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Reign of Henry the Eighth - (Continued) page 17

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By the second bill, the marriage of Catherine, strangely enough at the very moment that Henry had conceded its final decision at Rome, was declared unlawful, and that of Anne Boleyn confirmed. The issue by the first marriage was declared illegitimate, and excluded from the succession, and the issue of the marriage of Anne was made inheritable of the crown, and that only and any one casting any slander on this marriage, or endeavouring to prejudice the succession of its issue, was declared guilty of high treason, if by writing, printing, or deed, and misprision of treason if by word. Thus was a new power established by the crown; every person of full age, or on hereafter coming to full age, were to be sworn to obey this act. Not only new powers were thus created, but a new crime invented; and though this statute was swept away in the course of a few years, yet it is a remarkable one, for it became the precedent for many a succeeding and despotic government.

Thus Henry, at the very time that hİ appeared anxiously seeking reconciliation with Rome, was in reality severing himself from it. Who shall say what were his reasonings on the subject? Was it his love of power which induced him, as it were, against his own wishes, to accept these measures from his ministers and Parliament? or did he hope to receive a favourable and irrevocable decision from Rome, before these strange proceedings became known? Be that as it may, at Rome, where, too, the king's agent, the zealous Bishop of Bayonne, was flattering himself with success, the party of the emperor and of Catherine acquired the ascendancy, and the consistory decided not against the validity of Catherine's marriage, but for it!

On the 23rd of March, 1534, the consistory in Rome pronounced this important decision, and on the 30th of the same month the royal assent was given in London to these bills. It is stated by De Bellay that the Papal Court were waiting for the receipt of a despatch from Henry, assenting to his return to obedience to the Papal See, and that the messenger not arriving, the imperial influence pushed forward the decision, and that the very next day Henry's messenger arrived, bringing his full acquiescence. The story is piquant and startling, but it does not appear to be fact. Both parties seem to have been using every exertion to carry their point, and the passing of these bills through both Lords and Commons on the 20th of March, three days only before the act of the consistory, shows that the English party was proceeding without any reference to what was agitating in Rome; and even the date of the royal assent to those bills, the 30th of March, does not allow time for the decision at Rome to have arrived, and produced, as it has been said, the determination of Henry to sanction the acts.

In Rome the Imperialists received the decision of the consistory with transports and acclamations of joy. They fired cannon, they lit bonfires, they cried through the streets, "The emperor and Spain," as if they had won a great victory; and in truth they had, but it was at the cost to the Church of Rome of the fairest and the most affluent of its tributary kingdoms. The emperor had given to the Popedom a blow which time was never destined to repair, and for which all the vast realms of the rejoicing Charles could furnish no recompense.

Thus was the religious independence of England - drawing after it, as a necessary sequence, civil liberty - established for ever. It is by far the most memorable day in the history, not only of England, but of modern Europe; and it has been well said by an historian of the last age, that "those who believe in an over-ruling Providence, and think the reformation of religion has been a blessing to England, will gratefully acknowledge its influence on this occasion." This great revolution was brought about by those who were its greatest enemies.

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