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Reign of Edward VI page 4

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To prepare the way for these changes, a great step was already taken in the removal of Wriothesley from the council, and Tunstall was next ordered to his own diocese, on plea of business there which demanded his immediate attention. Oranmer then, in order to remind the bishops that the retention of their sees might depend on their acquiescence in the proposed alterations, asserted that his authority as primate expired with the king who had conferred it; and he therefore petitioned to be continued in it, and accepted a new commission to execute the functions of an archbishop till it should please the sovereign to revoke it. This was literally laying episcopacy at the foot of the throne; not admitting simply that such offices were derivable from it, but terminated at its pleasure. The example set by the primate became, as it were, a law to the whole episcopal bench.

The next movement was to adopt the late king's plan of a visitation of dioceses. For this purpose, the kingdom was divided into six circuits, to each of which was appointed a certain number of visitors, partly laymen partly clergymen, who, the moment they arrived in a diocese, became the only ecclesiastical authority there. They were empowered to call before them the bishop, the clergy, and five, six, or eight of the principal inhabitants of each parish, and put into their hands a body of Royal injunctions, seven-and-thirty in number. These injunctions regarded religious doctrines and practice, and the visitors required an answer upon oath to every question which, they chose to put concerning them. The injunctions were similar to those which had been framed and used by Cromwell, but the present practice of joining the laity with the clergy was an innovation of a more sweeping character.

The visitors also carried with them and introduced into every parish a book of homilies, which every clergyman was required to read in his church on Sundays and holidays, and also to provide for himself, and each parish for the congregation, a copy of the paraphrase of Erasmus on the New Testament. This was an immense change in the public worship of the nation, and that it might be effectually obeyed, no person was allowed to preach, not even the bishop of the diocese, who had not a licence from the metropolitan. To prevent any lack of preaching, through the refusal of any of the clergy to obey the injunctions, the most popular preachers of the reformed faith were sent down into the country, and these gradually superseded those who refused to comply with the new ordinances. Coverdale was so delighted with these regulations, that he declared the young king to be "the high and chief admiral of the great navy of the Lord of Hosts; principal captain and governor of us all under him; the most noble ruler of his ships, even our most comfortable Noah, whom the eternal God hath chosen to be the bringer of us unto rest arid quietness."

The visitors set out to their respective districts about the same time that the Protector departed for his campaign in Scotland, and he had the satisfaction, on hiŁ return, to find that they had completed their work with great success. One of the injunctions was that all objects of idolatry should be removed out of all the walls and windows of the churches; and under this particular order there was as much mischief done to art as there was good to religion; and Bishop Burnet tells us that '' those who expounded the secret providences of God with an eye to their own opinions, took great notice of this, that on the same day in which the visitors removed and destroyed most of the images in London, their armies were so successful in Scotland in Pinkie Field."

Of all the prelates who resisted the new injunctions, none were so prominent as Bonner and Gardiner. Bonner made at first a great show of opposition, then attempted to escape by saying that he would obey the injunctions as far as they were not contrary to the law of God and the ordinances of the Church, and finally acquiesced in them, at least outwardly. Gardiner took a more honest and honourable stand, and had he been as willing to concede liberty of conscience to others as he was to claim it for himself, would have proved himself a more genuine Christian than he appeared in the next reign. Gardiner, who had both great ability and learning, did not wait for the arrival of the visitors in his diocese of Winchester to ascertain the nature of the injunctions and the paraphrase. He procured copies of them, and then wrote to the Protector and the Primate, warning them of the danger, and, as he conceived, sin of forcing these on the public. He contended that the two books contradicted each other, and to the Protector he said that the king was too young to understand those matters, and Somerset himself too much occupied to examine them properly; that it was imprudent to unsettle the general mind with the theological crotchets of Cranmer, and that, as they were in direct violation of Acts of Parliament, any clergyman who taught from the homilies and paraphrase, would incur the penalties attached to the statute of the Six Articles; that the Royal covenant did not shield Wolsey from the penalty of a praemunire, nor could it hereafter defend the present clergy from the reactions of the law.

"It is a dangerous thing," he said, "to use too much freedom in researches of this kind. If you out the old canal, the water is apt to run farther than you have a mind to." And as regarded himself, he added, with a dignity worthy of respect, "My sole concern is to manage the third and last act of my life with decency, and to make a handsome exit off the stage. Provided this point is secured, I am not solicitous about the rest. I am already by nature condemned to death. No man can give me a pardon from this sentence; nor so much as procure me a reprieve. To speak my mind, and to act as my conscience dictates, are two branches of liberty which I can never part with. Sincerity in speech and integrity in action are entertaining qualities; they will stick by a man when everything else takes its leave; and I must not resign them upon any consideration. The best on it is, if I do not throw them away myself, no man can force them from me; but if I give them up, then I am ruined by myself, and deserve to lose all my preferments."

There wanted nothing to a man with such sentiments to make him great, but the heart to cede this liberty to others, but in this he wofully failed when his turn came. Now his sturdy independence condemned him to the Fleet, where Bonner had gone before him, for the council did not wait for the visitors summoning him in his own diocese, but called him before them, and committed him.

Parliament assembled on the 4th of November. In anticipation of it the Protector had procured a patent under the great seal empowering him to sit in Parliament on the right hand of the throne, and to enjoy all the honours and privileges that any king's uncle, whether by the father's or the mother's side, ever enjoyed. This was noted as the beginning of that vainglorious arrogance which in the end proved so ruinous to him. The Parliament in its proceedings first took care of the interests of the king and his ministers; but that done, it passed some very useful and constitutional acts. The subsidy of tonnage and poundage had become so much a regular aid of the crown, that Henry VIII. had received it for many years before any Act of Parliament whatever had granted it to him. It was now voted to Edward for life, but Parliament treated it not as a matter of right, but of option - a freedom which would have brought down stern reproof in the last reign. The next act was more exclusively for the benefit of the king's ministers. It went to make over to the crown all the lands of the charities, colleges, and free chapels which had been granted to Henry, but had not yet been appropriated. It was proposed to add these to the funds for the support of obits, anniversaries, and church-lights, and all guild lands possessed by fraternities for the same purpose, so that the king might employ them in providing for the poor, augmenting the income of vicarages, paying the salaries of preachers, and endowing free schools for the advancement of learning.

Cranmer, however, aware of what was the real object of the measure, opposed it in the House of Lords, and was warmly supported by the bishops; but there were too many interested in the passing of the Act for their opposition to avail. The late king's executors had already divided these amongst them, as we have seen, by anticipation, and "they saw," says Burnet, "that they could not pay his debts nor satisfy themselves in their own pretensions, formerly mentioned, out of the king's revenue, and so intended to have these divided amongst them." All who hoped to share in the booty eagerly supported them, and the bill passed by an overwhelming majority, Cranmer and six bishops constituting the whole minority. In the Commons the members of the boroughs resisted it stoutly, on account of the guild lands which it gave to the king, and they would not suffer it to pass till they were assured that these should be excepted. All such lands as had been granted by the late or present king were to be confirmed to their possessors.

These interested grants being made, Parliament proceeded to mitigate some of the severities of the last reign. It repealed those monstrous acts of Henry VIII. which gave to Royal proclamations all the force of Acts of Parliament; likewise all the penal statutes against the Lollards, and all the new felonies created in the last reign, including the statute of the Six Articles. It admitted the laity as well as the clergy to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in both kinds. It determined that the old fiction of electing bishops by "conge d'elire" should cease, and that all such appointments should proceed directly by nomination of the crown; that all processes in the episcopal courts should be carried on in the king's name, and all documents issuing thence should be sealed, not with the bishop's seal, but with that of the crown. The claim of spiritual supremacy was placed on the same level as the other rights of the crown, and it was made a capital offence to deny that the king was supreme head of the Church; but with this distinction, that what was printed of that nature was direct high treason - what was merely spoken only became so by repetition. A bill for legalising the marriages of the clergy was brought into the Commons, and carried by a large majority; but, from some cause, was not carried to the Lords during the present session.

The attention of the Legislature was drawn forcibly to a great and growing evil, that of mendicancy. Those who had received daily relief at the doors of the monasteries and convents, were now thrown on the country in crowds, without homes and resources. They speedily grew in this life into the worst type of vagabondism; swarmed on the highways, and in the villages and solitary country dwellings became a terror and a nuisance. The boldest and worst soon associated in the shape of footpads and robbers, and travelling became highly dangerous. An act was, therefore, passed for the punishment of these vagabonds, and for the relief of the poor. The relief was of a very inefficient and fallacious kind. It was ordered that the impotent, the maimed, and the aged, who were not vagabonds, should be relieved "by the willing and charitable dispositions of the parishioners" where they were born or had lived for the last three years. Belief by the charitable disposition of parishioners where no specific fund for the purpose was erected, was not likely to be very great; but the punishments awarded to the vagabond class were of the most savage and brutal character, and said very little for the better understanding of the Gospel in those reformers of religion. Well might the young king in his journal term it "an extreme law." Any person brought before two justices of the peace on the charge of "living idly and loitering for the space of three days," was to be branded with a hot iron on the breast with the letter V, as a vagabond, and adjudged to serve the informer for two years as his slave. The master thus acquiring his services, was to give him bread, water, or small drink, but to refuse meat, and might compel him to work by beating, chaining, or otherwise, at any kind of labour, however vile. He might put an iron ring round his neck, arm, or leg, and if he absented himself for a fortnight, might brand the letter S into his cheek or forehead, as a sign that he was become a slave for life. If he ran away a second time, he was to suffer death as a felon. Clerks, that is clergymen, convicted of felony, if they were entitled to purgation in the bishop's court. were to be slaves for two years; if not so entitled, for five years. The masters of this new class of slaves could sell them, let them out for hire, or give them without hire, in any manner or for any term that they thought proper, as they had a right to do with any other of their movable goods and chattels. If no one presented them to the magistrates, they might hunt them up themselves, brand them as slaves, and dispose of them as they thought best, by selling them, letting them out to work in chains on the roads or other public works. Thus, ample powers were given for establishing an extensive slave-trade and slavery in England and in Englishmen in the sixteenth century. Still worse, any one might seize the children of beggars, and use or dispose of them as slaves: the boys till they were twenty-four years of age, and the girls till they were twenty. If they ran away they were empowered to put them in chains, and otherwise to punish them. And though these unfortunates would nominally acquire their freedom at the prescribed age, yet that was perfectly nominal, for being found begging or loitering as they must do, they were liable to be immediately seized again.

This act was so atrocious, and liable to such hideous abuses, that it was repealed after two years' trial, and the statute of 28 Henry VIII., c. 12, was revived, allowing persons to beg with license of the magistrates, and punishing beggars without license with whipping, or the stocks for three days and three nights.

Parliament terminated its sitting on the 24th of December, and the council, carrying forward its measures for the advancement of the Reformation, issued an order prohibiting the bearing of candles on Candlemas-Day, of ashes on Ash Wednesday, and of palms on Palm Sunday. The order against images was repeated, the clothes covering which were directed to be given to the poor. The people, however, who delighted in religious ceremonies, processions, and spectacles, and thought the sermons very dull, were by no means pleased with these innovations. There was to be no elevation of the host, and the whole service was to be in English.

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