relative value of the two last systems.
Tyndale and his Enemies 1534 to August, 1535
Two persons were at this time specially dreaded by the Roman party; one was at the summit of the grandeurs of the world, the other at the summit of the grandeurs of faith—the Queen and Tyndale. The hour of trial was approaching for both of them.
There existed another reformation than that of which the sheriffs were to be the agents; there were other reformers than Henry VIII. One man, desirous of reviving the Church of England, had made the translation of the Holy Scriptures the work of his life. Tyndale had been forced to leave his country, but he had left it only to prepare a seed which, borne on the wings of the wind, was to change the wildernesses of his native land into a fruitful garden.
The retired tutor from the vale of the Severn was living in 1534 as near as possible to England—at Antwerp, whence ships departed frequently for British harbors. The English merchants, of whom there were many in that city, welcomed him with fraternal cordiality. Among them was a friend of the Gospel, Thomas Poyntz, a member of the grocers’ company and distantly related to Lady Walsh of Little Sodbury. This warm-hearted Christian had received Tyndale into his house, and the latter was unremittingly occupied in translating the Old Testament, when an English ship brought the news of the martyrdom of Fryth, his faithful colleague. Tyndale shed many tears, and could not make up his mind to continue his work alone. But the reflection that Fryth had glorified Jesus Christ in his prison aroused him; he felt it his duty to glorify God in his exile. The loss of his friend made his Savior still more precious to him, and in Jesus he found comfort for his mind. “I have lost my brother,” he said, “but in Christ, all Christians and even all the angels are father and mother, sister and brother, and God Himself takes care of me. O Christ, my Redeemer and my shield! Thy blood, Thy death, all that Thou art and all that Thou hast done—Thou Thyself art mine!”
Tyndale, strengthened by faith, redoubled his zeal in his Master’s service. While pursuing his study of the Scriptures with intense eagerness, he combined with learning the charity that maintains good works. The English merchants of Antwerp having made him an annual allowance, he consecrated it to the poor; but he was not content with mere giving. Besides Sunday he reserved two days in the week, which he called his “days of recreation.” On Monday he visited the most out-of-the-way streets of Antwerp, hunting in garrets for the poor English refugees who had been driven from their country on account of the Gospel; he taught them to bear Christ’s burden, and carefully tended their sick. On Saturday, he went about the city, seeking out the poor in “every hole and corner.” Should he happen to meet some hardworking parents burdened with children, or some aged or infirm man, he hastened to share his substance with the poor creatures. “We ought to be for our neighbor,” he said, “what Christ has been for us.” This is what Tyndale called his “pastime.” On Sunday morning he met with the merchants in a room prepared for evangelical worship, and read and explained the Scriptures with so much sweetness and unction and in such a practical spirit that the congregation (it was said) fancied they were listening to John the Evangelist. During the remainder of the week the laborious scholar gave himself entirely to his translation. He was not one of those who remain idle in the hope that grace may abound. “If we are justified by faith,” he said, “it is in order that we may do Christian works.”
There came good news from London to console him for the death of Fryth. In every direction people were asking for the New Testament; several Flemish printers began to reprint it, saying, “If Tyndale should print 2,000 copies, and we as many, they would be few enough for all England.” Four new editions of the sacred book issued from the Antwerp presses in 1534.
There was at that time living in the city a man little fitted to be Tyndale’s associate. George Joye, a fellow of Cambridge, was one of those active but superficial persons, with little learning and less judgment, who are never afraid to launch out into works beyond their powers. Joye, who had left England in 1527, noticing the consideration which Tyndale’s labors brought to their author, and being also desirous of acquiring glory for himself, began, though he knew neither Hebrew nor Greek, to correct Tyndale’s New Testament according to the Vulgate and his own imagination. One day when Tyndale had refused to adopt one of his extravagant corrections, Joye was touched to the quick. “I am not afraid to cope with him in this matter,” he said, “for all his high learning in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.” Tyndale knew more than these. “He is master of seven languages,” said Busche, Reuchlin’s disciple, “Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, English, French, and so thoroughly that, whichever he is speaking, one might believe it to be his mother tongue.”
In the month of August, Joye’s translation appeared at Antwerp; he had advertised it as “clearer and more faithful.” Tyndale glanced over the leaves of the work that had been so praised by its author, and was vexed to find himself so unskillfully “corrected.” He pointed out some of Joye’s errors, and made this touching and solemn declaration: “Moreover, I take God, which alone seeth the heart, to record to my conscience, beseeching Him that my part be not in the blood of Christ, if I wrote of all that I have written, throughout all my books, aught of an evil purpose, of envy or malice to any man, or to stir up any false doctrine or opinion in the Church of Christ, or to be author of any sect, or to draw disciples after me. … Also, my part be not in Christ, if mine heart be not to follow and live according as I teach, and also, if mine heart weep not night and day for mine own sin, and other men’s. … As concerning all I have translated, or otherwise written, I beseech all men to read it for that purpose I wrote it, even to bring them to the knowledge of the Scripture. And as far as the Scripture approveth it, so far to allow it; and if in any place the Word of God disallow it, then to refuse it, as I do before our Saviour Christ and His congregation.”
While Joye was waging this petty war against Tyndale, every ship that came from London to Antwerp brought the cheering news that the great conflict seemed to be dying out in England, and that the king and those around him were drawing towards protestantism. A change had been worked in Anne’s mind analogous to that which had been wrought in her position. She had been ambitious and worldly, but, from the moment she ascended the throne, her character had expanded; she had become queen, she wished to be the mother of her people, especially of those who trod in the paths of Holy Scripture. In the first transports of his affection, Henry had desired to share all the honors of sovereignty with her, and she had taken this high position more seriously than Henry had intended. When he saw her whom he had placed by his side imagine that she had any power, the selfish and jealous monarch knit his brows; this was the beginning of the storm that drove Anne Boleyn from the throne to the scaffold. She ventured to order Cromwell to indemnify the merchants who had suffered loss for having introduced the New Testament into England. “If a day passes,” people said, “without her having an opportunity of doing a service to a friend of the Gospel, she is accustomed to say with Titus, ‘I have lost a day.’” Harman, a merchant of Antwerp and a man of courage, who had helped Tyndale to publish the Gospel in English, had been kept seven months in prison by Wolsey and Hacket. Although set at liberty, he was still deprived of his privileges and compelled to suspend business. He came over to England, but instead of applying either to the lord chancellor or to Cromwell for the restoration of his rights, he went straight to the Queen. Anne, who was then at Greenwich Palace, was touched by his piety and sufferings, and, probably without taking counsel of the king, she dictated the following message to the chief minister, which we think worth quoting in full.
Anne the Queen. Trusty and right well-beloved, we greet you well. And whereas we be credibly informed that the bearer hereof, Richard Harman, merchant and citizen of Antwerp in Brabant, was in the time of the late lord cardinal put and expelled from his freedom and fellowship of and in the English house there, for nothing else, as he affirmeth like a good Christian man, but only for that, that he did, both with his goods and policy to his great hurt and hindrance in this world, help to the setting forth of the New Testament in English. We therefore desire and instantly pray you, that with all speed and favour convenient, you will cause this good and honest merchant, being my Lord’s true, faithful, and loving subject, to be restored to his pristine freedom, liberty, and fellowship aforesaid. And the sooner at this our request: and at your good pleasure to hear him in such things as he hath to make further relation unto you in this behalf.
Given under our signet at my Lord’s manor of Greenwich, the xiv day of May.
To our trusty and right well-beloved Thomas Cromwell, principal secretary to his Majesty, the king my lord.
This intervention of the queen in favor of a persecuted evangelical was much talked about. Some ascribed her conduct to the interests of her own cause, others to humanity; most of the friends of the Reformation regarded it as a proof that Anne was gained over to their convictions, and Tyndale manifested his gratitude to the queen by presenting her with a handsome copy of his New Testament.
What gave such joy to Tyndale annoyed the king greatly. Such a private order as this coming from the queen singularly displeased a monarch whose will it was that no business should be discussed except in his council. There was also in this order, at least in Henry’s eyes, a still greater evil. The evangelical reformation, which Henry had so stoutly combated and which he detested to the last, was making great progress in England. On the 4th of July, 1533, Fryth, the friend of Harman and Tyndale, was burnt at Smithfield, as being one of its followers, and ten months later, on the 14th of May, 1534 Harman, the friend of Tyndale and Fryth, had been declared “a good Christian” by the queen. Anne dared profess herself the friend of those whom the king hated. Did she design to make a revolution—to oppose the opinions of her lord the king? That letter did not remain without effect: it was reported that the friends of the Word of God, taking advantage of these favorable dispositions, were printing at Antwerp six separate editions of the New Testament, and were introducing them into England.
It was not only the king who was irritated—the anger of the Romish party was greater still; but as they dared not strike the queen, they looked about for another victim. Neither Bishop Fisher, Sir Thomas More, nor Henry VIII appear to have had any part in this new crime. Gardiner, now bishop of Winchester, gave a force to the episcopal body of which it had long been deprived, and several prelates, “incensed and inflamed in their minds,” says Foxe, called to remembrance that the best means of drying up the waters of a river is to cut off its springs. It was from Tyndale that all those writings proceeded—those Gospels which, in their opinion, were leading England astray. The moment seemed favorable for getting rid of him; he was actually in the territory of Charles V, that great enemy of the Reformation. Gardiner and his allies, the chief of whom was probably Stokesley, bishop of London, determined to send into the Low Countries two persons with instructions to keep an eye upon the reformer, to take him unawares, and have him put to death. For this purpose they selected a very clever monk of Stratford-le-Bow Abbey and a zealous young papist, who had the look of a gentleman, and who (they hoped) would soon gain Tyndale’s heart by his amiability.
It was about the end of the year 1534, while the reformer was still living at Antwerp in the house of Thomas Poyntz, when one day, dining with another merchant, he observed among the guests a tall young man of good appearance whom he did not know. “He is a fellow countryman,” said the master of the house, “Mr. Harry Philips, a person of very agreeable manners.” Tyndale drew near the stranger and was charmed with his conversation. After dinner, just as they were about to separate, he observed another person near Philips, whose countenance from being less open pleaded little in his favor. It was “Gabriel, his servant,” he was told. Tyndale invited Philips to come and see him; the young layman accepted the invitation, and the candid reformer was so taken with him that he could not pass a day without him—inviting him at one time to dinner, at another to supper. At length Philips became so necessary to him that he prevailed upon him, with Poyntz’s consent, to come and live in the same house with him. For some time they had lost sight of Gabriel, and on Tyndale’s asking what had become of him, he was informed that he had gone to Louvain, the center of Roman clericalism in Belgium. When Tyndale and Philips were once lodged beneath the same roof, their intimacy increased; Tyndale kept no secrets from his fellow countryman. The latter spent hours in the library of the hellenist, who showed him his books and manuscripts, and conversed with him about his past and future labors, and the means that he possessed for circulating the New Testament throughout England. The translator of the Bible, all candor and simplicity, supposing no evil, thinking nothing but good of his neighbor, unbosomed himself to him like a child.
Philips, less of a gentleman than he appeared, was the son of a tax collector in Dorsetshire and had disgraced himself by robbing his father of money. In 1534, he was living in London and seeking employment. The pretended domestic, a disguised monk, was a crafty and vicious churchman, who had been brought from Stratford-le-Bow and given to the so-called gentleman, apparently as a servant, but really as his counselor and master. Neither Wolsey, More, nor Hacket had succeeded in getting hold of Tyndale, but Gardiner and Stokesley, men of innate malice and indirect measures, familiar with all holes and corners, all circumstances and persons, knew how to go to work without noise, to watch their prey in silence, and fall upon it at the very moment when they were least expected. Two things were required in order to catch Tyndale—a bait to attract him, and a bird of prey to seize him. Philips was the bait, and the monk Gabriel Donne the bird of prey. The noble-hearted Poyntz, a man of greater experience than the reformer, had been for some time watching with inquisitive eye the new guest introduced into his house. It was of no use for Philips to try to be agreeable; there was something in him which displeased the worthy merchant. “Master Tyndale,” he said one day to the reformer, “when did you make that person’s acquaintance?” “Oh! he is a very worthy fellow,” replied Tyndale, “well-educated and a thorough gentleman.” Poyntz said no more.
Meanwhile the monk had returned from Louvain, where he had gone to consult with some of the most fanatical papal leaders. If he and his companion could gain Mr. Poyntz, it would be easy to lay hold of Tyndale. They thought it would be sufficient to show the merchant that they had money, imagining that every man was to be bought. One day Philips said to Poyntz, “I am a stranger here, and should feel much obliged if you would show me Antwerp.” They went out together. Philips thought the moment had come to let Poyntz know that he was well supplied with gold, and even had some to give to others. “I want to make several purchases,” he said, “and you would greatly oblige me by directing me. I want the best goods. I have plenty of money,” he added. He then took a step farther, and sounded his man to try whether he would aid him in his designs. As Poyntz did not seem to understand him, Philips went no farther.
As stratagem did not succeed, it was necessary to resort to force. Philips, by Gabriel’s advice, set out for Brussels in order to prepare the blow that was to strike Tyndale. The Emperor and his ministers had never been so irritated against England and the Reformation. The troops of Charles V were in readiness, and people expected to hear every moment that war had broken out between the Emperor and the king. On arriving at Brussels, the young Englishman appeared at court and waited on the government; he declared that he was a Roman Catholic disgusted with the religious reforms in England and devoted to the cause of Catherine. He explained to the ministers of Charles V that they had in the Low Countries the man who was poisoning the kingdom, and that, if they put Tyndale to death, they would save the papacy in England. The Emperor’s ministers, delighted to see Englishmen making common cause with them against Henry VIII, conceded to him all that he asked. Philips, sparing no expense to attain his end, returned to Antwerp, accompanied by the imperial prosecutor and other officers of the Emperor.
It was important to arrest Tyndale without having recourse to the city authorities, and even without their knowledge. Had not the Hanseatic judges the strange audacity to declare, in Harman’s case, that they could not condemn a man without positive proof? The monk, who probably had not gone to Brussels, undertook to reconnoiter the ground. One day, when Poyntz was sitting at his door, Gabriel went up to him and said, “Is Master Tyndale at home? My master desires to call upon him.” They entered into conversation. Everything seemed to favor the monk’s designs; he learned that in three or four days Poyntz would be going to Bergen-op-Zoom, where he would remain about six weeks. It was just what Gabriel wanted, for he dreaded the piercing eye of the English merchant.
Shortly after this, Philips arrived in Antwerp with the prosecutor and his officers. The former went immediately to Poyntz’s house, where he found only the wife at home. “Does Master Tyndale dine at home today?” he said. “I have a great desire to dine with him. Have you anything good to give us?” “What we can get in the market,” she replied laconically.
The new Judas hurried to meet the officers, and agreed with them upon the course to be adopted. When the dinner-hour drew near, he said, “Come along, I will deliver him to you.” The imperial prosecutor and his followers, with Philips and the monk, proceeded towards Poyntz’s house, carefully noting everything and taking the necessary measures not to attract observation. The entrance to the house was by a long narrow passage. Philips placed some of the agents a little way down the street; others, near the entrance of the alley. “I shall come out with Tyndale,” he told the agents, “and the man I point out with my finger is the one you will seize.” With these words Philips entered the house; it was about noon.
The creature was exceedingly fond of money—he had received a great deal from the priests in England for the payment of his mission—but he thought it would be only right to plunder his victim before giving him up to death. Finding Tyndale, at home, he said to him after a few compliments, “I must tell you my misfortune. This morning I lost my purse between here and Mechlin, and I am penniless. Could you lend me some money?” Tyndale, simple and inexperienced in the tricks of the world, went to fetch the required sum, and lent him forty shillings. The delighted Philips put the money carefully in his pocket, and then thought only of betraying his kind-hearted friend. “Well, Master Tyndale,” he said, “we are going to dine together.” “No,” replied Tyndale, “I am going to dine out today; come along with me, I will answer for it that you will be welcome.” Philips joyfully consented; promptitude of execution was one element of success in his business. The two friends prepared to start. The alley by which they had to go out was (as we have said) so narrow that two persons could not walk abreast. Tyndale, wishing to do the honors to Philips, desired him to go first. “I will never consent,” replied the latter, pretending to be very polite. “I know the respect due to you—it is for you to lead the way.” Thus Tyndale, who was of moderate height, went first, while Philips, who was very tall, came behind him. He had placed two agents at the entrance, who were sitting at each side of the alley. Hearing footsteps they looked up and saw the innocent Tyndale approaching them without suspicion, and over his shoulders the head of Philips. He was a lamb led to slaughter by the man who was about to sell him. The officers of justice, frequently so hard-hearted, experienced a feeling of compassion at the sight. But the traitor, raising himself behind the reformer, who was about to enter the street, placed his forefinger over Tyndale’s head, according to the signal which had been agreed upon, and gave the men a significant look, as if to say to them, “This is he!” The men at once laid hands upon Tyndale, who, in his holy simplicity, did not at first understand what they intended doing. He soon found out, for they ordered him to move on, the officers following him, and he was thus taken before the imperial prosecutor. The latter, who was at dinner, invited Tyndale to sit down with him. Then ordering his servants to watch him carefully, the magistrate set off for Poyntz’s house. He seized the papers, books, and all that had belonged to the reformer, and returning home, placed him with the booty in a carriage, and departed. The night came on, and after a drive of about three hours they arrived in front of the strong castle of Vilvorde, built in 1374 by duke Wenceslaus, situated two leagues north of Brussels, on the banks of the Senne, surrounded on all sides by water and flanked by seven towers. One of the three drawbridges was lowered, and Tyndale was delivered into the hands of the governor, who put him into a safe place. The reformer of England was not to leave Vilvorde as Luther left the Wartburg.
The object of his mission once attained, Philips, fearing the indignation of the English merchants, escaped to Louvain. Sitting in taverns or at the tables of monks, professors, and prelates, sometimes even at the court of Brussels, he would boast of his exploit, and, desiring to win the favor of the imperialists, would call Henry VIII a tyrant and a robber of the State.
Shortly Poyntz returned from Bergen-op-Zoom, and he and his fellow merchants, deeply offended by the loss of their friend and by the prosecutor’s encroachment upon their rights and privileges, addressed a letter to Mary of Hungary, at that time Queen Regent of the Netherlands, urging her to agree to the speedy release of Tyndale, but their protest proved unavailing. Her officials objected strongly to the release of a man who had, in their opinion, done such great harm to the papal cause in England.
Tyndale, deprived of all hope, sought consolation in God. “Oh! what a happy thing it is to suffer for righteousness’ sake,” he said. “If I am afflicted on earth with Christ, I have joy in the hope that I shall be glorified with Him in heaven. Trials are a most wholesome medicine, and I will endure them with patience. My enemies destine me for the stake, but I am as innocent as a new-born child of the crimes of which they accuse me. My God will not forsake me. O Christ, Thy blood saves me, as if it had been mine own that was shed upon the cross. God, as great as He is, is mine with all that He hath.” And again, “There is none other way into the kingdom of life than through persecution and suffering of pain and of very death, after the example of Christ.”
Tyndale in his prison at Vilvorde was happier than Philips at court. If we carefully study the history of the reformers, we recognize at once that they were not simply masters of a pure doctrine, but also men of lofty soul, Christians of great morality and exalted spirituality. We cannot say as much of their adversaries—what a contrast here between the traitor and his victim! The calumnies and insults of the enemies of protestantism will deceive nobody. If it is sufficient to read the Bible with a sincere heart in order to believe it—it is sufficient also to know the lives of the reformers in order to honor them.
Henry VIII as King-Pontiff 1534 & 1535
While the Roman papacy was triumphing in the Low Countries, a lay papacy was being established in England. Henry VIII gave his orders like a sovereign bishop, summus episcopus, and the majority of the priests obeyed him. They believed that such an extraordinary state of things would be but of short duration, and thought that it was not worth the trouble of dying in battle against what would perish of itself. They muttered with their lips what the king ordered them, and waited for the coming deliverance.
Every preacher was bound to preach once at least against the usurpations of the papacy, to explain on that occasion the engagements made by the pope with the king of England, the duplicity shown by Clement, and the obligation by which the monarch was bound to thwart so much falsehood and trickery. The ministers of the Church were ordered to proclaim the Word of Christ purely, but to say nothing about the adoration of saints, the marriage of priests, justification by works and other doctrines rejected by the reformers, which the king intended to preserve. The secular clergy generally obeyed.
There were however numerous exceptions, particularly in the north of England, and the execution of Henry’s orders gave rise to scenes more or less riotous. Due credit must be given to those who ventured to resist a formidable power in obedience to conscientious principles. There were here and there a few signs of opposition. On the 24th of August, 1534, Father Ricot, when preaching at Sion Monastery, called the king, according to his orders, “the head of the Church,” but added immediately after that he who had given the order was alone responsible before God, and that he “ought to take steps for the discharge of his conscience.” The other monks went farther still; as soon as they heard Henry’s new title proclaimed, there was a movement among them. Father Lache, who, far from resembling his name (meaning “lax”), was inflexible even to impudence, got up; eight other monks rose with him and left the chapel “contrary to the rule of their religion” and to the great scandal of all the audience. These nine, boldly quitting the church one after another, were the living protest of the monks of England. They wanted to maintain the dominion of the pope in the Church, and in the State also. The king-pope would have none of these freaks of independence. Dr. Bedyll, a fellow of New College, Oxford, who had received Cromwell’s order to inspect this monastery, proposed to send the nine monks to prison, “to the terrible example of their adherents.”
The priests, finding that they must act with prudence, avoided a repetition of such outbreaks and began secretly to school their penitents in the confessional, bidding them employ mental reservations, in order to conciliate everything. They set the example themselves. “I have abjured the pope in the outward man, but not in the inward man,” said one of them to some of his parishioners. The confessor at Sion Monastery had proclaimed the king’s new title and even preached upon it; yet when one of his penitents showed much uneasiness because he had heard Latimer say that the pope himself could not pardon sin, “Do not be afraid,” said the confessor, “the pope is assuredly the head of the Church. True, king and parliament have turned him out of office here in England, but that will not last long. The world will change again, you will see, and that too before long.” “But we have made oath to the king as head of the Church,” said some persons to a priest. “What matters!” replied he. “An oath that is not very strictly made may be broken the same way.”
These mental reservations, however, made many ecclesiastics and laymen to feel uneasy. They longed for deliverance; they were on the lookout; they turned their eyes successively towards Ireland, which had risen for the pope, and towards the Low Countries, whence they hoped an imperial fleet would sail for the subjugation of England. Men grew excited. In the monasteries there were fanatical and visionary monks who, maddened by the abuses of power under which they suffered, and fired by persecution, dreamt of nothing but reaction and vengeance, and expressed their cruel wishes in daring language. One of them named Maitland, belonging to the Dominican order in London, exclaimed presumptuously, as if he were a prophet, “Soon I shall behold a scaffold erected. … On that scaffold will pass in turn the heads of all those who profess the new doctrine, and Cranmer will be one of them. … The king will die a violent and shameful death, and the queen will be burnt.” Being addicted to the black art, Maitland pretended to read the future by the help of Satanic beings. All were not so bold; there were the timid and fearful. Several monks of Sion House, despairing of the papacy, were making preparations to escape and hide themselves in some wilderness or foreign cloister. “If we succeed,” they said, “we shall be heard of no more, and nobody will know where we are.” This being told to Bedyll, Cromwell’s agent, he was content to say, “Let them go; the loss will not be great.” Roman Catholicism was, however, to find more honorable champions.
Two men, a bishop and a layman, celebrated throughout Christendom, John Fisher and Sir Thomas More, were about to present an opposition to the king which probably he had not expected. Since More had fathomed the king’s intentions, and resigned the office of chancellor, he often passed whole nights without sleep, shuddering at the future which threatened him, and watering his bed with tears. He feared that he was not firm enough to brave death. “O God!” he exclaimed during his agitated vigils, “come and help me. I am so weak I could not endure a fillip” (i.e.,even a trifling blow). His children wept, his wife stormed against her husband’s enemies, and he himself employed a singular mode of preparing his family for the fate that awaited him. One day, when they were all at table, a sergeant entered the room and summoned him to appear before the king’s commissioners. “Be of good cheer,” said More, “the time is not yet come. I paid this man in order to prepare you for the calamity that hangs over you.” It was not long delayed.
Shortly after the condemnation of Elizabeth Barton the nun, Sir Thomas More, Fisher, and many other influential men were summoned to the archbishop’s palace to take the oath prescribed in the Act of Succession. More confessed, received the sacrament, and, forbidding his wife and children to accompany him, as was their custom, to the boat which was to carry him to Lambeth, he proceeded in great emotion towards the place where his future would be decided. His startled family watched him depart. The ex-chancellor, taking his seat in the boat along with his son-in-law William Roper, endeavored to restrain his tears and struggled but without success against his sorrow. At length his face became more serene, and, turning to Roper, he whispered in his ear, “I thank our Lord, my son; the field is won.” On his arrival at Lambeth Palace, where Bishop Fisher (of Rochester) and a great number of ecclesiastics were assembled, More, who was the only layman, was introduced first. The chancellor read the form to him; it stated in the preamble that the troubles of England, the oceans of blood that had been shed in it, and many other afflictions, originated in the usurped power of the popes; that the king was the head of the Anglican Church, and that the bishop of Rome possessed no authority out of his own diocese. “I cannot subscribe that form,” said More, “without exposing my soul to everlasting damnation. I am ready to give my adhesion to the Act of Succession which is a political act—but without the preamble.” “You are the first man who has refused,” said the chancellor. “Think upon it.” A great number of bishops, doctors, and priests who were successively introduced took the required oath. But More remained firm, and so did Bishop Fisher.
Cranmer, who earnestly desired to save these two conscientious men, asked Cromwell to accept the oath they proposed, and the latter consulted the king upon it. “They must give way,” exclaimed Henry, “or I will make an example of them that shall frighten others.” As the king was inexorable, they were attainted by act of parliament for refusing to take the required oath, and sent to the Tower.
The family of Sir Thomas More was plunged in affliction. His daughter Margaret, having obtained permission to see him, hurried to the Tower, penetrated to his cell, and, incapable of speaking, fell weeping into his arms. “Daughter,” said More, restraining himself with an effort, “let us kneel down.” He repeated the seven penitential Psalms, and then, rising up, said, “Dear Meg, those who have put me here think they have done me a high displeasure, but God treats me as He treats His best friends.” Margaret, who thought of nothing but to save her father, exclaimed, “Take the oath! Death is hanging over your head.” “Nothing will happen to me but what pleases God,” replied Sir Thomas More. His daughter left the Tower, overwhelmed with grief. His wife, who also went to see him, Chancellor Audley, the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, Cromwell, and other of the king’s counselors were not more successful than Margaret. Bishop Fisher met similar solicitations with a similar refusal.
As the king’s government did not wish to hurry on the trial of these illustrious men, they turned from the chiefs to the followers. The Carthusians of London were in great odor of sanctity; they never spoke except at certain times, ate no meat, and affirmed that God had visited them in visions and miracles. Their house was not free from disorders, but many of the monks took their vocation seriously. When the royal commissioners visited them to tender the oath of succession, Prior Haughton, a man of small stature but agreeable appearance and noble carriage, appeared before them. The commissioners required him to acknowledge Henry’s second marriage to be lawful; Haughton at first sought a loophole, and answered that the king might be divorced and married without him or his monks having anything to say to it. “It is the king’s command,” answered the commissioners, “that you and your brethren acknowledge by oath the lawfulness of his union. Call the monks together.” The Carthusians appeared, and all refused to take the oath. The prior and proctor were consequently sent to the Tower. The Bishop of London used all his influence to make them change their opinions, and succeeded in persuading them that they might take the oath, by making several reservations. They therefore returned to the Charter-House and prevailed upon their brethren to do as they had done.
Immediately all was confusion in the monastery. Several monks in deep distress could not tell which course to follow; others, more decided, exclaimed that they would not yield at any price. “They are minded to offer themselves in sacrifice to the great idol of Rome,” wrote Bedyll to Cromwell. At last, when the soldiers appeared to take the rebels to the Tower, the terrified monks lost heart, and took the oath to the new marriage of Henry VIII “so far as it was lawful.” The bitter cup was removed, but not for long.
Whilst England was separating from Rome, Clement VII was dying of vexation. The hatred felt by the Romans towards him was only equaled by the joy they experienced at the election of his successor. Alexander Farnese, the choice of the French party, was a man of the world, desirous of putting down the protestants, recovering England, reforming the Church, and above all enriching his own family. When Da Casale, Henry’s envoy, presented his homage, “There is nothing in the world,” said Paul III to him, “that I have more at heart than to satisfy your master.” It was too late.
Clement’s behavior had produced an evil influence on the character of the Tudor king. The services rendered by this prince to the papacy had been overlooked, his long patience had not been rewarded; he fancied himself despised and deceived. His pride was irritated, his temper grew fiercer; his violence, for some time restrained, broke out, and, unable to reach the pope, he revenged himself on the papacy. Until now, he had scarcely been worse than most of the sovereigns of Christendom; from this moment, when he proclaimed himself head of the Church, he became harsh, and cared for nothing but gratifying his evil inclinations, his despotic humors, his bloodthirsty cruelty. As a prince, he had at times shown a few amiable qualities; as a pope, he was nothing but a tyrant.
Henry VIII, observing the agitation his pretensions caused in England, and wishing to strengthen his new authority, had caused several bills concerning the Church to be brought into the parliament, which met on the 3rd of November, 1534, and continued in session until the 18th of December. The ministers who had drafted them, far from being protestants, were zealous partisans of scholastic orthodoxy. They included the cunning Gardiner, a furious Catholic; the duke of Norfolk, who assisted in the king’s movements against Rome only to prevent him from falling into the arms of the reformers; and the politic Cromwell, who, despite his zeal against the pope, declared at his death, possibly giving a particular meaning to the words, that he died in the catholic faith.
The first act passed by parliament was the ratification of the king’s new title, already officially recognized by the clergy. Henry’s ministers knew how to make the law strict and rigorous. “It is enacted,” so ran the act, “that our lord the king be acknowledged sole and supreme head on earth of the Church of England; that he shall possess not only the honors, jurisdictions, and profits attached to that dignity, but also full authority to put down all heresies and enormities, whatever be the customs and the laws that may be opposed to it.” Parliament also enacted that “whoever should do anything tending to deprive the king or his heirs of any of their titles, or should call him heretic, schismatic, usurper, &c., should be guilty of high treason.
Thus Henry VIII united the two swords in his hand, and virtually became a pope in his own dominions. Whether a pope claims to be king, or a king claims to be pope, it comes to nearly the same thing. At the time when the Reformation was emancipating the long-enslaved Church, a new master was given it, and what a master! The consciences of Christians revolted against this order of things. One day—it was some time later—Cranmer was asked, “Who is the supreme head of the Church of England?” “Christ,” was the reply, “as He is of the universal Church.”
“But did you not recognize the king as supreme head of the Church?”
“We recognized him as head of all the people of England,” answered Cranmer, “of churchmen as well as of laymen.”
“What! not of the Church?”
“No! Supreme head of the Church never had any other meaning than what I tell you.”
This is explicit. If the title given to Henry only signified that he was king of the clergy as well as of the laity, and that the former were under the jurisdiction of the royal courts as well as the latter, in all matters of common law, there can be nothing fairer. But how was it that Cranmer did not find as much courage in Henry’s lifetime to speak according to his conscience, as when examined in 1555 by Brokes, the papal sub-delegate? An interpretative document drawn up by the government at almost the same time as the act of parliament, corroborates however the explanation made by Cranmer; it said, “The title of supreme head of the Church gives the king no new authority; it does not signify that he can assume any spiritual power.” This document declares that the words reform, abuses, and heresies indicate the authority which the king possesses to suppress the powers which the bishop of Rome or other bishops have usurped in his realm. “We heartily detest,” said William Fulke, Master of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, “the notion that the king can do what he likes in matters of religion.” Even Elizabeth refused the title of head of the Church. Probably these are facts which are not generally known.
Henry Destroys his Opponents 1534–1535
In England it was reserved for Catholics as well as for evangelicals to give the world, amid great misery, remarkable examples of Christian virtues. Latimer and others preached the truth courageously; martyrs like Bilney, Tewkesbury, and Fryth had laid down their lives for the Gospel. Now in the other party, laymen, monks, and priests, with unquestionably a less enlightened piety, were about to furnish proofs of their sincerity. There were Roman martyrs also. Two armies were in presence; many fell on both sides; but there was a sensible difference between this spiritual war and the wars of nations. Those who bit the dust did not fall under the weapons of a hostile army; there was a third power, the king-pope, who took his station between the two lines, and dealt his blows, now to the right, now to the left. Leaders of the pontifical army were to be smitten in the struggle in which so many evangelicals had already fallen.
Sir Thomas More, while in prison, strove to banish afflicting thoughts by writing a history of Christ’s passion. One day when he came to these words of the Gospel, Then came they and laid hands on Jesus, and took him, the door opened, and Sir William Kingston, the constable of the Tower, accompanied by Sir Richard Rich, the solicitor-general, appeared. “Sir Thomas,” said Rich, “if an act of parliament ordered all Englishmen to acknowledge me as their king, would you acknowledge me?” “Yes, sir.” “And if an act of parliament ordered all Englishmen to recognize me as pope?” “Parliament has no authority to do it,” answered More. Sir Thomas held that an act of parliament was sufficient to dethrone a king of England; it is to a great-grandson of More that we are indebted for this opinion, which a grand-nephew of Cromwell put into practice a hundred years later. Was Henry VIII exasperated because More disposed so freely of his crown? It is possible, but be that as it may, the harshness of his imprisonment was increased. Suffering preceded martyrdom. The illustrious scholar was forced to pick up little scraps of paper on which to write a few scattered thoughts with a coal. This was not the worst. “I have neither shirt nor sute,” he wrote to the chief secretary of state, “nor yet other clothes that are necessary for me to wear, but that be ragged and rent too shamefully. Notwithstanding, I might easily suffer that if that would keep my body warm. And now in my age my stomach may not away but with a few kind of meats; which, if I want, I decay forthwith, and fall into crases and diseases of my body, and cannot keep myself in health. … I beseech you be a good master unto me in my necessity, and let me have such things as are necessary for me in mine age. Restore me to my liberty out of this cold and painful imprisonment. Let me have some priest to hear my confession against this holy time, and some books to say my devotions more effectually. The Lord send you a merry Christmas.
“At the Tower, 23rd December.”
It is a relief to hope that this scandalous neglect proceeded from heedlessness and not from cruelty. His requests were granted.
While these sad scenes were enacted in the Tower, there was great confusion in all England, where the most opposite parties were in commotion. When the traditional yoke was broken, every man raised up his own banner. The friends of More and Fisher wished to restore the papacy of the Roman bishop; Henry VIII, Cromwell, and the court thought how to establish the supremacy of the king; Cranmer and a few men of the same stamp endeavored to steer between these quicksands, and aspired to introduce the reign of Holy Scripture under the banner of royalty. This contest between forces so different, complicated too by the passions of the sovereign, was a terrible drama destined to wind up not in a single catastrophe, but in many. Illustrious victims, taken indiscriminately from all parties, were to fall beneath the oft-repeated blows and be buried in one common grave.
The prudent Cranmer lived in painful anxiety. Surrounded by enemies who watched every step, he feared to destroy the cause of truth by undertaking reforms as extensive as those on the Continent. The natural timidity of his character, the compromises he thought it his duty to make with regard to the hierarchy, his fear of Henry VIII, his moderation, gentleness, and plasticity of character and in some respects of principle, prevented his applying to the work with the decision of a Luther, a Calvin, or a Knox. Tyndale, if he had possessed the influence that was his due, would have accomplished a reform similar to that of those great leaders. To have had him for a reformer would, in Wycliffe’s native land, have been the source of great prosperity, but such a thing was impossible; his country gave him, not a professor’s chair, but exile. Cranmer moved forward slowly; he modified an evangelical movement by a clerical concession. When he had taken a step forward, he stopped suddenly, and apparently drew back, not from cowardice, but because his extreme prudence so urged him. The boldness of a Farel or a Knox is in our opinion far more noble, and yet this extreme moderation saved Cranmer and English protestantism with him. Near a throne like that of Henry’s, it was only a man of extreme caution who could have retained his position in the see of Canterbury. Cranmer knew that if he came into collision with the Tudor’s scepter, he would find it a sword. God gives to every people and to every epoch the man necessary to it. Cranmer was this man for England, at the time of her separation from the papacy. Notwithstanding his compromises, he never abandoned the great principles of the Reformation; notwithstanding his concessions, he took advantage of every opportunity to encourage those who shared his faith to march towards a better future. The primate of England held a torch in his hand which had not the brilliancy of that borne by Luther and Calvin, but the tempest that blew upon it for fifteen or twenty years could not extinguish it. Sometimes he was seized with terror; as he heard the lion roar, he bent his head, kept in the background, and concealed the truth in his bosom; but again he rose and again held out to the Church the light he had saved from the fury of the tyrant. He was a reed and not an oak—a reed that bent too easily—but through this very weakness he was able to do what an oak with all its strength would never have accomplished. The truth triumphed.
At this time Cranmer thought himself in a position to take a step—the most important step of all; he undertook to give the Bible to the laity. When the convocation of clergy and parliament had assembled, he made a proposition that the Holy Scriptures should be translated into English by certain honorable and learned men, and be circulated among the people. To present Holy Scripture as the supreme rule instead of the pope was the bold act that decided the evangelical reformation. Stokesley, Gardiner, and the other bishops of the catholic party cried out against such a monstrous design. “The teaching of the Church is sufficient,” they said, “we must prohibit Tyndale’s Testament and the heretical books which come to us from beyond the sea.” The archbishop saw that he could only carry his point by giving up something; he consented to a compromise. Convocation resolved on the 19th of December, 1534, to lay Cranmer’s proposal before the king, but with the addition that the Scriptures translated into the vulgar tongue should only be circulated among the king’s subjects in proportion to their knowledge, and that all who possessed suspected books should be bound to give them up to the royal commissioners; others might have called this resolution a defeat—Cranmer looked upon it as a victory. The Scriptures would no longer be admitted stealthily into the kingdom, like contraband goods; they would appear in broad daylight with the royal sanction. This was something.
Henry granted the petition of Convocation, but hastened to profit by it. His great fixed idea was to destroy the Roman papacy in England, not because of its errors, but because he felt that it robbed princes of the affection and often of the obedience of their subjects. “If I grant my bishops what they ask for,” he said, “in my turn I ask them to make oath never to permit any jurisdiction to be restored to the Roman bishop in my kingdom; never to call him pope, universal bishop, or most holy lord, but only bishop of Rome, colleague and brother, according to the ancient custom of the oldest bishops.” All the prelates were eager to obey the king; but the archbishop of York, secretly devoted to the Roman Church, added, to acquit his conscience, “that he took the oath in order to preserve the unity of the faith and of the Catholic Church.”
Cranmer was filled with joy by the victory he had won. “If we possess the Holy Scriptures,” he said, “we have at hand a remedy for every disease. Beset as we are with tribulations and temptations, where can we find arms to overcome them? In Scripture. It is the balm that will heal our wounds, and will be a more precious jewel in our houses than either gold or silver.” He therefore turned his mind at once to the realization of the plan he had so much at heart. Taking for groundwork an existing translation (doubtless that by Tyndale) he divided the New Testament into ten portions, had each transcribed separately, and transmitted them to the most learned of the bishops, praying that they might be returned to him with their remarks. He even thought it his duty not to omit such decided catholics as Stokesley and Gardiner.
The day appointed for the return and examination of these various portions having arrived (June 1535) Cranmer set to work, and found that the Acts of the Apostles were wanting; they had fallen to the lot of the bishop of London. When the primate’s secretary went to ask for the manuscript, Stokesley replied in a very bad humor, “I do not understand my lord of Canterbury. By giving the people the Holy Scriptures, he will plunge them into heresy. I certainly will not give an hour to such a task. Here, take the book back to my lord.” When the secretary delivered his message, Thomas Lawney, one of Cranmer’s friends, said with a smile, “My lord of London will not take the trouble to examine the Scriptures, persuaded that there is nothing for him in the Testament of Jesus Christ.” Many of the portions returned by the other bishops were pitiable. The Archbishop saw that he must find colleagues better disposed.
Cranmer had soon to discharge another function. As popery and rebellion were openly preached in the dioceses of Winchester and London, the metropolitan announced his intention to visit them. The two bishops cried out vehemently, and Gardiner hurried to the king. “Your Grace,” he said, “here is a new pope!” All who had anything to fear began to reproach the primate with aspiring to honors and dominion. “God forgive me,” he said with simplicity, “if there is any title in the world I care for more than the paring of an apple. Neither paper, parchment, lead, nor wax, but the very Christian conversation of the people, are the letters and seals of our office.” The king supported Cranmer, knowing that certain of the clergy preached submission to the pope. The visitation took place. Even in London priests were found who had taken the oath prescribed by Henry VIII, and who yet “made a god of the Roman pontiff, setting his power and his laws above those of our Lord.” “I command you,” said the king, “to lay hold of all who circulate those pernicious doctrines.”
Francis I watched these severities from afar. He feared they would render an alliance between France and England impossible. He therefore sent Bryon, high-admiral of France, to London, to reconcile the king with the pope, to strengthen the bonds that united the two countries, and at the same time, he prevailed upon Paul III to withdraw the decree of Clement VII against Henry VIII. But success did not crown his efforts; the king of England had no great confidence in the sincerity of the pope or of the French king. He was well pleased to be no longer confronted by a foreign authority in his own dominions, and thought that his people would never give up the Reformation. Instead of being reconciled with the Roman pontiff, he found it more convenient to imitate the pope, and to break out against those subjects who refused to recognize him, the king, as head of the Church.
He first attacked the Carthusians, the most respectable of the religious orders in England, and whom he considered as the most dangerous. Where there was the most goodness, there was also the most strength, and that strength gave umbrage to the despotic Tudor king.
Monastic life, abominable in its abuses, was, even in principle, contrary to the Gospel. But we must confess that there was a certain harmony between the wants of society in the Middle Ages and monastic establishments. Many and various motives drove into the cloisters the men that filled them, and if some were condemnable, there were others whose value deserves to be appreciated. It was these earnest monks who, even while defending the royalty of the pope, rejected most energetically the papacy of the king; this was enough to draw down upon them the royal vengeance. One day a messenger from the court brought to the Charter-House of London an order to reject the Roman authority. The monks, summoned by their prior, remained silent when they heard the message, and their features alone betrayed the trouble of their minds. “My heart is full of sorrow,” said Prior Haughton. “What are we to do? If we resist the king, our house will be shut up, and you young men will be cast into the midst of the world, so that after commencing here in the spirit you will end there in the flesh. But, on the other hand, how can we obey? Alas! I am helpless to save those whom God has entrusted to my care!” At these words the Carthusians “fell all a-weeping,” and then, taking courage from the presence of danger, they said, “We will perish together in our integrity, and heaven and earth shall cry out against the injustice that oppresses us.” “Would to God it might be so,” exclaimed the Superior, “but this is what they will do. They will put me to death—me and the oldest of us—and they will turn the younger ones into the world, which will teach them its wicked works. I am ready to give up my life to save you, but if one death does not satisfy the king, then let us all die!” “Yes, we will all die,” answered the brethren. “And now let us make preparation by a general confession,” said the prior, “so that the Lord may find us ready.”
Next morning the chapel doors opened and all the monks marched in. Their serious looks, their pale countenances, their fixed eyes seemed to betoken men who were awaiting their last moments. The prior went into the pulpit and read the sixtieth Psalm: “O God, thou hast cast us off.” On coming to the end, he said, “My brethren, we must die in charity. Let us pardon one another.” At these words Haughton came down from the pulpit, and knelt in succession before every brother, saying, “O my brother, I beg your forgiveness of all my offenses!” The other monks, each in his turn, made this last confession.
Two days afterwards they celebrated the mass of the Holy Ghost. Immediately after the elevation, the monks fancied they heard “a small hissing wind.” Their hearts were filled with a tender affection; they believed that the Holy Ghost was descending upon them, and the prior, touched by this surprising grace, burst into tears. Enthusiasm mingled extraordinary fantasies with their pious emotions.
The king had evidently not much to fear in this quarter. His crown was threatened by more formidable enemies. In various parts, especially in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, there were daring partisans of the papacy to be found who endeavored to stir up the people to revolt, and thousands of Englishmen in the North were ready to help them by force of arms. At the same time Ireland wished to transport her soldiers across St. George’s Channel and hurl the king from his throne. The decision with which Fisher, Sir Thomas More, and the Carthusians resisted Henry had not immediate insurrection for its object, but it encouraged the multitude to revolt. The government, thinking, therefore, that it was time to strike, sent the Carthusians an absolute order to acknowledge the royal supremacy.
At this time there was in reality no liberty on one side or the other. Rome, by not granting it, was consistent with herself, but not so the protestantism that denies it. The Reformation, acknowledging no other sovereign Lord and Teacher than God, must of necessity leave the conscience to the Supreme Master, man having nothing to do with it. But the Roman Church, acknowledging a man as its head, and honoring the pope as the representative of God on earth, claims authority over the soul. Men may say in vain that they are in harmony with God and His Word—that is not the question. The great business is to be in accord with the pope. That old man, throned in the Vatican on the traditions of the Church and the bulls of his predecessors, is their judge; they are bound to follow exactly his line, without wavering either to the right or the left. If they reject an article, a jot of a papal constitution, they must be cast away. Such a system, the enemy of every liberty, even of the most legitimate, rose in the sixteenth century like a high wall to separate Rome and the new generation. It threatened to destroy in the future that power which had triumphed in the past.
After the festival of Easter 1535, the heads of two other Carthusian houses—Robert Laurence, prior of Belleval, and Augustine Webster, prior of Axholm—arrived in London in obedience to an order they had received, and, in company with Prior Haughton, waited upon Cromwell. As they refused to acknowledge the royal supremacy, they were sent to the Tower. A week later, they consented to take the oath, adding, “So far as God’s law permits.” “No restrictions,” answered Cromwell. On the 29th of April they were placed on their trial, when they said, “We will never believe anything contrary to the law of God and the teaching of our holy mother Church.” At first the jury expressed some interest in their behalf, but Haughton uselessly embittered his position. “You can only produce in favor of your opinion,” he said, “the parliament of one single kingdom; for mine, I can produce all Christendom.” The jury found the three prisoners guilty of high treason. Thence the government proceeded to more eminent victims.
Fisher and More, confined in the same prison, were now treated with more consideration. It was said, however, that these illustrious captives were endeavoring, even in the Tower, to excite the people to revolt. The king and Cromwell could hardly have believed it, but they imagined that if these two leading men gave way, their example would carry the recalcitrants with them; they were therefore exposed to a new examination. But they proved as obstinate as their adversaries, and perhaps more skillful. “I have no more to do with the titles to be given to popes and princes,” said Sir Thomas, “my thoughts are with God alone.”
The court hoped to intimidate these eminent personages by the execution of the three priors, which took place on the 4th May, 1535. Margaret hurried to her father’s side. Before long the procession passed under his window, and the affectionate young woman used every means to draw Sir Thomas away from the sight, but he would not avert his eyes. When all was over, he turned to his daughter. “Meg,” he said, “you saw those saintly fathers; they went as cheerfully to death as if they were bridegrooms going to be married.”
The prisoners walked calmly along; they wore their clerical robes, the ceremony of degradation not having been performed, no doubt to show that a papal consecration could not protect offenders. Haughton, prior of the London Charter-House, mounted the ladder first. “I pray all who hear me,” he said, “to bear witness for me in the terrible day of judgment, that it is not out of obstinate malice or rebellion that I disobey the king, but only for the fear of God.” The rope was now placed round his neck. “Holy Jesus!” he exclaimed, “have mercy on me,” and he gave up the ghost. The other priors then stepped forward. “God has manifested great grace to us,” they said, “by calling us to die in defense of the catholic faith. No, the king is not head of the Church in England.” A few minutes later and these monks, dressed in the robes of their order, were swinging in the air. This was one of the crimes committed when the unlawful tiara of the pontiffs was placed unlawfully on the head of a king of England. Other Carthusians were put to death somewhat later.
Meanwhile Henry VIII desired to preserve a balance between papists and heretics. The Roman tribunals struck one side only, but this strange prince gloried in striking both sides at once. An opportunity of doing so occurred. Some anabaptists from the Low Countries were convicted on the 25th of May; two of them were taken to Smithfield and twelve others sent to different cities, where they suffered the punishment by fire. All of them went to death with cheerful hearts.
The turn of the illustrious captives was at hand.
Two Notable Executions May to September, 1535
Not long after the death of the Carthusians, Cromwell paid More a visit. Henry VIII loved his former chancellor, and desired to save his life. “I am your friend,” said Cromwell, “and the king is a good and gracious lord towards you.” He then once again invited More to accept the act of parliament which proclaimed the king’s supremacy; and the same steps were taken with Fisher. Both refused what was asked. From that moment the execution of the sentence could not be long delayed. More felt this, and, as soon as the Secretary of State had left him, he took a piece of coal and wrote some verses upon the wall, expressive of the peace of his soul.
Henry and his minister seemed however to hesitate. It had not troubled them much to punish a few papists and obscure anabaptists; but to put to death an ex-chancellor of the realm and an old tutor of the king—both personages so illustrious and so esteemed throughout Christendom—was another thing. Several weeks passed away. It was an act of the pope that hastened the death of these two men. On the 20th of May, Paul III created a certain number of cardinals—John Du Bellay, Contarini, Caracciolo, and lastly, Fisher, bishop of Rochester. The news of this creation burst upon Rome and London like a clap of thunder. Da Casale, Henry’s agent at the papal court, exclaimed that it was offering his master the greatest affront possible; the matter was the talk of the whole city. “Your Holiness has never committed a more serious mistake than this,” said De Casale to the pope. Paul tried to justify himself. As England desired to become reconciled with the Vatican, he said, it seemed to him that he could not do better than nominate an English cardinal. When Fisher heard the news, he said piously, “If the cardinal’s hat were at my feet, I would not stoop to pick it up.” But Henry did not take the matter so calmly; he considered the pope’s proceedings as an insolent challenge. Confer the highest honors on a man convicted of treason—is it not encouraging subjects to revolt? Henry seemed to have thought that it would be unnecessary to take away the life of an old man whose end could not be far off; but the pope exasperated him. Since they place Fisher among the cardinals in Rome, in England he shall be counted the dead. Pope Paul may, as long as he likes, send him the hat; but when the hat arrives, there shall be no head on which to place it.
On the 14th of June, 1535, Thomas Bedyll and other officers of justice proceeded to the Tower. The Bishop would give no answer to the demand that he should recognize the king as head of the Church. Sir Thomas More, when questioned in his turn, replied, “My only study is to meditate on Christ’s passion.” “Do you acknowledge the king as supreme head of the Church?” asked Bedyll. “The royal supremacy is established by law.” “That law is a two-edged sword,” returned the ex-chancellor. “If I accept it, it kills my soul; if I reject it, it kills my body.”
Three days later the bishop was condemned to be beheaded. When the order for his execution arrived, the prisoner was asleep; they respected his slumber. At five o’clock the next morning, 22nd of June, 1535, Kingston, entering his cell, aroused him and told him that it was the king’s good pleasure he should be executed that morning. “I most humbly thank his Majesty,” said the old man, “that he is pleased to relieve me from all the affairs of this world. Grant me only an hour or two more, for I slept very badly last night.” Then turning towards the wall, he fell asleep again. Between seven and eight o’clock he called his servant, took off the hair shirt which he wore next his skin to mortify the flesh, and gave it to the man. “Let no one see it,” he said. “And now bring me my best clothes.” “My lord,” said the astonished servant, “does not your lordship know that in two hours you will take them off never to put them on again?” “Exactly so,” answered Fisher, “this is my wedding day, and I ought to dress as if for a holiday.”
At nine o’clock the lieutenant appeared. The old man—he was about seventy-six years old—took up his New Testament, made the sign of the cross, and left the cell. He was tall, being six feet high, but his body was bent with age, and his weakness so great that he could hardly get down the stairs. He was placed in an armchair. When the porters stopped near the gate of the Tower to know if the sheriffs were ready, Fisher stood up, and, leaning against the wall, opened his Testament, and, lifting his eyes to heaven, said, “O Lord! I open it for the last time. Grant that I may find some word of comfort to the end that I may glorify Thee in my last hour.” The first words he saw were these: And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. Fisher closed the book and said, “That will do. Here is learning enough to last me to my life’s end.”
The funeral procession was set in motion. Clouds hid the face of the sun; the day was gloomy; the streets through which they passed seemed dull and in harmony with men’s hearts. A large body of armed men surrounded the pious old man, who kept repeating in a low tone the words of his Testament: Hæc est autem vita æterna, ut cognoscant te solum verum Deum et quern misisti Jesum Christum (John 17:3). They reached Smithfield. “We will help you to ascend,” said his bearers at the foot of the scaffold. “No, Sirs,” he replied, and then added in a cheerful tone, “Come, feet! do your duty, you have not far to go.” Just as he mounted the scaffold, the sun burst out and shone upon his face. “They looked unto him and were lightened,” he cried, “and their faces were not ashamed.” It was ten o’clock. The noble bearing and piety of the aged bishop inspired all around him with respect. The executioner knelt before him and begged his forgiveness. “With all my heart,” he made answer. Having laid aside his robe and furred gown, he turned to the people, and said with gravity and joy, “Christians, I give my life for my faith in the holy catholic Church of Christ. I do not fear death. Assist me, however, with your prayers, so that when the axe falls I may remain firm. God save the king and the kingdom!” The brightness of his face at this moment struck the spectators. He fell on his knees and said, “Eternal God, my hope is in Thy deliverance.” The executioner approached and bound his eyes. The bishop raised his hands, uttered a cry towards heaven, and laid his head on the block. The doomsman seized his heavy axe, and cut off the head at one blow. It was exposed for a time by Henry’s orders on London Bridge and then thrown into the river; but soldiers carried the body to Barking churchyard, where they dug a lowly grave for it with their halberds. Later, it was removed to St. Peter’s ad vincula in the Tower, where it lies beside that of Sir Thomas More. Doubts have been thrown upon the details of this death; we believe them to be authentic, and it is a pleasure by reporting them to place a crown on the tomb of a Roman Catholic bishop whose end was that of a pious man.
It was now the turn of Sir Thomas More. On the 1st of July, 1535, he was summoned before a special commission and a packed jury. The former Chancellor of England quitted his prison in a frieze cloak, which had grown foul in the dungeon, and proceeded on foot through the most frequented streets of London on his road to Westminster. His thin pale face; his white hair, the effect not of time but of sorrow and imprisonment; the staff on which he leaned, for he walked with difficulty, made a deep impression on the people. When he arrived at the bar of the tribunal, and looked around him, though weakened by suffering, with a countenance full of mildness, all the spectators were moved. The indictment was long and involved; he was accused of high treason. Sir Thomas, endeavoring to keep on his feet, said, “My Lords, the charges brought against me are so numerous, that I fear, considering my great weakness, I shall be unable to remember them all.” He stopped; his body trembled and he was near falling. A chair was brought him, and after taking his seat, he continued, “I have never uttered a single word in opposition to the statute which proclaims the king head of the Church.” “If we cannot produce your words,” said the king’s attorney, “we can produce your silence.” “No one can be condemned for his silence,” nobly answered More. “Qui tacet consentire videtur (silence gives consent) according to the lawyers.”
Nothing could save him; the jury returned a verdict of guilty. “Now that all is over,” said the prisoner, “I will speak. Yes, the oath of supremacy is illegal. The Great Charter laid down that the Church of England is free, so that its rights and liberties might be equally preserved.” “The Church must be free,” said the lawyers, “it is not therefore the slave of the pope.” “Yes, free,” retorted More, “it is not therefore the slave of the king.” The chancellor then pronounced sentence, condemning him to be hanged and quartered. Henry spared his illustrious subject and old friend from this degrading treatment, and instead ordered that he should be beheaded. “God save all my friends from his Majesty’s favor,” said Sir Thomas, “and spare my children from similar indulgences. … I hope, my lords,” said the ex-chancellor, turning meekly towards his judges, “that though you have condemned me on earth, we may all meet hereafter in heaven.”
Sir William Kingston approached, armed guards surrounded the condemned man, and the sad procession moved forward. One of the Tower wardens marched in front, bearing an axe with the edge turned towards More; it was a token to the people of the prisoner’s fate. As soon as he crossed the threshold of the court, his son, who was waiting for him, fell at his feet distracted and in tears. “Your blessing, father,” he exclaimed, “your blessing!” More raised him up, kissed him tenderly, and blessed him. His daughter Margaret was not there; she had fainted immediately on hearing of her father’s condemnation. He was taken back to prison in a boat, perhaps to withdraw this innocent and illustrious man, treated like a criminal, from the eyes of the citizens of London. When they got near the Tower, the governor, who had until then kept his emotion under, turned to More and bade him farewell, the tears running down his cheeks. “My dear Kingston,” said the noble prisoner, “do not weep; we shall meet again in heaven.” “Yes!” said the lieutenant of the Tower, adding, “you are consoling me, when I ought to console you.” An immense crowd covered the wharf at which the boat was to land. Among this crowd, so eager for the mournful spectacle, was a young woman, trembling with emotion and silently waiting for the procession; it was Margaret. At length she heard the steps of the approaching guards, and saw her father appear. She could not move, her strength failed her; she fell on her knees just where she had stood. Her father, who recognized her at a distance, giving way to the keenest emotions, lifted up his hands and blessed her. This was not enough for Margaret. The blessing had caused a strong emotion in her, and had restored life to her soul. Regardless of her sex, her age, and the surrounding crowd, that feeble woman, to whom at this supreme moment filial piety gave the strength of many men, says a contemporary, rushed towards her father, and bursting through the officers and halberdiers by whom he was surrounded, fell on his neck and embraced him, exclaiming, “Father, father!” She could say no more; grief stopped her voice; she could only weep, and her tears fell on her father’s bosom. The soldiers halted in emotion; Sir Thomas, the prey at once of the tenderest love and inexpressible grief, felt as if a sword had pierced his heart. Recovering himself, however, he blessed his child, and said to her in a voice whose emotion he strove to conceal, “Daughter, I am innocent; but remember that however hard the blow with which I am struck, it comes from God. Submit thy will to the good pleasure of the Lord.”
The captain of the escort, wishing to put an end to a scene that might agitate the people, bade two soldiers take Margaret away; but she clung to her father with arms that were like bars of iron, and it was with difficulty that she could be removed. She had been hardly set on the ground a few steps off, when she sprang up again, and thrusting those who had separated her from him she so loved, she broke through the crowd once more, fell upon his neck, and kissed him several times with a convulsive effort. In her, filial love had all the vehemence of passion. More, whom the sentence of death had not been able to move, lost all energy, and the tears poured down his cheeks. The crowd watched this touching scene with deep excitement, and “they were very few in all the troop who could refrain from weeping; no, not the guards themselves.” Even the soldiers wept, and refused to tear the daughter again from her father’s arms. Two or three, however, of the less agitated stepped forward and carried Margaret away. The women of her household, who had accompanied her, immediately surrounded her and bore her away from a sight of such inexpressible sadness. The prisoner entered the Tower.
Sir Thomas spent six more days and nights in prison. We hear certainly of his pious words, but the petty practices of an ascetic seemed to engross him. His macerations were increased; he walked up and down his cell, wearing only a winding-sheet, as if he were already a corpse waiting to be buried. He often scourged himself for a long time together, and with extraordinary violence. Yet at the same time he indulged in Christian meditations. “I am afflicted,” he wrote to one of his friends, “shut up in a dungeon; but God in His mercy will soon deliver me from this world of tribulation. Walls will no longer separate us, and we shall have holy conversations together, which no gaoler will interrupt.” On the 5th of July, desiring to bid his daughter a last farewell, More took a piece of charcoal (he had nothing else) and wrote to her, “Tomorrow is St. Thomas’s day, and my saint’s day; accordingly, I desire extremely that it may be the day of my departure. My child, I never loved you so dearly as when last you kissed me. I like when daughterly love has no leisure to look unto worldly courtesy. … Farewell my dearly beloved daughter; pray for me. I pray for you all, to the end that we may meet in heaven.”
Thus one of the closest and holiest affections, that of a father for his daughter, and of a daughter for her father, softened the last moments of this distinguished man. Sir Thomas sent Margaret his hair shirt and scourge, which he desired to conceal from the eyes of the indifferent. What an inheritance!
That night he slept quietly, and the next morning early (6th July, 1535) a fortnight after the death of Bishop Fisher, Sir Thomas Pope, one of his familiar friends, came to inform him that he must hold himself in readiness. “I thank the king,” said More, “for shutting me up in this prison, whereby he has put me in a condition to make suitable preparation for death. The only favor I beg of him is, that my daughter may be present at my burial.” Pope left the cell in tears. Then the prisoner put on a fine silk robe which his wealthy friend Bonvisi, the merchant of Lucca, had given him. “Leave that dress here,” said Kingston, “for the man to whom it falls by custom is only a gaoler.” “I cannot look upon that man as a gaoler,” answered More, “who opens the gates of heaven for me.”
At nine o’clock the procession quitted the Tower. More was calm, his face pale, his beard long and curly; he carried a crucifix in his hand, and his eyes were often turned towards heaven. A numerous and sympathetic crowd watched him pass along—a man one time so honored, privy-councilor, speaker of the House of Commons, president of the House of Lords—whom armed men were now leading to the scaffold. Just as he was passing in front of a house of mean appearance, a poor woman standing at the door, went up to him and offered him a cup of wine to strengthen him. “Thank you,” he said gently, “thank you, Christ drank vinegar only.” On arriving at the place of execution, “Give me your hand to help me up,” he said to Kingston, adding, “As for my coming down, you may let me shift for myself.” He mounted the scaffold. Sir Thomas Pope, at the king’s request, had begged him to make no speech, fearing the effect this illustrious man might produce upon the people. More desired however to say a few words, but the sheriff stopped him. “I die,” he was content to say, “in the faith of the catholic Church, and a faithful servant of God and the king.” He then knelt down and repeated the fifty-first Psalm: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” When he rose up, the executioner begged his forgiveness. “Why do you talk of forgiveness?” replied More, “you are doing me the greatest kindness I ever received from man.” He desired the man not to be afraid to do his office, and remarked that his neck was very short. With his own hands he fastened a bandage over his eyes, and then laid his head on the block. The executioner, holding the axe, was preparing to strike, when More stopped him, and, putting his beard carefully on one side, said, “This at least has not committed treason.” Such words, almost jesting, no doubt startle us at such a moment, but strong men have often been observed to manifest the calmness of their souls in such a manner. More probably feared that his long beard would embarrass the executioner, and deaden the blow. At length that head fell through which so many noble thoughts had passed; that keen clear eye was closed; those eloquent lips were the lips of a corpse. The head was exposed on London Bridge, and Margaret discharged the painful duty her father had bequeathed her, by piously burying his body.
Thus, at the cost of his life, this eminent man protested against the aberrations of a cruel prince, who usurped the title given by the Bible to Jesus Christ alone. The many evangelical martyrs who had been sacrificed in different countries and who were yet to be sacrificed, showed in general, to a greater extent than Fisher and More, an ardent love for the Savior, a lively hope of eternal life; but none showed greater calmness than they. These two good men wanted discernment as to what constitutes the pure Gospel; their piety bound them too much, as we have said, to monastic practices; they had (and More especially) in the days of their power persecuted the disciples of the Lord, and though they rejected the usurpations of the king, had acted as fanatical defenders of those of the pope. But at a time when there were so many cringing bishops and servile nobles—when almost everyone bent the head timidly before the mad popery of Henry VIII, these two firmly held up theirs. More and Fisher were companions in misfortune with Bilney and Fryth; the same royal hand struck them all. Our sympathies are for the victims, our aversion for the executioner.
The death of these two celebrated men caused an immense sensation. In England, the people and even the nobility were struck with astonishment. Could it be true, men asked, that Thomas More, whom Henry had known since he was nine years old, with whom he used to hold friendly conversations by night on the terrace of his country-house, at whose table he used to love to sit down familiarly, whom he had chosen, although a layman and a knight only, to succeed the powerful Wolsey—could it be true that by the king’s orders he had perished by the axe? Could it be true that Fisher had met with the same fate—that venerable old man of almost fourscore years, who had been his preceptor, the trusty friend of his grandmother, and to whose teaching he owed the progress he had made in learning? Men began to see that resistance to a Tudor meant the scaffold. Everyone trembled, and even those who had not known the two victims could not restrain their tears.
The horror which these executions caused among the enlightened men of the continent was displayed with more liberty and energy. “I am dead,” exclaimed Erasmus, “since More is dead; for, as Pythagoras says, we had but one soul between us.” “O England! O dearly beloved country,” said Reginald Pole, “he was not only Margaret’s father, but thine also!” “This year is fatal to our order,” said Melanchthon the reformer;, “I hear that More has been killed and others also. You know how such things wring my heart.” “We banish such criminals,” said Francis I sharply to the English ambassador, “but we do not put them to death.” “If I had two such lights in my kingdom,” said Charles V, “I would sooner give two of my strongest cities than suffer them to be extinguished.” At Rome in particular the anger was extreme. They were still flattering themselves that Henry VIII would return to his old sympathies, but now there was no more hope! The king had put to death a prince of the Church, and as he had sworn, the cardinal’s hat could find no head to wear it. A consistory was immediately summoned; the French Cardinal de Tournon’s touching letter was read, and all who heard it were moved even to tears. The embarrassed and speechless agents of England knew not what to do, and as they reported, there was everything to be feared.
Perhaps nobody was so much confounded as the pontiff himself. Paul III was circumspect, prudent, deliberative, and temporizing; but when he thought the moment arrived, when he believed further maneuvering was not required, he no longer hesitated, but struck forcibly. It is known that he had two young relations whom, in his blind tenderness, he had created cardinals, notwithstanding their youth and the Emperor’s representations. “Alas!” he exclaimed, “I feel as mortally injured as if my two nephews had been killed before my eyes.” His most devoted partisans, and above all a cardinal of his creation put to death! There was a violent movement in his heart; he worked himself into a fury; he desired to strike the prince whose cruel deeds had wounded him so deeply. His anger burst out in a thunderclap. On the 30th of August he sanctioned a bull worthy of Gregory VII, which the more zealous partisans of the papacy would like to remove from the papal records. “Let King Henry repent of his crimes,” said the pontiff, “we give him ninety days and his accomplices sixty to appear at Rome. In case of default, we strike him with the sword of anathema, of malediction, and of eternal damnation; we take away his kingdom from him; we declare that his body shall be deprived of ecclesiastical burial; we launch an interdict against his States; we release his subjects from their oath of fidelity; we call upon all dukes, marquises and earls to expel him and his accomplices from England; we unbind all Christian princes from their oaths towards him, command them to march against him and constrain him to return to the obedience due to the Holy Apostolic See, giving them all his goods for their reward, and he and his to be their slaves.”
Anger had the same effect upon the pontiff as inebriety; he had lost the use of his reason, and allowed himself to be carried away to threats and excesses of which he would have been ashamed, had he been sober. Accordingly the drunkenness was hardly over before the unfortunate Paul hastened to hide his bull, and carefully laid aside his thunderbolts in the arsenal, free to bring them out later.
Henry VIII, more calm than the pope, having heard of his discontent, feared to push him to extremities, and Cromwell, a month after the date of the bull, instructed Da Casale to justify the king to the Vatican. “Fisher and More,” he was to say, “had on all points of the internal policy of England come to conclusions diametrically opposed to the quiet and prosperity of the kingdom. They had held secret conversations with certain men notorious for their audacity, and had poured into the hearts of these wretches the poison which they had first prepared in their own. Could we permit their crime, spreading wider and wider, to give a death-blow to the State? Fisher and More alone opposed laws which had been accepted by the general consent of the people, and were necessary to the prosperity of the kingdom. Our mildest of sovereigns could not longer tolerate an offense so atrocious.”
Even these excuses accuse and condemn Henry. Neither More nor Fisher had entered into a plot against the State; their resistance had been purely religious; they were free to act according to their consciences. It might have been necessary to take some prudential measures in an age as yet little fitted for liberty, but nothing could excuse the scaffold, erected by the king’s orders, for men who were regarded with universal respect.
The Dissolution of the Smaller Monasteries September, 1535 to 1536
The death of the late tutor and friend of the prince was to be followed by a measure less cruel but far more general. The pope who treated kings so rudely should not be surprised if kings treated the monks severely. Henry knew—had indeed been a close witness—of their lazy and often irregular lives. One day, when he was hunting in the forest of Windsor, he lost his way, perhaps intentionally, and about the dinner hour knocked at the gate of Reading Abbey. As he represented himself to be one of his Majesty’s guards, the abbot said, “You will dine with me”; and the king sat down to a table covered with abundant and delicate dishes. After examining everything carefully, “I will stick to this sir-loin,” said he, pointing to a piece of beef of which he ate heartily. The abbot looked on with admiration. “I would give a hundred pounds,” he exclaimed, “to eat with as much appetite as you; but alas! my weak and squeazie (qualmish) stomach can hardly digest the wing of a chicken.” “I know how to bring back your appetite,” thought the king. A few days later some soldiers appeared at the abbey, took away the abbot, and shut him up in the Tower, where he was put upon bread and water. “What have I done,” he kept asking, “to incur his Majesty’s displeasure to such a degree?” After a few weeks, Henry went to the state prison, and, concealing himself in an ante-room whence he could see the abbot, ordered a sirloin of beef to be set before him. The famished monk in his turn fell upon the joint, and (according to tradition) ate it all. The king now showed himself. “Sir abbot,” he said, “I have cured you of your qualms; now pay me my wages. It is a hundred pounds, you know.” The abbot paid and returned to Reading, but Henry never after forgot the monks’ kitchen.
The state of the monasteries was an occasion of scandal; all religious life had largely died out in most of those establishments. The monks lived, generally, in idleness, gluttony, and licentiousness, and what should have been houses of saints had become in many cases mere sties of lazy gormandizers and impure sensualists. “The only law they recognize,” said Luther, speaking of these cloisters, “is that of the seven deadly sins.” History encounters here a twofold danger; one is that of keeping back what is essential, the scandalous facts that justified the suppression of monasteries; the other is that of saying things that cannot be named. We must strive to steer between these two quicksands.
All classes of society had become disgusted with the monasteries; the common people would say to the monks, “We labor painfully, while you lead easy and comfortable lives.” The nobility regarded them with looks of envy and irony which threatened their wealth. The lawyers considered them as parasitical plants which drew away from others the nutriment they required. These things made the religious orders cry out with alarm, “If we no longer have the pope to protect us, it is all over with us and our monasteries.” And they set to work to prevent Henry from separating from the pope; they circulated anonymous stories, seditious songs, trivial lampoons, frightful prophecies and biting satires against the king, Anne Boleyn, and the friends of the Reformation. They held mysterious interviews with the discontented, and took advantage of the confessional to alarm the weak-minded. “The supremacy of the pope,” they said, “is a fundamental article of the faith; none who reject it can be saved.” People began to fear a general revolt.
When Luther was informed that Henry VIII had abolished the authority of the pope in his kingdom, but had suffered the religious orders to remain, he smiled at the blunder. “The king of England,” he said, “weakens the body of the papacy but at the same time strengthens the soul.” That could not endure for long.
Cromwell had now attained high honors and was to mount higher still. He thought with Luther that the pope and the monks could not exist or fall one without the other. After the abolition of the rule of the Roman pontiff, it became necessary to abolish the monasteries. It was he who had prevailed on the king to take the place of head of the Church, and now he wished him to be so really. “Sire,” he said to Henry, “cleanse the Lord’s field from all the weeds that stifle the good corn, and scatter everywhere the seeds of virtue. In 1525, 1528, 1531, and 1534 the popes themselves lent you their help in the suppression of monasteries; now you no longer require their aid. Do not hesitate, Sire—the most fanatical enemies of your supreme authority are to be found in the religious houses. There is buried the wealth necessary to the prosperity of the nation. The revenues of the religious orders are far greater than those of all the nobility of England. The cloister schools have fallen into decay, and the wants of the age require better ones. To suppress the pope and to keep the monks is like deposing the general and delivering the fortresses of the country up to his army. Sire, imitate the example of the protestants and suppress the monasteries.”
Such language alarmed the friends of the papacy, who stoutly opposed a scheme which they believed to be sacrilegious. “These foundations were consecrated to Almighty God,” they told the king, “respect therefore those retreats where pious souls live in contemplation.” “Contemplation!” said Sir Henry Colt, smiling, “tomorrow, Sire, I undertake to produce proofs of the kind of contemplation in which these monks indulge.” Whereupon, says a historian, Colt, knowing that a certain number of the monks of Waltham Abbey had a fondness for the conversation of ladies, and used to pass the night with the nuns of Chesham Convent, went to a narrow path through which the monks would have to pass on their return, and stretched across it one of the stout nets used in stag hunting. Towards daybreak, as the monks, lantern in hand, were making their way through the wood, they suddenly heard a loud noise behind them—it was caused by men whom Colt had stationed for the purpose—and instantly blowing out their lights they were hurrying away, when they fell into the toils prepared for them. The next morning, he presented them to the king, who laughed heartily at their piteous looks. “I have often seen better game,” he said, “but never fatter. Certainly,” he added, “I can make a better use of the money which the monks waste in their debaucheries. The coast of England requires to be fortified, my fleet and army to be increased, and harbors to be built for the commerce which is extending every day. All that is well worth the trouble of suppressing houses of impurity.”
The protectors of the religious orders were not discouraged, and maintained that it was not necessary to shut all the monasteries, because of a few guilty houses.
Dr. Layton, a former officer of Wolsey, proposed a middle course: “Let the king order a general visitation of monasteries,” he said, “and in this way he will learn whether he ought to secularize them or not. Perhaps the mere fear of this inspection will incline the monks to yield to his Majesty’s desires.” Henry charged Cromwell with the execution of this measure, and for that purpose he at once used him as his vicar-general, conferring on him all the ecclesiastical authority which belonged to the king. “You will visit all the churches,” he said, “even the metropolitan, whether the see be vacant or not; all the monasteries both of men and women; and you will correct and punish whoever may be found guilty.” Henry gave to his vicar precedence over all the peers, and decided that the layman should preside over the assembly of the clergy instead of the primate; overlook the administration not only of the bishops but also of the archbishops; confirm or annul the election of prelates, deprive or suspend them, and assemble synods. This was at the beginning of September 1535. The influence of the laity thus re-entered the Church, but not through the proper door. They came forward in the name of the king and his proclamations, whilst they ought to have appeared in the name of Christ and of His Word. The king informed the primate, and through him all the bishops and archdeacons, that as the general visitation was about to commence, they should no longer exercise their jurisdiction. The astonished prelates made representations, but they were unavailing: they and their sees were to be inspected by laymen.
The monks began to tremble. Faith in the religious houses no longer existed—not even in the houses themselves. Confidence in monastic practices, relics, and pilgrimages had grown weaker; the timbers of the monasteries were worm-eaten, their walls were just ready to fall, and the edifice of the Middle Ages, tottering on its foundations, was unable to withstand the hearty blows dealt against it. When an antiquary explores some ancient sepulchre, he often comes upon a skeleton, apparently well preserved, but crumbling into dust at the slightest touch of the finger; in like manner the puissant hand of the sixteenth century had only to touch most of these monastic institutions to reduce them to powder. The real dissolver of the religious orders was neither Henry VIII nor Cromwell; it was the devouring worm which, for years and centuries, they had carried in their bosom.
The vicar-general appointed his commissioners and then assembled them as a commander-in-chief calls his generals together. In the front rank was Dr. Richard Layton, his old comrade in Wolsey’s household, a skillful man who knew the ground well and did not forget his own interests. After him came Dr. John London, Warden of New College, a man of unparalleled activity, but without character and a weather cock, turning to every wind. With him was Sir Richard Cromwell, nephew of the vicar-general, an upright man, though desirous of making his way through his uncle’s influence. He was the ancestor of another Cromwell, far more celebrated than Henry VIII’s vice-gerent. Other two were Dr. Thomas Legh and Dr. John Rice, the most daring of the colleagues of the king’s ministers, besides other individuals of well-known ability. The vice-gerent handed to them the instructions for their guidance, the questions they were to put to the monks, and the injunctions they were to impose on the abbots and priors, after which they separated on their mission.
The Universities, which sadly needed a reform, were not overlooked by Henry and his representative. Since the time when Garret, the priest of a London parish, circulated the New Testament at Oxford, the sacred volume had been banished from that city, as well as the Beggars’ Supplication and other evangelical writings. Slumber had followed the awakening. The members of the university, especially certain ecclesiastics who, forsaking their parishes, had come and settled at Oxford, “to enjoy the delights of Capua,” passed their lives in idleness and sensuality. The royal Commissioners aroused them from this torpor. They dethroned Duns Scotus, “the subtle doctor,” who had reigned there for three hundred years, and the leaves of his books were scattered to the winds. Scholasticism fell; new lectures were established; philosophical teaching, the natural sciences, Latin, Greek, and divinity were extended and developed. The students were forbidden to haunt taverns, and the priests who had come to Oxford to enjoy life were sent back to their parishes.
The visitation of the monasteries began with those of Canterbury, the primatial church of England. In October 1535, shortly after Michaelmas, Dr. Layton, the Visitor, entered the cathedral, and Archbishop Cranmer went up into the pulpit. He had seen Rome; he had an intimate conviction that that city exerted a mischievous influence over all Christendom; he desired, as primate, to take advantage of this important opportunity to break publicly with her. “No,” he said, “the bishop of Rome is not God’s vicar. In vain you will tell me that the See of Rome is called Sancta Sedes, and its bishop entitled Sanctissimus Papa; the pope’s holiness is but a holiness in name. Vain-glory, worldly pomp, unchaste living and vices innumerable prevail in Rome. I have seen it with my own eyes. The pope claims by his ceremonies to forgive men their sins—it is a serious error. One work only blots them out, namely, the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. So long as the See of Rome endures, there will be no remedy for the evils which overwhelm us. These many years I have daily prayed unto God that I might see the power of Rome destroyed.” Language so frank necessarily displeased the adherents of the pope, and accordingly, when Cranmer alluded to his energetic daily prayer, the Superior of the Dominicans, trembling with excitement, exclaimed: “What a want of charity!”
He was not the only person struck with indignation and fear. As soon as the sermon was over, the Dominicans assembled to prevent the archbishop from carrying out his intentions. “We must support the papacy,” they said, “but do it prudently.” The prior was selected, as being the most eloquent of the brothers, to reply to Cranmer. Going into the pulpit, he said, “The Church of Christ has never erred. The laws which it makes are equal in authority to the laws of God Himself. I do not know a single bishop of Rome who can be reproached with vice.” Evidently the prior, however eloquent he might be, was not learned in the history of the Church.
The visitation of the Canterbury monasteries began. The immorality of most of these houses was manifested by scandalous scenes, and gave rise to questions which we are forced to suppress. The abominable vices that prevailed in them are mentioned by St. Paul in his description of the pagan corruptions (Romans 1). The Commissioners having taken their seats in one of the halls of the Augustine monastery, all the monks came before them, some embarrassed, others bold, but most of them careless. Strange questions were then put to men who declared themselves consecrated to a devout and contemplative life. “Are there any among you,” asked the Commissioners, “who, disguising themselves, leave the convent and go vagabondizing about? Do you observe the vow of chastity, and has anyone been convicted of incontinence? Do women enter the monastery, or live in it habitually?” We omit the questions that followed. The result was scandalous; eight of the brothers were convicted of abominable vices. The black sheep having been set apart for punishment, Layton called the other monks together, and said to them, “True religion does not consist in shaving the head, silence, fasting, and other observances; but in uprightness of soul, purity of life, sincere faith in Christ, brotherly love, and the worship of God in spirit and in truth. Do not rest content with ceremonies, but rise to sublimer things, and be converted from all these outward practices to inward and deep considerations.”
One visitation still more distressing followed this. The Carthusian monastery at Canterbury, four monks of which had died piously, contained several rotten members. Some of them used to put on lay dresses, and leave the convent during the night. There was one house for monks and another for nuns, and the blacksmith of the monastery confessed that a monk had asked him to file away a bar of the window which separated the two cloisters. It was the duty of the monks to confess the nuns; but by one of those refinements of corruption which mark the lowest degree of vice, the sin and absolution often followed close upon each other. Some nuns begged the Visitors not to permit certain monks to enter their house again.
The visitation being continued through Kent, the Visitors came on the 22nd of October to Langdon Abbey, near Dover. William Dyck, abbot of the monastery of the Holy Virgin, possessed a very bad reputation. Layton, who was determined to surprise him, ordered his attendants to surround the abbey in such a manner that no one could leave it. He then went to the abbot’s house, which looked upon the fields, and was full of doors and windows by which anyone could escape. Layton began to knock loudly, but no one answered. Observing an axe, he took it up, dashed in the door with it, and entered. He found a woman with the monk, and the visitors discovered in a chest the men’s clothes which she put on when she wished to pass for one of the younger brethren. She escaped, but one of Cromwell’s servants caught her and took her before the mayor at Dover, where she was placed in the cage. As for the holy father abbot, says Layton, he was put in prison. A few of the monks signed an act by which they declared that their house being threatened with utter ruin, temporal and spiritual, the king alone could find a remedy, and they consequently surrendered it to his Majesty.
The abbot of Fountains had ruined his abbey by publicly keeping six women. One night he took away the golden crosses and jewels belonging to the monastery, and sold them to a jeweler for a small sum. At Mayden-Bradley, Layton found another father prior, one Richard, who had five women, six sons, and a daughter pensioned on the property of the monastery; his sons, tall, stout young men, lived with him and waited on him. Seeing that the Roman Church prohibited the clergy from obeying the commandment of Scripture, which says, A bishop must be the husband of one wife, these wretched men took five or six. The impositions of the monks to extort money injured them in public opinion far more than their debauchery. Layton found in St. Anthony’s house at Bristol a tunic of our Lord, a petticoat of the Virgin, a part of the Last Supper, and a fragment of the stone upon which Jesus was born at Bethlehem. All these brought in money.
Every religious and moral sentiment is disgusted at hearing of the disorders and frauds of the monks, and yet the truth of history requires that they should be made known. Here is one of the means—of the blasphemous means—they employed to deceive the people. At Hales in Gloucestershire, the monks pretended that they had some of Christ’s blood preserved in a bottle. The man whose deadly sins God had not yet pardoned could not see it, they said; while the absolved sinner saw it instantaneously. Thousands of penitents crowded thither from all parts. If a rich man confessed to the priest and laid his gift on the altar, he was conducted into the mysterious chapel, where the precious vessel stood in a magnificent case. The penitent knelt down and looked, but saw nothing. “Your sin is not yet forgiven,” said the priest. Then came another confession, another offering, another introduction into the sanctuary; but the unfortunate man opened his eyes in vain, he could see nothing until his contribution satisfied the monks. The Commissioners, having sent for the vessel, found it to be “a crystal very thick on one side and very transparent on the other.” “You see, my lords,” said a candid monk, “when a rich penitent appears, we turn the vessel on the thick side; that, you know, opens his heart and his purse.” The transparent side did not appear until he had placed a large donation on the altar.
No discovery produced a greater sensation in England than that of the practices employed at Boxley in Kent. It possessed a famous crucifix, the image on which, carved in wood, gave an affirmative nod with the head if the offering was accepted, winked the eyes, and bent the body. If the offering was too small, the indignant figure turned away its head and made a sign of disapproval. One of the Commissioners took down the crucifix from the wall, and discovered the pipes which carried the wires that the priestly conjuror was wont to pull. Having put the machine in motion, he said, “You see what little account the monks have made of us and our forefathers.” The monks trembled with shame and alarm, while the spectators, says the record, roared with laughter, like Ajax. The king sent for the machine, and had it worked in the presence of the court. The figure rolled its eyes, opened its mouth, turned up its nose, let its head fall, and bent its back. “Upon my word,” said the king, “I do not know whether I ought not to weep rather than laugh, on seeing how the poor people of England have been fooled for so many centuries.”
These vile tricks were the least of the sins of the monks. In several monasteries the Visitors found implements for coining base money. In others they discovered traces of the horrible cruelties practiced by the monks of one faction against those of another. Descending into the gloomy dungeons, they perceived, by the help of their torches, the bones of a great number of wretched people, some of whom had died of hunger and others had been crucified. But debauchery was the most frequent offense. Those pretended priests of a God who has said, Be ye holy, for I the Lord am holy, covered themselves with the hypocritical mantle of their priesthood, and indulged in infamous impurities. They discovered one monk, who, turning auricular confession to an abominable purpose, had carried adultery into two or three hundred families. The list was exhibited, and some of the Commissioners, to their great astonishment, says a contemporary writer, found the names of their own wives upon it.
There were sometimes riots, sieges, and battles. The royal Commissioners arrived at Norton Abbey in Cheshire, the abbots of which were notorious for having carried on a scandalous traffic with the monastic plate. On the last day of their visit, the abbot sent out his monks to muster his supporters, and collected a band of two or three hundred men, who surrounded the monastery to prevent the Commissioners from carrying anything away. The latter took refuge in a tower, which they barricaded. It was two hours past midnight; the abbot had ordered an ox to be killed to feed his rabble, seated round the fires in front of the monastery, and even in the courtyard. On a sudden Sir Piers Dulton, a justice of the peace, arrived, and fell with his posse upon the monks and their defenders. The besiegers were struck with terror, and ran off as fast as they could, hiding themselves among the fish ponds and in the outhouses. The abbot and three canons, the instigators of the riot, were imprisoned in Halton Castle.
Be it said that the king’s Commissioners met with houses of another character. When George Gifford was visiting the monasteries of Lincolnshire, he came to a lonely district, abounding in water but very poor, where the abbey of Woolstrop was situated. The inhabitants of the neighborhood, notwithstanding their destitution, praised the charity of the recluses. Entering the house, Gifford found an honest prior and some pious monks, who copied books, made their own clothes, and practiced the arts of embroidering, carving, painting, and engraving. The Visitor petitioned the king for the preservation of this monastery.
The Commissioners had particular instructions for the women’s convents. “Is your house perfectly closed?” they asked the abbess and the nuns. “Can a man get into it? Are you in the habit of writing love letters?” At Lichfield the nuns declared that there was no disorder in the convent, but one good old woman told everything, and when Layton reproached the prioress for her falsehood, she replied, “Our religion compels us to it. At our admission we swore never to reveal the secret sins that were committed among us.” There were some houses in which nearly all the nuns trampled under foot the most sacred duties of their sex, and were without mercy for the unhappy fruits of their disorders.
Such were frequently in those times the monastic orders of the West. The eloquent apologists who eulogize their virtues without distinction, and the exaggerating critics who pronounce the same sentence of condemnation against all are both mistaken. We have rendered homage to the monks who were upright; we may blame those who were guilty. The scandals, let us say, did not proceed from the founders of these orders. Sentiments, opposed beyond a doubt to the principles of the Gospel, although they were well-intentioned, had presided over the formation of the monasteries. The hermits Paul, Anthony, and others of the third and fourth centuries gave themselves up to an anti-evangelical asceticism, but still they struggled courageously against temptation. However, one must be very ignorant not to see that corruption must eventually issue from monastic institutions. Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up, is the language of the Gospel.
We do not exaggerate. The monasteries were sometimes an asylum in which men and women, whose hearts had been wrecked in the tempests of life, sought a repose which the world did not offer. They were mistaken; they ought to have lived with God, but in the midst of society. And yet there is a pleasure in believing that behind those walls, which hid so much corruption, there were some elect souls who loved God. Such were found at Catesby, at Godstow, near Oxford, and in other places. The Visitors asked for the preservation of these houses.
If the visitation of the religious houses was a bitter draught to many of the inmates, it was a cup of joy to the greater number. Many monks and nuns had been put into them during their infancy, and were detained in them against their will. No one ought to be forced, according to Cromwell’s principles. When the visitation took place, the Visitors announced to every monk under twenty-four years of age, and to every nun under twenty-one, that they might go free. Almost all to whom the doors were thus opened hastened to profit by it. A secular dress was given them, with some money, and they departed with pleasure. But great was the sorrow among many whose age exceeded the limit. Falling on their knees, they entreated the Commissioners to obtain a similar favour for them. “The life we lead here,” they said, “is contrary to our conscience.”
The Commissioners returned to London, and made their report to the Council. They were distressed and disgusted. “We have discovered,” they said, “not seven, but more than seven hundred thousand deadly sins. … These abominable monks are the ravening wolves whose coming Christ has announced, and who under sheep’s clothing devour the flock. Here are the confessions of the monks and nuns, subscribed with their own hands. This book may well be called The Book of God’s Judgment. The monasteries are so full of iniquity that they ought to fall down under such a weight. If there be here and there any innocent cloister, they are so few in number that they cannot save the others. Our hearts melt and all our limbs tremble at the thought of the abominations we have witnessed. O Lord! what wilt Thou answer to the five cities which Thou didst consume by fire, when they remind Thee of the iniquities of those monks, with whom Thou hast so long borne? The eloquence of Ptolemy, the memory of Pliny, and the pen of St. Augustine would not be able to give us the detestable history of these abominations.” The Council began to deliberate, and many of the members called for the secularization of a part of the monasteries. The partisans of the religious orders took up their defense, and acknowledged that there was room for reform. “But,” they added, “will you deprive of all asylum the pious souls who desire to quit the world, and lead a devout life to the glory of their Maker?” They tried even to invalidate in some points the testimony of the Visitors, but the latter declared that, far from having recorded lightly those scandalous facts, they had excluded many.
Men of influence supported the Commissioners’ conclusions; a few members of the Council were inclined to indulgence; even Cromwell seemed disposed to attempt the reform of whatever was susceptible of improvement; but many believed that all amendment was impossible. “We must, above all things, diminish the wealth of the clergy,” said Dr. Cox, “for so long as they do not imitate the poverty of Christ, the people will not follow their teaching. I have no doubt,” he added, with a touch of irony, “that the bishops, priests, and monks will readily free themselves from the heavy burden of wealth of every kind, which renders the fulfillment of their spiritual duties impossible.” Other reasons were alleged. “The income of the monasteries,” said one of the privy-councilors, “amounts to 500,000 ducats, while that of all the nobility of England is only 380,000. This disproportion is intolerable, and must be put an end to. For the welfare of his subjects and of the Church, the King should increase the number of bishoprics, parishes, and hospitals. He must augment the forces of the State, and prepare to resist the Emperor, whose fleets and armies threaten us. Shall we ask the people for taxes, who have already so much trouble to get a living, while the monks continue to consume their wealth in laziness and debauchery? It would be monstrous injustice. The treasures which the religious houses derive from the nation ought no longer to be useless to the nation.”
In February 1536, this serious matter was laid before Parliament. It was Thomas Cromwell whose heavy hand struck these receptacles of impurity, and whom men called “the hammer of the monks,” who proposed this great reform. He laid on the table of the Commons that famous Black Book, in which were inscribed the misdeeds of the religious orders, and desired that it should be read to the House. The book is no longer in existence; it was destroyed in the reign of Queen Mary by those who had an interest in its suppression. But it was then opened before the Parliament of England. There had never before been such a reading in any assembly. The facts were clearly recorded; the most detestable enormities were not veiled; the horrible confessions of the monks, signed with their own hands, were exhibited to the members of the Commons. The recital produced an extraordinary effect. Men had had no idea of such abominable scandals. The House was horror-stricken, and “Down with them, down with them!” was shouted on every side.
The debate commenced. Personally, the members were generally interested in the preservation of the monasteries; most of them had some connection with one cloister or another; priors and other heads had relations and friends in Parliament. Nevertheless the condemnation was general, and men spoke of those monkish sanctuaries as, in former times, men had spoken of the priests of Jezebel: “Let us pull down their houses, and overturn their altars.” There were, however, some objections. Twenty-eight abbots, heads of the great monasteries, were entitled to sit as barons in the Upper House; these were respected. Besides, the great monasteries were less disorderly than the small ones. Cromwell restricted himself for the moment to the suppression of 372cloisters, in each of which the annual income was less than £200. The abbots, flattered by the exception made in their favor, were silent, and even the bishops hardly cared to defend institutions which had long been withdrawn from their authority. “These monasteries,” said Cromwell, “being the dishonor of religion, and all the attempts, repeated through more than two centuries, having shown that their reformation is impossible, the King, as supreme head of the Church under God, proposes to the Lords and Commons, and these agree, that the possessions of the said houses shall cease to be wasted for the maintenance of sin, and shall be converted to better uses.”
There was immediately a great commotion throughout England. Some rejoiced, while others wept; superstition became active, and weak minds believed everything that was told them. “The Virgin,” they were assured, “had appeared to certain monks, and ordered them to serve her as they had hitherto done.” “What! no more religious houses,” exclaimed others, through their tears. “On the contrary,” said Latimer, “look at that man and woman living together piously, tranquilly, in the fear of God, keeping His Word and active in the duties of their calling—they form areligious house, one that is truly acceptable to God. Pure religion consists not in wearing a hood, but in visiting the fatherless and the widows, and keeping ourselves unspotted from the world. What has hitherto been called a religious life was an unreligious life; yea, rather an hypocrisy.” “And yet,” said the devout, “the monks had more holiness than those who live in the world.” To this Latimer replied, “When St. Anthony lived in the desert on bread and water, and thought himself the most holy of men, he asked God who should be his companion in heaven, if it were possible for him to have one. ‘Go to Alexandria,’ said the Lord, ‘in such a street and house you will find him.’ Anthony left the desert, sought the house, and found a poor cobbler in his shop mending old shoes. The saint took up his abode with him, that he might learn by what mortifications the cobbler had made himself worthy of such great celestial honor. Every morning the poor man knelt down in prayer with his wife, and then went to work. When the dinner-hour arrived, he sat down at a table on which were bread and cheese; he gave thanks, ate his meal with joy, brought up his children in the fear of God, and faithfully discharged all his duties. At this sight, St. Anthony looked inwards, became contrite of heart, and put away his pride. Such is the new sort of religious houses,” added Latimer, “that we desire to have now.”
And yet, strange to say, Latimer, now bishop of Worcester, was almost the only person among the Evangelicals who raised his voice in favor of the religious bodies. He feared that if the property of the monasteries passed into the greedy hands of Henry’s courtiers, the tenants, accustomed to the mild treatment of the abbots, would be oppressed by the lay landlords, desirous of realizing the fruits of their estate unto the very last drop. Hence he was anxious that a few monasteries should be preserved as houses of study, prayer, hospitality, charity, and preaching. Cranmer, who had more discernment and a more practical spirit, had no hope of the monks. “Satan,” he said, “lives in the monasteries; he is satisfied and at his ease, like a gentleman in his inn, and the monks and nuns are his very humble servants.” The primate, however, took little if any part in this great measure. His episcopal jurisdiction was suspended while the business was in hand, and he could do no other than acquiesce in the work of the Vicar-General.
The Bill for the suppression of the monasteries was introduced into the House of Commons on the 11th of March, 1536. The confiscated wealth of the monasteries was taken by the Crown. The possessions hitherto employed by a few to gratify their carnal appetites seemed destined to contribute to the prosperity of the whole nation.
Unhappily, the shameless cupidity of the monks was replaced by a cupidity of a different nature. Petitions poured in to Cromwell from every quarter. The saying of Scripture was fulfilled,Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Thomas Cobham, brother of Lord Cobham, represented that the Grey Friars’ house at Canterbury was in a convenient position for him, that it was the city where he was born, and where all his friends lived. He consequently asked that it should be given him, and Cranmer, whose niece he had married, supported the prayer. “My good Lord,” said Lord-Chancellor Audley, “my only salary is that of the chancellorship; give me a few good houses; I will give you my friendship during my life, and twenty pounds sterling for your trouble.” “My specially dear Lord,” said Sir Thomas Eliot, “I have been the king’s ambassador at Rome; my services deserve some recompense. Pray his Majesty to grant me some of the suppressed monastic lands. I will give your lordship the income of the first year.”
History has to record evils of another nature. Some of the finest libraries in England were destroyed, and works of great value sold for a trifle. Friends of learning on the continent bought many of them, and carried away whole shiploads. One man changed his religion for the sake of a piece of abbey land. Some persons had imagined that the suppression of the monasteries would lead to the abolition of taxes and subsidies, but it was not so, and the nation found itself burdened with a new need to make provision for the poor, in addition to the ordinary taxes. There were, however, more worthy cases than those of the king and his courtiers. “Most dread, mighty, and noble prince,” wrote the lord-mayor of London to the king, “give orders that the three city hospitals shall henceforward subserve not the pleasures of those canons, priests, and monks, whose dirty and disgusting bodies encumber our streets, but be used for the comfort of the sick and blind, the aged and crippled.”
The Act of Parliament suppressing the poorer religious houses was immediately carried out. The earl of Sussex, Sir John St. Clair, Anthony Fitzherbert, Richard Cromwell, and several other Commissioners, traveled through England and made known to the religious communities the statutory dissolution. The voice of truth was heard from a small number of monasteries. “Assuredly,” said the Lincolnshire Franciscans, “the perfection of Christian life does not consist in wearing a gray frock, in disguising ourselves in strange fashion, in bending the body and nodding the head, and in wearing a girdle full of knots. The true Christian life has been divinely manifested to us in Christ, and for that reason we submit with one consent to the king’s orders.” The monks of the house of St. Andrew at Northampton acknowledged to the Commissioners that they had taken the habit of the order to live in comfortable idleness and not by virtuous labor, and had indulged in continual drunkenness, and in carnal and voluptuous appetites. “We have covered the gospel of Christ with shame,” they said. “Now, seeing the gulf of everlasting fire gaping to swallow us up and impelled by the stings of our conscience, we humble ourselves with lowly repentance, and pray for pardon, giving up ourselves and our monastery to our sovereign king and lord.”
But they did not all use the same language. There was a ceaseless movement in the cloisters; bursts of sorrow and fear, of anger and despair. What! No more monasteries! No more religious pomps! No more gossip! No more refectory! Those halls, wherein their predecessors had paced for centuries, those chapels in which they had worshipped kneeling on the pavement, were to be converted to vulgar uses. A few monasteries endeavored to bribe Cromwell. “If you save our house,” said the abbot of Peterborough, “I will reward the king and you well.” But Cromwell had conceived a great national measure, and wished to carry it out. Neither the eloquence of the monks, their prayers, their promises, nor their money could move him.
Some of the abbots set themselves in open revolt against the king, but were forced to submit at last. The old halls, the long galleries, the narrow cells of the religious houses became emptier from day to day. The monks received a pension in proportion to their age. Those who desired to continue in the religious life were sent to the large monasteries. Many were dismissed with a few shillings for their journey and a new gown. “As for you,” said the Commissioners to the young monks under twenty-five, “you must earn a living by the work of your hands.” The same rule was applied to the nuns.
There was great suffering at this period. The inhabitants of the cloisters were strangers in the world; England was to them an unknown land. Monks and nuns might be seen wandering from door to door, seeking an asylum for the night. Many, who were young then, grew old in beggary. Their sin had been great, and so was their chastisement. Some of the monks fell into a gloomy melancholy, even into frightful despair; the remembrance of their faults pursued them; God’s judgment terrified them; the sight of their miseries infuriated them. “I am like Esau,” said one of them, “I shall be eternally damned.” And he strangled himself with his collar. Another stabbed himself with a penknife. Some compassionate people having deprived him of the power of injuring himself, he exclaimed with rage, “If I cannot die in this manner, I shall easily find another,” and taking a piece of paper, he wrote on it, “The king oppresses his people like a tyrant.” This he placed in one of the church books, where it was found by a parishioner, who in great alarm called out to the persons around him. The monk, full of hope that he would be brought to trial, drew near and said, “It was I who did it; here I am; let them put me to death.”
Erelong those gloomy clouds, which seemed to announce a day of storms, appeared to break. There were tempests afterwards, but, speaking generally, England found in this energetic act one of the sources of her greatness, instead of the misfortunes with which she was threatened. At the moment when greedy eyes began to covet the revenues of Cambridge and Oxford, a recollection of the pleasant days of his youth was awakened in Henry’s mind. “I will not permit the wolves around me,” he said, “to fall upon the universities.” Indeed, the wealth of a few monasteries was employed in the foundation of new schools, and particularly of Trinity College, Cambridge, and these institutions helped to spread throughout England the lights of the Renaissance and of the Reformation. An eloquent voice was heard from those antique halls, saying, “O most invincible prince, great is the work that you have begun. Christ had laid the foundation; the apostles raised the building. But alas! barren weeds had overrun it; the papal tyranny had bowed all heads beneath its yoke. Now, you have rejected the pope; you have banished the race of monks. What more can we ask for? We pray that those houses of cenobites, where an ignorant swarm of drones was wont to buzz, should behold in their academic halls a generous youth, eager to be taught, and learned men to teach them. Let the light which has been restored to us spread its rays far and wide and kindle other torches, so that the darkness may be put to flight by the dawn of a new day.”
It was not learning alone that gained by the suppression of the monasteries. Monastic wealth, hitherto useless, helped to strengthen England’s defenses and to build up her navy. At the same time, by the Reformation the moral force of the nation gained even more than the material force. The abolition of the papacy restored to the people that national unity which Rome had taken away, and England, freed from subjection to a foreign power, could oppose her enemies with a sword of might and a front of iron.
Political economy, rural economy, all that concerns the collection and distribution of wealth, then took a start that nothing has been able to check. The estates, taken from the easy-going monks, produced riches. The king and the nobility, desirous of deriving the greatest gain possible from the domains that had fallen to them, endeavored to improve agriculture. Many men, until that time useless, electrified by the movement of minds, sought the means of existence. The Reformation, from which the nation expected only purity of doctrine, helped to increase the general prosperity, industry, commerce, and navigation. The poor remembered that God had commanded man to eat his bread, not in the shade of the monasteries, but in the sweat of his brow. To this epoch we must ascribe the origin of those mercantile enterprises, of those long and distant voyages which were to be one day the strength of Great Britain. Henry VIII was truly the father of Elizabeth.
Moral, social, and political development was no less a gainer by the order that was established. At the first moment, no doubt, England presented the appearance of a vast chaos, but from that chaos there sprang a new world. Forces which had hitherto been buried in obscure cells were employed for the good of society. The men who had been dwelling carelessly within or without the cloister walls, and had expended all their activity in listlessly giving or listlessly receiving alms, were violently shaken by the blows from the Malleus monachorum (the hammer of the monks); they aroused themselves, and made exertions which turned to the public good. Their children, and especially their grandchildren, became useful citizens. The third estate appeared. The population of the cloisters was transformed into an active and intelligent middle class. The very wealth acquired, it is true greedily, by the nobility, secured them an independence, which enabled them to oppose a salutary counterpoise to the pretensions of the crown. The Upper House, where the ecclesiastical element had predominated, became essentially a lay house by the absence of the abbots and priors. A new life animated antique institutions that had remained almost useless. It was not, in truth, until later that England, having become decidedly evangelical and constitutional, emerged in greatness from the ruins of feudalism and popery, but an important step was taken under Henry VIII. That great transformation extended its influence even beyond the shores of Britain. The blow aimed at the system of the Middle Ages re-echoed throughout Europe, and everywhere shook the artificial scaffolding. Spain and Italy alone remained almost motionless in the midst of their ancient darkness.
The suppression of the monasteries, begun in 1535, was brought to a conclusion in 1539 by a second Act of Parliament.
A voice was heard from these ruined houses exclaiming, “Praise and thanksgiving to God! For other foundation can no man lay than Jesus Christ. Whoever believes that Jesus Christ is thepacifier who turneth away from our heads the strokes of God’s wrath, lays the true foundation; and on that firm base he shall raise a better building than that which had the monks for its pillars!” This prophecy of Sir William Overbury did not fail of accomplishment.
Henry Negotiates with German Lutherans 1534–1535
Henry VIII having thrown down the chief pillar of the papacy in England—the monks—felt the necessity of strengthening the work he had begun by alliances with the continental protestants. He did not turn to the Swiss or the French Reformers: their small political importance, as well as the decided character of their Reform, alienated him from them. “What inconsiderate men they are,” said Calvin, “who exalt the king of England. To ascribe sovereign authority to the prince in everything, to call him supreme head of the Church under Christ, is blasphemy.”
Henry hoped more from Germany than from Switzerland. As early as 1534 three senators of Lubeck had presented to him the Lutheran Confession of Augsburg of 1530, and proposed an alliance against the Roman pontiff. Anne Boleyn pressed the king to unite with the protestants, and in the spring of 1535 Henry’s chaplain, Dr. Anthony Barnes, was sent to Wittenberg, where he endeavored to induce the Reformers to claim his master’s protection. Melanchthon, who was more inclined than Luther to have recourse to princes, did not reject the advances of Henry VIII. “Sire,” he wrote in March 1535, “this is now the golden age for Britain. In times of old, when the armies of the Goths had stifled letters in Europe, your island restored them to the universe. I entreat you in the name of Jesus Christ to plead for us before kings.” The illustrious doctor dedicated to this prince the new edition of his Common-Places, and commissioned Alexander Alesius, a Scot, to present it with the hope that he should see England become the salvation of many nations, and even of the whole Church of Christ. Alesius, who had taken refuge in Saxony, was happy to return to that island from which the fanaticism of the Scottish clergy had compelled him to flee. He was presented to the uncle of his king, and Henry, delighted with the Scot, said to him, “I name you my scholar,” and directed Cranmer to send Melanchthon two hundred florins. They were accompanied by a letter for the illustrious professor, in which the king signed himself:Your friend Henry.
But it was not long before the hopes of a union between Germany and England seemed to vanish. Scarcely had Melanchthon vaunted in his dedication to Henry VIII the moderation of the king—a moderation worthy (he had said) of a wise prince—when he heard of the execution of Fisher and More. He shrank back with terror. “More,” he exclaimed, “has been put to death, and others with him.” The cruelties of the king tortured the gentle Philip. The idea that a man of letters like More should fall by the hands of the executioner scandalized him. He began to fear for his own life. “I am myself,” he said, “in great peril.”
Henry did not suspect the horror which his crime would excite on the continent, and had just read with delight a passage of Melanchthon in which the latter compared him to Ptolemy Philadelphus! He therefore said to Barnes, “Go and bring him back with you.” Barnes returned to Wittenberg in September and delivered his message. But the doctor of Germany had never received so alarming an invitation before. He imagined it to be a treacherous scheme. “The mere thought of the journey,” he said, “overwhelms me with distress.” Barnes tried to encourage him. “The king will give you a magnificent escort,” he said, “and even hostages, if you desire it.” Melanchthon, who had More’s bleeding head continually before him, was immovable. Luther also regarded Barnes with an unfavorable eye, and called him the dark Englishman.
The envoy was more fortunate with the Elector of Saxony. John Frederick, hearing that the king of England was desirous of forming an alliance with the princes of Germany, replied that he would communicate this important demand to them. He then entertained Barnes at a sumptuous breakfast, made him handsome presents, and wrote to Henry VIII that the desire manifested by him to reform religious doctrine augmented his love for him, “for,” he added, “it belongs to kings to propagate Christ’s gospel far and wide.”
Luther also, but from other motives than those of the elector, did not look so closely as Melanchthon; the suppression of the monasteries prepossessed him in favor of his ancient adversary. The penalties with which the Carthusians and others had been visited did not alarm him. Vergerio, the papal legate, who was at Wittenberg at the beginning of November, invited Luther to breakfast with him. “I know,” he said, “that King Henry kills cardinals and bishops, but…” and biting his lips, he made a significant movement with his hand, as if he wished to cut off the king’s head. When relating this anecdote to Melanchthon, who was then at Jena, Luther added, “Would to God that we possessed several kings of England to put to death those bishops, cardinals, legates, and popes who are nothing but robbers, traitors, and devils!” Luther was less tender than he is represented when contrasted with Calvin. Those hasty words expressed really the thoughts of all parties. The spiritual leaven of the gospel had to work for a century or more upon the hard material of which the heart of man is made, before the errors of Romish teachings, a thousand years old, were banished. No doubt there was an immediate mitigation produced by the Reformation; but if anyone had told the men of the sixteenth century that it was wrong to put men to death for acts of impiety, they would have been as astonished, and perhaps more so, than our judges, if they were abused because, in conformity with the law, they visited murder with capital punishment. It is strange, however, that it required so many centuries to understand those glorious words of our Savior: The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them(Luke 9:56).
The condition which the German protestants placed on their union with Henry VIII rendered the alliance difficult. “We only ask one thing,” said the Reformers to Barnes, “that the doctrine which is in conformity with Scripture be restored to the whole world“; but Henry still observed the catholic doctrine. He was told, however, that the Lutherans and Francis I, thanks to Melanchthon’s mediation, were probably coming to an agreement, and that a general council would be summoned. What treatment could he expect from such an assembly, he who had so grievously offended the papacy! Desirous of preventing a council at any price, the King determined in September, 1535, to send a more important embassy to the Lutherans, in order to persuade them to renounce the idea of coming to terms with the pope, and rather to form an alliance with England.
Consequently, Edward Fox, bishop of Hereford, a proud and insolent courtier, and Nicholas Heath, archdeacon of Stafford, an amiable and enlightened man, with some others, started for Germany and joined Barnes, who had preceded them. On the 24th of December they were admitted into the presence of the Elector of Saxony, the Landgrave of Hesse, and other protestant deputies and princes. “The king our master,” they said, “has abolished the power of the Roman bishop throughout his dominions, and rejected his pretended pardons and his old wives’ stories. Accordingly, the pope, in a transport of fury, has summoned all the kings of the earth to take arms against him. But neither pope nor papists alarm our prince. He offers you his person, his wealth, and his scepter to combat the Roman power. Let us unite against it, and the Spirit of God will bind our confederation together.” The princes replied to this eloquent harangue, “that if the king engaged to propagate the pure doctrine of the faith as it had been confessed at the diet of Augsburg; if he engaged, like them, never to concede to the Roman bishop any jurisdiction in his States, they would name him Defender and Protector of their confederation.” They added that they would send a deputation, including one man of excellent learning (meaning Melanchthon), to confer with the king upon the changes to be made in the Church. The Englishmen could not conceal their joy, but the theologian had lost all confidence in Henry VIII. “The death of More distresses me; I will have nothing to do with the business.” On the 25th of December, 1535, the German princes at Schmalkald presented Fox with detailed propositions for a league with England. Henry VIII consulted Bishop Gardiner, at that time his ambassador in France, and then declined the terms, Gardiner having advised that the outcome of a league would be the establishment of protestantism in England.
Meanwhile, at home, Henry’s relations with the most decided partisans of the papacy were far from improving. His daughter Mary, whose temper was melancholy and irritable, observed no bounds as regards her father’s friends or acts, and refused to submit to his orders. “I bid her renounce the title of princess,” said Henry in a passion. “If I consented not to be regarded as such,” she answered, “I should go against my conscience and incur God’s displeasure.” Henry, no friend of half-measures, talked of putting his daughter to death, and thus frightening the rebels. That wretched prince had a remarkable tendency for killing those who were nearest to him. We may see a father correct his child with a stripe; but with this man, a blow from his hand was fatal. There was already some talk of sending the princess to the Tower, when the evangelical Cranmer ventured to intercede in behalf of the catholic Mary. He reminded Henry that he was her father, and that if he took away her life, he would incur universal reprobation. The king gave way to these representations, predicting to the archbishop that this intervention would some day cost him dear. In fact, when Mary became queen she put to death the man who had saved her life. Henry was content to order his daughter to be separated from her mother. On the other hand, the terrified Catherine endeavored to mollify the princess. “Obey the king in all things,” she wrote from Buckden, where she was living, “except in those which would destroy your soul. Speak little; trouble yourself about nothing, play on the spinet or lute.” This unhappy woman, who had found so much bitterness in the conjugal estate, added, “Above all, do not desire a husband, nor even think of it, I beg you in the name of Christ’s passion. Your loving mother, Catherine the Queen.”
But the mother was not less decided than the daughter in maintaining her rights, and would not renounce her title of queen, notwithstanding Henry’s orders. A commission composed of the Duke of Suffolk, Lord Sussex, and others arrived at Buckden to try to induce her to do so, and all the household of the princess was called together. The intrepid daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella said with a firm voice, “I am the queen, the king’s true wife.” Being informed that it was intended to remove her to Somersham and separate her from some of her best friends, she answered, “I will not go unless you bind me with ropes.” And to prevent this she took to her bed and refused to dress, saying she was ill. The king sent two catholic prelates, the archbishop of York and the bishop of Durham, hoping to soften her. “Madam,” said the archbishop, “your marriage being invalid…” “It is a lawful marriage,” she exclaimed with passionate vehemence. “Until death I shall be his Majesty’s wife.”
“Members of your own council,” continued the archbishop, “acknowledge that your marriage with Prince Arthur was actually consummated.”
“It is all false!” she exclaimed in a loud tone.
“The divorce was consequently pronounced…”
“By whom?” she asked.
“By my lord of Canterbury.”
“And who is he?” returned the queen. “A shadow! The pope has declared in my favor, and he is Christ’s vicar.”
“The king will treat you like a dear sister,” said bishop Tunstall.
“Nothing in the world,” answered Catherine, “neither the loss of my possessions nor the prospect of death, will make me give up my rights.”
In October, 1535, Catherine was still at Buckden. That noble but fanatical woman increased her austerity, indulged in the harshest practices of an ascetic life, prayed frequently bare-kneed on the floor, while at the same time a deadly sorrow was undermining her health. At last consumption declared itself, and as it was judged that her condition required a change of air, she was removed to Kimbolton castle, some eight miles to the west. She longed for the society of her daughter, which would no doubt have alleviated her sufferings, but she asked in vain with tears to see her. Mary also entreated the king to let her visit her mother; he was inflexible.
Henry’s harshness towards the aunt of Charles V excited the wrath of that monarch to the highest degree. He was then returning victorious from his expedition against the corsair Barbarossa, whom he had driven out of Tunis, and determined to delay no longer in carrying out the mission he had received from the pope. To that end it was necessary to obtain, if not the cooperation, at least the neutrality, of Francis I. That was not easy. The king of France had always courted the alliance of England; he had signed a treaty with Henry against the Emperor and against the pope, and had just sought an alliance with the Lutheran princes. But the Emperor knew that the acquisition of Italy, or at least of Lombardy, was the favorite idea of Francis I. Charles was equally desirous of it, but he was so impatient to re-establish Catherine of Aragon on the throne, and bring England again under the dominion of the pope, that he determined to sacrifice Italy, if only in appearance. Sforza, duke of Milan, having just died without children, the Emperor offered Francis I the duchy of Milan for his second son, the duke of Orleans, if he would not oppose his designs against England. The king of France eagerly accepted the proposal, and wishing to give a proof of his zeal, he even proposed that the pope should summon all the princes of Christendom to force the king of England to submit to the See of Rome. The love he had for Milan went so far as to make him propose a crusade against his natural ally, Henry VIII.
The matter was becoming serious; rarely had a greater danger threatened England, when an important event suddenly removed it. At the very time when Charles V, aided by Francis I, desired to rouse Europe in order to re-place his aunt on the throne, she died. About the end of December, 1535, Catherine became seriously ill, and felt that God was bringing her great sorrows to an end. The king, wishing to keep up appearances, sent to enquire after her. The queen, firm to the last in her principles, sent for her lawyers and dictated her will to them. “I am ready,” she said, “to yield up my soul unto God. … I supplicate that five hundred masses be said for my soul; and that some personage go in pilgrimage for me to Our Lady of Walsingham. I bequeath my gowns to the convent, and the furs of the same I give to my daughter.” Then Catherine thought of the king; to her he was always her husband, and despite his injustice, she would not address him but with respect. Feeling that the end was not far off, she dictated the following letter, at once so simple and so noble:
“My most dear Lord, King, and Husband,
“The hour of my death now approaching, I cannot choose but, out of the love I bear you, advise you of your soul’s health. You have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles, but I forgive you all, and pray God to do likewise. I commend unto you Mary our daughter, beseeching you to be a good father to her. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.”
The queen, therefore, sought to bid farewell to him who had wrought her so much evil. Henry was moved, and even shed tears, but did not comply with the queen’s wish; his conscience reproached him with his faults. On the 7th of January Catherine received the last sacraments, and at two o’clock she expired.
Anne felt at the bottom of her heart the rights of this princess. She had yielded to her imagination, and to the absolute will of the king; her marriage had given her some moments of happiness, but her soul was often troubled. She thought to herself that the proud Spanish woman was the one to whom Henry had given his faith, and doubted whether the crown did not belong to the daughter of Isabella. Catherine’s death removed her anxieties. “Now,” she said, “now I am indeed a queen.” The tears of the people accompanied to the tomb that unhappy and (to say truth) superstitious woman, but she was an affectionate mother, a high-spirited wife, and a queen of indomitable pride.
This decease was destined to effect great changes in Europe. The Emperor, who was forming a holy alliance to restore his aunt to the throne, and who, to succeed, had gone so far as to sacrifice the northern part of Italy, having nothing more to do with Catherine, sheathed his sword and kept Milan. Francis I, vexed at seeing the prey slip from him which he had so eagerly coveted, and fancied already in his hands, went into a furious passion, and prepared for a war to the death. The Emperor and the king of France, instead of marching together against Henry, began each of them to court him, desiring to have him for an ally in the fierce struggle that was about to begin.
At the same time Catherine’s death facilitated, as we have said, the alliance of the king with the protestants of Germany, who had maintained the validity of his marriage with the princess of Aragon. One of their chief grievances against Henry VIII had thus disappeared. Both sides now thought they could take a step forward and strive to come to an understanding theologically. The points on which they differed were important. “The king of England,” they said at Wittenberg, “wishes to be pope in the place of the pope, and maintains most of the errors of the old popery, such as monasteries, indulgences, the mass, prayers for the dead, and other Romish fables.”
The discussion began at Wittenberg. The champions in the theological tournament were Bishop Fox and Archdeacon Heath on one side, Melanchthon and Luther on the other. Heath, one of the young doctors whom Queen Anne had maintained at Cambridge University, charmed Melanchthon exceedingly. “He excels in urbanity and sound doctrine,” said the latter. Fox, on the other hand, who was the king’s man, showed, in Philip’s opinion, no taste either for philosophy or for agreeable and graceful conversation. The doctrine of the mass was the principal point of the discussion. They could not come to an understanding. Luther, who thought it would be only a three days’ matter, seeing the time slip away, said to the Elector, “I have done more in four weeks than these Englishmen in twelve years. If they continue reforming in that style, England will never be inside or out.” This definition of the English Reformation amused the Germans. They did not discuss, they disputed; it became a regular quarrel. “I am disgusted with these debates,” said Luther to vice-chancellor Burkhard, “they make me sick.” Even the gentle Melanchthon exclaimed, “All the world seems to me to be burning with hatred and anger.”
Accordingly the theological discussions were broken off, and the ambassadors of Henry VIII were admitted on the 12th of March into the presence of the Elector. “England is tranquil now,” said the bishop of Hereford, “the death of a woman has forever terminated all wrangling. At this moment the creed of Jesus Christ alone is the concern of his Majesty. The king therefore prays you to make an alliance between you and him possible, by modifying a few points of your Confession.” Whereupon the vice-chancellor of Saxony addressed Luther: “What can we concede to the king of England?” “Nothing,” answered the reformer. “If we had been willing to concede anything, we might just as well have come to terms with the pope.” After this very positive declaration, Luther softened down a little. He knew well, as Calvin has said, “that some men are weaker than others, and if we do not treat them very mildly, they lose their courage and turn away from religion, and that Christians who are more advanced in doctrine are bound to comfort the infirmities of the ignorant.” The Saxon reformer, retracing his steps a little, wrote to the vice-chancellor, “It is true that England cannot embrace the whole truth all at once.” He thought it possible in certain cases to adopt other expressions, and tolerate some diversity of usages. “But,” he said, always firm in the faith, “the great doctrines can neither be given up nor modified. Whether to make an alliance or not with the king is for my most gracious lord to decide; it is a secular matter. Only it is dangerous to unite outwardly, when the hearts are not in harmony.” The protestant States, assembled on the 24th of April, 1536, at Frankfort on the Main, required Henry VIII to receive the faith confessed at Augsburg, and in that case expressed themselves ready to acknowledge him as protector of the evangelical alliance. The Elector, who was much displeased with certain English ceremonies, added, “Let your Majesty thoroughly reform the pontifical idolomania in England.” It was agreed that Melanchthon, Sturm, Bucer, and Dracon should go to London to complete this great work of union. England and evangelical Germany were about to join hands.
This proposed alliance of the king with the Lutherans deeply chafed the catholics of the kingdom, already so seriously offended by the suppression of the monasteries and the punishment of the two men to whom Henry (they said) was most indebted. While the Roman party was filled with anger, the political party was surprised by the bold step the prince had taken. But the blow which had struck two great victims had taught them that they must submit to the will of the monarch or perish. The scaffolds of Fisher and More had read them a great lesson of docility, and molded all those around Henry to that servile spirit which leaves in the palace of a king nothing but a master and slaves.
They were about to see an illustrious instance in the trial of Anne Boleyn.
The Accusation of the Queen 1535 to May, 1536
If feeble minds did not shrink from bending beneath the royal despotism, men of fanatical mold cherished vengeance in their hearts. Great wounds had been inflicted on the papacy, and they burned to strike some signal blow against the cause of Reform. That also, they said, must have its victim. For all these monasteries sacrificed, one person must be immolated, one only, but taken from the most illustrious station. The king having, on the one side, struck his tutor and his friend, must now, to maintain the balance, strike his wife on the other. A tragedy was about to begin which would terminate in a frightful catastrophe. Anne Boleyn had not been brought up, as some have said, “in the worst school in Europe,” but in one of the best—in the household of the pious Margaret of Angoulême, who was the enlightened protectress not only of the learned, but of all friends of the Gospel. Anne certainly seems to have had strong leanings towards the Reformation and the Reformers. And accordingly she was in the eyes of the papal partisans the principal cause of the change that had been wrought in the king’s mind, and by him throughout the kingdom. The Reformation, as we have seen, began in England about 1517 with the reading of the Holy Scriptures in the universities; but the most accredited Roman doctors have preferred to assign it another origin, and, speaking of Cranmer’s connection with Anne Boleyn, thirteen years later, have said, “Such is the beginning of the Reformation in England.” In this assertion there is an error both of chronology and history.
Since her coronation, the queen had been in almost daily communication with the archbishop of Canterbury, and habitually—even her enemies affirmed it—the interests of the evangelical cause were treated of. At one time Anne prayed Cranmer to come to the assistance of the persecuted Protestants. At another, full of the necessity of sending reapers into the harvest, she interested herself about such young persons as were poor, but whose pure morals and clear intellect seemed to qualify them for the practice of virtue and the study of letters; these she assisted with great generosity. The queen did not encourage these students heedlessly; she required testimonials certifying as to the purity of their morals and the capacity of their intellect. If she was satisfied, she placed them at Oxford or Cambridge, and required them to spread around them, even while studying, the New Testament and the writings of the reformers. Many of the queen’s pensioners did great service to the Church and State in after-years. With these queenly qualities Anne combined more domestic ones. Cranmer saw her, like good Queen Claude, gathering round her a number of young ladies distinguished by their birth and their virtues, and working with them at tapestry of admirable perfection for the palace of Hampton Court, or at garments for the indigent. She established in certain poor parishes warehouses, filled with such things as the needy wanted. “Her eye of charity, her hand of bounty,” says a biographer, “passed through the whole land.” “She is said in three quarters of a year,” adds Lord Herbert of Cherbury, the celebrated seventeenth-century philosopher and historian, “to have bestowed fourteen or fifteen thousand pounds in this way,” that is, in alms. And this distinguished writer, ambassador of England at the court of Louis XIII, and known in France by the exertions he made in behalf of the protestants, adds, “She had besides established a stock for poor artificers in the realm.” Such were the works of Queen Anne. Cranmer, who had great discernment of men and things, being touched by the regard which the queen had for those who professed the Gospel, and seeing all that she did for the Reformation and the consolation of the wretched, declared that next to the king, Anne was of all creatures living “the one to whom he was most bound.”
Cranmer was not the only person among the evangelicals with whom Anne Boleyn maintained relations. From the first day she had seen Latimer, the Christian simplicity and apostolic manners of the reformer had touched her. When she heard him preach, she was delighted. The enthusiasm for that bold Christian preacher was universal. “It is as impossible,” said his hearers, “for us to receive into our minds all the treasures of eloquence and knowledge which fall from his lips, as it would be for a little river to contain the waters of the ocean in its bed.” From the period (1535) when Latimer preached the Lent Sermons before the king, he was one of the most regular instruments of the queen’s active charity.
A still more decided reformer had a high esteem for Anne Boleyn—this was Tyndale. No one, in his opinion, had declared with so much decision as the queen in favor of the New Testament and its circulation in English, and mention has already been made of the specially bound copy of his translation of the New Testament which he sent to England for the queen’s acceptance in 1534. This remarkable volume, now preserved in the library of the British Museum, is a monument of the veneration of the prisoner of Vilvorde for Anne Boleyn. A manuscript manual of devotion for the use of this princess has also been preserved—she used to present copies of it to her maids of honor. We see in it the value she attached to the Holy Scriptures; “Give us, O Father of mercies,” we read, “the greatest of all gifts Thou hast ever conferred on man—the knowledge of Thy holy will, and the glad tidings of our salvation. Roman tyranny has long hidden it from us under Latin letters; but now it is promulgated, published, and freely circulated.”
Anne, having in 1535 lost Dr. Betts, one of her chaplains, looked out for a man devoted to the Gospel to take his place, for she loved to be surrounded by the most pious persons in England. She cast her eyes upon Matthew Parker, a native of Norwich, Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and a man who for two years had been preaching the truth with fervor. Parker loved retirement and obscurity; accordingly, when he received shortly after Palm Sunday two letters summoning him to court “because the queen wished to see him,” he was amazed and confounded. At first he wanted to refuse so brilliant a call; but Latimer wrote to him, “Show yourself to the world; hide yourself no longer; work good while it is day, the night comes when no man can work. We know what you can do; let not your will be less than your power.”
Parker went to London, and in a short time his knowledge, piety, and prudence gained the entire esteem of the queen. That modest, intelligent, active man was just the person Anne wanted, and she took pleasure thenceforward in bestowing on him marks of her consideration. Parker was from this time one of those employed by Anne to distribute her benevolence. He had hardly arrived at court, when he presented to the queen one William Bill, a very young and very poor man, but by no means wanting in talent. Anne, rich in discernment, placed him in the number of students whom she was preparing for the ministry; he afterwards became dean of Westminster.
Parker, who began his career with Anne, was to finish it with Elizabeth. When he was deprived of all his offices by Queen Mary in 1554, he exclaimed, “Now that I am stripped of everything, I live in God’s presence, and am full of joy in my conscience. In this charming leisure I find greater pleasures than those supplied by the busy and perilous life I led at the court.” Forced to hide himself, often to flee by night, to escape the pursuit of his persecutors, the peace which he enjoyed was never troubled. He looked upon trials as the privilege of the child of God. All of a sudden a strange and unexpected calamity befell him. The daughter of Anne Boleyn, having ascended the throne, desired to have her mother’s chaplain for archbishop of Canterbury and primate of all England. “I kneel before your Majesty,” he said to Queen Elizabeth, “and pray you not to burden me with an office which requires a man of much more talent, knowledge, virtue, and experience than I possess.” A second letter from Nicholas Bacon, lord keeper of the great seal, repeated the summons. Then the unhappy Parker exclaimed in the depth of his sorrow, “Alas! alas! Lord God! for what times hast Thou preserved me! I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me. O Lord! strengthen me by Thy mighty Spirit!” Parker was at the head of the Church of England for sixteen years, and dignified the elevated seat on which he had been constrained to sit. Such were the men whom Anne Boleyn gathered round her.
We should be mistaken, however, if we represented the young queen as a bigot, living like Catherine in the practices of a rigid austerity. It appears even doubtful whether she knew by experience that inner, spiritual, and living Christianity which was found in Latimer, Tyndale, Cranmer, and Parker. She was a virtuous wife, a good protestant, attached to the Bible, opposed to the pope, fond of good works, esteeming men of God more than courtiers; but she had not renounced the world and its pomps. A woman of the world, upright, religious, loving to do good, a class of which there is always a large number, she was unacquainted with the pious aspirations of a soul that lives in communion with God. Her position as queen and wife of Henry VIII may have hindered her from advancing in the path of a Christian life. She thought it possible to love God without renouncing the enjoyments of the age, and looked upon worldly things as an innocent recreation. Desiring to keep her husband’s heart, she endeavored to please him by cheerful conversation, by organizing pleasure parties of which she was the life, and by receiving all his courtiers gracefully. Placed on slippery ground and watched by prejudiced eyes, she may occasionally have let fall some imprudent expression. Her sprightliness and gaiety, her amiable freedom were in strong contrast with the graver and stiffer formalities of the English ladies. Latimer, who saw her closely, sometimes admonished her respectfully, when he was alone with her, and the grateful Anne would exclaim unaffectedly, “You do me so much good! Pray never pass over a single fault.”
It is not from the writings of the pamphleteers that we must learn to know Anne Boleyn. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, opposite parties, in their extreme excitement, have painted her at one time in colors too dark, at another in colors too flattering. We must in this matter especially listen to men whose testimony is sanctioned by universal respect. There are not many princesses in history who have enjoyed, like Anne, the esteem of the most elevated minds—of Cranmer and Latimer, of Tyndale and Parker, and other Christians less illustrious, perhaps, but not less respectable. In the eyes of the papal partisans, however, she had committed an unpardonable crime—she had separated England from the papacy—and accordingly their savage hatred has known no bounds, and they have never ceased to blacken her memory with their vile calumnies. Of all the misdeeds that history can commit, the greatest consists in representing the innocent as if they were guilty. Many writers have forged and still forge base imputations against the reformers Luther, Calvin, and others. Anne Boleyn has had her full share of slander in this huge conspiracy of falsehood.
The grandeur with which Anne was surrounded had opened her heart to the tenderest sympathies. To be the joy of her husband and the delight of her relations, to protect the friends of the Gospel and to be loved by England—these were for some time the dreams of her young imagination. But ere long, the crown of St. Edward pressed heavily on her brow. The members of her own family became her enemies. Her uncle, the proud duke of Norfolk, the chief along with Gardiner of the papal party, was animated by a secret hatred against the young woman who was the support of the evangelical party. Her father, the earl of Wiltshire, imagining he saw that the king was not flattered at being his son-in-law, had quitted London, regretting a union which his ambition had so much desired. Lady Rochford, wife of Anne’s brother, a woman of despicable character, whose former perfidies the queen had pardoned, and whom she had attached to the court, repaid this generous magnanimity by secretly plotting the ruin of a sister-in-law whose elevation had filled her with jealousy. At length, one of those who ate her bread and received favors from her was about to show her ingratitude to the unfortunate queen.
Among her ladies of honor was Jane Seymour, who united all the attractions of youth and beauty, and whose disposition held a certain mean between the severe gravity of Queen Catherine and the fascinating sprightliness of Queen Anne. Constancy in affection was not a feature of Henry’s character; his heart was easily inflamed; his eye rested on the youthful Jane, and no sooner had he become sensible of her graces then the charms of Anne Boleyn, which had formerly captivated him, became unendurable. The genial gaiety of the queen fatigued him; the accomplishments which are ordinarily the means of pleasing gave him umbrage; the zeal she manifested for Protestantism alienated him. Anne’s enemies, especially the duke of Norfolk and Lady Rochford, observed this, and resolved to take advantage of it to ruin the woman who overshadowed them.
One circumstance, innocent enough of itself, favored the designs of the queen’s enemies. Anne, who had been brought up in France, among a people distinguished for their inexhaustible stores of gaiety, easy conversation, witty and ingenious sallies, ironical phrases, and amiable hearts, had brought something of all this to London. Frank and prepossessing, she loved society; and her ordinary manners seemed too easy among a nation which, with deep affections, possesses much gravity and external coldness. Anne had found a certain freedom of speech in the court of France—it does not appear that she imitated it—but in a moment of gaiety she might have let slip some keen railleries, some imprudent words, and thus furnished her enemies with weapons. She had some difficulty in conforming with the strict etiquette of the court of England, and had not been trained to the circumspection so necessary with a husband like Henry VIII.
Anne was not understood. Her gaiety did not degenerate into frivolity; she did not possess that love of pleasure which, carried to excess, engenders corruption of manners; we have named the truly pious men whom she loved to gather round her. But it was quite enough for some persons that Anne was agreeable, like the ladies of St. Germains and Fontainebleau, to suspect her of being a flirt, like many of them. Moreover, she had married above her station. Having lived at court as the equal of the young nobles belonging to it, she was not always able, after she ascended the throne, to keep herself on the footing of a queen. From that time her enemies interpreted unfavorably the innocent amiability with which she received them. The mistrustful Henry VIII began to indulge in suspicions, and Lady Rochford endeavored to feed that prince’s jealousy by crafty and perfidious insinuations.
Anne soon noticed the king’s inclination for Jane Seymour; a thousand trifles, apparently indifferent, had struck her. She often watched the maid of honor; her pride was offended, and jealousy tortured her heart night and day. She endeavored to win back the king’s love; but Henry, who perceived her suspicions, grew more angry with her every hour. The queen was not far from her confinement; and it was at the very moment when she hoped to give Henry the heir he had longed for during so many years, that the king withdrew from her his conjugal affection. Her heart was wrung, and, foreseeing a mournful future, she wondered whether a blow similar to that which had struck Catherine might not soon be aimed at her. Jane Seymour did not reject the king’s advances. Historians of the most opposite parties relate that, one day, towards the end of January 1536, the queen, unexpectedly entering a room in the palace, found the king paying his court to the young maid of honor in too marked a manner. They may possibly exaggerate, but there is no doubt that Henry gave cause for very serious complaints on the part of his wife. It was as if a sword had pierced the heart of the unfortunate Anne Boleyn; she could not bear up against so cruel a blow, and prematurely gave birth to a dead son. God had at length granted Henry that long-desired heir, but the grief of the mother had cost the child’s life. What an affliction for her! For some time her recovery was despaired of. When the king entered her room, she burst into tears. That selfish prince, soured at the thought that she had borne him a dead son, cruelly upbraided her misfortune, instead of consoling her. It was too much; the grief-stricken mother could not restrain herself. “You have no one to blame but yourself,” she exclaimed. Henry, still more angry, answered her harshly and left the apartment. These details are preserved by a well-informed writer of the time of Elizabeth. To present Henry under so unfavorable a light, if it were untrue, could hardly have been an agreeable mode of paying court, as some have insinuated, to a queen who took more after her father than her mother.
Anne now foresaw the misfortunes awaiting her; she recovered indeed after this storm, and exerted herself by taking part once more in social gatherings and fetes; but she was melancholy and uneasy, like a foundering ship, which reappears on the waves of the sea after the storm, and still keeps afloat for a time, only to be swallowed up at last. All her attempts to regain her husband’s affections were useless, and frightful dreams disturbed her during the slumbers of the night. This agony lasted three months.
The wind had changed; everybody noticed it, and it was, to certain heartless courtiers, like the signal given to an impatient pack of hounds. They set themselves to hunt down the prey, which they felt they could rend without danger. The extreme catholics regained their courage. They had feared that, owing to Anne’s intervention, the cause of Rome was lost in England, and their alarm was not unreasonable. Cranmer, realizing that he possessed the good will of the queen, never ceased pushing forward the Reformation. When someone spoke in the House of Lords about a General Council in Italy, he exclaimed, “It is the Word of God alone that we must listen to in religious controversies.” At the same time, in concert with Anne, he circulated all over England a new Prayer book, the Primer, intended to counter the dangerous books of the priests. The people used it. A pious and spiritual reader of that book exclaimed one day, after meditating upon it, “O bountiful Jesu! O sweet Saviour! despise not him whom Thou hast ransomed at the price of such a treasure—with Thy blood! I look with confidence to the throne of mercy.” Religion was becoming personal with Anne Boleyn.
The queen and the archbishop had not stopped there; they had attempted, so far as Henry would permit, to place true shepherds over the flocks, instead of merchants who traded with their wool. The bishopric of Worcester, which had been taken from Jerome de Ghinucci, was given (as we have seen) to Latimer, so that the valley of the Severn, which four Italian bishops had plundered for fifty years, possessed at last a pastor who “planted there the plenteousness of all spiritual blessings in Jesus Christ.” Shaxton, one of Anne’s chaplains, who at this time professed a great attachment to Holy Scripture, had been appointed bishop of Salisbury, in place of the famous Cardinal Campeggio. Hilderly, formerly a Dominican prior—who had at one time defended the immaculate conception of the Virgin, but had afterwards acknowledged and worshipped Jesus Christ as the only Mediator—had been nominated to the see of Rochester, in place of the unfortunate Bishop Fisher. Finally, George Brown, ex-provincial of the Augustines in England—an upright man, a friend of the poor, and who, caught by the truth, had exclaimed from the pulpit, “Go to Christ and not to the saints!”—had been elected archbishop of Dublin, and thus became the first evangelical prelate of Ireland, a difficult post, which he occupied at the peril of his life. Other prelates, like Fox, bishop of Hereford, although not true Protestants, proved themselves to be anti-Papists.
The members of the papal party saw the influence of the queen in all these nominations. Who resisted the proposal that the English Church should be represented at the General Council? Who endeavored to make the king advance in the direction of the Reformation? Who threw England into the arms of the princes of Germany? The queen, none but the queen. She felt unhappy, it was said, when she saw a day pass without having obtained some favor for the Reformation. Men knew that the pope was ready to forgive everything, and even to unite with Henry against Charles V, if the king would submit to the conditions laid down in the bull—that is to say, if he would put away Anne Boleyn.
The condition required by the pontiff was not an impossible one, for Henry liked to change his wives; he had six. Marriage was not to him a oneness of life. At the end of 1535, Anne had been his wife for three years; it was a long time for him, and he began to turn his eyes upon others. Jane Seymour’s youth eclipsed the queen’s. Unfortunate Boleyn! Sorrow had gradually diminished her freshness. Jane had natural allies, who might help her to ascend the throne. Her two brothers, Edward and Thomas—the elder more moderate, the younger more arrogant—each possessing great ambition and remarkable capacity, thought that a Seymour was as worthy as a Boleyn to wear the English crown. The first blow did not however proceed from them, but from a member of the queen’s family—from her sister-in-law. There is no room for indifference between near relations; they love or, if they do not love, they hate. Lady Rochford, so closely allied to the queen, felt continually piqued at her. Jealousy had engendered a deep dislike in her heart, and this dislike was destined to lead her on to contrive the death of the detested object. Rendered desperate by the happiness and especially by the greatness of Anne Boleyn, it became her ruling passion to destroy them. One obstacle, however, rose up before her. Lord Rochford, her husband and Anne’s brother, would not enter into her perfidious schemes. That depraved woman, who afterwards suffered capital punishment for conniving at crime, determined to ruin her sister-in-law and her husband together. It was arranged that three of the courtiers should give Henry the first hints. “Thus began,” says an author of that day, “a comedy which was changed into a sorrowful tragedy.” Nothing was omitted that tended to the success of one of the most infamous court intrigues recorded in history.
Anne became cognizant almost at the same time of her sister-in-law’s hatred of her and of her husband’s love for Jane Seymour. From that moment she foreboded an early death, and her most anxious thoughts were for her daughter. She wondered what would become of the child, and, desirous of having her brought up in the knowledge of the Gospel, she sent for the pious, simple-minded Parker, told him of her apprehensions and her wishes, and commended Elizabeth to him with all a mother’s love. Anne’s words sank so deep into his heart that he never forgot them; and twenty-three years later, when that child, who had become queen, raised him to the primacy, he declared to Lord Burghley that if he were not under such great obligations to her mother, he would never have consented to serve the daughter in such an elevated station. After consigning the youthful Elizabeth to the care of a man of God, the unhappy queen was more at ease. Meantime the plot was forming in silence, and two or three circumstances, such as occur in the most innocent life, were the pretext for Anne’s destruction. One day, when she was with the king at Winchester, she sent for one of the court musicians, named Mark Smeaton, “to play on the virginals.” This was the first count in the indictment.
Norris, a gentleman of the king’s chamber, was engaged to Margaret, one of Anne’s maids of honor, and consequently was often in the queen’s apartments. Slanderous tongues affirmed that he went more for the sake of his sovereign than for his betrothed. The queen hearing of it, and desiring to stop the scandal, determined to bind Norris to marry Margaret. “Why do you not go on with your marriage?” she asked him. “I desire to wait a little longer,” answered the gentleman. Anne, with the intent of making him understand that there were serious reasons for not putting it off any longer, added, “It is said at court that you are waiting for a dead man’s shoes, and that if any misfortune befell the king, you would look to have me for your wife.” “God forbid!” exclaimed Norris, in alarm, “if I had such an idea, it would be my destruction.” “Mind what you are about,” resumed the queen, with severity. Norris, in great emotion, went immediately to Anne Boleyn’s almoner. “The queen is a virtuous woman,” he said, “I am willing to affirm it upon oath.” This was the second count in the indictment.
Sir Francis Weston, a bold frivolous man, was (although married) very attentive to a young lady of the court, a relative of the queen. “Sir Francis,” said Anne, who was distressed at his behavior, “you love Mistress Skelton, and neglect your wife.” “Madam,” answered the audacious courtier, “there is one person in your house whom I love better than both.” “And who is that?” said the queen. “Yourself,” answered Weston. Offended by such insolence, Anne ordered him, with scorn and displeasure, to leave her presence. This was the third count of the indictment.
Lord Rochford, a man of noble and chivalrous character, indignant at the calumnies which were beginning to circulate against his sister, endeavored to avert the storm. One day, when she kept her bed, he entered her room to speak to her; and, the maids of honor being present, he leaned towards the queen, to say something on this matter which was not fit for the ears of strangers to the family. The infamous Lady Rochford made use of this innocent circumstance to accuse her husband and sister-in-law of an abominable crime.
Such are the four charges that were to cost Anne Boleyn her life. Futile observations, malicious remarks to which persons are exposed in the world, and especially at court, reached the ears of the king, and inspired him with jealousy, reproaches, angry words, and coldness. There was no more happiness for Anne.
There was enough in these stories to induce Henry VIII to reject his second wife, and take a third. This prince—and it was the case generally with the Tudors—had a temper at once decided and changeable, a heart susceptible and distrustful, an energetic character, and passions eager to be satisfied at any price. Very mistrustful, he did not easily get the better of his suspicions, and when any person had vexed him, he was not appeased until he had got rid of him. Common sense generally appreciates at their true worth such stories as those we have reported, but the characters now on the stage were more rancorous than those usually to be found in the world. “A tempest,” says Lord Herbert of Cherbury on this subject, “though it scarce stir low and shallow waters, when it meets a sea, both vexeth it, and makes it toss all that comes thereon.”
Henry, happy to have found the pretext which his new passion made him long for, investigated nothing; he appeared to believe everything he was told. He swore to prove Anne’s guilt to others by the greatness of his revenge. Of his six wives, he got rid of two by divorce, and two by the scaffold; only two escaped his criminal humor. This time he was unwilling to proceed by divorce; the tediousness of Catherine’s affair had wearied him. He preferred a more expeditious mode—the axe.
On the 25th of April the king appointed a commission to enquire into Anne’s conduct, and placed on it the duke of Norfolk, a maternal uncle but (as we have said) an implacable enemy of the unfortunate queen; the duke of Suffolk, who, as Henry’s brother-in-law, served him in his least desires; the earl of Oxford, a skillful courtier; William Paulet, comptroller of the royal household, whose motto was, “To be a willow and not an oak”; Audley, the most honest of all, but still his master’s humble servant; Lord Delawarr, and several other lords and gentlemen, to the number of twenty-six. It has been said, by Burnet and others, that the king named Anne’s father, the earl of Wiltshire, one of the judges. It would, no doubt, have been the most striking trait of cruelty, of which Henry gave so many proofs; but we must in justice declare that the wretched prince did not perpetrate such a monstrosity. Burnet, after the most searching investigations, retracted his error. On Thursday, the 27th of April, the king, understanding the necessity of a Parliament to repeal the laws made in favor of Anne and her children, issued writs for its assembling. He was resolved to hurry on the business—equally impatient to hear no more of his wife, and to possess her who was the object of his desires.
Anne, who was ignorant of what was going on, had gradually recovered a little serenity, but it was not so with those around her. The court was agitated and uneasy. The names of the commissioners were canvassed, and people wondered where the terrible blows of the king would fall. Would the storm burst on Sir Thomas Wyatt, who wrote verses in Anne’s honor? or on Lord Northumberland, whom the queen had loved before Henry cast his eyes upon her? The king did not intend to go so high.
The indecision did not last long. At two o’clock on the 27th of April—the very day when the writs for the new Parliament were issued—William Brereton, one of the gentlemen of the king’s household pointed out by the queen’s enemies, was arrested and taken to the Tower. Two days later, on the 29th of April, Anne was crossing the presence-chamber, where a miserable creature happened to be present at that moment. It was Mark Smeaton, the court musician—a vain, cowardly, corrupt man, who had felt hurt because, since the day when he had played before the queen at Winchester, that princess had never even looked at him. He was standing, in a dejected attitude, leaning against a window. It is possible that, having heard of the disgrace that threatened the queen, he hoped, by showing his sorrow, to obtain from her some mark of interest. Be that as it may, his unusual presence in that room, the posture he had assumed, the appearance of sorrow which he had put on, were evidently intended to attract her attention. The trick succeeded. Anne noticed him as she passed by. “Why are you sad?” she asked. “It is no matter, madam.” The queen fancied that Smeaton was grieved because she had never spoken to him. “You may not look to have me speak to you,” she added, “as if you were a nobleman, because you are an inferior person.” “No, madam,” replied the musician, “I need no words; a look sufficeth me.” He did not receive the look he asked for, and his wounded vanity urged him from that moment to ruin the princess, by whom he had the insolence to wish to be remarked. Smeaton’s words were reported to the king, and next day (April 30) the musician was arrested, examined at Stepney, and sent to the Tower.
A magnificent festival was preparing at Greenwich, to celebrate the first day of May in the usual manner. This was the strange moment which Henry had chosen for unveiling his plans. In certain minds there appears to be a mysterious connection between festivities and bloodshed; another prince (Nero) had shown it in old times, and some years later Charles IX was to celebrate the marriage of his sister Margaret by the massacres of St. Bartholomew. Henry VIII gave to two of the victims he was about to immolate the foremost places in the brilliant tournament he had prepared. Lord Rochford, the queen’s brother, was the principal challenger, and Henry Norris was chief of the defenders. Sir Francis Weston was also to take part in these jousts. Henry showed himself very gracious to them, and hid with smiles their approaching destruction. The king having taken his place, and the queen, in a magnificent costume, being seated by his side, Rochford and Norris passed before him, lowering their spears. The jousting began immediately after. The circumstances of the court gave a gloomy solemnity to the festival. The king, who was watching with fixed eyes the struggles of his courtiers, started up all of a sudden, with every appearance of anger, and hastily quitted the balcony. What had happened? The historian Sanders, notorious as being a most malicious and fabulous writer, mentions that the queen had dropped her handkerchief into the lists, and that Norris took it up and wiped his face with it. Lord Herbert, Burnet, and others affirm that there is nothing to corroborate the story, which, were it true, might be very innocent. However, the festivities were interrupted by the king’s departure. The confusion was universal, and the alarmed queen withdrew, eager to know the cause of the strange procedure. Thus ended the rejoicings of the First of May.
Henry, who had gone back to the palace, hearing of the queen’s return, refused to see her, ordered her to keep her room, mounted his horse, and, accompanied by six gentlemen, galloped back to London. Slackening his pace for a time, he took Norris aside, and, telling him the occasion of his anger, promised to pardon him if he would confess. Norris answered, with firmness and respect, “Sire, if you were to cut me open and take out my heart, I could only tell you what I know.” On reaching Whitehall, Henry said to his ministers, “Tomorrow morning you will take Rochford, Norris, and Weston to the Tower; you will then proceed to Greenwich, arrest the queen, and put her in prison. Finally, you will write to Cranmer and bid him go immediately to Lambeth, and there await my orders.” The victims were seized, and the high-priest summoned for the sacrifice.
The night was full of anguish to Anne Boleyn, and the next day, when she was surrounded by her ladies, their consternation increased her terror. It seemed to her impossible that a word from her would not convince her husband of her innocence. “I will positively see the king,” she exclaimed. She ordered her barge to be prepared, but, just as she was about to set out, another barge arrived from London, bringing Cromwell, Audley, and the terrible Kingston, lieutenant of the Tower. That ominous presence was a death warrant; on seeing him the queen screamed aloud.
They did not, however, remove her at once; the council, on which sat her most violent adversaries, assembled in the palace, and Anne was summoned to appear before it. The duke of Norfolk, the president, informed her coldly of what she was accused, and named her pretended accomplices. At these words, the queen, struck with astonishment and sorrow, fell on her knees and cried out, “O Lord, if I am guilty, may I never be forgiven!” Then, recovering a little from her emotion, she replied to the calumnious charges brought against her, to which Norfolk answered carelessly and contemptuously, as if he were still speaking to the little girl whom he had seen born, “Tut, tut, tut,” and shook his head disdainfully. “I desire to see the king,” said Anne. “Impossible,” answered the duke, “that is not included in our commission.” “I have been very cruelly treated,” said Anne Boleyn, later, when speaking of this horrible conversation with her uncle. “It is his Majesty’s good pleasure that we conduct you to the Tower,” added Norfolk. “I am ready to obey,” said the queen, and all went in the same barge. When they reached the Tower, Anne landed. The governor was there to receive her. Norfolk and the other members of the council committed her into his charge and departed. It was five in the afternoon.
Then the gates of the fortress opened; and at this moment, when she was crossing the threshold under the charge of heinous crimes, Anne remembered how, three years before, she had entered it in triumph for the ceremony of her coronation, in the midst of the general acclamations of the people. Struck by the fearful contrast, she fell on her knees, “as a ball” and exclaimed, “O Lord, help me, as I am guiltless of that whereof I am accused!” The governor raised her up, and they entered. She expected to be put into close confinement. “Mr. Kingston,” she said, “do I go into a dungeon?” “No, madam,” answered the governor, “you will be in your own lodging, where you lay at your coronation.” “It is too good for me,” she exclaimed. She entered, however, and on reaching those royal chambers, which occasioned such different recollections, she knelt again and burst into tears. The violence of her grief presently brought on convulsive movements, and her tears were succeeded by hysterical laughter. Gradually she came to herself, and tried to collect her thoughts. Feeling the need of strengthening herself by the evidences of the Lord’s love, she said to Kingston, “Entreat his Majesty to let me have the sacrament.” Then, in the consciousness of innocence, she added, “Sir, I am as clear from the company of man as I am of you. I am the king’s true wedded wife.”
She was not absorbed in her own misfortunes; she was moved by the sufferings of the others, and uneasy about her brother. “Can you tell me where Lord Rochford is?” she asked. Kingston replied that he had seen him at Whitehall. She was not tranquilized by this evasive answer. “Oh, where is my sweet brother?” she exclaimed. There was no reply. “Mr. Kingston,” resumed Anne, after a few moments, “do you know why I am here?” “No, madam.” “I hear say that I am to be accused of criminal familiarities.” (Norfolk had told her so in the barge.) “I can say no more than ‘Nay!’” Suddenly tearing one of her garments, she exclaimed, as if distracted, “If they were to open my body, I should still say ‘No.’” After this her mind wandered. She thought of her stepmother, and the love she felt for the countess of Wiltshire made her feel more than anything else the bitterness of her situation; she imagined the proud lady was before her, and cried, with unutterable agony, “O my mother, my mother, thou wilt die for sorrow!” Then her gloomy thoughts were turned to other objects. She remembered that, while in the barge, the duke of Norfolk had named Norris and Smeaton as her accusers, which was partly false. The miserable musician was not grieved at being wrongfully accused of a crime likely to make him notorious, but Norris had stoutly rejected the idea that the queen could be guilty. “O Norris, hast thou accused me!” she ejaculated, “and thou too, Smeaton !” After a few moments’ silence, Anne fixed her eyes on the governor. “Mr. Kingston,” she asked, “shall I die without justice?” “Madam,” answered the governor, “the meanest subject of the king has that.” At these words the queen again laughed hysterically. “Justice—justice!” she exclaimed, with disdainful incredulity. She counted less upon justice than the humblest of her subjects. Gradually the tempest calmed down, and the silence of the night brought relief to her sorrow.
The same day (May 2nd) the news spread through London that the queen was arrested. Cranmer, who had received the royal intimation to go to his palace at Lambeth, and wait there until further orders, had arrived, and was thunderstruck on hearing what had happened. “What! the queen in prison! the queen an adulteress!” … A struggle took place in his bosom. He was indebted to the queen for much; he had always found her irreproachable—the refuge of the unhappy, the upholder of the truth. He had loved her like a daughter, respected her as his sovereign. That she was innocent, he had no doubt; but how to account for the behavior of the king? The unhappy prelate was distracted by the most painful thoughts. This truly pious man showed excessive indulgence towards Henry VIII, and bent easily beneath his powerful hand; but his path was clearly traced—to maintain unhesitatingly the innocence of her whom he had always honored. And yet he was to be an example of the fascination exerted by a despot over such characters—of the cowardice of which a good man may be guilty through human respect. Doubtless there are extenuating circumstances in his case. It was not only the queen’s fate that made the prelate uneasy, but also the future of the Reformation. If love for Anne had helped to make Henry incline to the side of the Reformation, the hatred which he now felt against his unhappy wife might easily drive him in the other direction. Cranmer desired to prevent this at any price, and accordingly thought himself obliged to use extreme caution. But these circumstances are really no extenuation. No motive in the world can excuse a man from not frankly defending his friends when they are falsely accused—from not vindicating an innocent woman when she is declared to be guilty. Cranmer wrote to the king, “I cannot without your Majesty’s command appear in your presence; but I can at least desire most humbly, as is my duty, that your great wisdom and God’s help may remove the deep sorrow of your heart.
“I cannot deny that your Majesty has great cause to be overwhelmed with sorrow. In fact, whether the things of which men speak be true or not, your honour, Sire, according to the false appreciation of the world, has suffered; and I do not remember that Almighty God has ever before put your Majesty’s firmness to so severe a test.
“Sire, I am in such a perplexity that I am clean amazed; for I never had a better opinion in woman than I had in her, which maketh me think that she cannot be culpable.”
This was tolerably bold, and accordingly Cranmer hastened to tone down his boldness. “And yet, Sire,” he added, “would you have gone so far, if you had not been sure of her crime? … Your Grace best knoweth that, next unto your Grace, I was most bound unto her of all creatures living. Wherefore I must humbly beseech your Grace to suffer me in that which both God’s law, nature, and her kindness bindeth me unto, that I may (with your Grace’s favour) wish and pray for her. And from what condition your Grace, of your only mere goodness, took her, and set the crown upon her head, I repute him not your Grace’s faithful servant and subject, nor true to the realm, that would not desire the offence to be without mercy punished, to the example of all others. And as I loved her not a little, for the love I judged her to bear towards God and His Gospel; so, if she be proved guilty, there is not one that loveth God and His Gospel that will ever favor her… for then there never was creature in our time that so much slandered the Gospel.
“However,” he added, appearing to recover his courage, “forget not that God has shown His goodness to your Grace in many ways, and has never offended you; whilst your Grace, I am sure, acknowledgeth that you have offended Him. Extend, therefore, to the Gospel the precious favour you have always shown it, and which proceedeth not from your love for the queen your wife, but from your zeal for the truth.
“From Lambeth, 3rd of May, 1536.”
When Cranmer addressed these soothing words to the king, it was doubtless on the supposition (on which he gives no opinion) that Anne was guilty. But, even admitting this hypothesis, is it not carrying flattery of the terrible autocrat very far, to compare him with Job as the prelate does, for in another part of this letter he says, “By accepting all adversity, without despair and without murmuring, your Grace will give opportunity to God to multiply His blessings, as He did to His faithful servant Job, to whom, after his great calamity, and to reward his patience, He restored the double of what he had possessed.” As regards the king, Cranmer had found for himself a false conscience, which led him into deceitful ways; his letter, although he still tries to defend Anne, cannot be justified.
He was about to dispatch the letter, when he received a message from the lord-chancellor, desiring him to go to the Star-Chamber. The archbishop hastened across the Thames, and found at the appointed place not only Audley, but the Lords Oxford and Sussex, and the lord-chamberlain. These noblemen laid before him the charges brought against Anne Boleyn, adding that they could be proved, though they did not themselves produce any proof. On his return to Lambeth, Cranmer added a postscript to his letter, in which he expressed his extreme sorrow at the report that had just been made to him.
The morning of the same day (May 3rd) was a sad one in the Tower. By a refinement of cruelty, the king had ordered two of the queen’s enemies—Lady Boleyn and Mistress Cosyns—to be always near her; to which end they slept in her room, while Kingston and his wife slept outside against her chamber door. What could be the object of these strange precautions? We can only see one. Every word that fell from Anne, even in her convulsions or in her dreams, would be perfidiously caught up, and reported to the king’s agents with malicious interpretations. Anne, pardoning the former conduct of these ladies, and wholly engrossed with her father’s sorrow, thought she might ask for news about him from the persons who had been given her for companions; but the two women, who never spoke to her without rudeness, refused to give her any information. “The king knew what he was doing,” said Anne to Kingston, “when he put these two women about me. I could have desired to have two ladies of my chamber, persons whom I love; but his Majesty has had the cruelty to give me those whom I could never endure.”
The punishment continued. Lady Boleyn, hoping to detect some confusion in her niece’s face, told her that her brother, Lord Rochford, was also in the Tower. Anne, who had somewhat recovered her strength, answered calmly, “I am glad to learn that he is so near me.” “Madam,” added Kingston, “Weston and Brereton are also under my charge.” The queen remained calm.
She purposed, however, to vindicate herself, and her first thought turned towards two of the most pious men in England; “Oh, if God permitted me,” she said, “to have my bishops (meaning Cranmer and Latimer), they would plead to the king for me.” She then remained silent for a few minutes. A sweet reflection passed through her mind and consoled her. Since she had undertaken the defense of the persecuted evangelicals, gratitude would doubtless impel them to pray for her. “I think,” she said, “that the greater part of England is praying for me.”
Anne had asked for her almoner, and, as some hours had elapsed without his arrival, gloomy images once more arose to sadden her mind. “To be a queen,” she said, “and to be treated so cruelly—treated as queen never was before!” Then, as if a ray of sunshine had scattered the clouds, she exclaimed, “No, I shall not die—no, I will not die! … The king has put me in prison only to prove me.” The terrible struggle was too great for the young woman; distressed in her feelings beyond the bounds of endurance, she almost lost her senses. Then, attacked by a fresh hysterical paroxysm, the unfortunate lady burst into laughter. On coming to herself after a while, she cried, “I will have justice… justice… justice!” Kingston, who was present, bowed and said, “Assuredly, madam.” “If any man accuses me,” she continued, “I can only say ‘No.’ They can bring no witness against me.” Then she had, all at once, an extraordinary attack; she fell down in delirium, and with eyes starting, as if she were looking into the future, and could foresee the chastisement with which God would punish the infamous wickedness of which she was the victim, she exclaimed, “If I am put to death, there will be great judgments upon England for seven years… And I… I shall be in heaven… for I have done many good deeds during my life.”
The Execution of Anne Boleyn May, 1536
Everything was preparing for the unjust judgment which was to have so cruel a termination. Justice is bound to watch that the laws are observed, and to punish the guilty; but if law is to be just law, the judges must listen fairly to the accused, diligently discharge all the duties to which their office calls them, and not permit themselves to be influenced either by the presents or the solicitations, the threats or the favors, or the rank (even should it be royal) of the prosecutor. Their decisions should be inspired only by such motives as they can give an account of to the Supreme Judge; their sentences must be arrived at through attentive consideration and serious reflection. For them there are no other guides than impartiality, conscience, and law. But the queen was not to appear before such judges; those who were about to dispose of her life set themselves in opposition to these imperious conditions. Henry’s agents redoubled their exertions to obtain, either from the ladies of the court or from the accused men, some deposition against Anne; but it was in vain. Even the women whom her elevation had eclipsed could allege nothing against her. Henry Norris, William Brereton, and Sir Francis Weston were carefully interrogated, one after the other; the examiners tried to make them confess to adultery, but they stoutly denied it, whereupon the king’s agents, who were determined to get at something, began a fresh enquiry, and cross-examined the prisoners. It is believed that the gentlemen of the court were exempted from torture, but that the rack was applied to Mark Smeaton, who was thus made to confess all they wanted. It is more probable that the vile musician, a man of weak head and extreme vanity, being offended that his sovereign had not condescended even to look at him, yielded to the vengeance of irritated self-esteem. The queen had not been willing to give him the honor of a look—he boasted of adultery. The three gentlemen persevered in their declaration touching the queen’s innocence; Lord Rochford did the same. The disheartened prosecutor wrote to the Lord-Treasurer, “This is to inform you that no one, except Mark, will confess anything against her; wherefore I imagine, if there be no other evidence, the business will be injurious to the king’s honour.” The lawyers knew the value to be given to the musician’s words. If the verdict was left to the equitable interpretation of the law—if the king did not bring his sovereign influence to bear upon the decisions of the judges, there could be no doubt as to the issue of the hateful trial.
But every passion was at work to paralyze the power of right. Vainly the queen’s innocence shone forth on every side—the conspiracy formed against her grew stronger every day. To the wickedness of Lady Rochford, the jealousies of an intriguing camarilla, the hatred of the papal party, the unbridled ambition aroused in certain families by the prospects of the despot’s couch soon to be empty though stained with blood, and to the instability of weak men was added the strong will of Henry VIII, as determined to get rid of Anne by death as he had been to separate from Catherine by divorce. The queen understood that she must die; and, wishing to be prepared, she sought to wean herself from that life which had so many attractions for her. She felt that the pleasures she had so much enjoyed were vain; the knowledge that she had endeavored to acquire, superficial; the virtue to which she had aspired, imperfect; and the active life she had desired, without decisive results. The vanity of all created things, once proclaimed by one who also had occupied a throne, struck her heart. Everything being taken from her, she renounced
Le vain espoir de ce muable monde. [The vain hope of this changeable world]
Anne, giving up everything, turned towards a better life, and sought to strengthen herself in God.
Such were her affecting dispositions when the duke of Norfolk, accompanied by other noblemen, came in the king’s name to set before her the charges brought against her, to summon her to speak the truth, and to assure her that, if she confessed her fault, the king might pardon her. Anne replied with the dignity of a queen still upon the throne, and with the calmness of a Christian at the gates of eternity. She threw back with noble indignation the vile accusations of which the royal commissioners were the channel.
“You call upon me to speak the truth,” she said to Norfolk. “Well then, the king shall know it,” and she dismissed the lords. It was beneath her to plead her cause before these malicious courtiers, but she would tell her husband the truth. Left alone, she sat down to write that celebrated letter, a noble monument of the elevation of her soul; a letter full of the tenderest complaints and the sharpest protests, in which her innocence shines forth, and which combines at once so much nature and eloquence that in the opinion of the most competent judges it deserves to be handed down to posterity. It ran as follows:
“Your Grace’s displeasure and my imprisonment are things so strange unto me, that what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant. Whereas you sent to me (willing me to confess a truth and so obtain your favour), by such a one whom you know to be my ancient professed enemy; I no sooner received this message by him [probably the Duke of Suffolk], than I rightly conceived your meaning; and if, as you say, confessing a truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all willingness and duty perform your command.
“But let not your Grace ever imagine that your poor wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a fault, where not so much as a thought thereof ever proceeded. And, to speak truth, never a prince had wife more loyal in all duty and in all true affection, than you have ever found in Anne Boleyn—with which name and place I could willingly have contented myself, if God and your Grace’s pleasure had so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forget myself in my exaltation or received queenship, but that I always looked for such alteration as I now find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer foundation than your Grace’s fancy, the least alteration was fit and sufficient (I knew) to draw that fancy to some other subject.
“You have chosen me from a low estate to be your queen and companion, far beyond my desert or desire. If then you found me worthy of such honour, good your Grace, let not any light fancy or bad counsel of my enemies withdraw your princely favour from me; neither let that stain—that unworthy stain—of a disloyal heart towards your good Grace ever cast so foul a blot on me and on the infant princess, your daughter.
“Try me, good king, but let me have a lawful trial, and let not my sworn enemies sit as my accusers and as my judges; yea, let me receive an open trial, for my truth shall fear no open shames. Then shall you see either mine innocence cleared, your suspicions and conscience satisfied, the ignominy and slander of the world stopped—or my guilt openly declared; so that whatever God and you may determine of, your Grace may be freed from an open censure, and mine offence being so lawfully proved, your Grace may be at liberty, both before God and man, not only to execute worthy punishment on me, as an unfaithful wife, but to follow your affection already settled on that party, for whose sake I am now as I am; whose name I could, some good while since, have pointed unto, your Grace being not ignorant of my suspicion therein. But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my death but an infamous slander must bring you the joying of your desired happiness, then I desire of God that He will pardon your great sin herein, and likewise my enemies, the instruments thereof; and that He will not call you to a strict account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me at His general judgment seat, where both you and myself must shortly appear; and in whose just judgment, I doubt not (whatsoever the world may think of me), mine innocency shall be openly known and sufficiently cleared.
“My last and only request shall be, that myself may only bear the burden of your Grace’s displeasure, and that it may not touch the innocent souls of those poor gentlemen, who, as I understand, are likewise in strait imprisonment for my sake. If ever I have found favour in your sight—if ever the name of Anne Boleyn have been pleasing in your ears—then let me obtain this request; and so I will leave to trouble your Grace any further; with mine earnest prayer to the Trinity to have your Grace in His good keeping, and to direct you in all your actions.
“From my doleful prison in the Tower, the 6th of May. “Anne Boleyn.”
We see Anne thoroughly in this letter, one of the most touching that was ever written. Injured in her honor, she speaks without fear, as one on the threshold of eternity. If there were no other proofs of her innocence, this document alone would suffice to gain her cause in the eyes of an impartial and intelligent posterity.
This noble letter aroused a tempest in the king’s heart. The firm innocence stamped on it; the mention of Henry’s tastes, and especially of his inclination for Jane Seymour; Anne’s declaration that she had anticipated her husband’s infidelity; the solemn appeal to the day of judgment; and the thought of the injury which such noble language would do to his reputation—all combined to fill that haughty prince with vexation, hatred, and wrath. The letter gives the real solution of the enigma. A guilty caprice had inclined Henry to Anne Boleyn; another caprice inclined him now to Jane Seymour. This explanation is so patent that no one need look for another.
Henry determined to inflict a great humiliation upon this daring woman. He would strip her of the name of wife, and pretend that she had only been his concubine. As his marriage with Catherine of Aragon had been declared null because of her union with his brother Arthur, Henry imagined that his marriage with Anne Boleyn might be annulled because of an attachment once entertained for her by Percy, afterwards duke of Northumberland. When that nobleman was summoned before Cromwell, he thought that he also was to be thrown into the Tower as the queen’s lover, but the summons had reference to quite a different matter. “There was a pre-contract of marriage between you and Anne Boleyn?” asked the king’s vicar-general. “None at all,” he answered, and in order that his declaration might be recorded, he wrote it down and sent it to Cromwell. In it he said, “Referring to the oath I made in this matter before the archbishops of Canterbury and York, and before the Blessed Body of our Saviour, which I received in the presence of the duke of Norfolk and others of his Majesty’s counsellors, I acknowledge to have eaten the Holy Sacrament to my condemnation, if there was any contract or promise of marriage between the queen and me. This 13th of May, in the twenty-eighth year of his majesty King Henry VIII.” This declaration was clear, but the barbarous monarch did not relinquish his idea.
A special commission had been appointed, on the 24th of April, “to judge of certain offenses committed at London, Hampton Court, and Greenwich.” They desired to give to this trial the appearance at least of justice; and as the alleged offenses were committed in the counties of Middlesex and Kent, the indictment was laid before the grand juries of both counties. On the 10thof May they found a true bill. The writers favorable to Henry VIII in this business—and they are few—have acknowledged that these “hideous charges” (to use the words of one of them) were but fables invented at pleasure, and which “overstepped all ordinary bounds of credulity.” Various explanations have been given of the conduct of these juries; the most natural appears to be that they accommodated themselves, according to the servile manner of the times, to the king’s despotic will, which was always to be feared, but more especially in matters that concerned his own person.
The acts that followed were as prompt as they were cruel. Two days later (on May 12th) Norris, Weston, Brereton, and the musician were taken to Westminster, and brought before a commission composed of the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, Henry’s two intimates, and other lords; it is even said that the earl of Wiltshire was present. The three gentlemen repelled the charge with unshakable firmness. “I would endure a thousand deaths,” said Norris, “sooner than betray the innocent. I declare, upon my honor, that the queen is innocent, and am ready to support my testimony in arms against all the world.” When this language of Henry VIII’s favorite was reported to that prince, he cried out, “Hang him up, then—hang him up!” The wretched musician alone confessed a crime which would give him a place in history. He did not reap the reward promised to his infamy. Perhaps it was imagined that his death would guarantee his silence, and that his punishment would corroborate his defamations. The three gentlemen were condemned to be beheaded, and the musician to be hanged.
Three days later (on May 15th) the queen and her brother were taken before their peers in the great hall of the Tower, to which the Lord Mayor and a few aldermen and citizens alone were admitted. The duke of Norfolk had received orders to assemble a certain number of peers to form a court; they were twenty-six in all, and most of them enemies of Anne and of the Reformation. The earl of Wiltshire, Anne’s father, was not of the number, as Sanders pretends. The duke of Norfolk, the personal enemy of the unfortunate queen, that uncle who hated her as much as he should have loved her, had been appointed to select the judges and to preside over the trial—a circumstance indicative of the spirit in which it was to be conducted. Norfolk took his seat, having the lord-chancellor on his right and the duke of Suffolk on his left, and in front of him sat as deputy earl-marshal the earl of Surrey, Norfolk’s son, an upright man, but a proud and warm supporter of Romanism. The queen was announced; she was received in deep silence. Before her went the governor of the Tower, behind her came Lady Kingston and Lady Boleyn. Anne advanced with dignity, adorned with the ensigns of royalty, and, after gracefully saluting the court, took her seat in the chair accorded either to her weakness or her rank. She had no defender; but the modesty of her countenance, the dignity of her manner, the peace of her conscience, which found expression in the serenity of her look, touched even her enemies. She appeared before the tribunal of men, thinking only of the tribunal of God; and, relying upon her innocence, she did not fear those whom but yesterday she had ruled as a queen. One might have said from the calmness and nobility of her deportment, so assured and so majestic, that she was come, not to be tried as a criminal, but to receive the honors due to sovereigns. She was as firm, says a contemporary, as an oak that fears neither the hail nor the furious blasts of the wind.
The court ordered the indictment to be read; it charged the queen with adultery, incest, and conspiracy against the king’s person. Anne held up her hand and pleaded “not guilty,” and then refuted and tore to tatters, calmly yet forcibly, the accusations brought against her. Having an “excellent quick wit,” and being a ready speaker, she did not utter a word that did not strike home, though full of moderation; but the tone of her voice, the calmness of her features, and the dignity of her countenance pleaded more eloquently than her words. It was impossible to look at her or to hear her, and not declare her innocent, says an eyewitness. Accordingly there was a report in the Tower, and even in the city, that the queen had cleared herself by a most wise and noble speech and that she would be acquitted.
While Anne was speaking, the duke of Northumberland, who had once loved her and whom Henry had cruelly enrolled among the number of her judges, betrayed by his uneasy movements the agitation of his bosom. Unable to endure the frightful torment any longer, he rose, pretending indisposition, and hastily left the hall before the fatal verdict was pronounced.
The king waited impatiently for the moment when he could introduce Jane Seymour into Anne Boleyn’s empty apartments. Unanimity of votes was not necessary among the “lords triers.” In England, during the sixteenth century, there was pride in the people, but servility (with few exceptions) among the great. The axe that had severed the head of the venerable bishop of Rochester and of the ex-chancellor More had taught a fearful lesson to all who might be disposed to resist the despotic desires of the prince. The court feared to confront the queen with the musician, the only witness against her, and declared her guilty without other formality. The incomprehensible facility with which the nobility were then accustomed to submit to the inflexible will of the monarch could leave no room for doubt as to the catastrophe by which this tragedy would be terminated.
The duke of Norfolk, as lord high-steward, pronounced sentence: that the queen should be taken back to the Tower, and there on the green should be burned or beheaded, according to his Majesty’s good pleasure. The court, desirous of leaving a little space for Henry’s compassion, left the mode of death to him; he might do the queen the favor of being only decapitated.
Anne heard this infamous doom with calmness. No change was observed in her features; the consciousness of innocence upheld her heart. Clasping her hands and raising her eyes to heaven, she cried out, “O Father, O Creator! Thou who art the way, the truth, and the life, knowest that I have not deserved this death!” Then, turning to her cruel uncle and the other lords, she said, “My lords, I do not say that my opinion ought to be preferred to your judgment; but if you have reasons to justify it, they must be other than those which have been produced in court, for I am wholly innocent of all the matters of which I have been accused, so that I cannot call upon God to pardon me. I have always been faithful to the king my lord; but perhaps I have not always shown to him such a perfect humility and reverence as his graciousness and courtesy deserved, and the honor he hath done me required. I confess that I have often had jealous fancies against him which I had not wisdom or strength enough to repress. But God knows that I have not otherwise trespassed against him. Do not think I say this in the hope of prolonging my life, for He who saveth from death has taught me how to die, and will strengthen my faith. Think not, however, that I am so bewildered in mind that I do not care to vindicate my innocence. I knew that it would avail me little to defend it at the last moment, if I had not maintained it all my life long, as much as ever queen did. Still the last words of my mouth shall justify my honor. As for my brother and the other gentlemen who are unjustly condemned, I would willingly die to save them; but as that is not the king’s pleasure, I shall accompany them in death. And then afterwards I shall live in eternal peace and joy without end, where I will pray to God for the king—and for you, my lords.”
The wisdom and eloquence of this speech, aided by the queen’s beauty and the touching expression of her voice, moved even her enemies. But Norfolk, determined upon carrying out his hateful task, ordered her to lay aside her royal insignia. She did so, and commending herself to all their prayers, returned to her prison.
Lord Rochford’s trial had preceded that of his sister the queen. He was calm and firm, and answered every question point by point, with much clearness and decision. But it was useless for him to affirm the queen’s innocence—useless to declare that he had always respected her as a sister, as an “honored lady”; he was condemned to be beheaded and quartered.
The court broke up, and while the courtiers, who had just sealed with the blood of an innocent queen their servile submission to the most formidable of despots, were returning to their amusements and base flatteries, the Lord Mayor turned to a friend and said to him, “I can only observe one thing in this trial—the fixed resolution to get rid of the queen at any price.” And that is the verdict of posterity.
The wretches who had entered into this iniquitous plot were eager to have it ended. On the 17th of May the gentlemen who were to be executed were brought together into a hall of the Tower. They embraced, commended each other to God, and prepared to depart. The constable of the Tower, fearing that they would speak upon the scaffold, reminded them that the honor due to the king would not permit them to doubt the justice of their sentence. When they reached the place of punishment, Lord Rochford, no longer able to keep silence, turned towards the spectators and said, “My friends, I am going to die, as such is his Majesty’s pleasure. I do not complain of my death, for I have committed many sins during my life, but I have never injured the king. May God grant him a long and happy life!” Then, according to the chronicler, he presented his head “to the sharp axe which severed it at a blow.” Norris, Weston, and Brereton were beheaded after him.
The king, before putting his wife to death, desired to perform an act not less cruel; he was determined to annul his marriage with Anne, notwithstanding Northumberland’s denials. Did he wish to avoid the reproach of causing his wife to perish by the hands of the executioner? or, in a fit of anger, did he desire to strike the queen on all sides at once? We cannot tell. Be that as it may, the king in his wrath did not see that he was contradicting himself; that if there was no marriage between him and Anne, there could be no adultery, and that the sentence, based on this crime, was ex facto null. Cranmer, the most unfortunate, but perhaps not the least guilty of all the lords who lent themselves servilely to the despotic wishes of the prince—Cranmer believed (as it appears) that the position of the queen would thus become better; that her life would be saved, if she could no longer be regarded as having been Henry’s wife. This excuses, although only slightly, his great weakness. He told the unhappy lady that he was commissioned to find the means of declaring null and void the ties which united her to the king. Anne, stunned by the sentence pronounced upon her, was also of opinion that it was an expedient invented by some relics of Henry’s regard, to rescue her from the bitterness of death. Her heart opened to hope, and imagining that she would only be sent into banishment, she formed a plan of returning to the continent. “I will go to Antwerp,” she said at dinner, with an almost happy look. She knew that she would meet with Protestants in that city, who would receive her with joy. But vain hope! In the very letter wherein the governor of the Tower reports this ingenuous remark of the queen, he asks for the king’s orders as to the construction of the scaffold. Henry desired personally to order the arrangement of those planks which he was about to stain with innocent blood.
About nine o’clock in the forenoon of the 17th of May, the lord-chancellor, the duke of Suffolk, the earl of Essex (Cromwell), the earl of Sussex, with several doctors and archdeacons, entered the chapel of Lambeth. The archbishop having taken his seat, and the objections made against the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn having been read, the proctors of the king and of the queen admitted them, and the primate declared the marriage to be null and void.
On the very day of Anne Boleyn’s divorce, Da Casale, the English envoy at Rome, having heard of the queen’s imprisonment, hurried to the pontifical palace to inform Paul III of the good news. “I have never ceased praying to heaven for this favor,” said the pope with delight, “and I have always hoped for it. Now his Majesty may accomplish an admirable work for the good of Christendom. Let the king become reconciled with Rome, and he will obtain from the king of France all that he can wish for. Let us be friends. I will send him a nuncio for that purpose. When the news of Cardinal Fisher’s death reached Rome,” he continued, recollecting that terrible bull, “it is true I found myself driven to a measure somewhat severe… but I never intended to follow up my words by deeds.” Thus, according to the pope and his adherents, the imprisonment of Anne Boleyn was to reconcile England and Rome. This fact points to one of the causes which made Norfolk and other catholics enter into the conspiracy against her.
On the same day also (17th of May), towards evening, the queen learned that the sentence would assuredly be carried out. Although it was declared that she had never been the king’s wife, the doom pronounced upon her for adultery must nevertheless be accomplished. This is what Henry VIII called administering justice.
Anne desired to take the Lord’s Supper, and asked to be left alone. About two hours after midnight the chaplain arrived; but, before partaking of the holy rite, there was one thing she wished to do. One fault weighed heavily on her heart. She felt that she had sinned against queen Catherine by consenting to marry the king. Her conscience reproached her with having injured the princess Mary. It filled her with the deepest sorrow, and she was eager, before she died, to make reparation to the daughter of the woman whose place she had taken. Anne would have liked to see Mary, to fall a queen at her feet, and implore her pardon, but alas! she could not; she was only to leave the prison for the scaffold. Resolved, however, to confess her fault, she did so in a striking manner which showed all the sincerity of her repentance and her firm determination to humble herself before Catherine’s daughter. She begged Lady Kingston, the wife of the constable of the Tower, who had little regard for her, to take her seat in the chair of state. When the latter objected, Anne compelled her, and kneeling before her, she said, all the while crying bitterly, “I charge you—as you would answer before God—to go in my name to the princess Mary, to fall down before her as I do now before you, and ask her forgiveness for all the wrongs I have done her. Until that is done,” she added, “my conscience will have no rest.” At the moment when she was about to appear before the throne of God, she wished to make reparation for a fault that weighed heavily upon her heart. “In fact,” she said, “I wish to do what a Christian ought.” This touching incident leads us to hope that if, during life, Anne was simply an honest Protestant, trusting too much to her own works, the trial had borne fruit and had made her a true Christian. But of this she was to give a still more striking proof.
As she rose from her knees, Anne felt more calm and prepared to receive the sacrament. Before taking it, she once more declared her innocence of the crime imputed to her. The governor was present, and he did not fail to inform Cromwell of this declaration, made as it were in the presence of God. Anne had found in Christ’s death new strength to endure her own; she sighed after the moment that would put an end to her sorrows. Contrary to her expectation, she was told that the execution was put off until the afternoon. “Mr. Kingston,” she said, “I hear that I am not to die this afternoon, and I am very sorry for it; for I thought by this time to be dead and past my pain.” “Madam,” replied the governor, “you will feel no pain, the blow will be so sharp and swift.” “Yes,” resumed Anne, “I have heard say that the headsman is very clever,” and then she added, “and I have but a little neck,” putting her hand about it and smiling. Kingston left the room.
Meanwhile the devout adherents of the Roman primacy were full of exultation, and allowed the hopes to appear which Anne’s death raised in their bosoms. “Sire,” they told the king, “the tapers placed round the tomb of queen Catherine suddenly burst into flame of their own accord.” They concluded, from this prodigy, that Roman Catholicism was once more about to shed its light on England.
The hour appointed for Anne’s death now drew near. Protesting her innocence to the last, she determined to send to Henry a final message. It was carried to him by a member of his privy-chamber. Thus she addressed him: “Commend me to his Majesty, and tell him that he has ever been constant in his career of advancing me. From a private gentlewoman he made me a marchioness, from a marchioness a queen; and now that he has no higher degree of honour left, he gives my innocence the crown of martyrdom.” The gentleman went and reported this noble farewell to his master. Even the gaoler bore testimony to the peace and joy which filled Anne Boleyn’s heart at this solemn moment. “I have seen men and also women executed,” wrote Kingston to Cromwell, “and they have been in great sorrow, but to my knowledge this lady has much joy and pleasure in death.”
Everything was arranged so that the murder should be perpetrated without publicity and without disturbance. Kingston received orders to turn all strangers out of the Tower, and readily obeyed. About eleven in the forenoon of the 19th of May, the dukes of Suffolk and Richmond, the lord-chancellor, Cromwell, the lord mayor with the sheriffs and aldermen, entered the Tower, and took their stations on the green, where the instrument of punishment had been erected. The executioner, whom Henry had summoned from Calais, was there with his sword and his attendants. A cannon, mounted on the walls, was to announce both to king and people that all was over. A little before noon Anne appeared, dressed in a robe of black damask, and attended by four of her maids of honor. She walked up to the block on which she was to lay her head. Her step was firm, her looks calm; all indicated the most complete resignation. “Never had she looked so beautiful before,” says a French contemporary, then in London. Her eyes expressed a meek submission; a pleasing smile accompanied the look she turned on the spectators of this tragic scene. But just when the executioners had made the last preparations, her emotion was so keen that she nearly fainted. Gradually she recovered her strength, and her faith in the Savior filled her with courage and hope.
It is important to know what, in this last and solemn moment, were her sentiments towards the king. She had desired that Mary should be asked to forgive her wrongs; it was her duty, if she died a Christian, also to pardon Henry’s faults. She must obey her Savior, who said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you.” She had pardoned everything; but it was her duty to declare it before she died, and if she was humble, she would do so without affectation. Addressing those who had been her subjects and were then standing round her, she said, “Good Christian people, I am not come here to justify myself; I leave my justification entirely to Christ, in whom I put my trust. I will accuse no man, nor speak anything of that whereof I am accused, as I know full well that aught that I could say in my defense doth not appertain unto you, and that I could draw no hope of life from the same. I come here only to die, according as I have been condemned. I commend my judges to the Lord’s mercy. I pray God (and I beg you to do the same) to save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler or more merciful prince there never was. To me he was ever a good, gentle, and sovereign lord. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord, have mercy upon me! To God I commit my soul!”
Such are the simple words in which Anne gave utterance to the feelings of peace with which her heart was filled towards her husband, at the moment when he was robbing her of life. Had she said that she forgave him, she would have called up the memory of the king’s crime, and would thus have appeared to claim the merit of her generous pardon. She did nothing of the sort. During one part of their wedded life, Henry had been a “good lord” to her. She desired to recall the good only, and buried the evil in oblivion. She did so without any thought of self, for she knew that before the gracious words could reach the king’s ears, the sword would have already fallen upon her, and it would be impossible for Henry to arrest the fatal blow.
This Christian discourse could not fail to make a deep impression on all who heard her. As they looked at the unfortunate queen, they felt the tenderest compassion and the sharpest pain. The firmer her heart became, the weaker grew the spectators of the tragedy. Ere long they were unable to check the tears which the sufferer had the strength to restrain. One of the ladies of the royal victim approached her to cover her eyes; but Anne refused, saying that she was not afraid of death, and gave her as a memorial of that hour a little manuscript prayer book that she had brought with her.
The queen then removed her white collar and took off her hood, that the action of the sword might not be impeded; this head-dress formed a queue and hung down behind. Then falling on her knees, she remained a few moments silent and motionless, praying inwardly. On rising up, she approached the fatal block, and laid her head on it. “O Christ, into thy hands I commit my soul!” she exclaimed. The headsman, disturbed by the mild expression of her face, hesitated a few seconds, but his courage returned. Anne cried out again, “O Jesus, receive my soul!” At this instant the sword of the executioner flashed in the air and her head fell. A cry escaped from the lips of the spectators, “as if they had received the blow upon their own necks.” This is honorable to Anne’s enemies, so that we may well believe the evidence. But immediately another sound was heard; the gunner, placed as a signal-man on the wall, had watched the different phases of the scene, holding a lighted match in his hand; scarcely had the head fallen, when he fired the gun, and the report, which was heard at a distance, bore to Henry the news of the crime which gave him Jane Seymour. The ladies of queen Anne, though almost lifeless with terror, would not permit the noble remains of the mistress whom they had loved so much to be touched by rude hands; they gathered round the body, wrapped it in a white sheet, and carried it (almost fainting as they were) to an old elm chest, which had been brought out of the arsenal and had been used for storing arrows. This rough box was the last home assigned to her who had inhabited costly palaces; not so much as a coffin had been provided for her. The ladies placed in it Anne’s head and body; “the eyes and lips were observed to move,” says a document, as if her mouth was repeating the last words it had uttered. She was immediately buried in the Tower chapel.
Thus died Anne Boleyn. If the violent passions of a prince and the meanness of his courtiers brought her to an untimely death, hatred and credulity have killed her a second time. But an infamous calumny, forged by dishonest individuals, ought to be sternly rejected by all sensible men. Not in vain did Anne, at the hour of death, place her cause in the hands of God, and we willingly believe that all enlightened men, without prejudice or partiality, among Roman Catholics as among others, turn with disgust from the vile falsehoods of malicious courtiers and the deceitful fables of the papist Sanders and his followers.
On the morning of this day, Henry VIII had dressed himself in white, as for a festival, and ordered a hunting party. There was a great stir round the palace; huntsmen hurrying to and fro, dogs baying, horns sounding, nobles arriving. The troop was formed and they all set off for Epping Forest, where the sport began. At noon the hunters met to repose themselves under an oak which still bears the name of the King’s Oak. Henry had taken his seat beneath it, surrounded by his suite and the dogs; he listened and seemed to be agitated. Suddenly a cannon shot resounded through the forest—it was the concerted signal—the queen’s head had fallen. “Ha, ha!” exclaimed the king, rising, “the deed is done! uncouple the hounds and away.” Horns and trumpets were sounded, and dogs and horses were soon in pursuit. The wretched prince, led away by his passions, forgot that there is a God to whom he would have to render an account not only of the execution in the Tower, but of the chase in the forest; and by these cruel acts, which should have shocked the hearts even of his courtiers, he branded himself with his own hands as a great criminal. The king and his court returned to the palace before nightfall.
At last Henry was free. He had desired Jane Seymour, and everything had been invented—adultery, incest—to break the bonds that united him to the queen. The proofs of Anne’s crimes failing, the ferocious acts of the king were to supply their place. Could those who witnessed the cruelty of the husband venture to doubt the guilt of the wife? Henry had become inhuman that he might not appear faithless. Now that the object was obtained, it only remained to profit by his crime. His impatience to gratify his passions made him flout all propriety. The mournful death of his queen, the Christian words that she had uttered, kissing as it were the cruel hand that struck her—nothing softened his heart. On the 19th of May, the day of Anne’s execution, Cranmer issued a special license to enable the king to marry again. On the 20th, Henry and Jane Seymour were betrothed, and ten days later they were married privately at York Place. It would have been difficult to say in a more striking manner, “This is why Anne Boleyn is no more!” When we see side by side the bloodstained block on which Anne had received her death blow, and the brilliant altar before which Henry and Jane were united, we can understand the story. The prince, at once voluptuous and cruel, liked to combine the most contrary objects in the same picture—crime and festivities, marriage and death, sensuality and hatred. He showed himself the most magnificent and most civilized monarch of Europe, but also the rival of those barbarous kings of savage hordes who take delight in cutting off the heads of those who have been their favorites and even the objects of their most passionate love. We must employ different standards in judging of the same person, when we regard him as a private and as a public individual. The Tudor prince, so guilty as a husband, father, and friend, did much good as a ruler for England. Louis XIV, as well as Henry VIII, had some of the characteristics of a great king, and his moral life was certainly not better than that of his prototype in England. He had as many, and even more mistresses than the predecessor of the Stuarts had wives; but the only advantage which the French monarch had over the English one is that he knew how to get rid of them without cutting off their heads.
The death of Anne Boleyn caused a great sensation in Europe, as that of Fisher and More had done before it. Her innocence, which Henry (it is said) acknowledged on his deathbed, was denied by some and maintained by others, but all men of principle expressed a feeling of horror when they heard of her punishment. The Protestant princes and divines of Germany had not a doubt that this cruel act was the pledge of reconciliation offered to the pope by Henry VIII, and renounced the alliance they were on the point of concluding with England. “At last I am free from that journey,” said Melanchthon, whom Anne Boleyn’s death, added to that of Sir Thomas More, had rendered even less desirous of approaching the prince who had struck them. “The queen,” he continued, “accused, rather than convicted, of adultery, has suffered the penalty of death, and that catastrophe has wrought great changes in our plans.”
Somewhat later the Protestants ascribed Anne’s death especially to the pope. “That blow came from Rome,” they cried, “in Rome all these tricks and plots are contrived.” In this I suspect there is a mistake. The plots of the Roman court against Elizabeth have caused it to be accused of similar designs against the mother of the great Protestant queen. The friends of that court in England were probably no strangers to the crime, but the great criminal was Henry.
Catholicism versus Protestantism Summer, 1536
After queen Anne’s death the two parties were agitated in opposite directions. The friends of the Reformation wished to show that the disgrace of that princess did not carry with it the disgrace of the cause they had at heart, and consequently believed that they ought to accelerate the Reform movement. The friends of Rome and its doctrines imagining, on their part, that the queen’s death had put their affairs in good train, thought they had but to redouble their activity to gain a complete victory. The latter seemed indeed to have some reasons for encouragement. If Catherine’s death four months earlier reconciled Henry VIII and the Emperor just when the latter was threatening England with invasion, the death of Anne Boleyn appeared as if it would reconcile the king with Paul III, who was ready to issue his terrible bull. Henry’s wives played a great part in his private history, but they had also a certain importance in his relations with the powers of Europe, especially with the pope. The court of Rome was very desirous of reviving the ancient friendship which had united it to England. These desires increased rapidly.
On the 20th of May, when the news of the queen’s prosecution arrived in Rome, both pope and cardinals were transported with joy. The frightful calumnies of which Anne was the victim served the cause of the papacy too well not to be accepted as truths, and all felt persuaded that, if she fell from the throne, the acts done at London against the Italian primacy would fall with her. When Henry’s agent, Da Casale, informed the pope that the queen had been sent to prison, Paul exclaimed with delight, “I always thought, when I saw Henry endowed with so many virtues, that heaven would not forsake him. If he is willing to unite with me,” he added, “I shall have authority enough to enjoin the Emperor and the king of France to make peace with him; and the king of England, reconciled with the Church, will command the powers of Europe.” At the same time Paul III confessed that he had made a mistake in raising Fisher to the cardinalate, and wound up this pontifical effusion in the kindest of terms. Da Casale, much delighted on his part, asked whether he was to repeat these matters to the king. “Tell him,” answered the pope, “that his Majesty may, without hesitation, expect everything from me.” Da Casale, therefore, made his report to London, and intimated that, if Henry made the least sign of reconciliation, the pope would immediately send him a nuncio. Thus Paul left not a stone unturned to win over the king of England. He extolled his virtues, promised him the foremost place in Europe, flattered his vanity as an author, and did not fear—he the infallible one—to acknowledge that he had made a mistake. Everybody at the court of Rome felt convinced that England was about to return to the bosom of the Church; Cardinal Campeggio even sent his brother to London to resume possession of the bishopric of Salisbury, of which he had been deprived in 1534. Up to the end of June, the pope and the cardinals became kinder and more respectful to the English, and entertained the most flattering expectations regarding the return of England.
Would these expectations be realized? Henry VIII was not one man, but two; his domestic passions and his public acts formed two departments entirely distinct. Guided as an individual by passion, he was, as a king, sometimes led by just views. He believed that neither pope nor foreign monarch had a right to exercise the smallest jurisdiction in England. He was therefore resolved—and this saved England—to maintain the rupture with Rome. One circumstance might have taught him that in all respects it was the best thing he could do.
Rome has two modes of bringing back princes under her yoke—flattery and abuse. The pope had adopted the first; a person, at that time without influence, Reginald Pole, an Englishman, and also a relative and protégé of Henry, undertook the second. In 1535 he was in the north of Italy. Burning with love for the papacy and hatred for the king, his benefactor, he wrote a defense of the unity of the Church, addressed to Henry VIII, and overflowing with violence. The wise and pious Contarini, to whom he showed it, begged him to soften a tone that might cause much harm. As Pole refused, Contarini entreated him at least to submit his manuscript to the pope; but the young Englishman, fearing that Paul would require him to suppress the untoward publication, declined to accede to his friend’s request. His object was, not to convert the king, but to stir up the English against their lawful prince, and induce them to fall prostrate again before the Roman pontiff. The treatise, finished in the winter of 1535-36, before Anne’s trial, reached London the first week in June. Tunstall, now bishop of Durham, and Pole’s friend, read the book, which contained a few truths mixed up with great errors, and then communicated it to the king. Never did haughty monarch receive so rude a lesson.
“Shall I write to you, O prince,” said the young Englishman, “or shall I not? Observing in you the certain symptoms of the most dangerous malady, and assured as I am that I possess the remedies suitable to cure you, how can I refrain from pronouncing the word which alone can preserve your life? I love you, sire, as son never loved his father, and God perhaps will make my voice to be like that of His own Son, whose voice even the dead hear. O prince, you are dealing the most deadly blow against the Church that it can possibly receive; you rob it of the chief whom it possesses upon earth. Why should a king, who is the supreme head of the State, occupy a similar place in the Church? If we may trust the arguments of your doctors, we must conclude that Nero was the head of the Church. We should laugh, if the laughter were not to be followed by tears. There is as great a distance between the ecclesiastical and the civil power, as there is between heaven and earth. There are three estates in human society: first, the people; then the king, who is the son of the people; and lastly, the priest, who being the spouse of the people isconsequently the father of the king. But you, in imitation of the pride of Lucifer, set yourself above the vicar of Jesus Christ. …
“What! you have rent the Church, as it was never before rent in that island, you have plundered and cruelly tormented it, and you claim, in virtue of such merits, to be called its supreme head. There are two Churches; if you are at the head of one, it is not the Church of Christ; if you are, it is like Satan, who is the prince of the world, which he oppresses under his tyranny. … You reign, but after the fashion of the Turks. A simple nod of your head has more power than ancient laws and rights. Sword in hand you decide religious controversies. Is not that thoroughly Turkish and barbarian? …
“O England! if you have not forgotten your ancient liberty, what indignation ought to possess you, when you see your king plunder, condemn, murder, squander all your wealth, and leave you nothing but tears. Beware, for if you let your grievances be heard, you will be afflicted with still deeper wounds. O my country! it is in your power to change your great sorrow into greater joy. Neither Nero nor Domitian, nor—I dare affirm—Luther himself, if he had been king of England, would have wished to avenge himself by putting to death such men as Fisher and Sir Thomas More! …
“What king has ever given more numerous signs of respect to the supreme pontiff than that Francis I who spoke of you, O Henry, in words received with applause by the whole Christian world: ‘your friend even to the altar’ (i.e. to the last extremity)? The Emperor Charles has just subdued the pirates, but is there any pirate that is worse than you? Have you not plundered the wealth of the Church, thrown the bodies of the saints into prison, and reduced men’s souls to slavery? If I heard that the Emperor with all his fleet was sailing for Constantinople, I would fall at his feet, and say—were it even in the straits of the Hellespont—‘O Emperor, what are you thinking of? Do you not see that a much greater danger than the Turks threatens the Christian republic? Change your route. What would be the use of expelling the Turks from Europe, when new Turks are hatched among us?’ Certainly the English for slighter causes have forced their kings to put off their crowns.”
After the apostrophe addressed to Charles V, Reginald Pole returns to Henry VIII, and imagining himself to be the prophet Elijah before king Ahab, he says with great boldness, “O king, the Lord hath commanded me to curse you, but if you will patiently listen to me, he will return you good for evil. Why delay to confess your sin? Do not say that you have done everything according to the rules of Holy Scripture. Does not the Church, which gives it authority, know what is to be received and what rejected? You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom. Return to the Church, O prince! and all that you have lost you shall regain with more splendour and glory.
“But if anyone hears the sound of the trumpet and does not heed it, the sword is drawn from the scabbard, the guilty is smitten, and his blood is upon his own head.”
We have hardly given the flower of this long tirade, written in the style of the 16th century, which, divided into four books, fills one hundred and ninety-two folio pages. It reached England at the moment of the condemnation of the innocent Anne, which Pole unconsciously protested against as unjust, more unjust even than the sentences of Fisher and More. Henry did not at first read his “pupil’s” philippic through. He saw enough, however, to regard it as an insult, a divorce which Italy had sent him. He ordered Pole to return to England, but the latter remembered too well the fate of Fisher and Sir Thomas More to run the risk. Bishop Tunstall, one of the enemies of the Reformation, wrote, however, to Pole, that as Christ was the head of the Church, to separate it from the pope was not to separate from its head. This refutation was short but complete.
The king was resolved to maintain his independence of the pope. Some have ascribed this determination to Pole’s treatise, and others to the influence of Jane Seymour. Both these circumstances may have had some weight in Henry’s mind, but the great cause, we repeat, is that he would not suffer any master but himself in England. Gardiner replied to Pole in a treatise which he entitled On True Obedience, to which Bonner wrote the preface.
Paul III was not the only one who descried the signal of triumph in Anne’s death; the princess Mary believed that she would now become heiress—presumptive to the crown. Lady Kingston having discharged Anne Boleyn’s Christian commission, Catherine’s daughter, but slightly affected by this touching conduct, took advantage of it for her own interest, and charged that lady with a letter addressed to Cromwell, in which she begged him to intercede for her with the king, so that the rank which belonged to her should be restored. Henry consented to receive his daughter into favor, but not without conditions. “Madam,” said Norfolk, who had been sent to her by the king, “here are the articles which require your signature.”
The daughter of the proud Catherine of Aragon was to acknowledge four points—the supremacy of the king, the imposture of the pope, the incest of her own mother, and her own illegitimacy. She refused, but as Norfolk was not to be shaken, she signed the two first articles, then laying down the pen, she exclaimed, “As for my own shame and my mother’s—never!” Cromwell threatened her, called her obstinate and unnatural, and told her that her father would abandon her; the unhappy princess signed everything. She was restored to favor, and given the means to maintain a household suitable to her rank; but she was deceived in thinking that the misfortune of her little half-sister Elizabeth would replace her on the steps of the throne.
Parliament met on the 8th of June, when the chancellor announced to them that the king, notwithstanding his mishaps in matrimony, had yielded to the humble solicitations of the nobility, and formed a new union. The two houses ratified the accomplished facts. No man desired to stir the ashes from which sparks might issue and kindle a great conflagration. At no price would they compromise the most exalted persons in the kingdom, and especially the king. All the allegations, even the most absurd, were admitted; Parliament wanted to have done with the matter. It even went further; the king was thanked for the most excellent goodness which had induced him to marry a lady whose brilliant youth, remarkable beauty, and purity of blood were the sure pledges of the happy issue which a marriage with her could not fail to produce; and his most respectful subjects, determined to bury the faults of their prince under flowers, compared him for beauty to Absalom, for strength to Samson, and for wisdom to Solomon. Parliament added that as the daughters of Catherine and Anne were both illegitimate, the succession had devolved upon the children of Jane Seymour. As, however, it was possible that she might not have any issue, parliament granted Henry the privilege of naming his successor in his will—an enormous prerogative, conferred upon the most capricious of monarchs. Those who refused to take the oath required by the statute were to be declared guilty of high treason.
Parliament, having thus arranged the king’s business, set about the business of the country. “My lords,” said ministers on the 4th of July to the upper house, “the bishop of Rome, whom some persons call pope, wishing to have the means of satisfying his love of luxury and tyranny, has obscured the Word of God, excluded Jesus Christ from the soul, banished princes from their kingdoms, monopolized the mind, body, and goods of all Christians, and, in particular, extorted great sums of money from England by his worthless superstitions.” Parliament decided that the penalties of præmunire should be inflicted on everybody who recognized the authority of the Roman pontiff, and that every student, ecclesiastic, and civil functionary should be bound to renounce the pope in an oath made in the name of God and all his saints.
This bill was the cause of great joy in England; the protestant spirit was stirred; there was a great outburst of sarcasms, and one could see that the citizens of the capital naturally were not friends to the papacy. Man is inclined to laugh at what he has respected when he finds that he has been deceived, and then readily classes among human follies what he had once taken for the wisdom of heaven. A contest of epigrams was begun in London, similar to that which had so often taken place at Rome between Pasquin and Marforio; perhaps, however, the jokes were occasionally a little heavy.
“Do you see the stole round the priest’s neck?” said one wit, “it is nothing else but the bishop of Rome’s rope.”
“Matins, masses, and evensong are nothing but a roaring, howling, whistling, murmuring, tomring, and juggling.”
“It is as lawful to christen a child in a tub of water at home or in a ditch by the way, as in a font-stone in the church.”
Gradually this jesting spirit made its way to the lower classes of society. “Holy water is very useful,” said one who haunted the London taverns, “for as it is already salted, you have only to put an onion in it to make sauce for a gibbet of mutton.”
“What is that you say?” replied some blacksmith, “it is a very good medicine for a horse with a galled back.”
But while frivolity and a desire to show one’s wit, however coarse it might be, gave birth to silly jests merely provocative of laughter, the love of truth inspired the evangelical Christians with serious words which irritated the priests more than the raillery of the jesters. “The Church,” they said, “is not the clergy; the Church is the congregation of good men only. All ceremonies accustomed in the Church and not clearly expressed in Scripture ought to be done away. When the sinner is converted, all the sins over which he sheds tears are remitted freely by the Father who is in heaven.”
Along with the words of the profane and of the pious came the words of the priests. A convocation of the clergy was summoned to meet at St. Paul’s on the 9th of June. The bishops came and took their places, and anyone might count the votes which Rome and the Reformation had on the episcopal bench. For the latter there were Archbishop Cranmer; Goodrich, bishop of Ely; Shaxton, bishop of Salisbury; Fox, bishop of Hereford; Latimer, bishop of Worcester; Hilsey, bishop of Rochester; Barlow, bishop of St. David’s; Warton, bishop of St. Asaph; and Sampson, bishop of Chichester—nine votes in all. For Rome there were Lee, archbishop of York; Stokesley, bishop of London; Tunstall, bishop of Durham; Longland, bishop of Lincoln; Vesey, bishop of Exeter; Clerk, bishop of Bath; Lee, bishop of Lichfield; Salcot, bishop of Bangor; and Rugge, bishop of Norwich—nine against nine. If Gardiner had not been in France there would have been a majority against the Reformation. A numerous company of priors and mitered abbots, members of the upper house, seemed to assure victory to the partisans of tradition. The clergy, who assembled under their respective banners, were divided not by shades but by glaring colors, and people asked, as they looked on this chequered group, which of the colors would carry the day. Cranmer had taken precautions that they should not leave the church without being enlightened on that point.
The bishop of London having sung the mass of the Holy Ghost, Latimer, who had been selected by the primate to edify the assembly, went up into the pulpit. Being a man of bold and independent character, and penetrating, practical mind which would discover and point out every subterfuge, he wanted a Reform more complete even than Cranmer desired. He took for his text the parable of the unjust steward (St. Luke 16:1-8). “Brethren,” he said, “ye have come here today to hear of great and weighty matters. Ye look, I am assured, to hear of me such things as shall be meet for this assembly.” Then, having introduced his subject Latimer continued, “A faithful steward coineth no new money, but taketh it ready coined of the good man of the house. Now, what numbers of our bishops, abbots, prelates, and curates, despising the money of the Lord as copper and not current, teach that now redemption purchased by money, and devised by men is of efficacy, and not redemption purchased by Christ.”
The whole of Latimer’s sermon was in this strain. He did not stop here; in the afternoon he preached again. “You know the proverb,” he said, “‘An evil crow, an evil egg.’ The devil has begotten the world, and the world in its turn has many children. There is my Lady Pride, Dame Gluttony, Mistress Avarice, Lady Lechery, Dame Subtlety, and others, that now hard and scant ye may find any corner, any kind of life, where many of his children be not. In court, in cowls, in cloisters, yea, where shall ye not find them? Howbeit, they that be secular are not children of the world, nor they children of light that are called spiritual and of the clergy. No, no; as ye find among the laity many children of light, so among the clergy ye shall find many children of the world. They do execrate and detest the world (though indeed the world is their father) in words and outward signs; but in heart and works they coll [hang around the neck] and kiss him. They ever say one thing and think another, and live every day as if all their life were a shroving time (a carnival). I see many such among the bishops, abbots, priors, archdeacons, deans, and others of that sort, who are met together in this convocation, to take into consideration all that concerns the glory of Christ and the wealth of the people of England. But it is to be feared lest, as light hath many of her children here, so the world hath sent some of his whelps hither, amongst the which I know there can be no concord nor unity, albeit they be in one place, in one congregation. What have you been doing these seven years and more? Show us what the English have gained by your long and great assemblies. Have they become even a hair’s breadth better? In God’s name, what have you done? So great fathers, so many, so long a season, so oft assembled together, what have you done? Two things: the one that you have burnt a dead man [William Tracy in 1532]; the other, that ye went about to burn one being alive [referring to himself]. Ye have oft sat in consultation, but what have ye done? Ye have had many things in deliberation, but what one is put forth whereby either Christ is more glorified, or else Christ’s people made more holy? I appeal to your own conscience.”
Here Latimer began, as Luther had done in his Appeal to the German Nobility, to pass in review the abuses and errors of the clergy—the Court of Arches, the episcopal consistories, saints’ days, images, vows, pilgrimages, certain vigils which he called “bacchanalia,” marriage, baptism, the mass, and relics.
After this severe catalogue, the bishop exclaimed, “If there be nothing to be amended or redressed, my lords, be ye of good cheer, be merry; and at the least, because we have nothing else to do, let us reason the matter how we may be richer. Let us fall to some pleasant communication; afterwards let us go home, even as good as we came hither, that is, right-begotten children of the world, and utterly worldlings. … If there be nothing to be changed in our fashions, let us say as the evil servant said, ‘It will be long ere my master come.’ This is pleasant. Let us beat our fellows; let us eat and drink with drunkards. Surely, as oft as we do not take away the abuse of things, so oft we beat our fellows. As oft as we give not the people their true food, so oft we beat our fellows. As oft as we let them die in superstition, so oft we beat them. To be short, as oft as we blind lead them blind, so oft we beat and grievously beat our fellows. When we welter in pleasures and idleness, then we eat and drink with drunkards. But God will come, God will come. He will not tarry long away. He will come upon such a day as we nothing look for Him and at such hour as we know not. He will come and cut us in pieces. He will reward us as He doth the hypocrites. He will set us where wailing shall be, my brethren, where gnashing of teeth shall be, my brethren. And let here be the end of our tragedy, if ye will. These be the delicate dishes prepared for the world’s beloved children. These be the wafers and junkets provided for worldly prelates—wailing and gnashing of teeth.
“If you will not die eternally, live not worldly. Preach truly the Word of God. Feed ye tenderly the flock of Christ. Love the light. Walk in the light, and so be the children of light while you are in the world, that you may shine in the world to come bright as the sun, with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
An action full of simplicity and warmth had accompanied the firm and courageous words of the Reformer. The reverend members of convocation had found their man, and his sermon appeared to them more bitter than wormwood. They dared not, however, show their anger, for behind Latimer was Cranmer, and they feared lest they should find the king behind Cranmer.
Ere long the clergy received another mortification which they dared not complain of. A rumor got abroad that Cromwell would be the representative of Henry VIII in the assembly. “What!” they cried out, “a layman, a man who has never taken a degree in any university!” But what was the astonishment of the prelates, when they saw not Cromwell enter, but Dr. William Petre, the proctor of the vicar-general, whom the primate seated by his side—a delegate of a delegate! On the 21st of June, Cromwell himself came down, and took his seat above all the prelates. The lay element took, with a bold step, a position from which it had been so long banished.
It was to be expected that the champions of the middle ages would not submit to such affronts, and particularly to such a terrible fire as Latimer’s, without unmasking their batteries in return, and striving to dismantle those of the enemy. They saw that they could not maintain the supremacy of the pope and attack that of the king; but they knew that Henry adhered to transubstantiation and other superstitious doctrines of the dark ages, and accordingly they determined to attack by this breach, not only Latimer, but all the supporters of the Reformation. Roman Catholicism did not intend to perish without a struggle; it resolved—in order that it might hold its ground in England—to make a vigorous onslaught. The lower house having chosen for its prolocutor one Richard Gwent, archdeacon of Bishop Stokesley and a zealous upholder of Romish doctrine, the cabal set to work, and the words of Wycliffe, of the Lollards, of the Reformers, and even of the jesting citizens having been carefully recorded, Gwent proposed that the lower house should lay before the upper house sixty-seven evil doctrines (mala dogmata). Nothing was forgotten, not even the horse with the galled back. To no purpose were they reminded that what was blamable in this catalogue were only “the indiscreet expressions of illiterate persons,” and that the rudeness of their imagination alone had caused them to utter these pointed sarcasms. In vain were they reminded that, even in horse races, the riders to be sure of reaching their goal pass beyond it. The enumeration of the mala dogmata was carried, without omitting a single article.
On the 23rd of June, the prolocutor appeared with his long list before the upper house of convocation. “There are certain errors,” he said, “which cause disturbance in the kingdom,” and then he read the sixty-seven mala dogmata. “They affirm,” he continued, “that no doctrine must be believed unless it be proved by Holy Scripture; that Christ, having shed His blood, has fully redeemed us, so that now we have only to say, ‘O God, I entreat Thy Majesty to blot out my iniquity.’ They say that the sacrifice of the mass is nothing but a piece of bread; that auricular confession was invented by the priests to learn the secrets of the heart, and to put money in their purse; that purgatory is a cheat; that what is usually called the Church is merely the old synagogue, and that the true Church is the assembly of the just; that prayer is just as effectual in the open air as in a temple; that priests may marry. And these heresies are not only preached, but are printed in books stamped cum privilegio (with privilege) and the ignorant imagine that those words indicate the king’s approbation.”
The two armies stood face to face, and the scholastic party had no sooner read their lengthy manifesto than the combat began. “Oh, what tugging was here betwixt these opposite sides,” says honest Fuller. They separated without coming to any decision. Men began to discuss which side they should take. “Neither one nor the other,” said those who fancied themselves the cleverest. “When two stout and sturdy travelers meet together and both desire the way, yet neither is willing to fight for it, in their passage they so shove and shoulder one another, that they divide the way between them, and yet neither gets the same. So these two opposite parties in the convocation were fain at last in a drawn battle to part the prize between them, neither of them being conquering or conquered.” Thus the Church, the pillar of truth, was required to admit both black and white—to say Yes and No. “A medley religion,” exclaims Fuller, “an expedient, to salve (if not the consciences) at least the credits of both sides.”
Cranmer and Cromwell determined to use the opportunity to make the balance incline to the evangelical side. They went down to convocation. While passing along the street Cromwell noticed a stranger—one Alesius, a Scotsman, who had been compelled to seek refuge in Germany for having professed the pure Gospel, and there had formed a close intimacy with Melanchthon. Cranmer, as well as Cromwell, desirous of having such an evangelical man in England—one who was in perfect harmony with the Protestants of Germany, and whose native tongue was English—had invited him over to London. Melanchthon had given him a letter for the king, along with which he sent a copy of his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Henry was so charmed with the Scotsman, that he gave him the title of “King’s Scholar.” Alesius was living at the archbishop’s palace in Lambeth. Cromwell, observing him so seasonably, called him and invited him to accompany them to Westminster. He thought that a man of such power might be useful to him, and it is even possible that the meeting had been prearranged. Together the Englishman and the Scotsman entered the chamber in which the bishops were sitting round a table, with a number of priests standing behind them. When the vicar-general and Alesius, who was unknown to most of them, appeared, they all rose and bowed to the king’s representative. Cromwell returned the salutation, and, after seating the exile in the highest place, opposite the two archbishops, he addressed them as follows: “His Majesty will not rest until, in harmony with convocation and parliament, he has put an end to the controversies which have taken place, not only in this kingdom but in every country. Discuss these questions, therefore, with charity, without brawling or scolding, and decide all things by the Word of God. Establish the divine and perfect truth as it is found in Scripture.”
Cromwell wanted the submission of all to the divine revelation; the traditional party answered him by putting forward human doctrines and human authorities. Stokesley, bishop of London, endeavored to prove, by certain glosses and passages, that there were seven sacraments; the archbishop of York and others supported him by their sophistry and their shouts. “Such disputes about words, and such cries,” said Cranmer, “are unbecoming serious men. Let us seek Christ’s glory, the peace of the Church, and the means by which sins are forgiven. Let us enquire how we may bring consolation to uneasy souls, how we may give the assurance of God’s love to consciences troubled by the remembrance of their sins. Let us acknowledge that it is not the outward use of the sacraments that justifies a man, and that our justification proceeds solely from faith in the Savior.” The prelate spoke admirably and in accordance with Scripture; it was necessary to back up this noble confession. Cromwell, who kept his Scotsman in reserve, now introduced him to the clergy, as the “king’s scholar,” and asked him what he thought of the discussion. Alesius, speaking in the assembly of bishops, showed that there were only two sacraments—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and that no ceremony ought to be put in the same rank with them. The bishop of London chafed with anger in his seat. Shall a mere Scotsman, driven from his country and entertained by German Protestants, presume to teach the prelates of England? He shouted out indignantly, “All that is false!” Alesius declared himself ready to prove what he had said out of Scripture and the old fathers.
Then Fox, bishop of Hereford, who had just returned from Wittenberg, whither he had been sent by the king, and where he had been enlightened by conversing with Luther and Melanchthon, rose up and uttered these noble sentiments: “Christ hath so lightened the world at this time,” he said, “that the light of the Gospel hath put to flight all misty darkness; and the world will no longer endure to be led astray by all that fantastic rubbish with which the priests formerly filled their imaginations and their sermons.” This was pointed at Bishop Stokesley and his friends. “It is vain to resist the Lord; His hand drives away the clouds. The laity know the Holy Scriptures now better than many of us. The Germans have made the text of the Bible so easy, by the Hebrew and Greek tongue, that even women and children wonder at the blindness and falsehood that hath been hitherto. Consider that you make not yourselves to be laughed to scorn of all the world. If you resist the voice of God, you will give cause for belief that there is not one spark of learning or godliness in you. All things consist not in painted eloquence and strength of authority. For truth is of so great power, strength, and efficacy, that it can neither be defended with words nor be overcome with any strength; but after she hath hidden herself long, at length she pusheth up her head and appeareth.” Such was the eloquent and Christian language with which even bishops endeavored to bring about the triumph of that English Reformation which some have been pleased to represent as “the product of an amorous caprice.”
Moved by such Christian remarks, Alesius exclaimed, “Yes, it is the Word of God that bringeth life; the Word of God is the very substance and body of the Sacrament. It makes us certain and sure of the will of God to save our souls; the outward ceremony is but a token of that lively inflammation which we receive through faith in the Word and promise of the Lord.” At these words the bishop of London could not contain himself. “The Word of God,” he cried, “Yes, granted! But you are far deceived if you think there is no other Word of God but that which every souter (shoemaker) and cobbler may read in his mother tongue.” Stokesley believed in another Word of God besides the Bible; he thought, as the council of Trent did a little later, “That we must receive with similar respect and equal piety the Holy Scriptures and Tradition.” As it was noon, Cromwell broke up the meeting.
The debate had been sharp. The sacerdotal, sacramental, ritualist party had been beaten; the evangelicals desired to secure their victory.
Alesius, after his return to Lambeth, began to compose a treatise; Stokesley, on the other hand, prepared to get up a conspiracy against Alesius. Next day the bishops, who arrived first at Westminster, entered into conversation about the last sitting, and were very indignant that a stranger, a Scotsman, should have been allowed to sit and speak among them. Stokesley called upon Cranmer to resist such an irregularity. The archbishop, who was always rather weak, consented, and Cromwell entering shortly after with his protégé, an archdeacon went up to the latter and told him that his presence was disagreeable to the bishops. “It is better to give way,” said Cromwell to Alesius, “I do not want to expose you to the hatred of the prelates. When once they take a dislike to a man, they never rest until they have got him out of the way. They have already put to death many Christians for whom the king felt great esteem.” Alesius withdrew and the debate opened. “Are there seven sacraments or only two,” was the question. It was impossible to come to an understanding.
Convocation, an old clerical body, in which were assembled the most resolute partisans of the abuses, superstitions, and doctrines of the Middle Ages, was the real stronghold of Rome in England. To undertake to introduce the light and life of the Gospel into it was a rash and impracticable enterprise. The divine Head of the Church Himself has declared that “no man putteth new cloth to an old garment, neither do men put new wine into old bottles.” There was but one thing to be done—suppress the assembly and form a new one, composed of members and ministers of the Church, who acknowledge no other foundation, no other rule, than the Word of God. “New wine must be put into new bottles.” Such a step as this would have helped powerfully to reform the Church of England really and completely. But it was not taken.
Henry Enforces “Catholicism minus the Pope” Autumn, 1536
After Anne Boleyn’s death, the men of the Reformation had taken the initiative, and Cranmer, Cromwell, Latimer, and Alesius seemed on the point of winning the prize of the contest. The intervention of a greater personage was about to affect the situation profoundly.
Anne’s disgrace and the wedding with Jane Seymour had occupied the king with far other matters than theology. Cranmer had the field free to advance the Reformation. This was not what Henry intended, and as soon as he noticed it, he roused himself, as if from slumber, and hastened to put things in order. Though rejecting the authority of the pope, he remained faithful to his doctrines. He proceeded to act in his character as head of the Church, and resolved to fulminate a bull, as the pontiffs had done. Reginald Pole, in the book which he had addressed to him, observed that in matters touching the pope, we must not regard either his character or his life, but only his authority; and that the lapses of a pope in morals detract nothing from his infallibility in faith. Henry understood this distinction very clearly, and showed himself a pope in every way. He did not believe that there was any incompatibility between the right he claimed of taking a new wife whenever he pleased, by means of divorce or the scaffold, and that of declaring the oracles of God on contrition, justification, and ecclesiastical rites and ceremonies. The rupture of the negotiations with the obstinate German Protestants gave him more liberty, and even caused him a little vexation. His chagrin was not unmingled with anger, and he was not grieved to show them what they stood to lose by not accepting him. In this respect Henry was like a woman who, annoyed at being rejected by the man she prefers, gives her hand to his rival in bravado. He returned, therefore, to his theological labors. The doctors of the scholastic party spared him the pains of drawing up for himself the required articles, but he revised them and was elated at the importance of his work. “We have in our own person taken great pain, study, labors, and travails,” he said, “over certain articles which will establish concord in our Church.” Cromwell, always submissive to his master and well knowing the cost of resistance, laid this royal labor before the upper house of convocation.
In religious matters Henry had never done anything so important. The doctrine of the authority of the prince over the dogmas of the Church now became a fact. The king’s dogmatic paper, entitled Articles about religion set out by the Convocation, and published by the King’s authority, bears a strong resemblance to the Exposition and the Type of Faith, published in the seventh century, during the monothelite controversy, by the emperors of Constantinople—Heraclius and Constans II. That prince, who in a political sense gave England a new impulse, sought his models as an ecclesiastical ruler in the Lower Empire. Everybody was eager to know what doctrines the new head of the Church was going to proclaim. The partisans of Rome were doubtless quite as much surprised as the Reformers, but their astonishment was that of joy; the surprise of the evangelicals was that of fear. The vicar-general read the royal oracles aloud. “All the words contained in the whole canon of the Bible,” he said, “and in the three creeds—the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian—according to the interpretation which the holy approved doctors in the Church do defend, shall be received and observed as the infallible words of God, so that whosoever rejects them is not a member of Christ but a member of the devil, and eternally damned.”
That was the Romish doctrine, and Bossuet, in his examination of the royal document, appears much satisfied with the article.
“The sacrament of baptism should be administered to infants, in order that they may receive the Holy Ghost and be purified of sin by its secret virtue and operation. If a man falls after baptism the sacrament of penance is necessary to his salvation; he must go to confession, ask absolution at the priest’s hands, and look upon the words uttered by the confessor as the voice of Godspeaking out of heaven.”
“That is the whole substance of the catholic doctrine,” the partisans of Rome might urge.
“Under the form of the bread and the wine are verily, substantially, and really contained the body and very blood of the Savior which was born of the Virgin.”
“That indicates most precisely the real presence of the body,” say the Romish doctors.
“The merits of the Savior’s passion are the only and worthy causes of our justification; but, before giving it to us, God requires of us inward contrition, perfect faith, hope, and charity, and all the other spiritual motions which must necessarily concur in the remission of our sins.”
The council of Trent declared the same doctrine not long after.
“Images ought to be preserved in the churches. Only let those who kneel before them and adore them know that such honor is not paid to the images, but to God.”
“To use such language,” Roman Catholics have said, “is to approve of image worship to the extreme.”
“It is praiseworthy,” continued Cromwell, “to address prayers to our Blessed Lady, to St. John the Baptist, to each of the apostles, or to any other saint, in order that they may pray for us and with us; but without believing there is more mercy in them than in Christ.”
“If the king looks upon this as a kind of Reformation,” said a Romish doctor, “he is only making game of the word, for no catholic addresses the saints except to have their prayers.”
“As for the ceremonies, such as sprinkling with holy water, distributing the consecrated bread, prostration before the cross and kissing it, exorcisms, etc., these rites and others equally praiseworthy ought to be maintained as putting us in remembrance of spiritual things.”
“That is precisely our idea,” said the partisans of Romish tradition.
“Finally, as to purgatory, the people shall be taught that Christians ought to pray for the souls of the dead, and give alms, in order that others may pray for them, so that their souls may be relieved of some part of their pain.”
“All that we teach is here approved of,” said the great opponent of Protestantism.
Such was the religion which the prince whom some writers call the father of the Reformation desired to establish in England. If England became Protestant, it was certainly in spite of Henry VIII.
A long debate ensued in convocation and elsewhere. The decided evangelicals could see nothing in these articles but an abandonment of Scripture, a “political daubing,” in which the object was only to please certain persons and to attain certain ends. The men of the moderate party said, on the other hand, “Ought we not to rejoice that the Scriptures and ancient creeds are re-established as rules of faith, without considering the pope?” But above these opposite opinions rose the terrible voice of the king: Sic volo, sic jubeo: Such is my pleasure, such are my orders. If the primate and his friends resisted, they would be set aside and the Reformation lost.
It does not appear that Cranmer had any share in drawing up these articles, but he signed them. It has been said, to excuse him, that neither he, nor many of his colleagues, had at that time a distinct knowledge of such matters, and that they intended to make amendments in the articles; but these allegations are insufficient. Two facts alone explain the concessions of this pious man—the king’s despotic will and the archbishop’s characteristic weakness. He always bent his head, but, we must also acknowledge, it was in order to raise it again. Archbishop Lee, sixteen bishops, forty abbots or priors, and fifty archdeacons or proctors signed after Cromwell and the primate. The articles passed through convocation, because—like Anne’s condemnation—it was the king’s will. Nothing can better explain the concessions of Cranmer, Cromwell, and others in the case of Anne Boleyn, than their support of these articles, which were precisely the opposite of the Scriptural doctrine whose triumph they had at heart. In both cases they had yielded slavishly to those magic words: Le roi le veut: the king wills it. Those four words were sufficient; that man was loyal who sacrificed his own will to the will of the sovereign. It was only by degrees that the free principles of Protestantism were to penetrate among the people, and give England liberty along with order. Still, that excuse is not sufficient; Cranmer would have left a more glorious name if he had suffered martyrdom under Henry VIII, and not waited for the reign of Mary.
When the king’s articles were known, discontent broke out in the opposite parties. “Be silent, you contentious preachers and you factious schoolmen,” said the politicians, “you would sooner disturb the peace of the world, than relinquish or retract one particle!” The articles were sent all over England, with orders that everyone should conform to them or incur the wrath of the king and the Church.
Cranmer did not look upon the game as lost. To bend before the blast, and then rise up again and guide the Reform to a good end, was his system. He first strove to prevent the evil by suggesting measures calculated to remedy it. Convocation resolved that a petition should be addressed to the king, praying him to permit his lay subjects to read the Bible in English, and to order a new translation of it to be made; moreover, a great number of feast days were abolished as favoring “sloth, idleness, thieves, excesses, vagabonds, and riots”; and finally, on the last day of the session (20th of July), convocation declared—to show clearly that there was no question of returning to popery—that there was nothing more pernicious than a general council; and that, consequently, they must decline to attend that which the pope intended to hold in the city of Mantua. Thereupon parliament and convocation were dissolved, and the king did without them for three years.
Henry VIII was satisfied with his minister. Cromwell was created Lord Privy-Seal, the 2nd of July, 1536, baron, and a few days later vicegerent in ecclesiastical matters (in rebus ecclesiasticis). Wishing to tone down what savored too much of the schools in the king’s articles, he circulated among all the priests some instructions which were passably evangelical. “I enjoin you,” he said, “to make your parishioners understand that they do rather apply themselves to the keeping of God’s commandments and fulfilling of His works of charity, and providing for their families, than if they went about to pilgrimages. Advise parents and masters to teach their children and their servants the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Ten Commandments, in their mother tongue.” He even undertook to reform the clergy. “Deans, parsons, vicars, curates, and priests,” he said, “are forbidden to haunt taverns, to drink or brawl after dinner or supper, to play at cards day or night. If they have any leisure, they should read the Scriptures, or occupy themselves with some honest exercise.”
But Cranmer and Cromwell went further than this. They wished to circulate the Holy Scriptures. Tyndale’s version was, in Cromwell’s opinion, too far compromised to be officially circulated; he had, therefore, patronized another translation. Coverdale, who was born in 1488, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, had undertaken (as we have seen) to translate the Bible, and had applied to Cromwell to procure him the necessary books. Tyndale was more independent, a man of firmer and bolder character than Coverdale. He did not seek the aid of men, and finished his work (so to say) alone with God. Coverdale, pious no doubt like his rival, felt the need of being supported, and said, in his letter to Cromwell, that he implored his help, “prostrate on the knees of his heart.”
Coverdale knew Greek and Hebrew. He began his task about 1530; on the 4th of October, 1535, the book appeared, probably at Zurich, under the title: Biblia, the Bible, that is to say, the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament; and reached England in the early part of 1536. At the beginning of the volume was a dedication to Henry VIII, which ended by imploring the divine blessing on the king and on his “dearest just wife, and most virtuous princess, queen Anne.” Cromwell was to present this translation to the king, and circulate it throughout the country; but thisdearest wife, this most virtuous princess had just been accused by Henry, dragged before the tribunals, and beheaded. It was impossible to distribute a single copy of this version without arousing the monarch’s anger. Those who desired that the ship which had come so far should not be wrecked in the harbor had recourse to several expedients. The decapitated queen’s name was Anne, that of the queen-regnant was Jeanne; there was a resemblance between them. Some copies corrected with a pen have instead of queen Anne, queen JAne; in others the name of the queen is simply scratched out. These expedients were not sufficient; a new title-page was printed and dated 1536, the current year.
It seems probable that the king gave his verbal approval to the new translation, but that he showed no appreciation of its merits and no enthusiasm for its circulation. Nevertheless, the Reformation, taught by pious ministers, was spreading in vain. “Not long ago,” they said, “the Lollards were put to death for reading the Gospel in English, and now we are ordered to teach it in that language. We are robbed of our privileges, and our labors are increased.”
The king had proclaimed and laid down his Ten Articles to little purpose; faith gave pious ministers and Christians a courage which the great ones of the earth did not possess. John Gale, pastor of Thwaite, in Suffolk, a quick, decided, but rather imprudent man, attacked the royal articles from his pulpit. But he did not stop there. His church was ornamented with images of the Virgin and Saints, before which the devout used to stick up tapers. “Austin,” said he one day to a parishioner, “follow me”; and the two men, with great exertions, took away the iron rods on which the worshippers used to set their tapers, and turned the images to the wall. “Listen,” said Dr. Barret to his parishioners, “the lifting up of the host betokens simply that the Father has sent his Son to suffer death for man, and the lifting up of the chalice that the Son has shed his blood for our salvation.” “Christ,” said the prior of Dorchester, “does not dwell in churches of stone, but in heaven above and in the hearts of men on earth.” The minister of Hothfield declared that “Our Lady is not the queen of heaven, and has no more power than another woman.” “Pull him out of the pulpit,” said the exasperated bailiff to the vicar. “I dare not,” answered the latter. In fact, the congregation were delighted at hearing their minister say of Jesus, as Peter did, Neither is there salvation in any other, and that very day more than a hundred embraced their pastor’s doctrines. Jerome, vicar of Stepney, endeavored to plant the pure truth of Christ in the conscience, and root out all vain traditions, dreams, and fantasies. Being invited to preach at St. Paul’s Cross, on the fourth Sunday in Lent, he said, “There are two sorts of people among you—the free, who are freely justified without the penance of the law and without meritorious works, and the slaves, who are still under the yoke of the law.” Even a bishop, Barlow of St. David’s, said in a stately cathedral, “If two or three cobblers or weavers, elect of God, meet together in the name of the Lord, they form a true Church of God.”
Proceedings were commenced against those who had thus braved the king’s articles. Jerome appeared before Henry VIII at Westminster. The poor fellow, intimidated by the royal majesty, tremblingly acknowledged that the sacraments were necessary for salvation, but he was burned five years after in the cause of the Gospel. Gale and others were accused of heresy and treason before the criminal court. The books were not spared. There were some, indeed, that went beyond all bounds. One, entitled The little garden of the souls, contained a passage in which the beheading of John the Baptist and of Anne Boleyn were ascribed to the same motive—the reproach of a criminal love uttered against two princes, one by Anne, and the other by John. Henry compared to Herod! Anne Boleyn to Saint John the Baptist! Tunstall denounced this audacious publication to Cromwell.
The crown-officers were to see that the doctrines of the pope were taught everywhere; but, without the pope and his authority, this system has no solid foundation. The Holy Scriptures, to which evangelical Christians appeal, is a firm foundation. The authority of the pope—a vicious principle—at least puts those who admit it in a position to know what they believe. But catholicism with Romish doctrine and without the pope has no ground to stand on. Non-Roman catholicism has but a treacherous support. Another system had already, in the sixteenth century, set up reason as the supreme rule; but it presents a thousand different opinions, and no absolute truth. There is but one real foundation: Thy Word is truth, says Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is Lord.
The Pilgrimage of Grace October, 1536
The bastard system of a catholicism without a pope, put forward by the king, did not enjoy great favor, and the evangelical Reform gained fresh adherents every day. The more consistent popish system endeavored to stand against it. There were still many partisans of Rome in the aristocracy and among the populations of the North. A mighty effort was about to be made to expel both Cranmer’s Protestantism and the king’s catholicism, and restore the papacy to its privileges. A great revolution is rarely accomplished without the friends of the old order of things combining to resist it.
Many members of the House of Lords saw with alarm the House of Commons gaining an influence which it had never possessed before, and taking the initiative in reforms which were not (as they thought) within its sphere. Trained in the hatred of heresy, those noble lords were indignant at seeing heretics invested with the episcopal dignity, and a layman, Cromwell, presuming to direct the convocation of the clergy. Some of them formed a league, and Lord Darcy, who was at their head, had a conference on the subject with the ambassador of Charles V. That prince assured him that he would be supported. The English partisans of the pope, aided by the imperialists, would be amply sufficient, they thought, to re-establish the authority of the Roman pontiff.
There was great agitation especially among the inhabitants of the towns and villages of the North. Those of the counties of York and Lincoln, too remote from London to feel its influence, besides being ignorant and superstitious, were submissive to the priests as to the very representatives of God. The names of the Reformers Luther, Melanchthon, Œcolampadius, and Tyndale were known by the priests, who taught their flocks to detest them. Everything they saw exasperated them. If they went a journey, the monasteries which were their ordinary hostelries existed no longer. If they worked in the fields, they saw approaching them some ragged monk, with tangled hair and beard, with haggard eye, without bread to support him, or roof to shelter him, to whom hatred still gave strength to complain and to curse. These unhappy wretches went roaming up and down the country, knocking at every door; the peasants received them like saints, seated them at their table, and starved themselves for their nourishment. “See,” said the monks, showing their rags to the people about them, “see to what a condition the members of Jesus Christ are reduced! A schismatic and heretical prince has expelled us from the houses of the Lord. But the Holy Father has excommunicated and dethroned him; no one should henceforth obey him.” Such words produced their effect.
In the autumn of 1536, the ferment increased among the inhabitants of the rural districts who had no longer their field labors to divert them. They assembled in great numbers round the monasteries to see what the king meant to do with them. They looked on at a distance, and with angry eyes watched the commissioners who at times behaved violently, indulged in exactions, or threw down, one after another, the stones of the building which had been held for so long in reverence. Another day they saw the agent of some lord settle in the monastery with his wife, children, and servants; they heard those profane lay-folks laugh and chatter as they entered the sacred doors, whose thresholds had until now been trodden only by the sandals of the silent monks. A report spread abroad that the monasteries still surviving were also about to be suppressed. Dr. Makerel, formerly prior of Barlings, disguised as a laborer, and a monk (some writers say a shoemaker) named Nicholas Melton, who received the name of “Captain Cobbler,” endeavored to inflame men’s minds and drive them to revolt. Everywhere the people listened to the agitators, and ere long the superior clergy appeared in the line of battle. “Neither the king’s Highness nor any temporal man,” they said, “may be supreme head of the Church. The Pope of Rome is Christ’s vicar, and must alone be acknowledged as supreme head of Christendom.”
On Monday, 2nd of October, 1536, the ecclesiastical commission was to visit the parish of Louth in Lincolnshire, and the clergy of the district were ordered to be present. Only a few days before, a neighboring monastery had been suppressed and two of Cromwell’s agents placed in it to see to the closing. The evening before the inspection (it was a Sunday) a number of the townspeople brought out a large silver cross which belonged to the parish, and shouting out, “Follow the cross! All follow the cross! God knows if we can do so for long,” marched in procession through the town, with Melton leading the way. Some went to the church, took possession of the consecrated jewels, and remained under arms all night to guard them for fear the royal commissioners should carry them off. On Monday morning one of the commissioners, who had no suspicions, quietly rode into the town, followed by a single servant. All of a sudden the alarm bell was rung, and a crowd of armed men filled the streets. The terrified commissioner ran into the church, hoping to find it an inviolable asylum; but the mob laid hold of him, dragged him out into the market-place, and pointing a sword at his breast, said to him, “Swear fidelity to the commons or you are a dead man.” All the town took an oath to be faithful “to God, the King, and the commons, for the wealth of Holy Church.” On Tuesday morning the alarm bell was rung again; the cobbler and a tailor named Big Jack marched out, followed by a crowd of men, some on foot and some on horseback. Whole parishes, headed by their priests, joined them and marched with the rest. The monks prayed aloud for the pope, and cried out that if the gentry did not join them they should all be hanged; but gentlemen and even sheriffs united with the tumultuous troops. Twenty thousand men of Lincolnshire were in arms. England, like Germany, had its peasants’ revolt; but while Luther was opposed to it, the archbishop of York, with many abbots and priests, encouraged it in England.
The insurgents did not delay proclaiming their grievances. They declared that if the monasteries were restored, men of mean birth dismissed from the Council, and heretic bishops deprived, they would acknowledge the king as head of the Church. The movement was instigated by the monks more than by the pope. Great disorders were committed.
The court was plunged into consternation by this revolt. The king, who had no standing army, felt his weakness, and his anger knew no bounds. “What!” he said to the traitors (for such was the name he gave them) “what! do you, the rude commons of one shire, and that one of the most brute and beastly (stupid) of the whole realm, presume to find fault with your king? Return to your homes, surrender to our lieutenants a hundred of your leaders, and prepare to submit to such condign punishment as we shall think you worthy of; otherwise you will expose yourselves, your wives and children, your lands and goods, not only to the indignation of God, but to utter destruction by force and violence of the sword.”
Such threats as these only served to increase the commotion. “Christianity is going to be abolished,” said the priests, “you will soon find yourselves under the sword of Turks! But whoever sheds his blood with us shall inherit eternal glory.” The people crowded to them from all quarters. Lord Shrewsbury, sent by the king against the rebellion, being unable to collect more than 3,000men, and having to contend against ten times as many, had halted at Nottingham. London already imagined the rebels were at its gates, and mighty exertions were made. Sir John Russell and the duke of Suffolk were sent forward with forces hurriedly equipped.
The insurgents were numerically strong, but with no efficient leader or store of provisions. Two opinions arose among them; the gentlemen and farmers cried, “Home, home!” The priests and the people shouted, “To arms!” The party of the friends of order continued increasing, and at last prevailed. The duke of Suffolk entered Lincoln on October 17, and the rebels dispersed.
A still greater danger threatened the established order of things. The men of the North were more extreme than those of Lincoln. On October 8 there was a riot at Beverley, in Yorkshire. A Westminster lawyer, Robert Aske, who had passed his vacation in field-sports, was returning to London, when he was stopped by the rebels and proclaimed their leader. On October 15 he marched to York and replaced the monks in possession of their monasteries. Lord Darcy, an old soldier of Ferdinand of Spain and Louis XII and a warm papal partisan, quitted his castle of Pontefract to join the insurrection. The priests stirred up the people, and ere long, the army, which amounted to at least 30,000 men, formed a long procession, “the Pilgrimage of Grace,” which marched through the county of York. Each parish paraded under a captain, priests carrying the church cross in front by way of flag. A large banner, which floated in the midst of this multitude, represented on one side Christ with the five wounds on a cross, and on the other a plough, a chalice, a pix, and a hunting-horn. Every pilgrim wore embroidered on his sleeve the five wounds of Christ with the name of Jesus in the midst. The insurgents had a thousand bows and as many bills, besides other arms, but hardly one poor copy of the Testament of Christ. “Ah!” said Latimer, preaching in Lincolnshire, “I will tell you what is the true Christian man’s pilgrimage. There are, the Savior tells us, eight days’ journeys.” Then he described the eight beatitudes in the most evangelical manner—the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and the rest.
Aske’s pilgrimage was of another sort. Addressing the people of those parts, he said to them, “Lords, knights, masters, and friends, evil-disposed persons have filled the king’s mind with new inventions; the holy body of the Church has been despoiled. We have therefore undertaken this pilgrimage for the reformation of what is amiss and the punishment of heretics. If you will not come with us we will fight and die against you.” Bonfires were lighted on all the hills to call the people to arms. Wherever these new crusaders appeared the monks were replaced in their monasteries and the peasants constrained to join the pilgrimage, under pain of seeing their houses pulled down, their goods seized, and their bodies handed over to the mercy of the captains.
There was this notable difference between the revolt in Germany and that in the North of England. In Germany, a few nobles only joined the people and were compelled to do so. In England, almost all the nobility of the North rallied to it of their own accord. The earls of Westmorland, Rutland, and Huntingdon, Lords Latimer, Lumley, Scrope, Conyers, and the representatives of several other great families followed the example of old Lord Darcy. One single nobleman, Percy, earl of Northumberland, remained faithful to the king. He had been ill since the unjust sentence which had struck the loyal wife of Henry VIII—a sentence in which he had refused to join—and was now at his castle lying on a bed of pain which was soon to be the bed of death. The rebels surrounded his dwelling and summoned him to join the insurrection. He might now have avenged the crime committed by Henry VIII against Anne Boleyn, but he refused. Savage voices shouted out, “Cut off his head, and make Sir Thomas Percy earl in his stead.” But the noble and courageous man said calmly to those around him, “I can die but once; let them kill me, and so put an end to my sorrows.”
The king, more alarmed at this revolt than at the former one, asked with terror whether his people desired to force him to re-place his neck under the detested yoke of the pope. In this crisis he displayed great activity. Being at Windsor, he wrote letter after letter to Cromwell. “I will sell all my plate,” he said. “Go to the Tower, take as much plate as you may want, and coin it into money.” Henry displayed no less intelligence than decision. He named as commander of his little army a devoted servant, who was also the chief of the papal party at the court—the duke of Norfolk. Once already, for the condemnation of the protestant Anne Boleyn, Henry had selected this chief of the Romish party. This clever policy succeeded equally well for the king in both affairs.
London, Windsor, and all the south of England were in great commotion. People imagined that the papacy, borne on the lusty arms of the northern men, was about to return in triumph into the capital, that perhaps the Catholic king of the Scots, Henry’s nephew, would enter with it and place England once more under the papal scepter. The friends of the Gospel were deeply agitated. “That great captain the devil,” said Latimer in the London pulpits, “has all sorts of ordnance to shoot at Christian men. These men of the North, who wear the cross and the wounds before and behind, are marching against Him who bare the cross and suffered those wounds. They have risen (they say) to support the king, and they are fighting against him. They come forward in the name of the Church, and fight against the Church, which is the congregation of faithful men. Let us fight with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”
The rebels, far from being calmed, showed—part of them at least—that they were animated by the vilest sentiments. A body of insurgents had invested the castle of Skipton, the only place in the county of York which still held for the king. The wife and daughters of Lord Clifford, and other ladies who inhabited it, happened to be at an abbey not far off, just when the castle was beleaguered. The insurgents caused Lord Clifford to be informed that if he did not surrender, his wife and daughters would be brought next day to the foot of the walls and be given up to the camp-followers. In the middle of the night, Christopher Aske, brother of Robert, who had remained faithful, crept through the camp of the besiegers, and by unfrequented roads succeeded in bringing into the castle all those ladies, whom he thus saved from the most infamous outrages.
Robert Aske, Lord Darcy, the archbishop of York, and several other leaders had their headquarters at Pontefract castle, where Lancaster Herald, dispatched by the king, presented himself on the 21st of October. After passing through many troops of armed men—”very cruel fellows,” he says—he was at last introduced to the great captain. Seeing Lord Darcy and the archbishop before him—persons more important than the Westminster lawyer—the Herald began to address them. Aske was offended, and rising from his seat told him haughtily that he was the person to be addressed. The messenger discharged his mission. He represented to the leaders of the rebellion that they were but a handful before the great power of his Majesty, and that the king had done nothing in regard to religion but what the clergy of York and Canterbury had acknowledged to be in conformity with the Word of God. When the speech was ended, Aske, as if he did not care for the Herald’s words, said rudely to him, “Show me your proclamation.” “He behaved,” wrote the envoy, “as though he had been some great prince, with great rigor and like a tyrant.” “Herald,” said Aske, “this proclamation shall neither be read at the market-cross nor elsewhere amongst my people. We want the redress of our grievances, and we will die fighting to obtain them.” The Herald asked what were their grievances. “My followers and I,” replied the chief, “will walk in pilgrimage to London, to his Majesty, to expel from the council all the vile blood in it, and set up all the noble blood again, and also to obtain the full restitution of Christ’s Church.” “Will you give me that in writing?” said the Herald. Aske gave him the oath which the rebels took, and at the same time putting his hand on the paper, he said with a loud voice, “This is my act; I will die in its defense, and all my followers will die with me.” The Herald, intimidated by the authoritative tone of the chief, bent his knee before the rebel captain, for which he was brought to trial and executed in the following year. “Give him a guard of forty men, and see him out of town,” said Aske.
Forthwith 30,000 well-armed men, of whom 12,000 were mounted, set out under the orders of Aske, Lord Darcy, and other noblemen of the country. Norfolk had only a small force, which he could not trust; accordingly the rebels were convinced that when they appeared, the king’s soldiers and perhaps the duke himself would join them. The rebel army arrived on the banks of the Don, on the other side of which (at Doncaster) the king’s forces were stationed. Those ardent men, who were six against one, inflamed by monks who were impatient to return to their nests, proposed to pass the Don, overthrow Norfolk, enter London, dictate to the king the execution of all the partisans of the Reformation, and restore the papal power in England. The rising of the water, increased by heavy rains, did not permit them to cross the river. Every hour’s delay was a gain to the royal cause; the insurgents, having brought no provisions with them, were forced to disband to go in search of them elsewhere. Norfolk took advantage of this to circulate an address among the rebels. “Unhappy men!” it said, “what folly hath led you to make this most shameful rebellion against our most righteous king, who hath kept you in peace against all your enemies? Fye, for shame! How can you do this to one who loves you more than all his subjects? If you do not return, every man to his house, we will show you the hardest courtesy that ever was shown to men, that have loved you so well as we have done. But if you go to your homes, you shall have us most humble suitors to his Highness for you.” This proclamation was signed by Lords Norfolk, Shrewsbury, Exeter, Rutland, and Huntingdon, all catholics, and the greatest names in England.
The insurgents thus found themselves in the most difficult position. They must attack the supporters of their own cause. If the lords who had signed the proclamation were slain, England would lose her best councilors, and her greatest generals, and the Church would be deprived of the most zealous catholics. The strength of England would be sacrificed and the country opened to her enemies. Old Lord Darcy was for attacking; young Robert Aske for negotiation. On the 27th of October, commissioners from both parties met on the bridge leading to Doncaster. The rebel commissioners consented to lay down their arms, provided the heresies of Luther, Wycliffe, Huss, Melanchthon, Œcolampadius, and the works of Tyndale were destroyed and nullified; that the supremacy was restored to the see of Rome; that the suppressed abbeys were re-established; that heretical bishops and lords were punished by fire or otherwise; and that a parliament was held promptly at Nottingham or York.
There could no longer be any doubt that the object of the insurrection was to crush the Reformation. The names of most of the reformers were mentioned in the articles, and fire or sword were to do justice to the most illustrious of their adherents. The same evening they handed in a letter addressed To the King’s Royal Highness. From Doncaster, this Saturday, at eleven of the clock at night. Haste, post, haste, haste, haste! The rebels themselves were in such haste that they waited no longer. The next day (28th of October) the king’s lieutenant announced at one in the afternoon that the insurgents had dispersed and were returning to their homes. Two of the rebel leaders were to carry the stipulated conditions to the king, and Norfolk was to accompany them. That zealous catholic was not perhaps without a hope that the petition would induce Henry to become reconciled to the pope. He was greatly deceived.
It was clear that the king was rapidly gaining the upper hand. Norfolk caused the rebels to believe that their demands would be met. In the outcome, however, this was not the case. The king benefited by delay. He was able to build up his forces in the North, and early in December, in consequence of threats and promises, the rebel army finally broke up. The one formidable insurrection of Henry’s reign was over.
Thus God had scattered the forces of those who had stood up against Wycliffe, Huss, and Luther. The kingdom resumed its usual tranquility. A little later the men of the North, excited by the intrigues of the pope and Reginald Pole, now a cardinal, again took up arms, but they were defeated; seventy of them were hanged on the walls of Carlisle, and Lords Darcy and Hussey, with sundry barons, abbots, priors, and a great number of priests, were executed in different places. The scheming archbishop of York alone escaped, it is not known how. The cottages, parsonages, and castles of the North were filled with anguish and terror. Henry, who cut off the heads of his most intimate friends and of his queen, did not think of sparing rebels. It was a terrible lesson, but not very effectual. The priests did not lose their courage; they still kept asking for the re-establishment of the pope, the death of the Lutherans, and the annihilation of the Reform. An event which occurred at this time seemed likely to favor their desires. A great blow was about to be dealt against the Reformation. But the ways of God are not as our ways, and from what seems destined to compromise His cause, He often makes His triumph proceed.
The Martyrdom of Tyndale 1535 to October 1536
Most of the reformers, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, and others, have acquired that name by their preachings, their writings, their struggles, and their actions. It is not so with the principal reformer of England; all his activity was concentered in the Holy Scriptures. Tyndale was less prominent than the other instruments of God who were awakened to upraise the Church. We might say that, knowing the weakness of man, he had retired and hidden himself to allow the Word from Heaven to act by itself. He had studied it, translated it, and sent it over the sea; it must now do its own work. Is it not written, The field is the world, and the seed is the Word? But there is another characteristic, or rather another fact, which distinguishes him from them, and this we have to describe.
While Pole and the papistical party, the new adversaries of Henry VIII, were agitating on the continent, Tyndale, the man whom the king had pursued so long without being able to catch, was in prison at Vilvorde, near Brussels. In vain was he girt around with the thick walls of that huge fortress. Tyndale was free. “There is the captivity and bondage,” he could say, “whence Christ delivered us, redeemed and loosed us. His blood, His death, His patience in suffering rebukes and wrongs, His prayers and fastings, His meekness and fulfilling of the uttermost point of the law… broke the bonds of Satan, wherein we were so strait bound.” Thus Tyndale was as truly free at Vilvorde, as Paul had been at Rome.
For some years before his arrest, Tyndale had been laboring hard to produce a translation of the Old Testament worthy to take its place beside his English New Testament of 1525, and in the task he had realized his need of a skilled and sympathetic assistant. At that time there lived at Antwerp, as chaplain to the English merchants in that city, a young man from the county of Warwick, named John Rogers, who had been educated at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, and was a little more than thirty years old. Rogers was learned, but submissive to the Romish traditions. Tyndale having made his acquaintance, asked him to help in translating the Holy Scriptures, and Rogers caught joyfully at the opportunity of employing his Greek and Hebrew. Close and constant contact with the Word of God gradually effected in him that great transformation, that total renewal of the man which is the object of redemption. “I have found the true light in the Gospel,” he said one day to Tyndale, “I now see the filthiness of Rome, and I cast from my shoulders the heavy yoke it has imposed upon me.” From that hour Tyndale received from Rogers the help which he had formerly received from John Fryth, that pious martyr, whose example Rogers was to follow by enduring the punishment of fire—the first to do so under Mary. The Holy Scriptures have been written in English with the blood of martyrs—if we may so speak—the blood of Fryth, Tyndale, and Rogers; it is a crown of glory for that translation.
It is highly probable that Tyndale, before his imprisonment, had completed his Old Testament translation as far as the end of the Books of Chronicles. The manuscript was left by him in the capable hands of Rogers, who pressed on so diligently with the work of printing, that a few months before Tyndale was burned, an English version of the entire Bible was in circulation in his native land. Rogers did not himself undertake the translation of the remainder of the Old Testament but made use of the version which Myles Coverdale had already published.
Doubtless, Tyndale took pleasure in his gloomy dungeon in following with his mind’s eye the divine Scripture from city to city and from cottage to cottage; his imagination pictured to him the struggles it would have to go through, and also its victories. “The Word of God,” he said, “never was without persecution—no more than the sun can be without his light. By what right doth the pope forbid God to speak in the English tongue? Why should not the sermons of the apostles, preached no doubt in the mother tongue of those who heard them, be now written in the mother tongue of those who read them?” Tyndale did not think of proving the divinity of the Bible by learned dissertations. “Scripture derives its authority from Him who sent it,” he said. “Would you know the reason why men believe in Scripture? It is Scripture. It is itself the instrument which outwardly leads men to believe, whilst inwardly, the Spirit of God Himself, speaking through Scripture, gives faith to His children.” We do not know for certain in what city Rogers printed the great English folio Bible, but it was probably Antwerp. Extraordinary precautions were required to prevent the persecutors from entering the house where men had the boldness to print the Word of God, and from breaking the printing presses. Tyndale had the great comfort of knowing that the whole Bible was going to be published, and that prophets, apostles, and Christ Himself would speak by it after his death.
This man, so active, so learned, and so truly great, whose works circulated far and wide with so much power, had at the same time within him a pure and beneficent light—the love of God and of man—which shed its mild rays on all around him. The depth of his faith, the charm of his conversation, the uprightness of his conduct touched those who came near him. The gaoler liked to bring him his food, in order to talk with him, and his daughter often accompanied him and listened eagerly to the words of the pious Englishman. Tyndale spoke of Jesus Christ; it seemed to him that the riches of the divine Spirit were about to transform Christendom, that the children of God were about to be manifested, and that the Lord was about to gather together his elect. “Summer is nigh,” he was wont to say, “for the trees blossom.” In truth, young shoots and even old trees, long barren, flourished within the very walls of the castle. The gaoler, his daughter, and other members of their house were converted to the Gospel by Tyndale’s life and doctrine. However dark the machinations of his enemies, they could not obscure the divine light kindled in his heart, and which shone before men. There was an invincible power in this Christian man. Full of hope in the final victory of Jesus Christ, he courageously trampled under foot tribulations, trials, and death itself. He believed in the victory of the Word. “I am bound like a malefactor,” he said, “but the Word of God is not bound.” The bitterness of his last days was changed into great peace and divine sweetness.
His friends did not forget him. Among the English merchants at Antwerp was one whose affection had often reminded him that “friendship is the assemblage of every virtue,” as a wise man of antiquity styles it. Thomas Poyntz, one of whose ancestors had come over from Normandy with William the Conqueror, had perhaps known the reformer in the house of Lady Walsh, who also belonged to this ancient family. For nearly a year the merchant had entertained the translator of the Scriptures beneath his roof, and a mutual and unlimited confidence was established between them. When Poyntz saw his friend in prison, he resolved to do everything possible to save him. Poyntz’s elder brother, John, who had retired to his estate at North Ockenden, in Essex, had accompanied the king in 1520 to the Field of Cloth of Gold, and although no longer at court, he still enjoyed the favor of Henry VIII. Thomas determined to write to John. “Brother,” he said, “William Tyndale is in prison, and likely to suffer death, unless the king should extend his gracious help to him. He has lain in my house three quarters of a year, and I know that the king has never a truer-hearted subject. When the pope gave his Majesty the title of Defender of the Faith, he prophesied like Caiaphas. The papists thought our prince should be a great maintainer of their abominations, but God has entered his Grace into the right battle. The king should know that the death of this man will be one of the highest pleasures to the enemies of the Gospel. If it might please his Majesty to send for this man, it might, by the means thereof, be opened to the court and council of this country (Brabant) that they would be at another point with the bishop of Rome within a short space.”
The letter is dated the 25th of August, and was forwarded by John Poyntz to the vicar-general on the 21st of September. Meanwhile, however, having received information from other sources, Cromwell had, with the king’s approval, already taken action, for by the 4th of September he had prepared letters to be sent to two leading members of the Council of Brabant. On the 10th of September, 1535, a messenger arrived in Antwerp with two letters from the vicar-general—one for the marquis of Bergen-op-Zoom, and the other for Carondolet, archbishop of Palermo and president of the council of Brabant. Alas! the marquis had started two days before for Germany, whither he was conducting the princess of Denmark. Thomas Poyntz mounted his horse, and caught up the escort about fifteen miles from Maestricht. The marquis hurriedly glanced over Cromwell’s dispatch. “I have no leisure to write,” he said, “the princess is making ready to depart.” “I will follow you to the next baiting-place,” answered Tyndale’s indefatigable friend. “Be it so,” replied Bergen-op-Zoom.
On arriving at Maestricht, the marquis wrote to the Company of Merchant Adventurers, to Cromwell, and to his friend the archbishop, president of the council of Brabant, and gave the three letters to Poyntz. The latter presented the letters of Cromwell and of the marquis to the president, but the archbishop and the council of Brabant were opposed to Tyndale. Poyntz immediately started for London, and laid the answer of the council before Cromwell, entreating him to insist that Tyndale should be immediately set at liberty, for the danger was great. The answer was delayed a month. Poyntz handed it to the Emperor’s Council at Brussels, and every day this true and generous friend went to the office to learn the result. “Your request will be granted,” said one of the clerks on the fourth day. Poyntz was transported with joy. Tyndale was saved.
The traitor Philips, however, who had delivered Tyndale to his enemies, was then at Louvain. He had run away from Antwerp, knowing that the English merchants were angry with him, and had sold his books with the intent of escaping to Paris. But the Louvain priests, who still needed him, reassured him, and remaining in that stronghold of Romanism, he began to translate into Latin such passages in Tyndale’s writings as he thought best calculated to offend the catholics. He was thus occupied when the news of Tyndale’s approaching deliverance filled him and his friends with alarm. What was to be done? He thought the only means of preventing the liberation of the prisoner was to shut up the liberator himself. Philips went straight to the procurator-general. “That man, Poyntz,” he said, “is as much a heretic as Tyndale.” Two sergeants-of-arms were sent to keep watch over Poyntz at his house, and for six days in succession he was examined upon a hundred different articles. At the beginning of February 1536, he learned that he was about to be sent to prison, and knowing what would follow, he formed a prompt resolution. One night, when the sergeants-of-arms were asleep, he escaped and left the city early, just as the gates were opened. Horsemen were sent in search of him; but as Poyntz knew the country well, he escaped them, got on board a ship, and arrived safe and sound at his brother’s house at North Ockenden.
When Tyndale heard of this escape, he knew what it indicated; but he was not overwhelmed, and almost at the foot of the scaffold, he bravely fought many a tough battle. The Louvain doctors undertook to make him abjure his faith, and represented to him that he was condemned by the Church. “The authority of Jesus Christ,” answered Tyndale, “is independent of the authority of the Church.” They called upon him to make submission to the successor of the Apostle Peter. “Holy Scripture,” he said, “is the first of the Apostles, and the ruler in the kingdom of Christ.” The Romish doctors ineffectually attacked him in his prison; he showed them that they were entangled in vain traditions and miserable superstitions, and overthrew all their pretenses.
A most interesting memento of Tyndale’s confinement at Vilvorde, and the only surviving document in the reformer’s own hand, has come to light in the archives of the Council of Brabant. It is a letter, written in Latin, which Tyndale addressed in all probability to the governor of the prison, and is worthy of being quoted in full:
“I believe, right worshipful, that you are not ignorant of what has been determined concerning me (by the Council of Brabant); therefore I entreat your lordship and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here (in Vilvorde) during the winter, you will request the Commissary to be kind enough to send me from my goods which he has in his possession, a warmer cap, for I suffer extremely from cold in the head, being afflicted with a perpetual catarrh, which is considerably increased in this cell. A warmer coat also, for that which I have is very thin: also a piece of cloth to patch my leggings; my overcoat is worn out; my shirts are also worn out. He has a woollen shirt of mine, if he will be kind enough to send it. I have also with him leggings of thicker cloth for putting on above; he has also warmer night caps. I wish also his permission to have a lamp in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark. But above all I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the Commissary that he may kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may spend my time with that study. And in return, may you obtain your dearest wish, provided always it be consistent with the salvation of your soul. But if, before the close of the winter, a different decision be reached concerning me, I shall be patient, abiding the will of God to the glory of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose Spirit, I pray, may ever direct your heart. Amen.
What reception this letter met with we do not know, but the noble dignity which marks its style is a tribute to the continued power of the word of the truth of the Gospel in the life and witness of the illustrious prisoner. In season and out of season he bore faithful testimony to the word of divine grace, until “death God’s endless mercies sealed, and made the sacrifice complete.”
During this time Poyntz was working with all his might in England to ward off the blow by which his friend was about to be struck. John assisted Thomas, but all was useless. The king cared very little for these evangelicals. His religion consisted in rejecting the Roman pontiff and making himself pope; as for those reformers, let them be burnt in Brabant, it will save him the trouble.
All hope was not, however, lost. They had confidence in the vicegerent, the hammer of the monks. On the 13th of April Stephen Vaughan wrote to Cromwell from Antwerp, “If you will send me a letter for the privy-council, I can still save Tyndale from the fire; only make haste, for if you are slack about it, it will be too late.” But there were cases in which Cromwell could do nothing without the king, and Henry was deaf. He had special motives at that time for sacrificing Tyndale; the discontent which broke out in the North of England made him desirous of conciliating the Low Countries. Charles V also, who was vigorously attacked by Francis I, prayed his very good brother (Henry VIII) to unite with him for the public good of Christendom. Queen Mary, regent of the Netherlands, wrote from Brussels to her uncle, entreating him to yield to this prayer, and the king was quite ready to abandon Tyndale to such powerful allies. Mary, a woman of upright heart but feeble character, easily yielded to outward impressions, and had at that time bad counselors about her. “Those animals (the monks) are all powerful at the Court of Brussels,” said Erasmus. “Mary is only a puppet placed there by our nation; Montigny is the plaything of the Franciscans; the cardinal-archbishop of Liége is a domineering person, and full of violence; and as for the archbishop of Palermo, he is a mere giver of words and nothing else.”
Among such personages, and under their influence, the court was formed, and the trial of the English reformer began. Tyndale refused to be represented by counsel. “I will answer my accusers myself,” he said. The doctrine for which he was tried was this: “The man who throws off the worldly existence which he has lived far from God, and receives by a living faith the complete remission of his sins, which the death of Christ has purchased for him, is introduced by a glorious adoption into the very family of God.” This was certainly a crime for which a reformer could joyfully suffer. In August 1536, Tyndale appeared before the ecclesiastical court. “You are charged,” said his judges, “with having infringed the imperial decree which forbids anyone to teach that faith alone justifies.” The accusation was not without truth. A new edition of Tyndale’s Wicked Mammon had just appeared in London under the title Treatise of Justification by Faith only. Every man could read in it the crime with which he was charged.
Tyndale had his reasons when he declared he would defend himself. It was not his own cause that he undertook to defend, but the cause of the Bible; a Brabant lawyer would have supported it very poorly. It was in his heart to proclaim solemnly, before he died, that while all human religions make salvation proceed from the works of man, the divine religion makes it proceed from a work of God. “A man, whom the sense of his sins has confounded,” said Tyndale, “loses all confidence and joy. The first thing to be done to save him is, therefore, to lighten him of the heavy burden under which his conscience is bowed down. He must believe in the perfect work of Christ which reconciles him completely with God; then he has peace, and Christ imparts to him, by His Spirit, a holy regeneration.” “Yes,” he exclaimed, “we believe and are at peace in our consciences, because that God who cannot lie, hath promised to forgive us for Christ’s sake. … As a child, when his father threateneth him for his fault, hath never rest till he hear the word of mercy and forgiveness of his father’s mouth again; but as soon as he heareth his father say, ‘Go thy way, do me no more so; I forgive thee this fault!’ then is his heart at rest; then runneth he to no man to make intercession for him; neither, though there come any false merchant, saying, ‘What wilt thou give me and I will obtain pardon of thy father for thee?’ will he suffer himself to be beguiled. No, he will not buy of a wily fox what his father hath given him freely.”
Tyndale had spoken to the consciences of his hearers, and some of them were beginning to believe that his cause was the cause of the Gospel. “Truly,” exclaimed the procurator-general, as did formerly the centurion near the cross, “truly this was a good, learned, and pious man.” But the priests would not allow so costly a prey to be snatched from them. Tyndale was declared guilty of erroneous, captious, rash, ill-sounding, dangerous, scandalous, and heretical propositions, and was condemned to be solemnly degraded and then handed over to the secular power. They were eager to make him go through the ceremonial, even all the mummeries, used on such occasions; it was too good a case to allow of any curtailment. The reformer was dressed in his sacerdotal robes, the sacred vessels were placed in his hands, and he was taken before the bishop. The latter, having been informed of the crime of the accused man, stripped him of the ornaments of his order, and after a barber had shaved the whole of his head, the bishop declared him deprived of the crown of the priesthood, and expelled, like an undutiful child, from the inheritance of the Lord.
One day would have been sufficient to cut off from this world the man who was its ornament, and those who walked in the darkness of fanaticism waited impatiently for the fatal hour; but the secular power hesitated for a while, and the reformer stayed nearly two months longer in prison, always full of faith, peace, and joy. “Well,” said those who came near him in the castle of Vilvorde, “if that man is not a good Christian, we do not know of one upon earth.” Religious courage was personified in Tyndale. He had never suffered himself to be stopped by any difficulty, privation, or suffering; he had resolutely followed the call he had received, which was to give England the Word of God. Nothing had terrified him, nothing had dispirited him; with admirable perseverance he had continued his work, and now he was going to give his life for it. Firm in his convictions, he had never sacrificed the least truth to prudence or to fear; firm in his hope, he had never doubted that the labor of his life would bear fruit, for that labor had the promises of God. A pious and intrepid man, he is one of the noblest examples of Christian heroism.
The faint hope which some of Tyndale’s friends had entertained, on seeing the delay of “justice,” was soon destroyed. The imperial government prepared at last to complete the wishes of the priests. Friday, the 6th of October, 1536, was the day that terminated the miserable but glorious life of the reformer. The gates of the prison rolled back, a procession crossed the foss and the bridge under which slept the waters of the Senne, passed the outer walls, and halted without the fortifications. Before leaving the castle, Tyndale, a grateful friend, had entrusted the gaoler with a letter intended for Poyntz; the gaoler took it himself to Antwerp not long after, but it has not come down to us. On arriving at the scene of punishment, the reformer found a numerous crowd assembled. The government had wished to show the people the punishment of a heretic, but they only witnessed the triumph of a martyr. Tyndale was calm. “I call God to record,” he could say, “that I have never altered, against the voice of my conscience, one syllable of His Word. Nor would do this day, if all the pleasures, honors, and riches of the earth might be given me.” The joy of hope filled his heart; yet one painful idea took possession of him. Dying far from his country, abandoned by his king, he felt saddened at the thought of that prince, who had already persecuted so many of God’s servants, and who remained obstinately rebellious against that divine light which everywhere shone around him. Tyndale would not have that soul perish through carelessness. His charity buried all the faults of the monarch; he prayed that those sins might be blotted out from before the face of God; he would have saved Henry VIII at any cost. While the executioner was fastening him to the post, the reformer exclaimed in a loud and suppliant voice, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes!” They were his last words. Instantly afterwards he was strangled, and flames consumed the martyr’s body. His last cry was wafted to the British isles, and repeated in every assembly of Christians. A great death had crowned a great life. “Such,” says the old chronicler, John Foxe, “such is the story of that true servant and martyr of God, William Tyndale, who, for his notable pains and travail, may well be called the Apostle of England in this our later age.”
His fellow countrymen profited by the work of his life. After the arrival in England of the first copies of Tyndale’s New Testament early in 1526, edition followed rapidly upon edition. It was like a mighty river continually bearing new waters to the sea. Did the reformer’s death dry them up suddenly? No. A greater work still was to be accomplished; the entire Bible (Matthew’s Bible) was already circulating privately. The king had refused his consent to the circulation of Coverdale’s Bible; would he not do the same with this, and with greater reason? A powerful protector alone could secure the free circulation of Scripture. Richard Grafton, the printer, went to London to ask permission openly to sell the precious volume, and with the intention of applying to Cranmer.
Would Cranmer protect it? The king and Cromwell had declared against Tyndale, and the primate had looked on; that was too much his custom. His essentially prudent mind, the conviction he felt that he could do no good to the Church unless he kept the place he occupied, and perhaps his love of life inclined him to yield to his master’s despotic will. So long as Henry VIII was on the throne of England, Cranmer was (humanly speaking) the only possible reformer. A John the Baptist, a Knox would have been dashed to pieces at the first shock. The scepter was then an axe; to save the head, it was necessary to bend it. The primate, therefore, bent his head frequently. He hid himself during the royal anger, but when the storm had passed he appeared again. The primate was the victim of an error. He had said that the king ought to command the Church, and every time the tyrant’s order was heard, he appeared to believe that God Himself enjoined him to obey. Cranmer was the image of his Church which, under the weight of its greatness and with many weaknesses hidden beneath its robes, has notwithstanding always had within it a mighty principle of truth and life.
Grafton, the printer, had an audience of the archbishop at Forde, in Kent; he presented the martyr’s Bible, and asked him to procure its free circulation. The archbishop took the book, examined it, and was delighted with it. Fidelity, clearness, strength, simplicity, unction—all were combined in this admirable translation. Cranmer had much eagerness in proposing what he thought useful. He sent the volume to Cromwell, begging him to present it to his Majesty and obtain permission for it to be sold, “until such time that we (the bishops),” he added, “shall put forth a better translation—which, I think, will not be till a day after doomsday.”
Henry ran over the book; Tyndale’s name was not in it, and the dedication to his Majesty was very well written. The king regarding (and not without reason) Holy Scripture as the most powerful engine to destroy the papal system, and believing that this translation would help him to emancipate England from the Romish domination, came to an unexpected resolution; he authorized the sale and the reading of the Bible throughout the kingdom. The book carried the words at the foot of its title page, “Set forth with the Kinges most gracyous lycence.” All Englishmen might safely buy and read it. Inconsistent and whimsical prince! At one and the same time he published and imposed all over his realm the doctrines of Romanism, and circulated without obstacle the Divine Word that overthrew them! We may well say that the blood of a martyr, precious in the eyes of the Supreme King, opened the gates of England to the Holy Scriptures. Cromwell having informed the archbishop of the royal decision, the latter exclaimed, “What you have just done gives me more pleasure than if you had given me a thousand pounds. I doubt not but that hereby such fruit of good knowledge shall ensue, that it shall well appear hereafter, what high and acceptable service you have done unto God and the king, which shall so much redound to your honor that (besides God’s reward) you shall obtain perpetual memory for the same.”
For centuries the English people had been waiting for such a permission, even from before the time of Wycliffe, and accordingly the Bible circulated rapidly. The impetuosity with which the living waters rushed forth, carrying with them everything they met in their course, was like the sudden opening of a huge floodgate. This great event, more important than divorces, treaties, and wars, was the conquest of England by the Reformation. “It was a wonderful thing to see,” says an old historian. Whoever possessed the means bought the book and read it or had it read to him by others. Aged persons learned their letters in order to study the Holy Scriptures of God. In many places there were meetings for reading; poor people clubbed their savings together and purchased a Bible, and then in some remote corner of the church, they modestly formed a circle, and read the Holy Book between them. A crowd of men, women, and young folks, disgusted with the barren pomp of the altars, and with the worship of dumb images, would gather round them to taste the precious promises of the Gospel. God Himself spoke under the arched roofs of those old chapels or time-worn cathedrals, where for generations nothing had been heard but masses and litanies. The people wished, instead of the noisy chants of the priests, to hear the voice of Jesus Christ, of Paul and of John, of Peter and of James. The Christianity of the apostles reappeared in the Church.
But with it came persecution, according to the words of the Master: The brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child. A father, exasperated because his son, a mere boy, had taken part in these holy readings, caught him by the hair, and put a cord round his neck to hang him. In all the towns and villages of Tyndale’s country the holy pages were opened, and the delighted readers found therein those treasures of peace and joy which the martyr had known. Many cried out with him, “We know that this Word is from God, as we know that fire burns; not because anyone has told us, but because a Divine fire consumes our hearts. O the brightness of the face of Moses! O the splendor of the glory of Jesus Christ, which no veil conceals! O the inward power of the Divine word, which compels us, with so much sweetness, to love and to do! O the temple of God within us, in which the Son of God dwells!” Tyndale had desired to set the world on fire by his Master’s Word, and that fire was kindled. The general dissemination of the Holy Scriptures forms an important epoch in the Reformation of England. It is like one of those pillars which separate one territory from another.
The End of Volume 2, Book Two