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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Continued) page 14


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The scheme of Cranmer had not worked particularly well; the opinions of the universities were for the most part either adverse, or were forced, and those of learned men more opposed than coinciding. It had been the intention, when these opinions were collected, to lay them before the Pope as the voice of the united Christian world pronouncing in favour of the divorce; but they were not, after all, of a complexion which was likely to do much good. The plan, therefore, was altered, and a letter, subscribed by the lords spiritual and temporal, and by a certain number of the Commons, as the representatives of the nation, was addressed to the Pope, in which it was asked what crime the King of England had committed that he could not obtain what the most learned men and the most famous universities declared to be his right? that the country was threatened with the calamities of a disputed succession, which could only be averted by the king's marriage; and yet that marriage was prevented by the delays of the Papal Court. To this Clement replied that the delay was the king's own, who had neglected to appoint an attorney to plead for him at Rome.

Baffled thus by the pertinacity of Clement, backed by the constant vigilance and favour of the emperor, Henry began to lose much of his confidence and overbearing insolence. He complained that he had been assured that nothing would be easier than to procure a divorce, but now he found himself involved in labours and intricacies that threatened to last his life, and even to wear it oat. There needed a more determined spirit than that of Cranmer to break the way through the wood of embarrassments in which they were involved, and the right man now stepped forward in Thomas Cromwell, the former secretary of Wolsey. The rise of this man had been extraordinary. He was the son of a blacksmith at Putney, who, as he had acquired capital, became a brewer, or fuller, and could afford to give his son a tolerable education, including some Latin. In early youth he went to the Continent, where, amongst other knowledge, he made himself master of the principal languages. He was, in the commencement of his career on the Continent, a clerk in an English house at Antwerp; after that he went into the army, and was serving under the Duke of Bourbon at the sack of Rome. On the restoration of peace, he again returned to the counting-house, in the employ of a Venetian merchant. At length, stored with knowledge calculated to make him of the most signal service as a politician, he returned to England, and commenced the study of the law. By some means he was brought under the notice of Cardinal Wolsey, who immediately perceived the value of his experience of the world and his accomplishments. Wolsey secured his services, and soon employed him in the great work of dissolving the monasteries, the proceeds of which he destined to the erection and endowment of his colleges. In this employment he gave great satisfaction to his patron, and at the same time is said to have enriched himself. Hated by the clergy, who saw in him a dangerous and able enemy, he was the more strongly supported by the cardinal, who had need of so daring and unscrupulous a man. By his influence he was soon sent to Parliament, where his talents, eloquence, and ready address soon greatly distinguished him.

When Wolsey was disgraced, Cromwell showed that there was a strong principle of gratitude and attachment in his soul. He accompanied the fallen minister to the retreat appointed him at Esher. There he seems to have brooded in the solitude on the evil fortunes which had overtaken his master, and in which his own were involved. Cavendish, the secretary of the cardinal, relates this incident: - "It chanced me, upon Allhallow's Day, to come into the great chamber at Esher, in the morning, to give mine attendance; where I found Master Cromwell leaning in the great window with a primer in his hand, saying Our Lady matins, which since had been a strange sight. He prayed not more earnestly than the tears distilled from his eyes. Whom I bade good morrow, and with that I perceived the tears upon his cheeks. To whom I said, 'Why, Master Cromwell, what meaneth all this sorrow? Is my lord in any danger, that you lament thus? Or is it for any loss ye have sustained for any misadventure?' 'Nay, nay,' quoth he, 'it is my unhappy adventure, which am likely to lose all that I have travelled for all the days of my life, for doing my master true and diligent service!'" Cavendish endeavoured to comfort him, but he said, "An ill name once gotten was not likely to be put away." Presently, however, he added, in a more cheerful tone, "But I intend, God willing, this afternoon, when my lord cardinal hath dined, to ride to London, and so to the Court, where I will either make or mar."

Cromwell was intensely ambitious; but with his own aspiring, he - more noble than most courtiers - still desired to unite the interests of his old patron. Wolsey approved of his design to return to the Court, where he could prosecute the advantage of both master, and man; and it was at this moment that Wolsey addressed those words to his departing servant which have been so beautifully woven into his drama by Shakespeare: -

"Wolsey. Cromwell, I did not think to shed a tear
In all my miseries; but thou hast forced me,
Out of thy honest truth, to play the woman.
Let's dry our eyes; and thus far hear me, Cromwell;
And, when I am forgotten, as I shall be,
And sleep in dull, cold marble, where no mention
Of me more must be heard of, say, I taught thee -
Say Wolsey, that once trod the ways of glory,
And sounded all the depths and shoals of honour,
Found thee a way out of his wreck to rise in;
A sure and safe one, though thy master missed it.
Mark but my fall, and that that ruined me.
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition;
By this sin fell the angels: how can man, then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by't?
Love thyself last: cherish those hearts that hate thee;
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,
To silence envious tongues. Be just, and fear not:
Let all the ends thou aim'st at be thy country's,
Thy God's and truth's: then if thou fall'st, O Cromwell,
Thou fall'st a blessed martyr."

Arrived at Court, Cromwell conducted himself with so much address, that he was continued in the stewardship of the monastic estates which had fallen into the hands of Wolsey, and now of the king. This position necessarily brought him into the frequent presence of Henry, who, like Wolsey, soon discovered the able and accomplished character of the man. When, therefore, Henry expressed his disgust with the obstacles interposed in the way of the divorce, and his impatient declaration that he would now abandon the attempt for ever, had been carried to Anne Boleyn, and dismay had seized on her and all her adherents, the moment was come for a man like Cromwell to step in, and show the pre-eminence of his own genius and courage,

The day after this declaration of the king's had thrown the whole Court into despair, Cromwell sought an interview with Henry, and, determined, according to his own phrase, "to make or mar," thus addressed him: - "It was not," he observed, "for him to affect to give advice, where so many wise and abler men had failed, but when he saw the anxiety of his sovereign, he could no longer be silent, whatever might be the result. It might appear presumption in him to judge, but he thought the difficulties of His Majesty arose from the timidity of his counsellors, who were deterred by outward appearances, and mislead by the opinions of the vulgar. But what were the real facts? The most famous universities, the most learned men, had pronounced in favour of the divorce. What, then, prevented the divorce? The terrors of the Pope. Now, that might be all very well so far as the Pope was concerned, but that did not concern the real case, or the King of England. Let the Pope guard himself against the resentment of the emperor if he chose, but why should the cowardice of Clement cause Henry to forego his rights? There was a clear and obvious course to pursue. Let the king do just what the princes of Germany had done, throw off the yoke of Borne; and let him, by the authority, declare himself, as he should be, the head of the Church within his own dominions. At present England was a monster with two heads. But let the king assume the authority now usurped by a foreign pontiff, an authority from which so many evils and confusions to this realm had flowed, and the monstrosity would be at an end; all would be simple, harmonious, and devoid of difficulty. The clergy, sensible that their lives and fortunes were in the hands of their own monarch - hands which could be no longer paralysed by alien interference - from haughty antagonists would instantly become the obsequious ministers of his will."

Henry listened to this new doctrine with equal wonder and delight, and he thanked Cromwell heartily, and had him instantly sworn of his privy council.

No time was lost in trying the efficacy of Cromwell's daring scheme. It was one at which the stoutest heart and most iron resolution might have trembled, to sever that ancient union which had existed so many ages, and was hallowed in the eyes of the world by so many proud recollections; but Cromwell had taken a profound survey of the region he was about to invade, and had learned its- weakest places. He relied on the unscrupulous impetuosity of the king's passion to bear him through; he relied far more on the finesse of his own genius. With the calmest resolution, he laid his finger on one single page of the statute-book, and knew that he was master of the Church. The law which rendered any one guilty of a praemunire who received direct favours from the Pope, permitted the monarch to suspend the action of this statute at his discretion. This he had done in the case of Wolsey. When he accepted the legative authority, he took care to obtain a patent under the great seal, authorising the exercise of this foreign power. But Wolsey, when he was called in question for the administration of an office thus especially sanctioned by the Crown, neglected to produce this deed of indemnity, hoping still to be restored to the royal favour, and unwilling to irritate the king by any show of self-defence. There lay the concealed weapon which the shrewd eye of Cromwell had detected, and by which he could overturn the ecclesiastical fabric of ages. He declared, to the consternation of the whole hierarchy, that not only had Wolsey involved himself in all the penalities of a praemunire, but the whole of the clergy with him. They had admitted his exercise of the Papal authority, and thereby were become, in the language of the statute, his fautors and abettors.

Dire was the dismay which at this charge seized on the whole body of the clergy. The council ordered the Attorney-General to file an information against the entire ecclesiastical corps. The convocation assembled in haste, and offered, as the price of a full pardon, 100,000. But still greater was the amazement and dismay of the clergy, when they found that this magnificent sum was rejected unless the convocation consented to declare, in the preamble to the grant, that the king was "the protector and only supreme head of the Church of England." The clergy now opened their eyes to the real and unexampled fact before them. They were called on to renounce the supremacy of the Holy See - to throw down an authority which their ancestors for a thousand years had held to be sacred and inviolable. The convocation, in this unprecedented dilemma, debated the matter for three days, without coming any nearer to a solution of the difficulty. They then held conferences with Cromwell and the Royal Commissioners, in which various expedients were proposed and rejected, until there came a peremptory message from the king, by the Earl of Wiltshire, that he would accept of no qualification of the sentence proposed, except the addition of the words " under God."

Henry had so greedily imbibed the incense offered him in the proposal of Cromwell, that he already began to talk loftily of having no superior but God, and grew furious with Cromwell for not carrying the thing he had promised off-hand, without any regard to its transcendent difficulty. "Mother of God!" he exclaimed, in a towering passion, to Cromwell and the commissioners for the business, "you have played me a shrewd turn. I thought to have made fools of those prelates, and now you have so ordered the business that they are likely to make a fool of me, as they have done of you already. What is this 'quantum per legem Christi liceat?' Go to them again, and let me have the business passed without any 'quantums' or 'tantums.' I will have no 'quantum' nor no 'tantum' in the matter, but let it be done out of hand."

In the end, however, Henry consented to the "quantums" and the "tantums." By his permission, the venerable Archbishop Warham introduced and carried an amendment in the convocation, by which the grant was voted with 'this -clause in the preamble: - "Of which Church and clergy we acknowledge His Majesty to be the chief protector, the only and supreme lord, and, as far as the law of God will allow, the supreme head." The wedge was introduced; the severance was certain: the perfect accomplishment of it only awaited another opportunity for an easier issue. The northern convocation adopted the same language, and voted a grant of 18,840.

Meantime, every effort had been made to bend the Pope to Henry's view of the case; every opportunity had been seized to that end. Early in 1530 an embassy had been sent to Italy to take advantage of an interview about to be had betwixt the Pope and the Emperor at Bologna. The chief envoy on this occasion was the Earl of Wiltshire, the father of Anne Boleyn, accompanied by Stokesley, Bishop of London, Lee, the king's almoner, and Bennet, doctor of laws. To these were added several clergymen, at the head of whom was Cranmer. Henry declared to those about him that this was his last effort, and that, if it failed, he would withdraw from Clement, as a pontiff unfit for his office through ignorance, and still more unfit through simony. On the other hand, the emperor, still pressing the Pope, obtained from him a "breve," forbidding Henry to marry before the publication of his sentence.

Whilst things were in this position, Henry's ambassadors arrived. The Pope still declared he would do all that he possibly could for Henry. But the emperor received them in a very different humour. As soon as the Earl of Wiltshire began to speak, he interrupted him, saying, "Stop, sir! allow your colleagues to speak. You are a party in the cause." The earl, undeterred by this, answered boldly that he stood not there as a father defending the interests of his child, but as a minister representing his sovereign; that if Charles would comply with the wish of Henry, he would be quiet, if not, he would proceed without his permission; and that he now offered him, as the price of his acquiescence, 300,000 crowns, the restoration of the marriage portion of Catherine, and security for her maintenance suitable to her High birth during her life. Charles declared, in reply, that he was not going to sell the honour of his aunt, and that he would support her cause by the means at his disposal. This being the position of things, Cranmer challenged all the learned men of the Papal Court to dispute the question of the king's marriage, but none of them accepted the challenge. The proposal was a very safe one, for the Pope was not likely to permit such a discussion in the very face of the emperor; but it answered Cranmer's object: it highly delighted Henry, who made him ambassador to the emperor; and the Pope, to conciliate Henry, also made him his plenipotentiary in England.

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