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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Concluded). page 11

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At the same time that Henry had thus been squandering the 'monastic property, and had so falsified all his promises of making the crown independent of taxation, that within twelve months he was obliged to come to Parliament for a subsidy of two-tenths and two-fifteenths, he had all along been riveting the doctrines of the Church of Rome faster on the nation, and persecuting all those who dared to call them in question. At one time he had wished to unite with the Reformers of Germany, and so early as 1535 had sent over to the Protestant princes at Smalcald, the Bishop of Hereford, Archdeacon Heath, and Dr. Barnes, to negotiate a league; but the princes called upon him to subscribe their confession of faith, and to lend them 200,000 crowns. Gardiner, who was at heart as complete a Romanist as any in Spain or Italy, very soon prevented any such union, though Henry was to be proclaimed its head. This might please his vanity, but Gardiner knew how to tickle that still more. "Why," he asked, "was Henry to subscribe to their confession of faith? Was he not head of his own Church; authorised to make what alterations he pleased; and, having emancipated himself from the thraldom of the Pope, was he to put his neck under the yoke of the German divines? At all events, even before he thought of such a thing, he should insist that they should first sanction his divorce and the doctrine of his supremacy." This was enough: Henry dismissed all idea of the German Confederation.

The Lower House of Convocation, as if to deter Henry still farther from any schemes of German union of faith, drew up a list of fifty-nine propositions, which it denounced as heresies, extracted from the publications of different Reformers, and presented it to the Upper House. On this, Henry, who believed himself a greater theologian than any in either house of Convocation, drew up, with the aid of some of the prelates, a book of "Articles," which was presented by Cromwell to the Convocation, and there subscribed. This was then passed through Parliament, and became termed too justly the "Bloody Statute," for a more terrible engine of persecution never existed. To expound this still further, by his order, Convocation issued a little book called "The Godly and Pious Institution of a Christian Man." This was subscribed by the archbishops, bishops, archdeacons, and certain doctors of the canon and civil law, and pronounced by them "in all things the very true meaning of Scripture." This was the standard of Henry's orthodoxy, and any one daring to differ from this was to perish by fire or gallows. The Six Articles asserted the real presence in the eucharist, the communion in one kind, the perpetual obligation of vows of chastity, the utility of private masses, celibacy, and the necessity of auricular confession. The "Institution of the Christian Man" sternly refuses salvation to every one beyond the pale of the "Catholic Church," yet denies the supremacy of the pontiff, and inculcates passive obedience to the king. It declares that no cause whatever can authorise a subject to take up arms against the sovereign; that kings are only accountable to God; and that the only remedy against regal oppression is prayer to God to change the heart of a despot, and lead him to use justly his power. Such were the doctrines, religious and political, which this great Church Reformer now established; yet, at the same time, he inconsistently permitted Bibles to be chained in churches, and soon after to be used in private houses - a measure which was certain to generate opponents to his favourite creed. Accordingly, betwixt the king's permission to read the Bible, and thus to learn the truth, and his decree that they should only believe what he pleased to allow them, the fires of Smithfield were soon ablaze, and the most terrible scenes enacted.

No sooner had the statute of the Six Articles passed, than Latimer and Shaxton, the Bishops of Worcester and Salisbury, resigned their sees; and Cranmer, who had been living openly with his wife and children, seeing the king's determination to enforce the celibacy of the clergy, sent off his family to Germany, and made himself outwardly conformable to the law.

At the end of the year 1539, the king put to death, in Smithfield, three victims of his religious intolerance. The two first were a man and a woman who were Anabaptists. The third was John Lambert, formerly a priest, who had become a schoolmaster in London. He was a Reformer, and denied the doctrine which Henry was now enforcing under the penalty of death, that the real presence existed in the bread and wine. An information was laid against him to Cranmer, who summoned the offender to appear before him in his archiepiscopal court. What a pitiable idea does it give us of the cowardice and duplicity of Cranmer, knowing, as we do, that he held this very opinion himself; and yet, rather than bring himself into danger, he compelled this far more honest man to stand upon his trial for it, at the certain risk of his life! Henry, however, who never lost an opportunity of displaying his theology, determined to preside at the trial himself. Sampson, the Bishop of Chichester, opened the trial with a speech, in which he said that the king had cast off the yoke of the Pope, had sent away those drones, the monks, and permitted the reading of the Bible, but he was determined that no other change should take place in religion in his reign. Then the king, who was now grown not only corpulent, but much diseased in body, and as coarse in his speech as he was violent in his temper, started up and cried, "Ho, good fellow! what is thy name?" On being told that it was Nicholson, though he was commonly called Lambert, Henry exclaimed that he would not believe a man with two names though he were his own brother; and continued, "Fellow! what sayest thou concerning the sacrament? Wilt thou deny that the eucharist is the real body of Christ?"

The prisoner stood firm to his denial, and when he had been severely questioned by Cranmer and eight other bishops for five hours, he was condemned to the flames. Not only did Cranmer concur in the sentence, but Cromwell, who professed so much zeal for the Reformation, did the same, and with a vile adulation, writing to Wyatt, praised the king for "the benign grace, excellent gravity, and inestimable majesty" with which he endeavoured to convert the unhappy man! It is impossible to read of this degraded tyrant, and of the base slaves by whom he was surrounded, and believe that these things took place in England. Poor England! it was now reduced to the condition to which this Cromwell had vowed that he would bring it. "The Lord Cromwell," says Gardiner, in his letters, "had once put it in the king's head to take upon him to have his will and pleasure regarded for law; and therefore I was called for at Hampton Court. And, as he was very stout, 'Come in my Lord of Winchester,' quoth he, 'answer the king here, but speak plainly and directly, and shrink not, man. Is not that,' quoth he, 'that pleaseth the king a law? Have you not that in the civil laws, quod principi placuit, &c.?'" Gardiner was confounded; but after a while said, "that for the king to make the law his will, was more sure and quiet," on which the king turned his back and left the matter. But in the statute of the Six Articles, it was boldly declared that the king's proclamations had the authority of Acts of Parliament!

During the whole of the years 1538 and 1539 Henry was, nevertheless, not only grown suspicious of his subjects, but greatly alarmed at the rumours of a combination betwixt the Pope, the Emperor, and the King of France against him. It was rumoured that Cardinal Pole was assisting in this scheme, and as Henry could not reach him, he determined to take vengeance on his relatives and friends in England. A truce for ten-years was concluded, under the Papal mediation, betwixt Charles and Francis, at Nice, June, 1538. On the part of the two monarchs, they urged Paul to publish his bull of excommunication against Henry, which had been reserved so long, and Henry, whose spies soon conveyed to him these tidings, immediately ordered his fleet to be put in a state of activity, his harbours of defence strengthened, and the whole population to be called under arms, in expectation of a combined attack from these enemies.

But at this conference Cardinal Pole had been present, and Henry directly attributed the scheme of invasion to him. At once, therefore, he let loose his fury on his relatives and friends in England. Becket, the usher, and Wrothe, server of the Royal chamber, were dispatched into Cornwall, to collect some colour of accusation against Henry Courtenay, the Marquis of Exeter, and his adherents and dependants. The marquis and marchioness were soon arrested, as well as Sir Geoffrey Pole and Lord Montagu, brothers of the cardinal, and Sir Edward Neville, a brother of Lord Abergavenny. Two! priests, Croft and Collins, and Holland, a mariner, were also arrested, and lodged in the Tower. On the last day of the year, the marquis and Lord Montagu were tried before some of the peers, but not before their peers in Parliament, for Parliament was not sitting. The commoners were brought to trial before juries; and all on a charge of having conspired to place Reginald Pole, late Dean of Exeter, the king's enemy, on the throne. The king's ministers declared that the charge was well proved, but no such proofs were ever published, which, we may be sure would have been had they existed. It was said that they had sent the cardinal money, which, from his own family, might have been the case, and yet with no treason. It was also charged on the Marquis of Exeter that he had said, "I like well the proceedings of Cardinal Pole. I like not the proceedings of this realm. I trust to see a change in this world. I trust once to have a fair day on the knaves that rule about the king. I trust to give them a buffet one day."

Now, had these words been fully proved, of which there is no evidence, where was the treason? Any honest man of the old persuasion might, and did, no doubt, say that he did not like the changes going, and might hope to see the ministers who recommended them removed. But the fact was, those noblemen where descended directly from the old Royal line of England: Courtenay was grandson to Edward IV., by his daughter Catherine, and the Poles were grandsons to George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of Edward. All had a better title to the throne than Henry, and that, combined with their connection with the cardinal, was the cause of the tyrant's deadly enmity. If these prisoners had been inclined to treason, they had had the fairest opportunity of showing it during the northern insurrection, but they had taken no part whatever. But Henry had determined to wreak his vengeance, which could not reach the cardinal, on them; and the servile peers and courts condemned them. It was said that Sir Geoffrey Pole, to save his own life, consented to give evidence against the rest - secretly it must have been, for it was never produced. His life, therefore, was spared, but the rest were executed. Lord Montagu, the Marquis of Exeter, and Sir Edward Neville were beheaded on Tower Hill on the 9th of January, 1539, and Sir Nicholas Carew, master of the king's horse, was also beheaded on the 3rd of March, on a charge of being privy to the conspiracy. The two priests and the mariner were hanged and quartered at Tyburn. A commission was then sent down into Cornwall, which arraigned, condemned, and put to death two gentlemen of the names of Kendall and Quintrell, for having said, some years before, that Exeter was the heir apparent, and should be king, if Henry married Anne Boleyn, or it should cost a thousand lives.

The whole of these were just so many judicial murders, to glut the spite of this bloody despot. Lord Herbert, one of the best possibly informed writers of the age, declares that he could never discover any real proofs of the charges against these noblemen, and their destruction excited universal horror. Even at this advanced period of his tyranny and his crimes, Henry was not insensible to the odium occasioned, and ordered a book to be published containing the real proofs of their treason. The cardinal himself proclaimed to the world, that if his relations had entertained any treasonable designs, they would have shown them during the insurrection, and that he had carefully examined the king's book for these proofs, but in vain.

But the sanguinary fury of Henry was not yet sated. The cardinal was sent by the Pope to the Spanish and French courts to concert the carrying out of the scheme of policy against England agreed upon. Henry defeated this by means of his agents, and neither Charles nor Francis would move: but not the less did Henry determine further to punish the hostile cardinal. Judgment of treason was pronounced against him; the Continental sovereigns were called upon to deliver him up; and he was constantly surrounded by spies, and, as lie believed, ruffians hired to assassinate him. Meantime it was said that a French vessel had been driven by stress of weather into South Shields, and in it had been taken three emissaries - an English priest of the name of Moore, and two Irishmen, a monk and a friar, who were said to be carrying treasonable letters to the Pope and to Pole. The Irish monks were sent up to London, and tortured in the Tower - a very unnecessary measure, if they really possessed the treasonable letters alleged.

On the 28th of April Parliament was called upon to pass bills of attainder against Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, the mother of Cardinal Pole; Gertrude, the widow of the Marquis of Exeter; the son of Lord Montagu, a boy of tender years; Sir Adam Fortescue, and Sir Thomas Dingley.

If the evidence taken from the captive monks had anything to do with these attainders, it must have been very vague and meagre indeed, for it was found on trial that no sufficient charge could be established against any of the accused. The Countess of Salisbury, the mother of the cardinal, was a lady seventy years of age, but of a powerful and undaunted mind. She was first privately examined by the Earl of Southampton, and Goodrich, Bishop of Ely. But she conducted herself with so much spirit, that they wrote to Cromwell that she was more like a strong and determined man than a woman; that she denied everything laid to her charge; and it seemed to them that her sons could not have made her privy to their treasons. They, in fact, had no evidence.

Cromwell next undertook her and the Marchioness of Exeter, but with no better success. He had got hold of some of the countess's servants, yet he could extract nothing from them; but as the king was resolved to put his victims to death, something must be done, and, therefore, Cromwell demanded of the judges whether persons accused of treason might not be attainted and condemned by Parliament without any trial! The judges, who, like every one else under this monster of a king, had lost all sense of honour and justice in the fears for their own safety, replied that it was a nice question, and one that no inferior tribunal could entertain, but that Parliament was supreme, and that an attainder by Parliament would be good in law! Such a bill was accordingly passed through the servile Parliament, condemning the whole to death without any form of trial whatever. To such a pass was England come - its whole constitution, its Magna Charta, its very right and privilege, thrown down before this cruel despot.

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