Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Concluded).
Separation of England from Rome - Popular Disturbances - The Maid of Kent - Henry assumes the Title of the Head of the English Church- - Fisher and More beheaded - Cromwell made Vicar-General of Ecclesiastical Affairs - Death of Queen Catherine - Henry rejects the Emperor's Invitation to return to Unity with Rome - Dissolution of Monasteries - Invitation from Germany to join the Smalcaldic League - Anne Boleyn sent to the Tower, tried, divorced, and beheaded - Henry marries Jane Seymour-Henry's Children declared Illegitimate - Insurrections - Pilgrimage of Grace - Fresh Insurrections and Executions - Prince Edward born - The Queen dies - Insurrections raised by Cardinal Pole, and Execution of the Insurgents - The Statute of the Six Articles-Grant of all the Proceeds of the dissolved Monasteries - Fresh Executions on account on the Pole Insurrections - Henry marries Anne of Cleves - Knights of St. John dissolved - Fall and Execution of Cromwell - Anne of Cleves divorced. Henry marries Catherine Howard - Countess of Sarum executed - Queen Catherine Howard attainted of High Treason, and beheaded - War with Scotland - Treaty for Marriage betwixt Prince Edward and Mary of Scotland - Henry marries Catherine Parr - Breach with and Invasion of Scotland - War with France - Dissolution of Hospitals, Charities, Colleges, &c. - Peace with France - The Queen in Danger - The Earl of Surrey beheaded - Death of Henry - His Character.Pages: <1> 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29
The discontent excited in the country amongst those attached to the Church of Rome, by the separation, and by the seizure of church property, with the fear of still greater spoliation, excited many murmurings; and the king, aware that his proceedings were regarded with disapprobation by a vast body of people both at home and abroad, became suspicious of every rumour, jealous and vindictive. Amongst the singular conspiracies against the royal transactions, one of the earliest arose out of the visions of a young woman of Aldington, in Kent, of the name of Elizabeth Barton, who was of a nervous and mesmeric temperament, and whose mind was greatly excited by the sufferings of Queen Catherine. The rector of the parish, struck by many of the words which fell from her in her mesmeric trances, regarded her as a religiously inspired person, and recommended her to quit the village, and enter the convent of St. Sepulchre, at Canterbury. There her ecstacies and revelations, probably strengthened by the atmosphere of the place, became more frequent and strong. The nuns regarded her declarations as prophecies, and the fame of her soon spread round the country, where she acquired the name of the "Holy Maid of Kent,"
Richard Maister, the Rector of Aldington, who first patronised her, seems to have continued his interest in her after she became an inmate of the convent, but Booking, a canon of Christchurch, Canterbury, who became her confessor, was her most enthusiastic abettor. Deering, a monk, collected a number of her declarations, visions, and prophecies. She had began these visions so early as 1526, but they had become every year more blown abroad: and it was observed that they had all a tendency to exalt the power of the Pope and the clergy, and to denounce the vengeance of Heaven on all who disobeyed or attempted to injure them.
Henry had had his attention drawn to this young woman and her visions and utterances in her early career; and he had shown Sir Thomas More her sayings, who replied that he saw nothing in them but what "a right simple woman might, in his mind, speak of her own wit well enough." But as the cause of Catherine more and more agitated the public mind, and the invasion of the monastic property embittered the religious orders, the vaticinations of the maid had risen also in intensity, and struck at higher personages. She asserted that God had shown her a root with three branches, and had declared that it never would be merry in England till both root and branches were destroyed. This was interpreted to mean Wolsey as the root, and the king, Norfolk, and Suffolk, as the three branches. Next she declared that she had seen the Almighty deliver to Wolsey three swords, signifying the threefold authority which he exercised as legate, chancellor, and minister, "in the great matter of the king's marriage;" and, besides, she had at the same time declared that, unless the cardinal made good use of these swords, "it would be laid sorely to his charge." In another vision she went farther, and prophesied that, if he repudiated Catherine, he would die within seven months, and be succeeded by his daughter Mary. Henry had already disproved her soothsaying by far outliving the time prescribed; but when, in 1533, the opponents of his measures had become greatly irritated, he considered that the words of the maid, which were sedulously taken down and circulated through the press, were a powerful means of stirring up the popular feeling against him, and he therefore ordered the arrest of herself and the chief of her accomplices.
In November they were brought into the Star Chamber, and carefully examined by Cranmer, the archbishop, Cromwell, and Hugh Latimer, who soon after was made Bishop of Worcester. This tribunal appears to have intimidated both the maid and her abettors into a confession of the imposture, and they were condemned to stand during the sermon on Sunday at St. Paul's Cross, and there confess the imposture. After that they were remanded to prison, and it was thought that, having disarmed these people by this exposure, he would be satisfied with the punishment they had received. But Henry was now become every day more and more addicted to blood, and ready to shed it for any infringement of those almost Divine rights which the supremacy of the Church seemed to have conferred on him in his own conceit. On the 21st of February, 1534, therefore, a bill of attainder was brought into the House of Lords against the maid, and against Maister, Booking, Deering, Gold, Rich, and Risley, as her abettors, on the plea that their conspiracy tended to bring into peril the king's life and crown. The bill, notwithstanding that it was regarded with horror by the public as a strange and cruel stretch of authority, was passed by the slavish Parliament; and on the 21st of April, 1534, the seven accused were drawn to Tyburn and hanged. At the gallows the poor maiden, Elizabeth Barton, made this confession: - "Hither am I come to die, and I have not only been the cause of mine own death, but am also the cause of the death of all those persons which at this time here suffer. And yet, to say the truth, I am not so much to be blamed, considering that it was well known unto those learned men that I was a poor wench without learning; but because the things which fell from me were profitable unto them, therefore they much praised me, and bare me in hand that it was the Holy Ghost which said them, and not I: and then I, being puffed up with their praises, fell into certain pride and foolish fantasy, which hath brought me to this."
The case of the poor girl is clear enough by the light of modern science. She was a mesmeric subject, whose mind was stimulated and played upon by those about her for their own purposes. With her, besides the persons who suffered immediately, there were also accused of corresponding with her, Edward Thwaites, gentleman, Thomas Lawrence, registrar to the Archdeacon of Canterbury, Fisher, the venerable Bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More. Fisher was now old, and had passed a life of great honour for his learning, integrity, and accomplishments. He was an admired friend of the celebrated Erasmus. He was the last survivor of the counsellors of Henry VII., and the prelate to whose care the Countess of Richmond, the mother of Henry VII., had committed the education of her grandson, now Henry VIII. Henry had felt or professed great affection for his old tutor, and had boasted that no prince in Europe had a prelate equal in learning and virtue to the Bishop of Rochester. Fortunate would it have been for Henry had he been wise enough to follow the counsels of Fisher; and most unfortunate for the bishop that he lived under a prince who would either bend to his sensual will every mind about him, however great and dignified, or would destroy their possessors from his path. Nothing but the blood of those who thwarted him could satisfy Henry. He seized on this pretence to further his vengeance, and he soon discovered more plausible cause to consummate it.
Fisher, who was in his seventy-sixth year, confessed that he had seen and conversed with Elizabeth Barton; that he had heard her utter her prophecies concerning the king; and that he had not mentioned them to the sovereign, because her declarations did not refer to any violence against the king, but merely to a visitation of Providence; and because, also, he knew that the king had received the communication of the prophecies from the maid herself, who had had for that purpose a private audience with the king. He was, therefore, he said, guiltless of any conspiracy: and knew not, as he would answer it before the throne of Christ, of any malice or evil that was intended by her, or by any other earthly creature, unto the king's highness.
The name of Sir Thomas More was erased from this bill, though he could not be more innocent than Fisher, but not more than a fortnight passed before the bloodthirsty tyrant had contrived a more deadly snare for them both. He had them summoned, and commanded to take the new oath of allegiance. They were both of them ready to swear to the king's full temporal authority, and to the succession of his children, but they could not conscientiously take the oath which declared Henry the supreme head of the English Church, and the marriage with Anne Boleyn lawful. Cranmer, who on this occasion showed more mildness and liberality than he had shown honest principles in his elevation, would fain have admitted these illustrious men to take the oath so far as it applied to temporal, and to dispense with it as it regarded the spiritual matters. But he pleaded in vain, and they were both committed to the Tower.
Henry, having got the Acts of Parliament for the supremacy and the succession, was not of a temper to let them become a dead letter. Whether it were owing to the carelessness of Parliament or the carefulness of the Crown, the oath of the succession had not been verbally defined, and Henry now availed himself of this omission to alter and add to it so as to please himself, From the clergy he took care to obtain an oath including the full recognition of his supremacy in the Church, omitting the qualifying clause in the former one; and an assertion that the Bishop of Borne had no more authority within the realm than any other bishop. He spent the summer in administering this oath to the monks, friars, and nuns, also to all clergymen and clerical bodies whatever, and in obtaining decisions against the papal authority from the two convocations and the universities. The oath to the laity was administered to men and women alike. Remembering the mental reservation of Cranmer when he swore obedience to the Pope, he now demanded from every prelate an oath of renunciation of every protest previously or secretly made contrary to the oath of supremacy. He ordered that the very word Pope should be obliterated carefully out of all books used in public worship.
Every schoolmaster was commanded to teach diligently the new and daring doctrine to the children under his care; every clergyman, from the bishop to the curate, was bound to inculcate, every Sunday and every holiday, the principle that the king was head of the Church, and that the authority hitherto exercised by the Pope was a usurpation, permitted only by the negligence or cowardice of his predecessors. To bind the clergy and the schoolmasters to their duty, the sheriff of every county was ordered to keep a close eye upon them, and to report to the council all who not merely neglected this duty, but who were even lukewarm in discharging it. He also called upon the prelates to write as well as preach in support of his new power; and Sampson, Stokesley, Tunstall, and Gardiner obeyed the summons.
If Henry had been a zealous Reformer, a disciple of the new creed, we might have attributed his proceedings to an arbitrary and uncharitable earnestness for what he deemed, the truth: but he was just as bigoted in the old faith as ever. His Bloody Statute, as it was called, the Statute of Six Articles, maintained that the actual presence was in the sacramental bread and wine; that priests were forbidden to marry; that vows of chastity were to be observed; and that mass and auricular confession were indispensable. Those who opposed any of these dogmas were to suffer death; no doctrine was to be believed contrary to the Six Articles; no persons were to sing or rhyme contrary to them; no book was to be possessed by any one against the Holy Sacrament; no annotations or preambles were to exist in Bibles or Testaments in English; and nothing was to be taught contrary to the king's command. In fact, the country had only got rid of an Italian Pope and got an English one - Pope Henry VIII.
The terrible example which Henry had made of Wolsey awed the clergy, for the most part, into obedience; and such was now the horrible influence of unlimited power upon him, that the tiger appetite for blood became every day developed, and soon led him on to a monstrous indulgence of cruelty and oppression, which made his name a terror through the whole world. He dealt out royal murders without stint; the highest, the noblest, the wisest, the best fell before him; and men, famed for genius and learning, were butchered one after another, as if they were the vilest malefactors. He attainted sixteen persons at once, at this time, and executed them without trial; and all opinions that were not his opinions, were alike fatal to men. He burnt six persons together, half Papists half Protestants, tying a Protestant and a Papist arm in arm. The Papists he killed because they did not go far enough, the Protestants because they would go too far; and he opened a stream of blood and kindled a destroying fire, which raged on through the succeeding reigns to such an extent, that 100,000 persons were calculated to have perished under the Royal determination of succeeding kings and queens to allow nobody but themselves to think, ere toleration was wrested from them.
The first-fruits of this awful concession, to a vain and selfish man, of the usurpation of God's own dominion in the soul, were an indiscriminating mass of Lollards, Lutherans, Anabaptists, and Roman Catholics committed to the flames. On the 22nd of July, during the prorogation of Parliament, a young man of singular learning, who had written a book against purgatory and transubstantiation and consubstantiation, was burnt in Smithfield; and a poor tailor, Andrew Hewett, who simply affirmed that he thought Firth was right, was burnt with him. Several Anabaptists underwent the same fate.
As that year closed in blood, so the next opened. Some of the monks, and especially the Carthusian, Franciscan, and Brigittin Observants, secluded from the world, and more obedient to their consciences than their fears, steadily refused to take the oath, or to proclaim in their churches and chapels that the Pope was Antichrist. All the Friar Observants were ejected from their monasteries, and dispersed. Some were thrust into prisons, others were confined in the houses of the Friars Conventuals. About fifty perished from the rigour of this treatment, and the rest were exiled to France and Scotland. Others of them were hanged, and were told that they were mildly treated, for the Lutherans and other Protestants were burned. The priors of the then Charter-houses of London, Axholm, and Belleval, waited on Cromwell to explain their conscientious scruples; but Cromwell, who was become the harsh and unhesitating instrument of Henry's despotism, instead of listening to them, committed them to the Tower on a charge of high treason, for refusing the king "the dignity, style, and name of his Royal estate." When he brought them to trial the jury shrunk from giving such a verdict against men of their acknowledged virtue and character. Cromwell hastened to the court in person, and threatened to hang them instead of the prisoners, if they did not without further delay pronounce them guilty. Five days later, these three dignitaries were executed at Tyburn, with Richard Reynolds, a doctor of divinity and monk of Sion, and John Hailes, Vicar of Thistleworth. They were all treated with savage barbarity, being hanged, cut down alive, embowelled, and dismembered. On the 18th of June, nearly a fortnight afterwards, Exmew, Middlemore, and Nudigate, three Carthusian monks from the Charter-house, were executed, with the same atrocities.
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