The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 9

Author: John Richard Green  | Date: A.D. 1534

England Breaks with the Roman Church,
Destruction of the Monasteries

A.D. 1534


Following the fall of Wolsey, Sir Thomas More became lord chancellor of England, but the real power of Wolsey passed to another and perhaps even more able minister, Thomas Cromwell. Henry VIII needed always some strong, able, crafty guide to show him a path through the intricacies of European politics, and enable him at the same time to follow the savage dictates of his passion and his whims.

Such a helper he found now in Cromwell, who assisted Henry in all his evil schemes, though Green and other critics as well have thought to discern a larger, wiser policy in the impenetrable mind of the subtle minister. As secretary of state he drove England at his own pace through the vast religious changes of the period. For the ruin he brought upon Catholicism, and more especially for his destruction of the thousand monasteries that dotted England, he has been called the "hammer of the monks." Of even lower birth than Wolsey, and rising to almost equal power, Cromwell began life as a son of a blacksmith.

Between Catholic and Protestant historians there is little difference as to the facts connected with England’s separation from the Roman Church. But as to the underlying causes and wisdom of the vast change, the justification of Cromwell and of King Henry, there is a wide divergence. Hence by the side of the careful Protestant narrative of Green, we place the equally restrained and scholarly account of the standard Catholic historian Alzog.

It had been Henry’s passion for Anne Boleyn, and the resulting necessity for divorce from his wife Catherine, that caused Wolsey’s fall. On the same passion did Cromwell build his rise. He secretly urged the King to break with Rome entirely and declare himself sole head of the English Church. Thus he could divorce himself. Henry first tried a last negotiation with the Pope; that failing, he turned to his new adviser.

Cromwell was again ready with his suggestion that the King should disavow the papal jurisdiction, declare himself head of the Church within its realm, and obtain a divorce from his own ecclesiastical courts. But the new minister looked on the divorce as simply the prelude to a series of changes which he was bent upon accomplishing. In all his checkered life, that had left its deepest stamp on him in Italy. Not only in the rapidity and ruthlessness of his designs, but in their larger scope, their admirable combination, the Italian statecraft entered with Cromwell into English politics. He is in fact the first English minister in whom we can trace through the whole period of his rule the steady working out of a great and definite aim, that of raising the King to absolute authority on the ruins of every rival power within his realm.

It was not that Cromwell was a mere slave of tyranny. Whether we may trust the tale that carries hlm in his youth to Florence or not, his statesmanship was closely modelled on the ideal of the Florentine thinker whose book was constantly in his hand. Even as a servant of Wolsey he startled the future Cardinal, Reginald Pole, by bidding him take for his manual in politics the Prince of Machiavelli. Machiavelli hoped to find in Caesar Borgia or in the later Lorenzo de’ Medici a tyrant who, after crushing all rival tyrannies, might unite and regenerate Italy; and, terrible and ruthless as his policy was, the final aim of Cromwell seems to have been that of Machiavelli, an aim of securing enlightenment and order for England by the concentration of all authority in the Crown.

The first step toward such an end was the freeing the monarchy from its spiritual obedience to Rome. What the first of the Tudors had done for the political independence of the kingdom, the second was to do for its ecclesiastical independence. Henry VII had freed England from the interference of France or the house of Burgundy; and in the question of the divorce Cromwell saw the means of bringing Henry VIII to free it from the interference of the papacy. In such an effort resistance could be looked for only from the clergy. But their resistance was what Cromwell desired. The last check on royal absolutism which had survived the Wars of the Roses lay in the wealth, the independent synods and jurisdiction, and the religious claims of the Church; and for the success of the new policy it was necessary to reduce the great ecclesiastical body to a mere department of the state in which all authority should flow from the sovereign alone, his will be the only law, his decision the only test of truth.

Such a change, however, was hardly to be wrought without a struggle; and the question of national independence in all ecclesiastical matters furnished ground on which the Crown could conduct this struggle to the best advantage. The secretary’s first blow showed how unscrupulously the struggle was to be waged. A year had passed since Wolsey had been convicted of a breach of the Statute of Provisors. The pedantry of the judges declared the whole nation to have been formally involved in the same charge by its acceptance of his authority. The legal absurdity was now redressed by a general pardon, but from this pardon the clergy found themselves omitted. In the spring of 1531 a convocation was assembled to be told that forgiveness could be bought at no less a price than the payment of a fine amounting to a million of our present money, and the acknowledgment of the King as "the chief protector, the only and supreme lord, and head of the Church and clergy of England."

Unjust as was the first demand, they at once submitted to it; against the second they struggled hard. But their appeals to Henry and Cromwell met only with demands for instant obedience. A compromise was at last arrived at by the insertion of a qualifying phrase, "So far as the law of Christ will allow"; and with this addition the words were again submitted by Warham to the convocation. There was a general silence. "Whoever is silent seems to consent," said the Archbishop. "Then are we all silent," replied a voice from among the crowd.

There is no ground for thinking that the "headship of the Church" which Henry claimed in this submission was more than a warning addressed to the independent spirit of the clergy, or that it bore as yet the meaning which was afterward attached to it. It certainly implied no independence of Rome, for negotiations were still being carried on with the papal court. But it told Clement plainly that in any strife that might come between himself and Henry the clergy were in the King’s hand, and that he must look for no aid from them in any struggle with the Crown. The warning was backed by an address to the Pope from the lords and some of the commons who assembled after a fresh prorogation of the houses in the spring.

"The cause of his majesty," the peers were made to say, "is the cause of each of ourselves." They laid before the Pope what they represented as the judgment of the universities in favor of the divorce; but they faced boldly the event of its rejection. "Our condition, " they ended, "will not be wholly irremediable. Extreme remedies are ever harsh of application; but he that is sick will by all means be rid of his distemper." In the summer the banishment of Catherine from the King’s palace to a house at Ampthill showed the firmness of Henry’s resolve. Each of these acts was no doubt intended to tell on the Pope’s decision, for Henry still clung to the hope of extorting from Clement a favorable answer; and at the close of the year a fresh embassy, with Gardiner, now Bishop of Winchester, at its head, was despatched to the papal court. But the embassy failed like its predecessors, and at the opening of 1532 Cromwell was free to take more decisive steps in the course on which he had entered.

What the nature of his policy was to be, had already been detected by eyes as keen as his own. More had seen in Wolsey’s fall an opening for the realization of those schemes of religious and even of political reform on which the scholars of the New Learning had long been brooding. The substitution of the lords of the council for the autocratic rule of the cardinal-minister, the break-up of the great mass of powers which had been gathered into a single hand, the summons of a parliament, the ecclesiastical reforms which it at once sanctioned, were measures which promised a more legal and constitutional system of government. The question of the divorce presented to More no serious difficulty. Untenable as Henry’s claim seemed to the new Chancellor, his faith in the omnipotence of parliament would have enabled him to submit to any statute which named a new spouse as queen and her children as heirs to the crown. But as Cromwell’s policy unfolded itself he saw that more than this was unpending.

The Catholic instinct of his mind, the dread of a rent Christendom and of the wars and bigotry that must come of its rending, united with More’s theological convictions to resist any spiritual severance of England from the papacy. His love for freedom, his revolt against the growing autocracy of the Crown, the very height and grandeur of his own spiritual convictions, all bent him to withstand a system which would concentrate in the king the whole power of church as of state, would leave him without the one check that remained on his despotism, and make him arbiter of the religious faith of his subjects. The later revolt of the Puritans against the king-worship which Cromwell estab lished proved the justice of the provision which forced More in the spring of 1532 to resign the post of chancellor.

But the revolution from which he shrank was an inevitable one. Till now every Englishman had practically owned a double life and a double allegiance. As citizen of a temporal state his life was bounded by English shores, and his loyalty due exclusively to his English King. But as citizen of the state spiritual, he belonged not to England, but to Christendom. The law which governed him was not a national law, but a law that embraced every European nation, and the ordinary course of judicial appeals in ecclesiastical cases proved to him that the sovereignty in all matters of conscience or religion lay, not at Westminster, but at Rome.

Such a distinction could scarcely fail to bring embarrassment with it as the sense of national life and national pride waxed stronger; and from the reign of the Edwards the problem of reconciling the spiritual and temporal relations of the realm grew daily more difficult. Parliament had hardly risen into life when it became the organ of the national jealousy, whether of any papal jurisdiction without the realm or of the separate life and separate jurisdiction of the clergy within it. The movement was long arrested by religious reaction and civil war. But the fresh sense of national greatness which sprang from the policy of Henry VIII, the fresh sense of national unity as the monarchy gathered all power into its single hand, would have itself revived the contest even without the spur of the divorce.

What the question of the divorce really did was to stimulate the movement by bringing into clearer view the wreck of the great Christian commonwealth of which England had till now formed a part, and the impossibility of any real exercise of a spiritual sovereignty over it by the weakened papacy, as well as by outraging the national pride through the summons of the King to a foreign bar and the submission of English interests to the will of a foreign emperor.

With such a spur as this the movement, which More dreaded, moved forward as quickly as Cromwell desired. The time had come when England was to claim for herself the fulness of power, ecclesiastical as well as temporal, within her bounds; and, in the concentration of all authority within the hands of the sovereign which was the political characteristic of the time, to claim this power for the nation was to claim it for the king. The import of that headship of the Church which Henry had assumed in the preceding year was brought fully out in one of the propositions laid before the convocation of 1532.

"The King’s majesty," runs this memorable clause, "hath as well the care of the souls of his subjects as their bodies; and may by the law of God by his parliament make laws touching and concerning as well the one as the other." The principle embodied in these words was carried out in a series of decisive measures. Under strong pressure the convocation was brought to pray that the power of independent legislation till now exercised by the church should come to an end, and to promise "that from henceforth we shall forbear to enact, promulge, or put into execution any such constitutions and ordinances so by us to be made in time coming, unless your highness by your royal assent shall license us to make, promulge, and execute them, and the same so made be approved by your highness’ authority."

Rome was dealt with in the same unsparing fashion. The parliament forbade by statute any further appeals to the papal court; and on a petition from the clergy in convocation the houses granted power to the King to suspend the payments of first-fruits, or the year’s revenue which each bishop paid to Rome on his election to a see. All judicial, all financial connection with the papacy was broken by these two measures. The last, indeed, was as yet but a menace which Henry might use in his negotiations with Clement. The hope which had been entertained of aid from Charles was now abandoned; and the overthrow of Norfolk and his policy of alliance with the Empire was seen at the midsummer of 1532 in the conclusion of a league with France. Cromwell had fallen back on Wolsey’s system; and the divorce was now to be looked for from the united pressure of the French and English kings on the papal court.

But the pressure was as unsuccessful as before. In November Clement threatened the King with excommunication if he did not restore Catherine to her place as queen and abstain from all intercourse with Anne Boleyn till the case was tried. But Henry still refused to submit to the judgment of any court outside his realm; and the Pope, ready as he was with evasion and delay, dared not alienate Charles by consenting to a trial within it. The lavish pledges which Francis had given in an interview during the preceding summer may have aided to spur the King to a decisive step which closed the long debate. At the opening of 1533 Henry was privately married to Anne Boleyn. The match, however, was carefully kept secret while the papal sanction was being gained for the appointment of Cranmer to the see of Canterbury, which had become vacant by Archbishop Warham’s death in the preceding year. But Cranmer’s consecration at the close of March was the signal for more open action, and Cromwell’s policy was at last brought fairly into play.

The new primate at once laid the question of the King’s marriage before the two houses of convocation, and both voted that the license of Pope Julius had been beyond the papal Powers and that the marriage which it authorized was void. In May the King’s suit was brought before the Archbishop in his court at Dunstable; his judgment annulled the marriage with Catherine as void from the begiuning, and pronounced the marriage with Anne Boleyn, which her pregnancy had forced Henry to reveal, a lawful marriage. A week later the hand of Cranmer placed upon Anne’s brow the crown which she had coveted so long.

"There was much murmuring" at measures such as these. Many thought "that the Bishop of Rome would curse all Englishmen, and that the Emperor and he would destroy all the people." Fears of the overthrow of religion told on the clergy; the merchants dreaded an interruption of the trade with Flanders, Italy, and Spain. But Charles, though still loyal to his aunt’s cause, had no mind to incur risks for her; and Clement, though he annulled Cranmer’s proceedings, hesitated as yet to take sterner action. Henry, on the other hand, conscious that the die was thrown, moved rapidly forward in the path that Cromwell had opened. The Pope’s reversal of the primate’s judgment was answered by an appeal to a general council. The decision of the cardinals to whom the case was referred in the spring of 1534, a decision which asserted the lawfulness of Catherine’s marriage, was met by the enforcement of the long-suspended statute forbidding the payment of first-fruits to the Pope.

Though the King was still firm in his resistance to Lutheran opinions, and at this moment endeavored to prevent by statute the importation of Lutheran books, the less scrupulous hand of his minister was seen already striving to find a counter-poise to the hostility of the Emperor in an alliance with tbe Lutheran princes of North Germany. Cromwell was now fast rising to a power which rivalled Wolsey’s. His elevation to the post of lord privy seal placed him on a level with the great nobles of the council board; and Norfolk, constant in his hopes of reconciliation with Charles and the papacy, saw his plans set aside for the wider and more daring projects of "the black-smith’s son." Cromwell still clung to the political engine whose powers he had turned to the service of the Crown. The parliament which had been summoned at Wolsey’s fall met steadily year after year; and measure after measure had shown its accordance with the royal will in the strife with Rome.

It was now called to deal a final blow. Step by step the ground had been cleared for the great statute by which the new character of the English Church was defined in the session of 1534. By the Act of Supremacy authority in all matters ecclesiastical was vested solely in the Crown. The courts spiritual became as thoroughly the king’s courts as the temporal courts at Westminster. The statute ordered that the King "shall be taken, accepted, and reputed the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England, and shall have and enjoy, annexed and united to the imperial crown of this realm, as well the title and state thereof as all the honors, jurisdictions, authorities, immunities, profits, and commodities to the said dignity belonging, with full power to visit, repress, redress, reform, and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, contempts, and enormities which by any manner of spiritual authority or jurisdiction might or may lawfully be reformed."

The full import of the Act of Supremacy was only seen in the following year. At the opening of 1535 Henry formally took the title of "on earth Supreme Head of the Church of England," and some months later Cromwell was raised to the post of vicar-general, or vicegerent of the King in all matters ecclesiastical. His title, like his office, recalled the system of Wolsey. It was not only as legate, but in later years as vicar-general, of the Pope, that Wolsey had brought all spiritual causes in England to an English court. The supreme ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the realm passed into the hands of a minister who as chancellor already exercised its supreme civil jurisdiction. The papal power had therefore long seemed transferred to the crown before the legislative measures which followed the divorce actually transferred it.

It was in fact the system of Catholicism itself that trained men to look without surprise on the concentration of all spiritual and secular authority in Cromwell. Successor to Wolsey as keeper of the great seal, it seemed natural enough that Cromwell should succeed him also as vicar-general of the Church, and that the union of the two powers should be restored in the hands of a minister of the King. But the mere fact that these powers were united in the hands, not of a priest, but of a layman, showed the new drift of the royal policy. The Church was no longer to be brought indirectly under the royal power; in the policy of Cromwell it was to be openiy laid prostrate at the foot of the throne.

And this policy his position enabled him to carry out with a terrible thoroughness. One great step toward its realization had already been taken in the statute which annihilated the free legislative powers of the convocations of the clergy. Another followed in an act which, under the pretext of restoring the free election of bishops, turned every prelate into a nominee of the King. The election of bishops by the chapters of their cathedral churches had long become formal, and their appointment had since the time of the Edwards been practically made by the papacy on the nomination of the crown. The privilege of free election was now with bitter irony restored to the chapters, but they were compelled on pain of prœemunire to choose whatever candidate was recommended by the king. This strange expedient has lasted till the present time, though its character has wholly changed with the development of constitutional rule.

The nomination of bishops has ever since the accession of the Georges passed from the king in person to the minister, who represents the will of the people. Practically, therefore, an English prelate, alone among all the prelates of the world, is now raised to his episcopal throne by the same popular election which raised Ambrose to his episcopal chair at Milan. But at the moment of the change Cromwell’s measure reduced the English bishops to absolute dependence on the crown. Their dependence would have been complete had his policy been thoroughly carried out, and the royal power of deposition put in force, as well as that of appointment. As it was, Henry could warn the Archbishop of Dublin that, if he persevered in his "proud folly, we be able to remove you again and to put another man of more virtue and honesty in your place." By the more ardent partisans of the Reformation this dependence of the bishops on the crown was fully recognized. On the death of Henry VIII Cranmer took out a new commission from Edward for the exercise of his office. Latimer, when the royal policy clashed with his belief, felt bound to resign the see of Worcester. If the power of deposition was quietly abandoned by Elizabeth, the abandonment was due, not so much to any deference for the religious instincts of the nation as to the fact that the steady servility of the bishops rendered its exercise unnecessary.

A second step in Cromwell’s policy followed hard on this enslavement of the episcopate. Master of convocation, absolute master of the bishops, Henry had become master of the monastic orders through the right of visitation over them, which had been transferred by the Act of Supremacy from the papacy to the crown. The monks were soon to know what this right of visitation implied in the hands of the vicar-general. As an outlet for religious enthusiasm, monasticism was practically dead. The friar, now that his fervor of devotion and his intellectual energy had passed away, had sunk into a mere beggar. The monks had become mere landowners. Most of the religious houses were anxious only to enlarge their revenues and to diminish the number of those who shared them.

In the general carelessness which prevailed as to the spiritual objects of their trust, in the wasteful management of their estates, in the indolence and self-indulgence which for the most part characterized them, the monastic establishments simply exhibited the faults of all corporate bodies that have outlived the work which they were created to perform. They were no more Unpopular, however, than such corporate bodies generally are. The Lollard cry for their suppression had died away. In the north, where some of the greatest abbeys were situated, the monks were on good terms with the country gentry, and their houses served as schools for their children; nor is there any sign of a different feellng elsewhere.

But they had drawn on themselves at once the hatred of the New Learning and of the monarchy. In the early days of the revival of letters, popes and bishops had joined with princes and scholars in welcoming the diffusion of culture and the hopes of religious reform. But, though an abbot or a prior here or there might be found among the supporters of the movement, the mo- nastic orders as a whole repelled it with unswerving obstinacy. The quarrel only became more bitter as years went on. The keen sarcasms of Erasmus, the insolent buffoonery of Hutten, were lavished on the "lovers of darkness" and of the cloister.

In England Colet and More echoed with greater reserve the scorn and invective of their friends. The monarchy had other causes for its hate. In Cromwell’s system there was no room for either the virtues or the vices of monasticism, for its indolence and superstition, or for its independence of the throne. The bold stand which the monastic orders had made against benevolences had never been forgiven, while the revenues of their foundations offered spoil vast enough to fill the royal treasury and secure a host of friends for the new reforms. Two royal commissioners, therefore, were despatched on a general visitation of the religious houses, and their reports formed a "Black Book" which was laid before parliament in 1536.

It was acknowledged that about a third of the houses, including the bulk of the larger abbeys, were fairly and decently conducted. The rest were charged with drunkenness, with simony, and with the foulest and most revolting crimes. The character of the visitors, the sweeping nature of their report, and the long debate which followed on its reception leave little doubt that these charges were grossly exaggerated. But the want of any effective discipline which had resulted from their exemption from all but papal supervision told fatally against monastic morality even in abbeys like St. Albans; and the acknowledgment of Warham, as well as a partial measure of suppression begun by Wolsey, goes some way to prove that, in the smaller houses at least, indolence had passed into crime.

A cry of "down with them" broke from the commons as the report was read. The country, however, was still far from desiring the utter downfall of the monastic system, and a long and bitter debate was followed by a compromise which suppressed all houses whose income fell below two hundred pounds a year. Of the thousand religious houses which then existed in England, nearly four hundred were dissolved under this act and their revenues granted to the crown.

The secular clergy alone remained; and inlunction after injunction from the vicar-general taught rector and vicar that they must learn to regard themselves as mere mouth-pieces of the royal will. The Church was gagged. With the instinct of genius, Cromwell discerned the part which the pulpit, as the one means which then existed of speaking to the people at large, was to play in the religious and political struggle that was at hand; and he resolved to turn it to the profit of the monarchy.

The restriction of the right of preaching to priests who received licenses from the Crown silenced every voice of opposition. Even to those who received these licenses theological controversy was forbidden; and a high-handed process of "tuning the pulpits," by express directions as to the subject and tenor of each special discourse, made the preachers at every crisis mere means of diffusing the royal will. As a first step in this process every bishop, abbot, and parish priest was required by the new vicar-general to preach against the usurpation of the papacy, and to proclaim the King as supreme head of the Church on earth. The very topics of the sermon were carefully prescribed; tbe bishops were held responsible for the compliance of the clergy with these orders; and the sheriffs were held responsible for the obedience of the bishops.

While the great revolution which struck down the Church was in progress, England looked silently on. In all the earlier ecclesiastical changes, in the contest over the papal jurisdiction and papal exactions, in the reform of the church courts, even in the curtailment of the legislative independence of the clergy, the nation as a whole had gone with the King. But from the enslaved ment of the priesthood, from the gagging of the pulpits, from the suppression of the monasteries, the bulk of the nation stood aloof. There were few voices, indeed, of protest. As the royal policy disclosed itself, as the monarchy trampled under foot the tradition and reverence of ages gone by, as its figure rose bare and terrible out of the wreck of old institutions, England simply held her breath.

It is only through the stray depositions of royal spies that we catch a glimpse of the wrath and hate which lay seething under this silence of the people. For the silence was a silence of terror. Before Cromwell’s rise, and after his fall from power, the reign of Henry VIII witnessed no more than the common tyranny and bloodshed of the time. But the years of Cromwell’s administration form the one period in our history which deserves the name that men have given to the rule of Robespierre. It was the English "Terror." It was by terror that Cromwell mastered the King. Cranmer could plead for him at a later time with Henry as "one whose surety was only by your majesty, who loved your majesty, as I ever thought, no less than God." But the attitude of Cromwell toward the King was something more than that of absolute dependence and unquestioning devotion.

He was "so vigilant to preserve your majesty from all treasons," adds the primate, "that few could be so secretly conceived but he detected the same from the beginning." Henry, like every Tudor, was fearless of open danger, but tremulously sensitive to the lightest breath of hidden disloyalty; and it was on this dread that Cromwell based the fabric of his power.He was hardly secretary before spies were scattered broadcast over the land. Secret denunciations poured into the open ear of the minister. The air was thick with tales of plots and conspiracies; and with the detection and suppression of each, Cromwell tightened his hold on the King.

As it was by terror that he mastered the King, so it was by terror that he mastered the people. Men felt in England, to use the figure by which Erasmus paints the time, "as if a scorpion lay sleeping under every stone." The confessional had no secrets for Cromwell. Men’s talk with their closest friends found its way to his ear. "Words idly spoken," the murmurs of a petulant abbot, the ravings of a moon-struck nun, were, as the nobles cried passionately at his fall, "tortured into treason." The only chance of safety lay in silence.

"Friends who used to write and send me presents," Erasmus tells us, "now send neither letter nor gifts, nor receive any from anyone, and this through fear." But even the refuge of silence was closed by a law more infamous than any that has ever blotted the statute-book of England. Not only was thought made treason, but men were forced to reveal their thoughts on pain of their very silence being punished with the penalties of treason. All trust in the older bulwarks of liberty was destroyed by a policy as daring as it was unscrupulous. The noblest institutions were degraded into instruments of terror. Though Wolsey had strained the law to the utmost, he had made no open attack on the freedom of justice. If he shrank from assembling parliaments, it was from his sense that they were the bulwarks of liberty.

But under Cromwell the coercion of juries and the management of judges rendered the courts mere mouth-pieces of the royal will; and where even this shadow of justice proved an obstacle to bloodshed, parliament was brought into play to pass bill after bill of attainder. "He shall be judged by the bloody laws he has himself made," was the cry of the council at the moment of his fall, and by a singular retribution the crowning injustice which he sought to introduce even into the practice of attainder, the condemnation of a man without hearing his defence, was only practised on himself.

But, ruthless as was the "Terror" of Cromwell, it was of a nobler type than the Terror of France. He never struck uselessly or capriciously, or stooped to the meaner victims of the guillotine. His blows were effective just because he chose his victims from among the noblest and the best. If he struck at the Church, it was through the Carthusians, the holiest and the most renowned of English churchmen. If he struck at the baronage, it was through Lady Salisbury, in whose veins flowed the blood of kings. If he struck at the New Learning, it was through the murder of Sir Thomas More. But no personal vindictiveness mingled with his crime.

In temper, indeed, so far as we can judge from the few stories which lingered among his friends, he was a generous, kindly hearted man, with pleasant and winning manners which atoned for a certain awkwardness of person, and with a constancy of friendship which won him a host of devoted adherents. But no touch either of love or hate swayed him from his course. The student of Machiavelli had not studied the Prince in vain. He had reduced bloodshed to a system. Fragments of his papers still show us with what a business-like brevity he ticked off human lives among the casual "remembrances" of the day.

"Item, the Abbot of Reading to be sent down to be tried and executed at Reading." "Item, to know the King’s pleasure touching Master More." "Item, when Master Fisher shall go to his execution, and the other." It is indeed this utter absence of all passion, of all personal feeling, that makes the figure of Cromwell the most terrible in our history. He has an absolute faith in the end he is pursuing, and he simply hews his way to it as a woodman hews his way through the forest, axe in hand.

The choice of his first victim showed the ruthless precision with which Cromwell was to strike. In the general opinion of Europe, the foremost Englishman of the time was Sir Thomas More. As the policy of the divorce ended in an open rupture with Rome, he had withdrawn silently from the ministry, but his silent disapproval of the new policy was more telling than the opposition of obscurer foes. To Cromwell there must have been something specially galling in More’s attitude of reserve. The religious reforms of the New Learning were being rapidly carried out, but it was plain that the man who represented the very life of the New Learning believed that the sacrifice of liberty and justice was too dear a price to pay even for religious reform.

In the actual changes which the divorce brought about, there was nothing to move More to active or open opposition. Though he looked on the divorce and remarriage as without religious warrant, he found no difficulty in accepting an act of succession passed in 1534 which declared the marriage of Anne Boleyn valid, annulled the title of Catherine’s child, Mary, and declared the children of Anne the only lawful heirs to the crown. His faith in the power of parliament over all civil matters was too complete to admit a doubt of its competence to regulate the succession to the throne. But by the same act an oath recognizing the succession as then arranged was ordered to be taken by all persons; and this oath contained an acknowledgment that the marriage with Catherine was against Scripture, and invalid from the beginning.

Henry had long known More’s belief on this point; and the summons to take this oath was simply a summons to death. More was at his house at Chelsea when the summons called him to Lambeth, to the house where he had bandied fun with Warham and Erasmus or bent over the easel of Holbein. For a moment there may have been some passing impulse to yield. But it was soon over. Triumphant in all else, the monarchy was to find its power stop short at the conscience of man. The great battle of spiritual freedom, the battle of the Protestant against Mary, of the Catholic against Elizabeth, of the Puritan against Charles, of the Independent against the Presbyterian, began at the moment when More refused to bend or to deny his convictions at a king’s bidding.

"I thank the Lord," More said with a sudden start as the boat dropped silently down the river from his garden steps in the early morning, "I thank the Lord that the field is won." At Lambeth, Cranmer and his fellow-commissioners tendered to him the new oath of allegiance; but, as they expected, it was refused. They bade him walk in the garden, that he might reconsider his reply. The day was hot, and More seated himself in a window from which he could look down into the crowded court. Even in the presence of death, the quick sympathy of his nature could enjoy the humor and life of the throng below.

"I saw," he said afterward, "Master Latimer very merry in the court, for he laughed and took one or twain by the neck so handsomely that if they had been women I should have weened that he waxed wanton." The crowd below was chiefly of priests, rectors, and vicars, pressing to take the oath that More found harder than death. He bore them no grudge for it. When he heard the voice of one who was known to have boggled hard at the oath, a little while before, calling loudly and ostentatiously for drink, he only noted him with his peculiar humor. "He drank," More supposed, "either from dryness or from gladness," or "to show quod ille notus erat Pontifici."

He was called in again at last, but only repeated his refusal. It was in vain that Cranmer plied him with distinctions which perplexed even the subtle wit of the exchancellor; More remained unshaken and passed to the Tower. He was followed there by Bishop Fisher of Rochester, the most aged and venerable of the Engllsh prelates, who was charged with countenancing treason by listening to the prophecies of a religious fanatic called the "Nun of Kent." But for the moment even Cromwell shrank from their blood. They remained prisoners, while a new and more terrible engine was devised to crush out the silent but widespread opposition to the religious changes.

By a statute passed at the close of 1534 a new treason was created in the denial of the King’s titles; and in the opening of 1535 Henry assumed, as we have seen, the title of "on earth supreme head of the Church of England." The measure was at once followed up by a blow at victims hardly less venerable than More. In the general relaxation of the religious life, the charity and devotion of the brethren of the Charterhouse had won the reverence even of those who condemned monasticism. After a stubborn resistance they had acknowledged the royal supremacy and taken the oath of submission prescribed by the act. But, by an infamous construction of the statute which made the denial of the supremacy treason, the refusal of satis-factory answers to official questions, as to a conscientious belief in it, was held to be equivalent to open denial.

The aim of the new measure was well known, and the brethren prepared to die. In the agony of waiting, enthusiasm brought its imaginative consolations; "when the host was lifted up, there came as it were a whisper of air which breathed upon our faces as we knelt; and there came a sweet, soft sound of music." They had not long, however, to wait, for their refusal to answer was the signal for their doom. Three of the brethren went to the gallows; the rest were flung into Newgate, chained to posts in a noisome dungeon, where, "tied and not able to stir,"they were left to perish of jail fever and starvation. In a fortnight five were dead and the rest at the point of death, "almost de-spatched," Cromwell’s envoy wrote to him, "by the hand of God, of which, considering their behavior, I am not sorry."

Their death was soon followed by that of More. The interval of imprisonment had failed to break his resolution, and the new statute sufficed to bring him to the block. With Fisher he was convicted of denying the King’s title as only supreme head of the Church. The old bishop approached the scaffold with a book of the New Testament in his hand. He opened it at a venture ere he knelt, and read, "This is life eternal to know thee, the only true God." In July More followed his fellow-prisoners to the block. On the eve of the fatal blow he moved his beard carefully from the reach of the doomsman’s axe. "Pity that should be cut," he was heard to mutter with a touch of the old sad irony, "that has never committed treason."

Cromwell had at last reached his aim. England lay panic-stricken at the feet of the "low-born knave," as the nobles called him, who represented the omnipotence of the crown. Like Wolsey he concentrated in his hands the whole administration of the state; he was at once foreign minister and home minister, and vicar-general of the Church, the creator of a new fleet, the organizer of armies, the president of the terrible star chamber. His Italian indifference to the mere show of power stood out in strong contrast with the pomp of the Cardinal. Cromwell’s personal habits were simple and unostentatious; if he clutched at money, it was to feed the army of spies whom he maintained at his own expense, and whose work he surveyed with a ceaseless vigilance. For his activity was boundless.

More than fifty volumes remain of the gigantic mass of his correspondence. Thousands of letters from "poor bedesmen," from outraged wives and wronged laborers and persecuted heretics, flowed in to the all-powerful minister, whose system of personal government turned him into the universal court of appeal. But powerful as he was, and mighty as was the work which he had accomplished, he knew that harder blows had to be struck before his position was secure.

The new changes, above all the irritation which had been caused by the outrages with which the dissolution of the monasteries was accompanied, gave point to the mutinous temper that prevailed throughout the country; for the revolution in agriculture was still going on, and evictions furnished embittered outcasts to swell the ranks of any rising. Nor did it seem as though revolt, if it once broke out, would want leaders to head it. The nobles, who had writhed under the rule of the Cardinal, writhed yet more bitterly under the rule of one whom they looked upon not only as Wolsey’s tool, but as a low-born upstart. "The world will never mend," Lord Hussey had been heard to say, "till we fight for it."

"Knaves rule about the King!" cried Lord Exeter; "I trust some day to give them a buffet!" At this moment, too, the hopes of political reaction were stirred by the fate of one whom the friends of the old order looked upon as the source of all their troubles. In the spring of 1536, while the dissolution of the monastenes was marking the triumph of the new policy, Anne Boleyn was suddenly charged with adultery and sent to the Tower. A few days later she was tried, condemned, and brought to the block. The Queen’s ruin was everywhere taken as an omen of ruin to the cause which had become identified with her own, and the old nobility mustered courage to face the minister who held them at his feet.

They found their opportunity in the discontent of the North, where the monasteries had been popular, and where the rougher mood of the people turned easily to resistance. In the autumn of 1536 a rising broke out in Lincolnshire, and this was hardly quelled when all Yorkshire rose in arms. From every parish the farmers marched with the parish priest at their head upon York, and the surrender of this city determined the waverers. In a few days Skipton castle, where the Earl of Cumberland held out with a handful of men, was the only spot north of the Humber which remained true to the King. Durham rose at the call of the chiefs of the house of Neville, Lords Westmoreland and Latimer. Though the Earl of Northumberland feigned sickness, the Percies joined the revolt. Lord Dacre, the chief of the Yorkshire nobles, surrendered Pomfret, and was acknowledged as their chief by the insurgents.

The whole nobility of the North were now enlisted in the "Pilgrimage of Grace," as the rising called itself, and thirty thousand "tall men and well horsed" moved on the Don demanding the reversal of the royal policy, a reunion with Rome, the restoration of Catherine’s daughter, Mary, to her rights as heiress of the crown, redress for the wrongs done to the Church, and above all the driving away of base-born councillors, or, in other words, the fall of Cromwell. Though their advance was checked by negotiation, the organization of the revolt went steadily on throughout the winter, and a parliament of the North, which gathered at Pomfret, formally adopted the demands of the insurgents. Only six thousand men under Norfolk barred their way southward, and the Midland counties were known to be disaffected.

But Cromwell remained undaunted by the peril. He suffered, indeed, Norfolk to negotiate; and allowed Henry under pressure from his council to promise pardon and a free parliament at York, a pledge which Norfolk and Dacre alike construed into an acceptance of the demands made by the insurgents. Their leaders at once flung aside the badge of the "Five wounds" which they had worn, with a cry, "We will wear no badge but that of our lord the King," and nobles and farmers dispersed to their homes in triumph. But the towns of the North were no sooner garrisoned and Norfolk’s army in the heart of Yorkshire than the veil was flung aside. A few isolated outbreaks in the spring of 1537 gave a pretext for the withdrawal of every concession.

The arrest of the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace was followed by ruthless severities. The country was covered with gibbets. Whole districts were given up to military execution. But it was on the leaders of the rising that Cromwell’s hand fell heaviest. He seized his opportunity for dealing at the northern nobles a fatal blow. "Cromwell," one of the chief among them broke fiercely out as he stood at the council board, "it is thou that art the very special and chief cause of all this rebellion and wickedness, and dost daily travail to bring us to our ends and strike off our heads. I trust that ere thou die, though thou wouldst procure all the noblest heads within the realm to be stricken off, yet there shall one head remain that shall strike off thy head."

But the warning was unheeded. Lord Darcy, who stood first among the nobles of Yorkshire, and Lord Hussey, who stood first among the nobles of Lincolnshire, went alike to the block. The Abbot of Barlings, who had ridden into Lincoln with his canons in full armor, swung with his brother-abbots of Whalley, Woburn, and Sawley from the gallows. The abbots of Fountains and of Jervauix were hanged at Tyburn side by side with the representative of the great line of Percy. Lady Bulmer was burned at the stake. Sir Robert Constable was hanged in chains before the gate of Hull.

The defeat of the northern revolt showed the immense force which the monarchy had gained. Even among the rebels themselves not a voice had threatened Henry’s throne. It was not at the King that they aimed these blows, but at the "low-born knaves" who stood about the King. At this moment, too, Henry’s position was strengthened by the birth of an heir. On the death of Anne Boleyn he had married Jane Seymour, the daughter of a Wiltshire knight; and in 1537 this Queen died in giving birth to a boy, the future Edward VI. The triumph of the Crown at home was doubled by its triumph in the great dependency which had so long held the English authority at bay across St. George’s Channel.

With England and Ireland alike at his feet, Cromwell could venture on a last and crowning change. He could claim for the monarchy the right of dictating at its pleasure the form of faith and doctrine to be taught throughout the land. Henry had remained true to the standpoint of the New Learning; and the sympathies of Cromwell were mainly with those of his master. They had no wish for any violent break with the ecclesiastical forms of the past. They desired religious reform rather than religious revolution, a simplification of doctrine rather than any radical change in it, the purification of worship rather than the introduction of any wholly new ritual. Their theology remained, as they believed, a Catholic theology, but a theology cleared of the superstitious growths which obscured the true Catholicism of the early Church.

In a word, their dream was the dream of Erasmus and Colet. The spirit of Erasmus was seen in the articles of religion which were laid before convocation in 1536; in the acknowledgment of justification by faith, a doctrine for which the founders of the New Learning, such as Contarini and Pole, were struggling at Rome itself; in the condemnation of purgatory, of pardons, and of masses for the dead, as it was seen in the admission of prayers for the dead and in the retention of the ceremonies of the Church without material change.

A series of royal injunctions which followed carried out the same policy of reform. Pilgrimages were suppressed; the excessive number of holy days was curtailed; the worship of images and relics was discouraged in words which seemed almost copied from the protest of Erasmus. His appeal for a translation of the Bible which weavers might repeat at their shuttle and ploughmen sing at their plough received at last a reply. At the outset of the ministry of Norfolk and More, the King had promised an English version of the Scriptures, while prohibiting the circulation of Tyndale’s Lutheran translation. The work, however, lagged in the hands of the bishops; and as a preliminary measure the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments were now rendered into English, and ordered to be taught by every schoolmaster and father of a family to his children and pupils. But the bishops’ version still hung on hand; till, in despair of its appearance, a friend of Archbishop Cranmer, Miles Coverdale, was employed to correct and revise the translation of Tyndale; and the Bible which he edited was published in 1538 under the avowed patronage of Henry himself.

But the force of events was already carrying England far from the standpoint of Erasmus or More. The dream of the New Learning was to be wrought out through the progress of education and piety. In the policy of Cromwell, reform was to be brought about by the brute force of the monarchy. The story of the royal supremacy was graven even on the titlepage of the new Bible. It is Henry on his throne who gives the sacred volume to Cranmer, ere Cranmer and Cromwell can distribute it to the throng of priests and laymen below. Hitherto men had looked on religious truth as a gift from the Church. They were now to look on it as a gift from the King. The very gratitude of Englishmen for fresh spiritual enlightenment was to tell to the profit of the royal power. No conception could be further from that of the New Learning, from the plea for intellectual freedom which runs through the life of Erasmus, or the craving for political liberty which gives nobleness to the speculations of More. Nor was it possible for Henry himself to avoid drifting from the standpoint he had chosen. He had written against Luther; he had persisted in opposing Lutheran doctrine; he had passed new laws to hinder the circulation of Lutheran books in his realm. But influences from without as from within drove him nearer to Lutheranism. If the encouragement of Francis had done somewhat to bring about his final breach with the papacy, he soon found little will in the French King to follow him in any course of separation from Rome; and the French alliance threatened to become useless as a shelter against the wrath of the Emperor.

Charles was goaded into action by the bill annulling Mary’s right of succession; and in 1535 he proposed to unite his house with that of Francis by close intermarriage, and to sanction Mary’s marriage with a son of the French King if Francis would join in an attack on England. Whether such a proposal was serious or no, Henry had to dread attack from Charles himself and to look for new allies against it. He was driven to offer his alliance to the Lutheran princes of North Germany, who dreaded like himself the power of the Emperor, and who were now gathering in the League of Smalkald.

But the German princes made agreement as to doctrine a condition of their alliance; and their pressure was backed by Henry’s partisans among the clergy at home. In Cromwell’s scheme for mastering the priesthood it had been needful to place men on whom the King could rely at their head. Cranmer became primate, Latimer became Bishop of Worcester, Shaxtor and Barlow were raised to the sees of Salisbury and St. David’s, Hilsey to that of Rochester, Goodrich to that of Ely, Fox to that of Hereford. But it was hard to find men among the clergy who paused at Henry’s theological resting-place; and of these prelates all except Latimer were known to sympathize with Lutheranism, though Cranmer lagged far behind his fellows in their zeal for reform.

The influence of these men, as well as of an attempt to comply at least partly with the demand of the German princes, left its stamp on the articles of 1536. For the principle of Catholicism, of a universal form of faith overspreading all temporal dominions, the Lutheran states had substituted the principle of territorial religion, of the right of each sovereign or people to determine the form of belief which should be held within their bounds. The severance from Rome had already brought Henry to this principle, and the Act of Supremacy was its emphatic assertion.

In England, too, as in North Germany, the repudiation of the papal authority as a ground of faith, of the voice of the Pope as a declaration of truth, had driven men to find such a ground and declaration in the Bible; and the articles expressly based the faith of the Church of England on the Bible and the three creeds. With such fundamental principles of agreement it was possible to borrow from the Augsburg Confession five of the ten articles which Henry laid before the convocation. If penance was still retained as a sacrament, baptism and the Lord’s Supper were alone maintained to be sacraments with it; the doctrine of transubstantiation, which Henry stubbornly maintained, differed so little from the doctrine maintained by Luther that the words of Lutheran formularies were borrowed to explain it; confession was admitted by the Lutheran churches as well as by the English. The veneration of saints and the doctrine of prayer to them, though still retained, were so modified as to present little difficulty even to a Lutheran.

However disguised in form, the doctrinal advance made in the articles of 1536 was an immense one; and a vehement opposition might have been looked for from those of the bishops like Gardiner, who, while they agreed with Henry’s policy of estab-lishing a national church, remained opposed to any change in faith. But the articles had been drawn up by Henry’s own hand, and all whisper of opposition was hushed. Bishops, abbots, clergy, not only subscribed to them, but carried out with implicit obedience the injunctions which put their doctrine roughly into practiced.


Henry VIII succeeded to the throne of England upon the death of his father in 1509, when not quite eighteen years of age, and two months later (June 3) married Catherine of Aragon, the widow of his elder brother, Arthur, lately deceased. To marry his brother’s widow a papal dispensation was necessary, which was granted by Pope Julius II on Catherine’s representation, the truth of which Henry himself afterward admitted, that her marriage with Arthur had not been consummated.

For seventeen years Henry lived a life of uninterrupted happiness with his queen, who during that time bore him five children, three sons and two daughters, of whom Mary, who subsequently ascended the throne, alone survived.

Henry was suddenly stricken with scruples of conscience as to the legality of his marriage, and these were probably quickened and intensified by the fading beauty of Catherine, who was six years his senior, and by the fascinating charms of Anne Boleyn, maid of honor to the queen, who had won his heart. Henry requested Pope Clement VII to declare his marriage with Catherine invalid (1527). The Pope issued a commission to Cardinal Campeggio, the Papal Legate, and to Cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s minister, to make the facts upon which the application was based the subject of a judicial examination. The queen, deeming it unbecoming her dignity to have her marriage passed upon by a commission, which was not only composed of the King’s subjects, but which, she believed, did not enjoy the freedom necessary to judicial fair-ness, appeared before the court at Blackfriars only to offer an appeal to the Pope. Clement, unwilling to grant the King’s demand, and yet desirous to avoid giving him offense, resorted to various expedients in order to gain time, in the hope that Henry would in the meanwhile return to a better mind. The effect was just the contrary, and every hindrance and delay added to the King’s impatience. By the advice of Cranmer, the question was submitted to the universities of Europe. Those of Oxford and Cambridge declared in favor of the divorce; those of Germany decided against it; and those of France and Italy would not admit of its possibility, unless on the supposition that the queen’s former marriage with Arthur had not been consummated. But the end was not yet. The Pope’s decision was not forthcoming. Henry was irritated, and his anger had the payment of the first frets to the Pope abolished. This measure, which was intended as a menace to Rome, was followed by another, providing that, should the Pope refuse to confirm appointments to episcopal sees made by the crown, the appointees should dispense with sueh confirmation, and go on and be consecrated.

Henry had been privately married to Anne Boleyn in January, 1533, and it was, therefore, of the first importance to him that the affair of his divorce should be brought to a speedy issue. Cramner had been working long and industriously to bring about a complete rupture with Rome, and now that the crisis was come he was found fully prepared to meet it. The clergy were to be won over by threats and punishments. They were declared to have incurred the penalties of Prmunire for having unlawfully submitted to the legatine power of Cardinal Wolsey; but at the same time a hint was thrown out that they might expect a plenary pardon if they would consent to recognize the King as the Supreme Head of the Church in England. The clergy returned an equivocal answer, saying they were willing to accept his jurisdiction in ecclesiastical affairs, "in so far as they might consistently with the law of Christ," and with this qualified submission the King expressed himself satisfied. But to carry out his ulterior designs he had need of agents more devoted to his interests, and less conscientious as to thefr own duties. Such was Cranmer. As Henry’s envoy on the Continent, he became familiar with the teachings of the Reformers, and, although in Holy Orders, privately married a niece of the famous German divine, Osiander. After Wolsey’s disgrace, and on the death of Warham, Cranmer was appointed to the archiepiscopal see of Canterbury, and made privy counsellor to the King. One more ready to carry out the royal will and less scrupulous about the means to be employed in doing so could not have been chosen. Previously to taking the oath of fidelity to the Pope, on the day set apart for the ceremony, he withdrew to the chapter house of St. Stephen’s, at Westminster, and there, in the presence of witnesses, protested that in what he was about to do he had no intention of binding himself or laying himself under any sort of obligation to place the least obstacle in the way of the ecclesiastical reforms meditated by the King. This was the first of the series of hypocritical acts that followed.

Fully informed of Henry’s marriage to Anne, Cranmer addressed him a letter in April, 1533, begging to know if it were the royal pleasure that the cause of divorce should be heard in his own ecclesiastical court, and, if so, requesting his majesty to submit in advance to the future decision. TheKing graciously complied with the suggestion of the archbishop, taking occasion, however, to remind his Lord of Canterbury that "the sovereign had no superior on earth, and was not subject to the laws of any earthly creature." The Ecclesiastical Court was opened at Dunstable, and Catherine received three citations to appear before it. Having refused, she was pronounced "verily and manifestly contumacious," and her marriage was declared null and invalid. Cranmer conveyed the result to the King in a letter, in which he gravely exhorts his majesty to submit respectfully to the decisions of the Ecclesiastical Court, and to hasten to escape the censures of the Church, which he would bring upon himself by refusing to break off his incestuous intercourse with the wife of his brother. At another court, held May 28 at Lambeth, Cranmer, "in virtue of his spiritual power and his apostolic jurisdiction," pronounced the marriage of Henry and Anne valid and lawful. The Pope, acting on the almost unanimous opinion of the Sacred College, reversed the decision of Dunstable, and rendered a definitive sentence, declaring the marriage between Henry and Catherine lawful and valid. This decision was the signal for the rupture with the Holy See, and it was forthwith proclaimed that the Pope had no longer any jurisdiction in England. It was now the Archbishop of Canterbury who confirmed appointments to bishoprics and granted dispensations; but an appeal might be carried from the archbishop’s tribunal to the royal chancery. The King was the Supreme Head of the Church of England and the source of all spiritual jurisdiction, whether episcopal or papal. The oath of supremacy was imposed upon all, and those refusing to take it were adjudged guilty of high treason. An order was issued enjoining that the Royal Supremacy should be proclaimed from every pulpit, and form part of the teaching of every school in the kingdom. The Pope’s name was no longer heard in the land. Thomas Cranmer, a layman, was named vicar-general in all matters ecclesiastical, and received from the King plenary spiritual powers. All the bishops were simultaneously suspended from exercising their functions, and had their jurisdiction and power restored only after they had recognized the Royal Supremacy. In the eighth month after the nuptial ceremony, Anne Boleyn bore to Henry a daughter, who subsequently ascended the throne under the name of Elizabeth. Fearing that the shortness of the interval between the marriage and the birth of the princess might give rise to suspicions touching her legitimacy and endangering her succession, Henry had an act passed requiring all his subjects to make oath that Elizabeth was the true and lawful heir to the throne.

The confiscation of ecclesiastical property next occupied the attention of King and parliament. A commission was ap-pointed by Cromwell to make a general visitation of the religious houses of the kingdom (1535), with a view, as Mr. Hume candidly admits, of discovering such irregularities as might furnish a pretext for their suppression. Parliament, acting upon the report of these commissioners, familiarly called the "Black Book," hurriedly passed a bill providing for the suppression of all religious houses whose income was less than two hundred pounds a year, of which there were one hundred and seventy-six, and granting their revenues to the crown. It was said these were dissolved "for the glory of Almighty God and the honor of the kingdom," and because "they happened to be at once the weakest and the worst." (27 Henry VIII, c. 28.)

But the larger monasteries, "in which discipline was better observed," were destined to share the fate of the less considerable and more disorderly.

In the year 1536 there was an uprising of the inhabitants of the northern counties of England to protest against the recent innovations, and particularly against the expulsion of the monks from their monasteries. The insurgents bound themselves by oath to stand by each other "for the love which they bore to Almighty God, His faith, and the Holy Church"; and everywhere along the route of their march, which was called "The Pilgrimage of Grace," they seized the suppressed monasteries, and restored them to the ejected monks. The communities of the larger monastic establishments were now charged with having taken part in this insurrection, and, as a punishment for their complicity, their houses were dissolved and their property confiscated. In the southern counties fair promises and large bribes were held out to the abbots and more considerable personages of the various houses; and when these failed of their purpose, frauds, threats, and violence were resorted to. The work of suppressing the monasteries was completed by an act of Parliament in 1539, "vesting in the crown all property, movable and immovable, of the monastic establishments, which either had already been or should hereafter be suppressed, abolished, or surrendered." By the year 1540 the work of "secularization" had been completed; the royal will had been carried out with shocking vandalism; works that had cost years of patient and skilful labor, the triumphs of art and the monuments&science, all were destroyed. Nor did the hatred of the ancient faith stop here. The tombs of St. Augustine, the apostle of the Anglo-Saxons, and St. Thomas Becket, martyr to his defense of ecclesiastical immunities, were despoiled, and the ashes they contained flung to the winds. Even the tomb of King Alfred, the founder of England’s greatness, did not escape the hands of the ravager. From the revenues of the confiscated monastic establishments Henry founded and scantily endowed six bishoprics and fourteen cathedral and collegiate churches; but the bulk of the sacrilegious plunder went to mdemnify the royal visitors and the parasites of the court. But, not-withstanding these tyrannical proceedings, Henry had not yet fully made up his mind to wholly separate himself from the Catholic Church. "I will strike off," he said, "her strange Head with the tiara, but the body I will leave untouched."

In the year 1538, Henry, by a statute, entitled "An Act for Abolishing Diversity of Opinions," ordained that certain doctrines and practices, which were substantially those of the Roman Catholic Church, should be accepted and professed by all his subjects, under the severest penalties. Even the use of holy water and blessed ashes was retained, and the veneration of the saints enjoined. This statute contained what are known as the "Bloody Six Articles," in which the doctrines were enumerated, concerning which there was the greatest conflict of opinions. They declared transubstantiation to be necessary to salvation, and clerical celibacy to be of Divine command; that private Masses should be retained, and that auricular confession was expedient and necessary. It was further ordained that the severest penalties should be inflicted upon any one refusing to accept these teachings. Henry permitted the reading of the Bible to all, reminding them, however, that this was not their right, but a favor granted "of the royal liberality and goodness," and that when they should meet passages difficult of interpretation, they should apply to others more learned than themselves. But whatever leniency he might show in other matters, there was one to which no opposition would be tolerated. His spiritual supremacy was sacred, and must be so regarded by all his subjects. For writing against it, Forest, confessor to Queen Catherine, was burnt at the stake; and others, who called it in question, were put to death in various days. Among the victims of Henry’s despotism and cruelty, Thomas More, High Chancellor, and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, were the most illustrious for their position, their learning, their virtues, and the fortitude with which they suffered. Of the latter Henry said on once occasion: "In my opinion, I have never met, in all my travels, any one to compare in learning and virtue with the Bishop of Rochester." Bishop Fisher refused to acknowledge the King’s marriage with Anne Boleyn as "good and lawful," and for this offense he was soon to feel the full weight of the royal vengeance. He was shortly arrested for mlsprision of treason, in that he had heard a woman named Elizabeth Barton, better known as the Holy Maid of Kent, say that the King would survive his divorce from Catherine only seven months, and had failed to report the conversation. An oath was presented to him, affirming the legality of the King’s marriage with Anne, which he declined to take, and was in consequence committed to the Tower, April 26, 1534. He was now close on seventy years of age, but neither his gray hairs nor his past services could move the heart of the royal despot to mercy. He languished in prison for thirteen months, enduring privations the most severe and cruelties the most barbarous; and when he again came forth it was only to appear before a special commission appointed to try him at Westminster, on the charge of high treason, for having refused to make oath that the King was the "Supreme Head of the Church of England." After a hasty trial, he was declared guilty, and beheaded June 22, 1535. In the preceding May he had been created cardinal by Pope Paul III, but, though he may have appreciated the kindness, he had now ceased to put any value on dignities, and declared that, "if the hat were at his feet, he would not stoop to take it up." His head was set up on London Bridge, and his body, after lying naked all day at the place of execution, was carried away by the guards, and laid in the churchyard of All Hallows, Barking.

Thomas More, by his great learning and extraordinary ca-pacity for business, had risen from a comparatively low station to the office of Lord Chancellor of England. Distinguished for his literary ability, his knowledge of law, his winsome manners, and sweetness of temper, he was no less conspicuous for his deep and unaffected piety and his unwavering fidelity to his friends; thus uniting in himself the qualities of a statesman, a scholar, and a Christian. But neither his virtues, his abilities, nor his services could save him from the savage ferocity of Henry. More had refused to approve Henry’s divorce from Queen Catherine and his marriage with Anne Boleyn, and for this offense he, like Bishop Fisher, was committed to the Tower, and, like him, too, brought forth again only to be arraigned before the commission at Westminster on the charge of high treason, for having denied the King to be the Supreme Head of the Church of England. As soon as the indictment had been read, More was told that he might still enjoy the King’s favor by abjuring his former opinions. The offer was promptly declined, and the prisoner was declared guilty and condemned to death. He met death with the same vivacious cheerfulness and unfaltering courage that had distinguished him through life, professing with his last breath that he died a true Catholic before God. He was beheaded in the Tower, July 6, 1535.

Cardinal Reginald Pole was equally the object of Henry’s vindictive cruelty. Having completed his education abroad, he returned to England in 1525, where the highest ecclesiastical dignities were awaiting his acceptance. About this time the King was meditating his divorce from Catherine, which Pole not only opposed, but still further incensed Henry by the publication of his treatise, "De Unitate Ecclesiastica." His pension and all his preferments were withdrawn, and preparations were being made for his impeachment, when he eluded the King’s vengeance by escaping to the Continent. The Pope rewarded his courage and constancy by raising him to the cardinalate. He was sent as Legate to France and the Low Countries in 1537, when Henry in vain demanded his extradition from the governments of these countries.

Failing to avenge himself on Pole, the King had his mother, the aged Countess of Salisbury, and others of the obnoxious cardinal’s relations arrested, tried upon fictitious charges, and put to death. The Countess of Salisbury was the nearest of kin to Henry of all his blood relations; was the last in the direct line of the Plantagenets, who had ruled England for so many generations; and both in prison and with her head upon the block showed a dignity and courage worthy her royal descent. She was beheaded May 21, 1541, repeating the words of our Lord, "Blessed are they who suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake."

Thomas Cromwell, who had been chiefly instrumental in shedding so much blood, was himself to be judged by the bloody laws he had made, and in virtue of which so many noble victims fell. Henry had never quite forgiven him for his share in negotiating the marriage with that unloveiy woman, Anne of Cleves, who contributed so much to disturb the King’s domestic happiness. He was arrested on the 10th of June, 1540, and cast into prison. He was accused of malversation in the discharge of his office of chancellor; of holding heretical opinions and protecting heretics; and, finally, of treason, in that he had expressed his readiness to fight against the King, if it were necessary, in defense of his religious opinions. He demanded a public trial, and to be confronted with his accusers, but the justice which he had denied to so many others was now refused to himself. A bill of attainder was drawn up against him, and passed both houses of Parliament without a dissentient voice. On the 28th of July following he was beheaded on Tower Hill. Stern and unrelenting during life, he was craven and cowardly at the hour of death.

Henry was as atrociously cruel to his wives as he was to his ministers and other subjects of inferior degree. Catherine of Aragon survived her repudiation a little less than three years, dying a most exemplary death, January 8, 1536. She was hardly laid in her grave, when Anne Boleyn, who had taken her place in her husband’s affections, and was the cause of all her misfortunes, was tried on the charges of adultery, incest, and high treason, declared guilty, and beheaded on the green within the Tower, May 19, 1536. Cranmer, who had formerly, "in virtue of his apostolic authority," pronounced the marriage between Henry and Anne lawful and valid, was now called upon to reverse his former decision, and, "in the name of Christ and for the glory of God," declared that the same marriage was and always had been null and void. On the day of Anne’s execution, as if to express his contempt for her memory, Henry dressed himself in a suit of white, and on the following morning was married to Jane Seymour.


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King Henry VIII of England

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Chicago: John Richard Green and John Alzog, "England Breaks With the Roman Church,Destruction of the Monasteries," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 9 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), Original Sources, accessed February 25, 2024,

MLA: Green, John Richard, and John Alzog. "England Breaks With the Roman Church,Destruction of the Monasteries." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 9, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, Original Sources. 25 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Green, JR, Alzog, J, 'England Breaks With the Roman Church,Destruction of the Monasteries' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 9. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN. Original Sources, retrieved 25 February 2024, from