The Protestant Reformation in England



In February, 1531, Henry assumed the title, which was to occasion such momentous consequences, of 'Protector and only Supreme Head of the Church and Clergy of England.' The clergy were compelled to assent. Further serious steps marked the great breach with Rome. The annates, or first fruits, were abolished. Ever since the crusades a practice had existed in all the churches of Europe that bishops and archbishops, on presentation to their sees, should transmit to the pope one year's income. This impressive impost was now abrogated. It was a sign of the parting of the ways.

Henry laid his conduct open to the world, declaring truly what he desired, and seeking it by open means. He was determined to proceed with the divorce, and also to continue the reformation of the English Church. And he was in no small measure aided in the former resolve by the recommendation of Francis, for the French king advised him to act on the general opinion of Europe that his marriage with Catherine, as widow of his elder brother Arthur, was null, and at once make Anne Boleyn his wife. This counsel, so palatable to Henry, was administered at an interview between the two kings at Boulogne, in October 1532.

THE pope had trifled for six years with the momentous question and Henry was growing old. At the outset of the discussion the pope had said, 'Marry freely; fear nothing; and all shall be arranged as you desire.' But the pontiff, reduced to a dilemma by various causes, had fallen back on his Italian cunning, and had changed his attitude, listening to the appeals of Catherine and her powerful friends. And now he threatened Henry with excommunication.

Henry entered privately into matrimonial relations with Anne in November 1532 and the marriage was solemnly celebrated, with a gorgeous pageant, at Westminster Abbey in the following January. On July 24 the people gathering to church in every parish read, nailed to the church doors, a paper signed 'Henry R.,' setting forth that the Lady Catherine of Spain, heretofore called queen of England, was not to be called by that title any more, but princess dowager and so to be held and esteemed. The triumph of Anne was to last but three short years.

WYCLIFFE'S labour had left only the Bible as the seed of a future life and no trace remained in the sixteenth century of the Lollardry of the fourteenth. But now Protestantism recommenced its enterprise in the growing desire for a nobler, holier insight into the will of God. In the year 1525 was enrolled in London a society calling itself The Association of Christian Brothers, Its paid agents went up and down the land carrying tracts and Testaments with them and enrolling in the order all who dared risk their lives in such a cause.

The Protestants thus isolated were waiting for direction, and men in such a temper are seldom left to wait in vain. Luther had kindled the spark which was to become a conflagration, in Germany, at Wittemberg, on October 31, 1517, by his denunciation of indulgences. His words found an echo and flew from lip to lip all through Western Europe. Tyndale, an Oxford student, went to Germany, saw Luther and under his direction translated into English the Gospels and Epistles. This led to the formation of the 'association' in London.

The authorities were alarmed. The bishops subscribed to buy up the translations of the Bible and these were burnt before a vast concourse in St. Paul's Churchyard.

But Wolsey for two years already had been suppressing the smaller monasteries. Simultaneously, Protestants were persecuted wherever they could be detected and seized. 'Little' Bilney, or 'Saint' Bilney, a distinguished Cambridge student, was burnt as a heretic at the stake, as were James Bainham, a barrister of the Middle Temple, and several other members of the 'association.' These were the first paladins of the reformation and the struggle went bravely forward. They were the knights who slew the dragons and made the earth habitable for common flesh and blood.

As yet but two men of the highest order of power were on the side of Protestantism-Latimer and Cromwell. These were now to come forward, pressed by circumstances which could no longer dispense with them. When the breach with the pope was made irreparable and the papal party at home had assumed an attitude of suspended insurrection, the fortunes of the Protestants entered into a new phase. The persecution ceased and those who were but lately its likely victims, hiding for their lives, passed at once by a sudden alternation into the sunshine of political favour.

Cromwell and Latimer together caught the movement as it went by and before it was over a work had been done in England which, when it was once accomplished, was accomplished for ever. The conservative party recovered their power and abused it as before; but the chains of the nation were broken, and no craft of kings or priests or statesmen could weld the magic links again. Latimer became famous as a preacher at Cambridge and was heard of by Henry, who sent for him and appointed him one of the royal chaplains. He was accused by the bishops of heresy, but was, on trial, absolved and sent back to his parish. Soon after, the tide turned and the reformation entered into a new phase.

THOMAS CROMWELL, like Latimer, of humble origin, was the malleus monachorum. Wolsey discovered his merit and employed him in breaking up the small monasteries which the pope had granted for the foundation of the new colleges. Cromwell remained with the great cardinal till his fall. It was then that the truly noble nature which was in him showed itself. The lords had passed a bill of impeachment against Wolsey-violent, vindictive and malevolent. It was to be submitted to the commons. Cromwell prepared an opposition and conducted the defence from his place in parliament so skilfully that he threw out the bill, saved Wolsey and gained such a reputation that he became Henry's secretary, representing the government in the House of Commons and was on the high road to power.

The reformation was blotted with a black and frightful stain. Towards the end of April 1536 certain members of the Privy Council were engaged in secretly collecting evidence which implicated the queen in adultery, In connexion with the terrible charge, as her accomplices, five gentlemen were arrested-Sir William Brereton, Mark Smeton, a court musician, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston and, the accusation in his case being the most shocking, Lord Rochford, the queen's brother. The trial was hastily pushed forward and all were executed. The queen, who vehemently and piteously appealed to Henry, passionately protesting that she was absolutely innocent, was also condemned and was beheaded in public on Tower Hill.

Henry immediately after the tragedy married Jane, daughter of Sir John Seymour. The indecent haste is usually considered conclusive of the cause of Anne Boleyn's ruin. On October 12, 1537, a prince, so long and passionately hoped for, was born; but a sad calamity followed, for the queen took cold and died on October 24.

IN 1539 monastic life came to an end in England. The great monasteries were dissolved; the abbey lands were distributed partly amongst the old nobility and partly amongst the chapters of six new bishoprics. On January 6, 1540, was solemnised the marriage of Henry with Anne, daughter of the Duke of Cleves and sister-in-law of the Elector of Saxony. This event was brought about by the negotiations of Cromwell. The king was deeply displeased with the ungainly appearance of his bride when he met her on her landing, but retreat was impossible. Though Henry was personally kind to the new queen, the marriage made him wretched, and no time was lost in dissolving it.

Cromwell's enemies speedily hatched a conspiracy against the great statesman. He was arrested on a charge of high treason, was accused of corruption and heresy, of gaining wealth by bribery and extortion and, in spite of Cranmer's efforts to save him, passed to the scaffold on July 28, 1540. For eight years Cromwell, who had been ennobled as Earl of Essex, was supreme with king, parliament and convocation, and the nation, in the ferment of revolution, was absolutely controlled by him.

CONVOCATION had already dissolved the marriage of Henry and Anne, setting both free to contract and consummate other marriages without objection or delay, The queen had placidly given her consent. Handsome settlements were made on her in the shape of estates for her maintenance producing nearly three thousand a year. In August of the same year the king married, without delay of circumstance, Catherine, daughter of Lord Edmund Howard.

Brief indeed was her reign. In November 1541 she was charged with unfaithfulness to her marriage vows. The king was overwhelmed. Some dreadful spirit pursued his married life, tainting it with infamy.

Two gentlemen confessed their guilty connexion with the queen. They were hanged at Tyburn and the queen and Lady Rochford, who had been her confidential companion, suffered within the Tower. Once more the king ventured into marriage. Catherine, widow of Lord Latimer, his last choice, was selected, not in the interest of politics or religion, but by his own personal judgement; and this time he found the peace which he desired.

Henry died on January 28, 1547. He was attended in his last moments by Cranmer, having sent specially for the archbishop.

The king did nor leave the world without expressing his views on the future with elaborate explicitness. He spent the day before his death in conversation with Lord Hertford and Sir William Paget on the condition of the country. By separate and earnest messages he commended Prince Edward to the care both of Charles V and of Francis I.

The earl, on the morning of Henry's death, hastened off to bring up the prince, who was in Hertfordshire with the Princess Elizabeth, and in the afternoon of Monday, the 31st, he arrived at the Tower with Edward. The Council was already in session and Hertford was appointed protector during the minority of Edward. Thus the reforming Protestant party was in full power. Cranmer set the willing example and the other prelates consented, or were compelled to imitate him, in an acknowledgment that all jurisdiction, ecclesiastical as well as secular, within the realm only emanated from the sovereign. In February it was ordered in council that Hertford should be duke of Somerset and that his brother, Sir Thomas Seymour, should be Lord Seymour of Sudleye; Lord Parr was to be marquis of Northampton; Lord Wriothesley, the chancellor, earl of Southampton; and Viscount Lisle was to be earl of Warwick. The duke of Somerset was the young king's uncle, and the real power was at once in his hands. But if he was ambitious, it was only-as he persuaded himself-to do good.





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