In this article we will discuss about the life of Henry VIII (1509-1547). After reading this article you will learn about: 1. Early Life of Henry VIII 2. Domestic Policy of Henry VIII 3. Foreign Affairs during the Reign of Henry VIII 4. Henry VIII and Scotland 5. Henry and Ireland and Wales 6. The Reformation in Europe 7. The English Reformation: Breach with Papacy 8. Last Years of Henry and others.
- Early Life of Henry VIII
- Domestic Policy of Henry VIII
- Foreign Affairs during the Reign of Henry VIII
- Henry VIII and Scotland
- Henry and Ireland and Wales
- The Reformation in Europe
- The English Reformation: Breach with Papacy
- Last Years of Henry
- Character of the English Reformation
- Causes and Effects of the Dissolution of Monasteries
- Henry’s Ministers: Wolsey and Cromwell
- Wolsey’s Estimate
- Thomas Cromwell
- Progress of Reformation in England by the End of Henry VIII’s Rule
- Religious and Constitutional Significance of the Work of the Reformation Parliament
- Estimate of Henry VIII
1. Early Life of Henry VIII:
Born of a Yorkist mother and a Lancastrian father, Henry VIII was ‘Rose both white and red’. With auburn hair and fair complexion, handsome and above usual height Henry VIII looked every inch a king. He was a good musician, a devout church-goer and capable of speaking French, Spanish and Latin fluently. He had a taste for Theology but would never be so happy as when he was out for hunting or playing tennis.
He was intelligent and somewhat scholarly. Erasmus described him as no mean scholar. But behind his apparent good nature and handsome looks, lay hidden a keen intellect, a ruthless, unbending will and a cruel nature. He was, however, commanding in his presence, genial in behaviour and a man of great ability.
He succeeded to his father’s wealth without the unpopularity that its acquisition had caused. He was personally very popular. The time and opportunities were also in his favour, for, the nobles had been rendered weak during his father’s reign, the church had been discredited and the commons were still unrepresentative.
The country still needed a strong rule. Henry VIII ascended the throne at the age of eighteen and no sooner than he did so he desired to make his power absolute in England and acquire a commanding power in the European politics.
2. Domestic Policy of Henry VIII:
Henry’s first action on assumption of power was the arrest of his father’s hated ministers, Empson and Dudley. This was highly popular. The arrested ministers were tried for treason and executed. This left the way clear for Wolsey, son of a butcher, who had entered royal service under Henry VII and by his energy and efficiency soon distinguished himself as one of the leaders of the group of councilors.
Henry VIII made him the Archbishop of York and abbot of St. Albans and within a few years was made the Lord Chancellor and a cardinal. Thus he became, after Henry VIII, the most powerful man of the kingdom, head of the king’s government, head of the Church of England. He was also appointed the personal representative of the Pope.
The first twenty years of Henry VIII’s reign comprised a period of enjoyment leaving the business of the state to Thomas Wolsey who continued Henry VII’s work of restoring good order in England. He sent out judges on their assizes to try criminals throughout the land.
He also presided over the Court of Star Chamber which dealt with cases in which great nobles were defying courts of common law or had persuaded men to wear their liveries. The Court of Star Chamber became famous and popular among ordinary people for showing no mercy to the wrongdoers, however rich and powerful. All this was preparing the ground for making Henry’s government a thorough-going despotism.
Henry appointed ministers at his choice, removed them from office when he desired doing so and all this he did without any resistance from any quarter. The process of absolutism also needed the subservience of the Parliament. In concentrating power in the hands of the sovereign Henry VIII reversed the policy of his father.
While Henry VII for the first half of his reign ruled by a skilful reliance on Parliamentary sanctions, and almost dispensed with Parliament in the second half of his reign, Henry VIII reversed, the process. For the first twenty years of his reign there were hardly any Parliaments, from 1529 there was hardly any prolonged interval without one.
It was only to meet the war budgets that occasional appeal had to be made to the purses of the Commons; otherwise the economies of Henry VII had stood Henry VIII in good stead. Between 1514 and 1523 there was no Parliament summoned.
There was also long gap of six years after that. But Henry VIII realised that the policy he was embarking upon necessitated his keeping the Parliament on his side; the support of the representatives of the nation had to be secured.
Hence from 1529 there hardly any long interval without Parliaments. Even when Parliaments were summoned these were filled by persons of king’s confidence. True that whether the Parliamentary support was spontaneous or manipulated could not be clearly said. Yet ostensibly at least the power exercised by Henry VIII had the national approval and long before the end of his rule, royal absolutism was confirmed.
It may, however, be pointed out against the criticism that the Parliaments packed with persons of king’s choice through manipulation were naturally subservient to him, that the same subservient “Parliaments were quite capable of offering an obstinate resistance whenever their own pockets were threatened”.
The fact remains that Henry VIII was one of those born rulers who impress their own views on the people by the force of their own will.
But behind this dominant force of will, he possessed instinctively the sense of the limit to which this could be pursued. Whenever he would find that the limit of the dominance of his will had been transgressed, he would find out scape-goats and deny responsibility himself. In these methods Henry VIII like his father, made his despotism approved by the nation.
It has also been remarked that ‘Henry was never more absolute than when his Parliaments were in almost continual session’. The answer to this paradox lies in the fact that Henry did not ask the Parliaments to pay out of their pockets. He invited them to approve of his taxation of some one else by confiscation or otherwise.
Henry also strengthened the royal power by keeping the initiative of all legislation in his own hands and by depressing the surviving great nobles by creating a new nobility dependent on royal favour. Further, any one who displayed a dangerous ambition from Buckingham onwards, was struck down. Duke of Norfolk was attainted and his son was sent to the block. The edifice of absolutism was complete under him.
Economic troubles which were mainly the result of the new agricultural conditions in the reign of Henry VII were further accentuated under Henry VIII. The dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII had further intensified the economic troubles.
The new landowners who came to possess the confiscated estates or monastic lands continued to substitute pastures for tillage and to dispossess agricultural population by eviction and rack-renting.
The direct effect of all this was that the country swarmed with sturdy beggars. Disorder and riotous behaviour got encouragement when the sobering effect of the religious houses, since dismantled, was absent. The remedies of punishing vagabondage and of attempting to drive capital into other investments involving greater risk and bringing lesser profits for providing employment failed.
The landowners did not emulate the charity practised by the former monastic houses, the result was increasing distress which went unrelieved. By the side of this dismal economic picture the magnificence and ultra- extravagance of the court went to induce a reckless habit of expenditure and pomp among the upper classes.
The prevailing distress was not compensated in other directions either. During the first part of the reign commerce did not prosper. The king’s financial methods were hardly conducive to thrift. It was not until 1523 when the necessities of war-budget prevented mere waste.
Wolsey’s method of graduated taxation was sound and scientific in principle. But it became increasingly difficult to raise money to meet Henry VIII’s requirements.
Henry’s discovery of an additional source of revenue in the property of the church also ultimately did not suffice to meet his financial needs. The forced loans that he exacted from the people, called Amicable Loans stood him in no better stead. Henry, therefore, resorted to the disastrous expedient of debasing the coinage which was remedied only under Elizabeth.
Henry’s expedient brought the English currency into chaos, for the purchasing of the debased coinage sank very low, the creditors lost heavily, the royal debtors gained by paying back only a fraction of a pound that they had borrowed. The foundations of commercial stability were also scrapped, while foreign trade was thrown into ruinous confusion.
To add to the distress, the heavy influx of gold and silver from Spanish America led to the depreciation of the value of these metals. The prices went higher, distress was now converted into grinding poverty, destitution and desperation. The economic transition that had begun in the previous reign was also attended by distress.
Henry VIII’s reign promised well for education and learning, although the promise was not fulfilled in the latter part of his reign. Nevertheless in great families education of the younger members was carried to a high pitch. Henry was a man of accomplishment and set the example himself. Literary impulse was at work.
From the point of view of literary achievements, Henry VIII’s reign did not attain much. Most of the English writing of the reign took the form of controversial or personal pamphlets in prose or verse, for instance Suppli cacyon for the Beggars, Why come ye not to Court.
Thomas More wrote his Utopia when Henry VIII was seven years on the throne, almost alone stood as a product of the dawning culture. John Skelton, Surrey and Wyatt were the minor poets of the reign, who were the harbinger of the coming day.
Henry VIII was the first English king for many years to make real effort to build up a Royal Navy, for it was he who had foreseen that the greatness of England lay in her having a strong navy. For national defence a strong navy was essential, to his mind.
In early medieval times the English ships were not divided into fighting ships and merchantmen, and all carried arms against the pirates in times of peace, and more heavily armed against the enemy in times of war. Henry had made great improvement in artillery and ordered large cannons from the Netherlands.
These large guns were found unsuitable for castles and due to the skill of James Baker, a shipbuilding expert, the first English naval architect, these guns were fitted to newly built large men- of-war. It was from the time of Henry VIII’s reign that port holes were introduced in the vessel’s sides, through which shots from guns might be fired. The famous ‘broadside’ was thus invented.
Henry had obtained altogether seven ships from his father. He was a great enthusiast in shipbuilding and by the end of his reign the number of ships rose to fifty-three. The Great Harry or the Henry Grace a Dieu was the largest of the ships built by him.
It was one of 1500 tonnage. All these ships entered into the engagement that defeated the Spanish Armada. Thus Henry was the king who made England really a sea-power and assured her future as such.
3. Foreign Affairs During the Reign of Henry VIII:
During the early part of his reign Henry VIII’s foreign policy was guided by Wolsey. Henry VII had been his own foreign minister, but when he died, he left some capable subordinates like Fox, the Bishop of Winchester, the Family of the Howards, but none so experienced as to assume responsibility of control.
He had also discovered in Thomas Wolsey on whose native genius and unlimited power of application he could place complete reliance. It was this Thomas Wolsey who was to come to the helm of affairs under his son, and guided the foreign policy of Henry VIII in the early years of his reign. After the fall of Wolsey his policy was his own.
Like his father, Henry VIII wanted to maintain closest tie with Spain. His first step, therefore, was to complete the marriage with Catherine of Aragon, his brother’s widow, to whom he had been under the papal dispensation.
Events on the continent were opportune for offering a field for Henry’s ambition which was to acquire for England an important position on the European politics wherefrom England staged a come out after the Hundred Years’ War. His ambition was also to make England the holder of balance of the European politics, thereby to make England its arbiter.
Three great powers, France, Spain and the Empire which had emerged out of the medieval state system as united and consolidated states, were the main factors of Henry’s attention. These three states which were themselves united and consolidated desired preventing Italy from following their example.
The only city-state among many into which Italy then was divided was Venice which could unite the rest of Italy under her. This was not to the liking of the three great powers, far less to the Pope who was the lord of the papal states. To curb Venice and to dismember her the three great powers and the Pope formed into a league known as the League of Cambrai.
Policy of Henry VIII, like that of his father, was to maintain closest relation with Spain and to curb the growing power of France.
When after the formation of the League of Cambrai, the French King Louis XII by prompt and skilful action made himself master of North Italy before other members of the League could move, Ferdinand of Spain and Pope Julius were extremely displeased. Emperor Maximilian, however, had seen no reason for displeasure.
But Louis XII’s blunder gave the other powers who were his enemies now, their opportunity when by summoning a General Council at Pisa, he invaded the spiritual authority of the Pope. By the end of 1510 Julius was in open war with the French king and Ferdinand was on his side.
Next year the Holy League was formed by the Pope, Emperor and Spain with a view to driving out the French from Italy, a combined attack was concerted. Ferdinand persuaded Henry VIII, his son- in-law to join war against France.
In June, 1512 an English expedition under the command of Lord Dorset landed in Spain on the supposed theory that Ferdinand would assist the English in the conquest of Guienne. But the expedition was a failure, Ferdinand did not move against Guienne.
Matters now came under the guidance of Wolsey. With untiring devotion and zeal Wolsey set himself on the task of organising a new expedition in 1513. Nothing was left to chance. Henry was enabled to land his troops undisturbed at Calais after beating off an overwhelmingly larger number of French ships in a desperate fight.
Those who jeered at the failure of the Guienne expedition were silenced. Both Henry VIII and Wolsey were with the army. The next attack was on Terouenne. Here the English army was joined by a contingent under Emperor Maximilian. The French army that was advancing against the invaders was put to complete rout at the battle of the Spurs and as a consequence Terouenne surrendered. Tournai also fell a month later.
The peace that followed between England and France after the battle of the Spurs did not last long. The success of the English arms in the battle of Flodden Field (1513) in which James IV, king of Scotland, who invaded England was killed enhanced English prestige. Henry VIII returned to England with every intention of following up his success in the French war, now that he had no fears from Scotland, in the ensuing year.
But foreign intrigues made the situation a little difficult. Ferdinand, noticing that the English victories meant no benefit for himself set himself privily to make peace with France and in doing so to draw Maximilian with him so that Henry might be isolated. In 1514 he accomplished his object and a truce was declared between Ferdinand and Maximilian with France.
Under Wolsey’s guidance England now followed a counter move for a French alliance and thereby to pay Ferdinand and the Emperor in their own coins. This move succeeded and Mary, Henry’s younger sister, was given in marriage to Louis XII, the French king. Things seemed to go according to plan when Louis died leaving the French throne to his cousin Francis I.
The new French king had quite as much thirst for glory as Henry VIII had. Intrigue began about Louis XII’s widow, i.e., Mary’s dowry and all that, and the general effect was, however, that Francis I drew away from the English alliance and leaned towards Ferdinand, with a view to some Italian conquests, particularly Milan.
In September, 1515, Francis crossed the Alps and won a resounding victory at Marignano. This triumphant progress of Francis excited the jealousy of Pope Leo, as well as of other monarchs and the general reaction was in favour of checking the French king’s career.
Wolsey persuaded Emperor Maximilian to take up arms against Francis in Italy. But as English subsidies were not paid into Maximilian’s hands, he retired from the war.
Soon after, Ferdinand of Spain died bringing Charles, his grandson on the thrones of Spain and the Netherlands. The situation took a sharp turn, as Francis realised that left to themselves Charles and Maximilian would not be in a position, financially, to be of great concern to him.
Conversely, they were broken reeds as allies, because of the same weakness. It became, therefore, the attempt of Francis to avoid any alliance between England, Charles and the Emperor. His inclination was towards a reversion of amicable relations with England.
During 1518-19 Wolsey succeeded in wresting from the Pope the position of a papal legate and struck an alliance with France under which the Dauphin was betrothed to little princess Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter. France paid 60,000 crowns to England and promised not to interfere in the Scottish affairs against English interests.
England practically became the holder of the European balance of power, and a pacificator of Europe. The Universal Peace, as the treaty with France was called, was willy-nilly adhered to by other European monarchs.
By 1519 England placed herself in a position of power and prestige to such an extent that she was allied to France, the Pope had to applaud her as European peace-maker, young king of Spain, Charles wanted her friendship, Maximilian looking to her for money.
In the same year Maximilian died leaving Charles of Spain to succeed as Emperor Charles V. But the election to the imperial throne was not smooth. Francis became a rival of Charles. Henry became a third candidate. In the end, the influence of England was lent on Charles’ side and he was elected Emperor as Charles V.
The three sovereigns Henry VIII, Francis I and Charles V next dominated Europe for nearly thirty years to follow.
The French alliance was very much unpopular in England, for the tradition was against it, the old families of nobles were against it, the Queen herself was against it, for she wanted England to be a friend of Spain. Francis wanted to forestall closer relations between England and the Emperor.
As a counter measure to Charles V’s three day visit to England things were arranged for a visit of Henry VIII to Calais. The kings of France and England met on the famous field of the Cloth of Gold with lords, knights and ladies of both countries as followings. The result of all this and other back-stage complications it emerged in 1520 that Henry was in separate alliance with Francis on the one hand and with Charles on the other.
These alliances, due to the dominant position held by Henry, were such as neither Francis nor Charles could rely on them. This was because Francis and Charles each desired to strengthen his own position at the expense of the other, each therefore desired alliance with England.
In so far as England was concerned an alliance with Spain was the traditional policy, particularly because of the family relations between the two countries. Catherine, queen of Henry VIII was the aunt of Charles V. Further, England had a brisk trade with Flanders which was under Charles V.
Alliance with France was entirely against the English tradition and often due to special convenience and advantages obtained. One was to counteract the growing power of Charles V.
Henry revived English claim to the French throne and got into war with Francis. But Charles’ victory at Pavia in 1525 over Francis made Henry apprehensive of the growth of Charles V’s power to menacing heights, and this would upset the balance of power in Europe. England was the arbiter of European politics.
Unwilling to sacrifice this position Henry entered into an alliance with France which brought two million crowns to the English exchequer. Charles was thus isolated made peace, with Francis in February (1526). Wolsey in this way retained England’s position as the arbiter of European politics, making England a much sought after power to France and Spain.
In the next year through a new French alliance the Duke of Orleans was betrothed to princess Mary and France not only bound herself to make heavy payments but also surrendered Boulogne and Ardres.
When in 1544 policy of destruction was followed by Henry with regard to Scotland, and in one of the devastating raids met with severe reverse, Francis was encouraged to maintain his hostility with England, and Charles V also assumed the same posture. Isolation of England was complete and Francis now looked to effect a successful invasion.
A great fleet was collected. The threat of invasion roused the entire country to arms and England now had a respectable English navy. The French fleet, however, landed in the Isle of Wight but there was no major engagement. Both sides were awaiting favourable moment. But with the outbreak of plague in the French fleet, it retired by the middle of August, 1545.
The altered situation turned Charles V’s hostility towards England into conciliation. Henry’s determination to fight France was evident from the huge force he threw on to French soil in March, 1546.
In the circumstances Francis proposed terms of peace. Francis agreed to pay up most of the cash claims, a part of it was referred to arbitration, Boulogne was to remain in the English hands as security for eight years. In the mean time Henry’s most resolute opponent in Scotland was assassinated. This further strengthened Henry’s hands. The Peace with Francis was signed in 1546.
4. Henry VIII and Scotland:
Scotland’s anti- English attitude showed no sign of abating, and although the Scottish King James IV had married Henry VIII’s sister, he withdrew from the English alliance and threatened an invasion as soon as the English expedition against France had started. He also entered into a friendly alliance with France.
But his attempt against England landed him in total defeat in the battle of Flodden Field (1513) in which James IV himself lost his life and the Scottish army was routed with heavy loss. Peace was made thereafter.
Death of James IV was followed by a regency during the minority of James V. It was not until 1528 that James V came to assume power himself. His French marriage and siding with France in the latter’s war with Spain was naturally causing concern to Henry VIII. The ascendancy of the French party in the Scottish court influenced James V’s attitude towards England to a degree.
His attempt against England met with failure in the battle of Solway Moss (1542). James V did not survive this defeat for long. He left his infant daughter, Mary, the famous Mary Queen of the Scots in later history.
Scotland had been a source of perennial trouble to England and the dynastic marriage per-sued by Henry VIII as a policy giving his daughter Margaret in marriage to the Scottish king James IV did not succeed in altering Scottish anti-English policy.
Henry VIII also tried to bring Scotland closer to England and get the two countries united by contracting a marriage between his son Edward (later Edward VI) and the heiress to the Scottish throne. Mary failed due to the influence of the French party in Scottish court, which was anti-English.
The Anglicising party in Scotland, however, made a pact with England to repudiate the French alliance, handover the infant Mary to Henry if they could, and accept Henry’s control and even Cardinal Beton the most resolute opponent of Henry in Scotland was to be assassinated. Besides, Scotland was to be invaded. But Henry rejected the overtures, although laudable, because he could not openly move in the matter.
All the same in the beginning of May, 1544, Edinburgh was startled by the appearance in the Forth of a great English invading fleet. There was no army on the Scottish side to give battle. The English landed and sacked Leith. Edinburgh was also overwhelmed and the city pillaged. After the work of sheer destruction Hertford, the English Commander withdrew.
This was followed by a series of devastating raids with practical immunity. Henry, however, dismissed the idea of organising a subordinate government in Scotland, for anarchy suited his purpose equally well. His serious attention was given to the continent.
5. Henry and Ireland and Wales:
In dealing with Ireland Henry showed foresight. He began reorganisation of Ireland. He declared himself king instead of Lord of Ireland. Love of local independence and Catholicism characterised most of the Irish people and except the Dublin area where English influence had grown other areas were under local families of chiefs.
The Irish people were generally hostile to the English church. Under Henry VII Sir Edward Poynings had done some good work to restore order in the ill-governed country and the Irish legislation was made dependent on England.
All this succeeded well no doubt, but Irish hostility towards England still persisted. Earl of Kildare who had been placed as Deputy-Governor of Ireland proved incompetent and was removed by Henry VIII. This led to a rebellion.
Henry VIII did not hesitate to suppress the rebellion and Kildare along with his five uncles was executed for treason, at Tyburn (1537). This rebellion gave Henry, not only to suppress Irish opposition with a strong hand, but to make attempts at Irish reforms. He distributed Irish Abbeys and lands among the Irish chiefs as a bribe to induce them to accept the royal supremacy over the Irish church and to attend Parliament.
But despite all these measures, the Reformation which succeeded in England and in Wales, failed in Ireland. The religious difference that persisted in Ireland was the underlying cause of the blood-stained relations between England and Ireland during the next four centuries.
In contradistinction of the failure in Ireland, Henry succeeded well in Wales. Politically the country was divided into 13 counties and Wales was incorporated into England. After the pilgrimage of Grace, Henry set up afresh the Council of the North to keep Wales in order.
Welsh shires and towns henceforth were to send their representatives to the English Parliament. In this way, Wales without sacrificing its language or culture, became a part of England.
6. The Reformation in Europe:
The Reformation in Europe came as a natural corollary to the change of the old order and the supremacy of Reason over faith and unquestioned obedience. The Renaissance had introduced new methods of thought and released the individual from the medieval inertia.
All old institutions, religious or political were being carefully examined and the Roman Catholic Church, naturally, could not escape critical examination. With the decay of the Holy Roman Empire and of Feudalism, national states under their own monarchs grew up. The politically independent national states sought ecclesiastical independence as well.
Interference, political or otherwise from outside was being strongly opposed. In the church the external sovereign, i.e., the Pope’s authority was naturally challenged. Revolution was in the air. In every sphere facts were in rebellion against theories and waves of criticism were beating on the rock of foundation of European society.
These apart, the immorality of the clergy, their greed for gains, their too much worldliness and lack of character and of the knowledge of the Scriptures made them universally hateful. Great stress on outward ceremonies and too little sincerity about religion itself did no longer satisfy the enquiring minds.
The European Reformation began in Germany with Martin Luther’s opposition to the sale of indulgences in Wittenburg (1517), but enough causes had accumulated there for the open challenge. Weakness of Emperor Charles V to give adequate attention to Germany, his greater interest having been Spain, brought political unrest in Germany.
Large number of princedoms into which Germany was divided gradually became jealous of the Emperor’s unreal authority and sought to be independent. Private wars of knights and princes, sufferings of the oppressed serfs and peasants, taxation by the church gave both a political and an economic, background to the German Reformation.
Authority of the Pope and the clergy to play the advocate between the common man and God was challenged. Reason dictated that there was no distinction between the high or low, rich or poor in the eyes of God and the kingdom of God was equally open to all. Abuses of the church all the more pin-pointed this aspect of the relation between man and God.
It will, however, be a mistake to suppose that Martin Luther was the first man to oppose the Papal supremacy. There were many fore-runners who had thought and worked in a limited way in the same direction.
Wycliffe of England, Savonarola of Florence, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Thomas More, Colet of England again, Reuchlin, Ulrich Von Hutten, and others of Germany, John Huss of Bohemia and many others were fore-runners of Luther. It was Martin Luther who made bold to stand openly against the church, although all right-thinking men were doing so in thought.
In 1517 Tetzel a Papal legate came to Germany to raise funds for the renovation of the St. Peter’s church, by sale of indulgences which were a sort of certificates purporting to grant divine, pardon to the sinners. These were to be had on payment, heavy or small according to the nature of the sin committed by the buyers.
Indulgences were an open scandal of the church. Erasmus wrote: ‘The Court of Rome clearly has lost all sense of shame, for what could be more shameless than these continued indulgences’?
Luther put up ninety-five theses, i.e., points for discussion attacking the abuses of the church, the sale of indulgences in particular. He nailed his theses on the door of the church at Wittenburg where he was then a professor of Theology. The challenge had a tremendous effect and the general desire for the reform of the abuses of the church now centered upon Martin Luther.
Pope Leo X at first took the protest of Martin Luther lightly but soon he came to realise the tremendous force that Luther’s protest had released. In 1520 Luther went so far as to attack the Papal supremacy and the sacramental system of the Catholic Church.
The Pope issued a Bull, i.e. a decree excommunicating Martin Luther. But the public opinion in Germany was so much in favour of Luther and as much against the Pope that the papal bull was publicly burnt by Luther.
Next year Luther was summoned to appear before a Diet at Worms. Emperor Charles V gave Luther a safe conduct and Luther appeared before the Diet. Luther was asked to recant the opinion he had published.
Luther refused to do so, as he claimed to be right, for his reliance was on the Bible and Bible only. Elector of Saxony saved Luther from the planned plot against his life by keeping him in the castle of Wartburg which was well-guarded. There Luther translated the Bible into German.
Most of the German princes of North Germany found Lutheranism a good pretext to throw off the authority of the Pope and also of the Emperor who was the political head of the Christendom. Thus the German Reformation took a political character. The South, however, remained Catholic. Lutheranism came to be known as Protestantism because of the protest he made in his ninety-five theses.
A civil war now broke out in Germany between, the Protestant and Catholic princes, Charles V siding with the latter, in 1546, the year of Luther’s death. After a desultory fight for years peace between the two sides was made in 1555. This is known as the Peace of Augsburg by which Protestantism was recognised and the prince of each state was to decide what religion his subjects were to follow (cujus regio ejus religio).
7. The English Reformation: Breach with Papacy:
The Reformation in England was an act of state. It began as a personal requirement of Henry VIII and soon took a political character. Yet it was not divorce which was the cause of the Reformation, it was the occasion. It must not, however, be supposed that the English church was above the contemporary corruptions and abuses.
There was indeed a general feeling that the greed for wealth and power, corruption and worldliness were ruining the church. The English nation was opposed to the authority of the Pope over England. The drainage of money due to Papal taxation, Papal interference in English church, etc., also led to strong opposition in England.
John Wycliffe, Colet, More, Fisher and others as also Erasmus who stayed in England for some time, had prepared the ground for English Reformation.
The Renaissance which brought about a spirit of enquiry and criticism among the English nation was positively fatal to the power and authority of the Roman Catholic Church. There was a universal urge for remedy of the special abuses of the church such as trials for heresy, clerical tithes and fees, pluralities, i.e., holding of more than one post by the clerks, exaction of mortuary fees, absence from the See, etc.
In 1521 Henry wrote to Pope Leo X that ever since he came to know of Martin Luther’s heresy he made it his study how to extirpate it. The Pope rewarded Henry with the title of Defender of the Faith which was conferred by a formal Papal bull. This title was confirmed by Pope Clement VII, Leo’s successor.
Yet by an irony of fate it was Henry VIII who began the movement known as the English Reformation. The entire matter hinged on the question of divorce of Catherine of whom Henry got tired.
Henry VIII was married to Catherine, his elder brother’s widow, a marriage not permissible under the Christian law, being within the prohibited degrees of marriage, was older than himself by several years. The marriage was permitted by a Papal dispensation.
For several years the king boasted of his happiness in possessing so accomplished and virtuous a consort whose amiable qualities of heart and propriety of her conduct derived applause from all that knew her. Catherine bore Henry three sons and two daughters all of whom except Mary, died in their infancy.
Henry’s attachment to Catherine, however, began to weaken and the ardour of his attachment gradually evaporated. Friedmann while admitting Catherine’s good qualities of kindliness, courage and forgiving nature blames her for narrow- mindedness and lack of tact with which it might have been possible to rule Henry.
Further, Henry was dissatisfied with the conduct of her father Ferdinand and nephew Charles V. What was yet more important, he felt a superstition that she was cursed with inability to bear him a son. Finally, a fierce longing for an heir also led to his total estrangement with Catherine.
As long as Henry was attached to Catherine, he was careful to confine his passions to decent limits and though he might indulge in occasional amours he was careful to refrain from open and scandalous excesses.
The first of the royal mistresses was Elizabeth Tailbois who bore him a son named Henry Fitzroy whom Henry raised to titles and offices. It was very much suspected that the king would name him as his heir but to his utter disappointment Fitzroy died prematurely.
To Elizabeth Tailbois succeeded in king’s affections Mary Boleyn. She retained for some time her empire over the fickle heart of her lover. She was deserted and Henry’s affections now turned towards her accomplished sister Anne Boleyn to marry whom, a formal divorce from Catherine became a necessity.
It was not difficult to devise a pretext. Marriage with Catherine was now held to be invalid on the ground that the dispensation under which it was contracted was ultra vires.
Henry, however, did not feel bold to declare the marriage dissolved, for a Christian marriage was inviolable once validly contracted, for if the Pope could not set aside the remarriage with a brother’s widow,’ the king could hardly set aside his own marriage.
The policy pursued was to obtain a divorce by hook or crook. Passion and patriotism, passion for Anne Boleyn, a lady of the court, and patriotism, for he wanted to leave a male heir in undisputed succession to the throne, combined to produce a situation where great risks were being taken.
A divorce would cancel the betrothal of Mary, Henry’s daughter through Catherine, to Orleans. Looked at from this point, one motive that led Henry to set aside all these considerations was the gratification of his illicit passion. Need of a male heir, however plausible to statesmen and people at large, was more or less a self-deception.
It was now the Cardinal’s task to procure divorce from the Pope (1527). In the same month the world learnt that the French troops had sacked Rome and that the Imperial troops had held the Pope a prisoner. The Pope thus completely under the Emperor Charles V’s power would most certainly veto the divorce, for Catherine was the Emperor’s aunt.
Although the whole affair of divorce was conducted in utmost secrecy Catherine had got an inkling of the step taken and the Spanish ambassador warned the Emperor of the move.
Wolsey’s task now became very difficult. It was found necessary to get the Pope released from the Emperor’s control. He, therefore, visited France to influence Francis to bring pressure upon Charles V to release the Pope. The purpose of the visit was ostensibly to hold talks on the recent, treaty signed with France. Wolsey’s mission failed and Henry sent his own secretary to Rome to broach the matter of divorce.
In the mean time Pope Clement VII escaped in disguise from the Imperial guards and the king’s secretary met him at Orvieto. The Pope was in no mood to displease either Henry VIII or Charles V. The Pope was reluctant to set up the dangerous precedent of nullifying the dispensation of another Pope.
In the next year (1528) fresh move was afoot. This time by Wolsey’s own men. The Pope appointed a commission with Campeggio as Papal legate to be associated with Wolsey. But despite threat that was held out to the Pope that in the event of a failure to grant divorce, the result would be awkward for him, Clement did not give any absolute power to the commission.
The decision of the commission was to be referred to Rome for confirmation.
Pope Clement VII was a dexterous procrastinator. Every conceivable pretext for delay was availed of. In the mean time the French troops in Italy were not doing so well and it was suspected that the Pope had, forgetting his treatment at the hands of the Emperor, leaned towards him.
The French king got some inkling of Campeggio’s plan and informed Henry VIII that the Papal legate’s object was to change Henry’s determination about the divorce. When at last Campeggio reached London, more time was consumed and he had to be threatened that the probable effect of the delay would be England’s withdrawal from the Papal authority.
When at length decision on the question was arrived at, Clement VII now more than ever, afraid of Charles sent word that the proceedings of the commission should be postponed and no verdict against Catherine’s marriage with Henry was to be pronounced without his notification. Obviously, the Pope’s one object was to evade the responsibility of any pronouncement.
With Charles’ position in Italy growing stronger, Clement dared not pronounce in Henry’s favour, he was less afraid of pronouncing against him. Henry on the other hand was quite resolved to force the responsibility for his action on Clement. But there was a limit to procrastination even, and in June 1529 the Court of Campeggio summoned the king and queen to appear.
The queen through her representative boldly declared that the marriage was valid and questioned the jurisdiction of the Court itself and appealed to the Pope against it. At about the same time under pressure from Emperor Charles V, the Pope revoked the case to Rome.
The papal legate Campeggio left England for Rome but at Dover his baggage was ransacked by king’s authority. Henry, annoyed at the part played by Cardinal Wolsey in obtaining the divorce and for his personal sympathy with the queen, a writ was issued against the Cardinal for the breach of the obsolete statute of Praemunire by acting as the papal legate.
Wolsey was deprived of all his benefices and retired to poverty in his house at Esher. Thomas More succeeded him as Chancellor. It was due to the stout opposition of Thomas Cromwell that Wolsey was restored to the See of York. Wolsey in his idle hope to get back to the lost position through the influence of Francis I of France, opened secret correspondence with him.
It became known and Wolsey was arrested for high treason, but due to severe illness died before reaching London. Removal and death of Wolsey removed sober guidance to the plan of divorce.
Wolsey, when he found that divorce was inevitable, his one aim was to get it done under papal authority, for divorce without Pope’s dispensation would make the entire affair look like arbitrariness of the king and cause grave scandal.
Nor did Wolsey think that cleavage between Henry and Clement was desirable. Further, there was yet no tendency to deviate from the orthodox doctrine. But now that Wolsey’s sobering influence and his efforts at negotiating a way out of the sorry tangle were gone, Henry took up the matter in right earnest.
Henry discovered two instruments for executing his will to divorce Catherine: to obtain the opinion of Doctors of Divinity of the universities, to support the anti-papal campaign in which there was a considerable degree of clerical support. But supervening these two, was his determination to make the Parliament, and through the Parliament, the nation a party to the divorce question.
At the Cambridge University was Thomas Cranmer, a learned and amiable divine with marked leanings towards New Learning. Cranmer gave his opinion to the effect that if the universities of Europe, i.e. the qualified divines gave it their opinion that king’s union with Catherine had been contrary to Divine Law, the king could annul the marriage, without recognising papal jurisdiction.
The suggestion was actively taken in hand.
In the same year Henry’s most famous Parliament met after a lapse of six years and known as the Reformation Parliament. It was with the help of Parliament that Henry gained his victory. This Parliament was anti-papal and anti-clerical in character, but it endorsed king’s will. It opened its activities by an attack on clerical abuses.
Thomas Cromwell suddenly got ascendancy in the Parliament. He was Cardinal Wolsey and now became the Secretary to the king himself. Thomas Cromwell learnt his political principles as an adventurer in Italy and became a living embodiment of the doctrines of Machiavallian statecraft.
The Reformation Parliament, which sat in seven sessions from Nov. 3, 1529 to April 4, 1536 is a landmark in English history. The Parliament began by initiating an anti-papal campaign but measures first were confined to dealing with obvious and indefensible abuses.
Probate and Mortuaries Acts which abolished, reduced or regulated fees were passed. Pluralities Act forbade the clergy to hold more than one benefice. In the mean time consultation of the divines of the Universities went on apace. But while some declared the marriage with Catherine as invalid, others called it valid.
In 1531 Henry warned the clergy against transgressing the Statutes of Praemunire and those guilty of the breach of praemunire could only hope for pardon by payment of a fine of £100,000, and by recognising Henry as the Only Supreme Head (1531). This was an act of Henry himself, not of Parliament. But in the year following, the king’s authority over the church was established.
It was enacted that Convocation of the Cardinals was not to pass laws without the king’s permission. The payment of Annates to the Pope was forbidden on condition that it might be revoked in case the Pope submitted to the king’s will. To facilitate Henry’s will, Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by the Pope.
It was clear that even up to 1532, there was no breach with the Pope, although barring formal breach everything else was complete. In the same year (1533) the Parliament passed the Act of Appeals which was the first definitive infringement of the constitutional relation between the English church and Rome.
It was in the same year again, the Convocation pronounced against the marriage of Henry and Catherine. Catherine was divorced and marriage between Anne Boleyn and Henry was solemnised.
The reaction of the divorce was not mentionable, for Charles V was too busy to fight Henry. In England, the people’s sympathy for the queen was converted into support to the king by ordering that preachers in their sermons should deny jurisdiction of the Pope in England.
Henry now set himself determinedly to eliminate the Pope from the English church and to place himself in the position of the Pope with regard to the English church. In 1534 the Act of Annates finally refused payment of Annates or first fruits to the Pope. Peter’s Pence and all payments to Rome were also forbidden. Archbishops and bishops were to be elected out of king’s nominees on pain of penalties of praemunire.
It was also declared that a royal writ would be necessary to hold a Convocation. By Act of Succession the succession to the throne was vested in the successor of Anne Boleyn. This was followed by the Act of Supremacy by which the king was declared Head of the church of England. This was indeed the most important of all Acts of the Reformation Parliament. It replaced the Pope by the king in the English church.
There was much sympathy for Catherine and her daughter Mary, yet the king’s action in opposing the papal supremacy was popular to the English nation. The Act of Supremacy was, however, refused to be accepted by Fisher and More and some Carthusian monks and they were all executed (1535).
In this way the royal supremacy was assured on the church and the nation. It is worth mentioning that long before, More had remarked to Thomas Cromwell that ‘if a lion’, meaning the king, ‘knew his own strength hard were it for any man to rule him’. Henry VIII, the royal lion had discovered his strength and that strength was founded upon the most effective part of his people.
In overthrowing the Pope and substituting by himself, Henry had come to rely upon the support of his subjects and the Tudor monarchy, although appeared to be absolute, yet presaged the rule of the king in Parliament.
The course of the Reformation under Henry VIII was yet to run a long way. Thomas Cromwell was now made Vicar-general. He had long before promised that the assumption of supremacy should place the wealth of the clerical and monastic bodies at the mercy of the Crown.
He now ventured to suggest dissolution of monasteries, and the motion was received with welcome by the king. Henry’s thirst for wealth was exceeded by his love of power, yet it was not he alone, but the Lords and Archbishop Cranmer as well welcomed the proposal.
Some historians, however, thought that Cromwell and the king were actuated by a determination to remove a cancer that was destroying the morality of the nation.
A general visitation of the monasteries was enjoined by the head of the church, commissioners of enquiry were selected but they were neither men of high-standing nor of reputation in the church. The commissioners were to investigate and report upon the conduct and finances of the nation.
On the strength of their report a bill was placed before the Parliament and passed in February, 1536 suppressing all houses, i.e. monasteries with incomes less than £200 a year. Number of such houses was 376, out of which 31 were, however, later reinstated.
The immediate effect of the dissolution of the lesser monasteries was the rising in Lincolnshire which was soon followed by formidable insurrection in the North, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.
Robert Aske was the leader of the insurgents and wanted remedy of the genuine grievances, such as restoration of monasteries, removal of king’s evil councillors, notably Thomas Cromwell and the removal of Cranmer, Latimer, and others restoration to the church of the revenue lately attached by the Crown.
The insurgents proceeded to London to meet the king. This march is called the Pilgrimage of Grace. The insurgents were suppressed with a strong hand and their leaders executed (1537).
In the same year had died the much maligned and deeply injured Catherine. Henry who had ostensively married Anne Boleyn for a male heir disappointed him, and this apart, his passion for Anne Boleyn had cooled in the mean time. Suddenly it appeared that she was guilty of gross misconduct and stories were invented that she had been actually wife of Northumberland when she was married to Henry.
She was executed and the next day Henry married Jane Seymour. His marriage with Anne Boleyn was declared null and void and Elizabeth, her daughter was delegitimatised, so Elizabeth occupied precisely the same position as May, daughter of Catherine.
Within weeks the Parliament formally ratified all the late proceedings and fixed the succession on the offspring of Jane Seymour and formally authorised the king to lay down the order of succession thereafter.
That the Reformation as initiated by Henry in England was more political and economic than religious can be understood from his determination to keep the English church independent of the Continental Protestant churches. He refused to accept the Augsburg Confession, because the Lutherans recognised his marriage with Catherine. But it was necessary to follow up the Reformation with change in doctrine.
Ten Articles were declared to establish ‘Christian quietness and unity’. In the Ten Articles non-Lutheran doctrines of Transubstantiation, Work as well as faith, were incorporated. The Bible, creeds and the decisions of the First Four Councils were declared to be the basis of religion.
The Ten Articles showed the conservatism of Henry. There was no change in doctrine in Henry VIII’s Reformation. The Mass and the Roman Catholic doctrines were kept unchanged.
Cranmer in 1539 brought forth his Bible based on Mathew’s, Tydale’s and Coverdale’s. This Bible had a Protestant tendency in some important points and did much to gain for the Reformation the support of the English nation.
In the same year, encouraged by the dissolution of the lesser monasteries, 645 greater monasteries were suppressed by the Parliament. Some of the monastic houses had already been terrorised or otherwise influenced to make voluntary surrender. The Act of Parliament dissolved the remaining ones. The vast properties, moveable and immoveable passed to the Crown.
Henry’s prime motive in bringing about Reformation in England was not to become a Protestant. He remained a Catholic at heart and wanted England to have Catholicism minus the Pope. To prevent England going really Protestant in doctrine, Henry passed the Statute of Six Articles in 1539 by which he retained the substance of Catholicism for the English church.
This Act provided retention of the doctrines of Transubstantiation, Communion of one kind, Celibacy of the priesthood, Private confession, Masses for the dead and Obligation of monastic vows.
The ‘whip with six strings’ as the Six Articles’ Act was called was popular in England for it expressed the feeling of the nation which was willing to acknowledge the king as the supreme head of the church, but wanted to remain Roman Catholic in doctrine.
To ensure adherence to the Six Articles’ Act a Protestant who would not agree to the doctrine of Transubstantiation or a Catholic who would not recognise the king as the supreme head of the church would be burnt or beheaded. This persecution cost the lives of several thousands of men and women.
8. Last Years of Henry:
Henry’s amour did not show any sign of abating even in the declining years of his life. In January 1540 he married Anne Cleves, sister of William Cleves who was the Duke of Gualdus—a province always opposed to Emperor Charles V. Marriage with Anne was, therefore, a direct challenge to Charles V.
In the circumstances Henry wanted friendship of Schmalkaldic League so that in the event of any attack on Henry by Charles V Schmalkaldic League might open a new front in Germany against Charles. Alliance with France was also receiving active attention of Henry.
The marriage, however, did not last long and the king developed a violent dislike of Anne whom he termed as the ‘great Flanders mare’ and soon the marriage was dissolved. This ruined the fate of Thomas Cromwell who promoted the marriage. By 1546 the health of king was known to be extremely precarious and on January 28, 1547 the masterful monarch was dead.
9. Character of the English Reformation:
In determining the character of the English Reformation it must have to be borne in mind that divorce of Catherine of Aragon was not its cause but was its occasion. Nor should it be supposed that Henry had gone Protestant even psychologically. It was, in fact, a combination of political, economic, religious and personal motives that had caused the English Reformation and determined its character.
Need for reformation of the abuses that abounded in the English church, such as greed for wealth, pluralism, lack of education, moral laxity, etc., was undeniable Cambridge and London were the centres from which revolutionary ideas of remedy of the abuses spread throughout the whole country and in most places they met with swift agreement.
Taxation by the church from baptism to funeral, annates, fees for appeals and diverse other charges made citizens hostile to the church.
The heavy drainage of money from England to fill the un-bottomed sack of Rome roused resentment both from the king and the nation. This gave an economic character to the English Reformation, for severance from Rome saved the nation from this economic exploitation.
With the Renaissance grew the idea of national monarchy and interference of every kind papal or imperial was very much resented. The English nation and a masterful king of Henry VIII’s type would naturally like to free England from the supremacy of the Pope. Henry’s idea of royalty did not exclude supremacy over the church, this necessitated substitution of the Pope by himself in so far as the English church was concerned.
The question of divorce gave Henry the chance to eliminate the Pope from the English church. This was in perfect consonance with the idea of the English nation which was by tradition anti-papal. The growing sense of national independence also included independence from the papal authority. This gave the reformation a political character.
Despite removal of certain glaring abuses in the church by the Acts passed by the Reformation Parliament at the initial stage, and despite Henry’s having been imbued with the Renaissance spirit, the English Reformation continued to be quite conservative under Henry VIII.
The Ten Articles and the Statute of Six Articles which retained some of the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic Church showed how far Henry was prepared to go in for Reformation in England. It was no more or less than Catholicism minus the Pope.
There was no doctrinal change under Henry VIII. This anti-papal attitude could be noticed in the dissolution of monasteries and the distribution of the land thus obtained from them.
The monasteries were strongholds of papal influence in England and their, destruction apart from satisfying Henry’s greed for wealth removed the centres of papal influence. The distribution of the lands thus acquired among several thousand families made them a bulwark against the revival of papal influence in England, for such families would in that case have to return the occupied lands to the church.
The English Reformation, therefore, began as a personal matter concerning the divorce of Catherine, soon took the character of a political movement which was traditional with England, to oust the Pope from the supreme position in the English church and to make the English church national.
The economic gains obtained from the freedom of the papal taxation were incidental and connected with the elimination of papal authority from England. The English Reformation had therefore a sort of a composite character, essentially political.
10. Causes and Effects of the Dissolution of Monasteries:
It was Thomas Cromwell who had suggested the dissolution of monasteries, the last possible strongholds of papal power.
The causes which prompted Cromwell to make this suggestion which was very much welcome to the king were:
First, the monks were the most enthusiastic supporters of the papal authority in England. While separation from the Roman church would mean separation of the bishops and clergy from the papal allegiance, this would not separate the monks from the papal influence as they belonged to monastic orders which spread all over Europe, and were international, not insular institutions.
Secondly, the monks had outlived their day of usefulness and were now given to idleness and vice. Even in the days of Henry VII, the Oxford Reformers, Colet, More, Fisher, Erasmus had rebuked the monks for their idleness and ignorance. Cardinal Wolsey even obtained a Papal Bull to visit the monasteries and had begun to suppress some.
Thirdly, the pious bequest of generations spread over centuries led to accumulation of immense wealth in monasteries. Wealth led to idleness and vices which again led to fall in the standard of morality of the monks.
Charity and piety, education, social service, etc., were gradually abandoned. Ignorance of the monks was greater than that of the peasants. Cry against the monasteries had beer, raised many times previously.
Lastly, the dissolution of monasteries would brine into the empty royal treasury enough wealth, and land for distribution to Henry’s loyal supporters.
In 1536 smaller monastic houses with an income less than £200 a year were dissolved by act of Parliament on grounds of ‘manifest sin, vicious, carnal and abominable living’. The greater monasteries were spared for the time being and once the effects of the dissolution of lesser monasteries were found to be not serious, the greater monasteries were bullied and threatened to surrender.
Others which did not do so were suppressed by another Act of Parliament in 1539.
In dissolving the lesser monasteries Henry had cautiously tested his power. But his measure had caused grave discontent specially in the west and north,—also within the Parliament. The wholesale destruction of the lesser monasteries gave rise to two popular risings. Only in the north of England the opposition to royal policy flared up into a revolt called the Pilgrimage of Grace.
A riot in Louth sparked off rebellion in Lincolnshire and rapidly spread to Yorkshire where a country gentleman, Robert Aske gathered his pilgrims around him and called on the king to surrender Cromwell to them and dissolve no more monasteries. The insurgents obtained possession of Doncaster.
Eventually the insurgents consented to an armistice and promised general pardon and an assurance that their grievances would be patiently discussed in the Parliament shortly to assemble in York (1537). But freed from the difficulties of the situation Henry cared not to redeem his promises. A large number of the leaders of the risings was executed.
The king and his vicar-general Thomas Cromwell were now free to complete the scheme of dissolution of monasteries and took the second step. The greater monasteries were now dissolved (1539) by passing the Second Act of dissolution. Some of these had already been bullied into submission. In March 1540, the last great abbey at Waltham surrendered.
It was Wolsey’s plan to break up the vast bishoprics of Lincoln and Lichfield. This was now done and out of these two, altogether six Sees of which five—Oxford, Chester, Gloucester, Bristol and Peterborough—survive to this day.
The movable properties like jewels, plates, etc., went straight into the royal coffers. Valuable libraries were broken up and dispersed, richly ornamented shrines were stripped of their art-treasures. Many valuable books were lost for ever in the process of the break up of the libraries.
It has been suggested that if Henry had allowed these houses to continue and realised rent from them, he might easily have dispensed with the Parliament for voting grants, and become the most absolute monarch of the west. The monastic lands were transferred to the Crown, and were sold for ready cash, but Henry retained enough landed property to increase his income by £40,000 a year.
The biggest buyers of land were noblemen, but majority were newly ennobled men who had risen to power and wealth through service of the Crown. Royal officers, smaller men, however, bought the bulk of the landed property. All those who owed their recent property to the king, naturally became staunch defenders of the new order. They served as a strong bulwark against the revival of Papal authority over England.
Power that land brought in Tudor England attracted buyers from rich merchants, lawyers, doctors, etc., and they all became what is known as country gentlemen in England.
The Tudor gentry were not all Protestants, many of them were Catholics. But all were breaking away from the limitations which tradition and church had imposed upon them. The Catholic Church had taught that a person who devoted his life to money making was risking damnation.
But the newly rich who had become richer by acquiring monastic lands came nearer, to believing that prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing and that poverty was sinful, and the wealth of the property owners was gained at the expense of the poor.
The monks were good farmers, although conservative in their methods. The new owners ran their estates like a business and found it necessary to employ the lands to sheep- farming to earn greater profits. This was also prompted by the high prices which made employment of more labourers in farming less profitable.
Enclosure system received a spurt and unemployment which was mounting with Henry VII’s abolition of private armies by his statute of Livery and maintenance, turned acute now.
The hospitality which the monks had been giving to the poor, sick and the homeless, though in a limited way compared to what the monastic houses used to do formerly, was now removed. The result was increase in pauperism and beggars stalked the land without any means of support.
The problem of pauperism became so acute that the king and ministers could not ignore the problem of the homeless tramps. The Parliament attempted to provide a remedy. In the long run poor relief had to be made a policy of the government. The small beginning was made in 1536.
The political effect of the dissolution of monasteries was the strengthening of the king’s position vis-a-vis that of the Pope in English church. The new gentry that emerged from the settlement of monastic lands became a dependable support to, which the king might turn. The country’s defence was also strengthened with the money obtained from the monastic houses.
The royal navy was rebuilt and dockyards equipped, new ships were added to the royal fleet. The abolition of the greater monasteries, in particular, depleted the number of the ecclesiastical lords in the House of Lords. On the other hand, new landed aristocracy added to the strength of the lay nobility in the House of Lords, thus diminishing the political influence of the ecclesiastical nobles.
Whatever might have been the justification for the dissolution of the monasteries, lesser and greater, no excuse can possibly be found for the orgy of destruction of the ornamental and artistic works of the monastic edifices. The roofs of the monasteries were despoiled for the valuable lead, their walls became quarries for new buildings and in this way England was deprived of some of the noblest monuments.
11. Henry’s Ministers: Wolsey and Cromwell:
Son of a grazier, Wolsey, born in 1471, was educated in the Grammar School of his native Ipswich. He took his degree from the Magdalen College, Oxford at the age of fifteen and entered the church. He was made Dean of Lincoln through the influence of Bishop Fox and also chaplain to the king (Henry VII).
By his abilities he won the favour of Henry VIII and in 1514 was made the Bishop of Lincoln and Archbishop of York. His rise was rapid and in the next year he was appointed chancellor and made a cardinal by the new Pope Leo X. He was also made a papal legate, representing the Pope in England. He even dreamt of becoming the Pope himself.
His influence on the king was enormous and in matters clerical and secular he was only next to the Pope and the king respectively.
With power and position his pride and arrogance increased, and the Venetian ambassador to the court of Henry VIII described him:
‘He is very handsome, learned, extremely eloquent and of vast ability. He alone transacts the same business as that which occupies all the officers and Councils of Venice. He is in very great repute, seven times more so than if he were Pope. He is the person who rules both the king and the entire kingdom’.
Wolsey’s character offers an interesting study. He was an admixture of virtue and vices, gold and alloy. In his love of pomp and power, he appeared to be an upstart heartily hated by the nobles. Despite his love of power and pageantry, pride and pretensions, he was a man of middle-class sympathies and clearly saw that exaltation of royalty was possible by improving the lot of, an relying upon the middle-class people.
In diplomacy, shrewd statesmanship, in his schemes and plans he showed clear-headedness, ability, acumen and efficiency. He believed in autocracy and it was mainly due to him that the king could become supreme both in the state and the church. He was the greatest and last of the ecclesiastical statesmen that England had produced.
Wolsey dominated the English history for more than fifteen years. He was chancellor, cardinal, archbishop, a legate at the same time, and in his able hands the powers belonging to each of the offices he held were welded into a single compelling force which defied all authority except that of the king.
“To the chariot of the state Wolsey harnessed mettlesome horses of different breeds, and different tempers, guiding their course by the whip of authority and the rein of expediency, he showed himself to be the true type of Renaissance prince.”
Wolsey’s policy and methods both at home and abroad were very clear and unambiguous. Behind his foreign policy and diplomacy there was much that was personal, besides the good and greatness of England. In foreign policy he did not rely so much on balance of power, as upon opportunism. Wolsey is usually judged by his foreign policy. By his brilliance and resolution he made England play a great part in the continent.
As Giustiniani pointed out:
“Nothing pleased him more than to be styled the arbitrator of the affairs of chirstendom.” English alliance during his days was much sought for, because it was a decisive factor in the European politics.
His reliance on the principle of balance of power was not whole-hearted and it will be a mistake to suppose that he consciously developed the principle of balance of power, for more than once he sided with the strong against the weak, although he tried his utmost to play the mutual antipathies of European powers and thereby gain an effective control in the affairs of the continent.
He was determined to cut a figure in Europe and wished to be the Pope himself, and he wanted, therefore, to assert the voice of England in European affairs. A contemporary observer remarked that Wolsey’s policy in the continent was ‘to keep the French king and the Emperor in perpetual war and distrust’ and hold the European balance of power in the English hands.
In fulfilment of the aims of his foreign policy Wolsey advised Henry VIII on the need for maintaining peace in Europe by holding the balance of the European politics in the hands of England. This necessitated upholding the policy of combining the small and weaker nations against the possible aggression by the bigger ones, so that no individual power might rise into menacing strength.
He, therefore, impressed upon his royal master, the need for keeping the policy of Henry VII of allying England with Spain unchanged, but at the same time not to allow either France, Emperor or Spain to gain political preponderance in the continent.
Thus the traditional policy of England which involved her continental wars out of religious, dynastic or feudal considerations, had been forsaken and that of diplomacy adopted.
Wolsey was no war-monger and had no hostility to France. He preferred diplomacy to military methods and was quite as well pleased to advance English interests by alliance with France as by alliance against her if that would be to the benefit of England.
But he came to power at a time when war with France and in alliance with Spain and the Emperor. He, therefore, had but one alternative of making the war as successful as possible and recover the old English duchy of Guinne.
Wolsey devoted himself with untiring zeal to organise a new expedition and the outcome was a naval expedition off Brest in which the English admiral Sir Edward Howard restored English reputation for valour, fighting against an overwhelmingly large number of French ships and laying down his life on the deck of a French ship.
But the expedition itself was a failure. But the jeering at the failure was silence by Henry’s landing of troops at Calais.
Wolsey was also with the king in the expedition. This was followed by the siege of Teronenne and its surrender. Tournai also surrendered soon after. The Scots who were the traditional allies of France, had attacked England only to be routed at Flodden Field in which King James IV was killed.
By the end of 1513 reputation of the English arms was completely restored and it became clear that only thing necessary was that they should be led properly. The English campaign was not at all to the liking of Ferdinand, ally of Henry VIII. For he wanted to maintain his control over Charles and diminish Maximilian’s control over him.
Henry’s campaign which was also joined by Maximilian at the time of the siege of Teronenne, was supposed to have enhanced the power of Maximilian. Ferdinand privily signed his peace with France in order to isolate Henry. Maximilian was also drawn into it.
The object of Ferdinand was thus accomplished (1514). Wolsey perceived that an alliance with France would be an effective alternative to the collapsed alliance of England, Spain and the Emperor.
Throughout the sixteenth century royal marriages and betrothals were important instruments of international negotiations and prices were used as shuttlecocks by statesmen. Henry’s youngest sister Mary was to be married to Charles, the future Charles V. But after the intrigue by which Spain and the Emperor isolated England, Charles’ both the grandfathers Maximilian and Ferdinand wanted to defer the marriage.
Wolsey found it to be a good handle for his diplomacy and while pressing for solemnising the marriage between Mary and Charles secretly started negotiating Mary’s marriage with Louis XII of France. When the negotiations arrived at the final stage, Wolsey, holding the other side responsible for the delay in marriage, Mary was given in marriage to Louis, England and France again became allies.
But with the death of Louis XII soon after the benefit of the marriage was lost.
Francis I who succeeded Louis XII was quite as much athirst for military glory as Henry VIII and he withdrew from the English alliance and joined hands with Ferdinand, having Italian conquest, particularly of Milan, in view. He set out for Italy, won a great victory in the battle of Marignano, which provoked a general reaction in favour of checking Francis in Italy.
Pope Leo enlisted English support by making Wolsey a Cardinal. Wolsey persuaded Maximilian to take up arms against Francis in Italy. But before Ferdinand could be drawn into it, he died and was succeeded by Charles who was advised by his courtiers whose interests were mainly Flemish, to ally himself with Francis. The Emperor Maximilian also joined the alliance.
Francis was, however, clearheaded enough to realise that neither Charles nor Maximilian would be of much help to him, and there lay the real strength of Wolsey. He, therefore, was inclined to ally himself with Wolsey.
Birth of a Dauphin in 1518 made the thing easier and Henry’s little daughter princess Mary was betrothed to the Dauphin, an alliance between England and France was struck, Tournai was returned to France, who had to pay England 60,000 crowns and promise not to interfere in Scottish affairs. But this treaty was open to criticism.
Mary was two years old while Dauphin was a baby in arms. The dowries, etc., promised were not fully paid. But what was particular contrary to the desire of the English was the surrender of Tournai and disbanding of the stout garrison there. But it may be said in defence of Wolsey that Tournai was a luxury of no use.
Wolsey could now pose as the pacificator of Europe; Wolsey’s policy was triumphant. France was bound to England, Charles was now eager for her friendship, Maximilian still looking to her for money, the Pope applauded her as the peace-maker (1519). This was a diplomatic trium of first order for Wolsey. His fame resounded throughout Europe.
In the same year died Maximilian and the imperial throne fell vacant. Henry VIII conceived the idea of putting himself up as a candidate for the imperial election. Francis also began to bribe the electors. Wolsey promised support both Francis and Charles. The Pope remained neutral.
It was now Wolsey’s difficult business to keep Francis and Charles as suitors for favour of England. He, therefore, having placated Charles V, now turned his attention to Francis, who was now willing to meet him more than half way.
Wolsey arranged matters in such a way that Charles V visited England which was followed by a visit by Henry to Calais where the English and the French kings met on the famous field of Cloth of Gold. Wolsey’s rival policies succeeded and in 1520 Henry was in separate alliance with Francis on one hand and Charles on the other, alliances which neither could rely yet neither could break.
In this way Wolsey succeeded in his aim to prevent any power or combination, of powers from dominating Europe, to substitute diplomacy for war and to secure for England as the true arbiter of European politics without involving her in any war of great magnitude.
In 1521 when the prospect of keeping the peace between the rival monarchs Charles V and Francis grew faint, Wolsey made the parties to agree to a conference at Calais and Wolsey himself was the mediator. But it appeared that war could not be averted and if England was to be drawn into it, her advantage lay in joining on the Emperor’s side.
He secretly came to terms with Charles agreeing to defer joining war if England would at all do so, money indemnity for Tournai which France had paid only partly, to be paid by Charles, and joined the conference. Wolsey’s efforts naturally having proved fruitless hostilities began and news reached on the heels of Wolsey who returned to England that Charles V succeeded against Francis both in Picardy and Italy.
Henry’s predilections were for war and being pleased with Wolsey for not preventing the war rewarded him with the lucrative office of Abbot of St. Albans.
By the middle of 1522 it became evident that war could not be postponed any longer and England declared war against France. Scotland, a traditional ally of France, threatened invasion of England, but Lord Dacre bluffed the Scots into an armistice. In France Duke of Bourbon turned against the king, this revived the idea in Henry VIII that by alliance with some of the French nobles he might become king of France as well.
Wolsey had, therefore, to devote his energies to making combination against the French king really serious. Venice was coerced into a coalition.
Charles V was there and besides Duke of Bourbon was taken as an ally. But due to lukewarm support given by Charles, no support by Bourbon and the military misadventure of Suffolk, the campaign ended in a fiasco. Wolsey, however, succeeded in beating back attempted invasion of England by Albany from Scotland.
By 1524 parties were no longer willing to continue war. This gave chance to Wolsey to again assume the role of the mediator between Charles and Francis.
Defeat and imprisonment of Francis at Pavia at the hands of the Imperial army, roused hope in Wolsey that Francis would be very much willing to conciliate him. But Henry VIII’s hope was again revived at the defeat and weakness of Francis that he might even now obtain the French throne.
Wolsey’s schemes, naturally were wrecked and he was forced to ask for more funds from a reluctant Parliament to continue the war. His proposal for an Amicable loan and then for Benevolences failed. For the first time Wolsey failed to carry his master’s wishes through, for the task was an impossible one.
He therefore, returned to his own scheme of making peace with Francis extracting as much as he could from him. So also did Charles V desire. Ultimately Wolsey succeeded in signing a treaty with France involving payment of two million crowns to England and including Scotland in its terms. Charles made his own peace with his prisoner Francis.
But soon after Francis declared all the terms of the treaties as invalid since these were extorted from him while a prisoner of the Emperor, put Wolsey into an awkward position. But he extricated himself soon after by striking an alliance with France (1527).
In internal affairs, Wolsey wanted to make royal power absolute both over the state and the church. He wanted concentration of ecclesiastical power in his own hand which paved the path for the dual supremacy of the Crown. He wanted to rule without Parliament, and in fact his rule was unconstitutional.
Wolsey kept down the nobles by means of the Court of Star Chamber punishing those who dared to disobey him. In ruling the country unconstitutionally Wolsey during period when he was in power advised the king to summon only once in 1523, and that also for raising money through taxation.
The Parliament refused to agree to a demand for 20 per cent, property tax, Wolsey appeared personally before the Parliament, interfered with its proceedings and got a vote passed for 10 per cent, property tax. He also raised money through un-parliamentary methods, called benevolences.
Wolsey had genuine desire to see the church rid of its prevalent abuses. The church had become politically, morally and spiritually weak, but his method was reformation of the church from within by using the royal authority as well as his own status as Papal Legate for the purpose.
His desire for the reformation of the church was prompted by his aim of becoming the Pope himself. He removed some of the evils of the sanctuary and many of the undue privileges of the clergy.
In 1524, he held a visitation of forty monasteries and suppressed them and the wealth and treasures obtained from them were spent for the establishment of educational institutions most important of which are the present Christ Church College, Oxford and a college at Ipswich. To try the cases of abuses, he set up Legislative Courts.
Wolsey was a supporter of the Renaissance and worked for the moral regeneration and better education of the clergy. In his sympathy for the poor he improved the judicial administration of the country to save the poor from the oppression of the rich. He also sought to save them from being thrown out of employment by checking the growing evils of enclosure system.
The divorce question with which the problem of a male heir to Henry VIII was linked up and Henry’s infatuation for Anne Boleyn made a sorry tangle for Wolsey out of which he could not extricate himself.
To add to these was Wolsey’s own desire to become the Pope himself. It was not Wolsey who suggested the divorce, but he was obliged to support it because of his masterful king. Wolsey was not in favour of the divorce, for it was not popular with the nation.
Further, Catherine was Charles V’s aunt, her daughter Mary was betrothed to the prince of France. Pope Clement had his difficulties in sanctioning the divorce for identical reasons, but he was not ready to openly displease so powerful a monarch like Henry VIII. The best course, in the circumstances was to kill time. Wolsey and Campeggio were to form a commission to go into the question as papal legates.
They procrastinated, but even this had a limit. Henry’s patience was nearly exhausted when the commission adjourned. Henry burst like a wild bull through the thorny thickets and dismissed Wolsey on the pretext of breaking the obsolete statute of Praeumunire; his properties were confiscated. He had to withdraw to the See of York.
But Wolsey in disgrace sought French help to regain his lost position and this was brought to the king’s notice by Duke of Norfolk. Wolsey was arrested for high treason and while on his way to London he died at Leicester.
The conflicting desires of supporting the church and serving the king in the divorce question led to Wolsey’s fall, which again showed the enormous power of Henry VIII to which Wolsey himself had unwittingly contributed.
12. Wolsey’s Estimate:
Historians have grossly differed in their estimates of Cardinal Wolsey, nevertheless all have regarded him as one of the greatest personalities of contemporary history. According to Freeman, ecclesiastical statesmanship was at its highest pitch in the person of Thomas Wolsey, the Archbishop, Cardinal and Chancellor.
No English minister before him, and few after him, had attained so great an European position. He dreamed of popedom, while his master dreamed of the imperial throne. In his administration he carried out the policy which had become usual since the days of Edward IV, and summoned Parliament as seldom as possible.
His administration of justice won the highest general confidence and his hand was far from heavy on the maintainers of the new religious doctrines.
On the whole Wolsey’s position was European rather than English. He was the greatest and the last of the English ecclesiastical statesman. Froude regards him as a man who loved England well, but loved Rome better.
Like all men of genius, Wolsey combined practical sagacity with an unmeasured power of hoping. Travelyan is of opinion that in the hands of Wolsey Balance of Power first became clearly defined chief object of the English foreign policy.
Mackie, however, remarks that “it is too much to say that he consciously developed the doctrine of balance of power, since more than once he sided with the strong against the weak.” But Mackie also agrees that he endeavoured to play the mutual antipathies of the European princes, and gave his country an effective control in the continental affairs.
Leopold Ranke, however, observes that the Parliament and the nation always complained of Wolsey’s oppressive and extravagant management of finances and in fourteen years he summoned Parliament but once. His fall, therefore, seemed a renewal of Parliamentary principles in general.
According to Ranke ‘Wolsey cannot be counted among statesmen of first rank, either mentally or morally; yet his position and ability, his ambition and his political scheme, what he accomplished and what he suffered, his triumph and tragedy, have gained him an immortal name in English history. His effort to bind the royal power to the papacy by strongest bonds, rent them asunder forever.’
Henry Hallam holds Wolsey guilty of subverting the liberties of the Englishmen and Englishmen have, according to him, scarcely any ground for approving the partiality shown to Wolsey by some historians. ‘Haughty beyond comparison, negligent of the duties and decorums of his station, profuse as well as rapacious, obnoxious alike to his own order and laity, his fall was for long secretly desired by the nation.’
A dispassionate yet critical review of Wolsey’s achievements would definitely show that this transition minister made England’s political influence greatly felt in Europe and by playing the Emperor, France and Spain against one another made all of them crave for English friendship.
In his hands the doctrine of the Balance of Power became a potent weapon and by wielding it successfully. Wolsey made England the arbiter of European politics. In his days the English alliance was a decisive factor in European politics.
His method was of diplomacy and peace, compromised to the extent of his obeying the wishes of his royal master. Internally he was despotic and he made the king supreme in state, and church.
The result was that after Wolsey’s fall Henry became more despotic that when he was in power.
Although his achievements at home were not much noteworthy, and he had invaded the powers of the church as also of the Parliament, yet his concern for the improvement of the moral standard of the clergy, their education, protection of the poor, removal of abuses from the monasteries and all that Wolsey did not deserve the fate he did. His fall was because he could not extract from the Pope the divorce of Catherine.
He certainly goes down in history as a great statesman of the transition period who may be called modern. His diplomatic skill, industry, devotion to duty, his grip of things and his incomparable abilities with which he served England deserve the gratitude of the nation.
13. Thomas Cromwell:
Son of a blacksmith Thomas Cromwell in his youth served as a trooper in the wars in Italy. From the army he passed to the service of a Venetian merchant, and after some time returned to England, studied law and took to service under Wolsey. He was employed by Wolsey to dissolve the monasteries, a trust which he discharged satisfactorily and enriched himself at the same time.
On the fall of Wolsey he was confirmed in his post of stewardship of the lands of the dissolved monasteries, under the king. He was a staunch loyalist who firmly believed in the teachings of Machiavelli. His one concern was to make the king supreme by any means foul or fair.
Having secured much of Wolsey’s power after his fall, Cromwell directed the work of the Reformation Parliament. It was Cromwell who impressed upon Henry that England ‘was a monster with two heads’—the King and the Pope and suggested that he should throw off the yoke of Rome as the German princes had done, with the authority of the Parliament.
This would also facilitate, the divorce without waiting for the Pope’s consent.
In 1531 Cromwell by his cunning argued that by admitting jurisdiction of Wolsey who had been found guilty of the violation of the Statute of Praemunire, the clergy had become his abettors and the Attorney- General was instructed to indict the whole body of the clergy .before the King’s Bench.
The convocation of the clergy met and decided to buy pardon of the king on payment of one hundred thousand pounds. But the king would not agree unless he was acknowledged ‘to be the protector and only supreme head of church and clergy of England’. The clergy agreed to accept the proposal with the addition ‘as far as the law of Christ will allow’.
This would mean that the clergy might conveniently reject the king’s supremacy by arguing that it was not allowed by the law of Christ. But Cromwell, armed with the declaration made by the convocation of the clergy, got a law passed by the Parliament by which was decided that cases like divorce was not under the jurisdiction of the Pope, but it was to be judged by the church of England.
Pliable Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury set up a court and declared marriage between Catherine and Henry null and void and his marriage with Anne Boleyn legal and sanctioned by canons of the church.
This sparked a quarrel between the King and the Pope Clement VII who excommunicated Henry for adultery with Anne Boleyn. Henry repudiated the claim of any spiritual potentiate to interfere in England. This was the beginning of the separation of the English church from Rome in its most complete form.
Thomas Cromwell now got the Act of Supremacy passed by the Parliament (1534) which compelled all men to acknowledge Henry as the supreme head of the English church. By the Treasons Act passed soon after, it was declared treason to refuse to accept king’s ecclesiastical supremacy. This was how, Cromwell managed to bring the English church completely under the king and separate the English church from Rome.
In the next year (1535) Cromwell was appointed Vicar-General, i.e., ecclesiastical dictator. In 1536 Thomas Cromwell and Henry decided to dissolve the monasteries for these were considered to be centres of papal power—a sort of Pope’s garrison in England. This apart the weakened royal treasury might as well be replenished with the wealth of the monasteries.
In the same year (1536) visitors were sent to survey and reports on the condition of the monasteries and these pre-planned reports served as the ground for the Parliamentary measure for the dissolution of the lesser monasteries. The reaction was risings in Lincoln known as Pilgrimage of Grace.
The demands of the insurgents were dismissal of Cromwell and restoration of the monasteries. Promises of removal of grievances were given, but not kept. The ringleaders were executed, the insurgents put down with a heavy hand. The next step was to pressurise the greater monasteries to surrender voluntarily (1539).
Many of them had to do so, those who did not were punished severely. The dissolution of monasteries brought both movable and immovable properties to the king. The huge quantity of lands were sold out to buyers from different walks of life.
About forty thousand families that had bought monastic lands naturally became a bulwark against the revival of papal authority in England. The king was thus made absolute both in state and church, and the object of Cromwell was fulfilled.
Cromwell also showed the old nobility the danger of plotting against the king by ordering execution of Montague and Exeter in 1538. In 1536 the king was allowed by the Parliament to regulate succession. In 1539 the king’s proclamations were given the force of laws.
Thus by 1540 Thomas Cromwell accomplished all that he had aimed at when the king had placed his confidence in him, and Cromwell was no longer essential for the king.
Cromwell made the mistake of arranging marriage of Henry VIII with Anne of Cleves, a Protestant German princess, who proved to be what the king himself said ‘a great Flanders mare’ and was soon strongly disliked by the king.
The marriage was dissolved before the year was out. King’s favour was withdrawn from Cromwell who had promoted the marriage and through the machinations of the enemies of Cromwell in the royal court, the faithful servant of the Crown was condemned by an Act of Attainder by the obsequious Parliament. Cromwell was beheaded (1540).
That Cromwell was an oppressor that he received bribes, made a great estate for himself out of the wealth of the monasteries after their dissolution, that he extended people for his personal gains were true. Some of the! public plunders strick to his fingers.
Whatever crimes may be laid to the change of Cromwell, there is no denying the fact that he served the king well and even succeeded in accomplishing the divorce where Wolsey failed. He was the real architect of Tudor absolutism. He swayed the Parliament for the king’s advantage and his method was to make the king absolute at the same time to carry the Parliament with the king.
It was he who made king’s despotism one with popular consent. But it was a sheer irony of fate that a servant of twelve years and one that had served the king so faithfully and successfully, was to be attainted. The principle of Attainder, without hearing or confession, was not law.
Cromwell perished by attainder having in vain written to his remorseless master. His cry for mercy moved the king for a moment and he sent him little money while in the prison, but it could melt the heart of the king to save his life.
14. Progress of Reformation in England by the End of Henry VIII’s Rule:
While a young prince, Henry came under the influence of the Renaissance. At his accession to the throne Erasmus made England his home and worked as Professor of Divinity and of Greek at Cambridge. Henry having breathed the spirit of Renaissance, it might be expected of him to become a friend of the Reformation which was raging in Europe when he had came to the throne.
The expectation was all the more strengthened because Henry who was a heir- presumptive, being the second son of his father was educated for becoming a churchman. He was intended for the post of the Archbishop of York. Arthur’s death brought him accidentally to the throne.
The English church which was Roman Catholic was not free from the abuses which were a standing scandal of the contemporary Catholic church in Europe. All this, naturally, roused expectation, and no less the need, of a Reformation in England. But at the first several years of his reign Henry showed no interest in interfering in the ecclesiastical matters in his country.
The English church remained fully Catholic in its doctrine—believing in the papal supremacy, the Mass, Sacraments, veneration of Saints and all that. That the king was himself a staunch Catholic was proved by his producing a pamphlet Defence of Seven Sacraments and writing to the Pope Leo X of his determination to extirpate Lutheranism which was then causing great concern to the papacy.
Support of Henry, a king so powerful, was naturally welcome to Leo X who conferred upon his royal supporter the title of Defender of the Faith. His minister Wolsey was a Cardinal and a Papal Legate.
In the affairs of the European politics in which Henry under the advice and guidance of Wolsey played the part of an arbiter by holding the balance of the European politics in the English hands, England had joined hands with the Pope as an ally.
But neither Henry nor Wolsey was impervious to the need of remedying the abuses of the English church, but the reformation as both thought should come through education of the clergy, checking corruption and the prevailing moral lapses. Reformation, in the sense that it had come in Germany, was beyond Henry’s contemplation. In case of Wolsey, who aspired after the papal throne, it was simply out of question.
Reformation in England, however, came despite king’s attitude to it, as described above. It began as a personal question and soon turned into political but never became doctrinal under Henry VIII.
The need for a male heir which Catherine could not fulfil, king’s infatuation for Anne Boleyn, a lady of the court, and above all to stop the prospect of a disputed succession after his death led Henry to seek divorce from Catherine on the ground that she having been his elder brother’s widow was within the prohibited degree of marriage according to Catholic laws, the marriage despite papal dispensation was accursed and invalid.
But the divorce was sought to be obtained from the Pope whose predecessor had sanctioned it.
The Pope was in a fix, for on the one hand Catherine was Charles V’s aunt and on the other the request came from no less a king than Henry VIII. Procrastination was the only course that commended itself to the Pope, but procrastination has its limits. Henry lost patience, dismissed Wolsey and fell back upon the English tradition of keeping the English church independent of the Pope.
It must be remembered that papal taxation was never palatable to the English nation and traditionally the English nation was anti-papal. Henry had this great advantage. Thomas Cromwell who became Henry’s confidant on Wolsey’s fall, advised the king to get rid of the Pope from the English church and make the divorce a matter for the English church itself to decide.
In 1529, the most famous of Henry’s Parliaments —the Reformation Parliament was called to session and during the seven years that followed several reform measures were passed which substituted the Pope by the king in the English church.
The English clergy were declared abettors in the violation of the Statute of Praemunire by submitting themselves to the jurisdiction of Wolsey who was himself found guilty and convicted for violation of this statute.
The clergy were allowed to buy pardon by accepting king as the supreme head of the church and on payment of a hundred thousand pounds. The clergy agreed to do so but with some reservation.
The Reformation Parliament in the mean time passed the Act of Annates by which payment of the first fruits or the annates which amounted to one year’s income of the post to which a bishop -or a churchman would be appointed, was prohibited. Payment of Peter’s pence was likewise prohibited.
With the clergy agreeing to regard the king as supreme over the English church, although with some reservation, Cromwell got the Act of Supremacy passed by the Parliament. This made the king supreme over the English church instead of the Pope.
Treasons Act that followed made it punishable to violate the supremacy of the king over the church either in words or acts. Cranmer who had been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by the king was authorised to pronounce judgement upon the divorce question.
A court was set up by Cranmer and as it was a foregone conclusion, marriage between Henry and Catherine was declared invalid and divorce was granted, and marriage with Anne Boleyn sanctioned. The Pope reacted by excommunicating Henry on the grounds of adultery because of his marriage with Anne Boleyn.
Thus the breach with Rome was complete. The breach with Rome was a welcome step, for the English nation was always anti-papal in tradition, the Parliament which supported it gave a popular and national character to the whole proceedings.
That the English Reformation was a political movement cannot be gainsaid. The king in his anxiety to liquidate the papal garrisons in England which the monasteries were termed, because these were active centres of papal influence, dissolved the monasteries.
This not only brought wealth to the royal treasury but the vast land that was confiscated was sold out to forty thousand families which stood on a bulwark against the revival of the papal authority in the English church. The bishops were made to delete the Pope’s name from the prayer book.
But was it Protestantism that Henry had brought through the English Reformation during his rule? The answer is a clear no. Henry continued to remain a Catholic and did not allow any doctrinal change during his reign.
The English church ceased to be papal but continued to remain Catholic. That Henry did not like any change of doctrine or coming of Protestantism, can be clearly understood from the Statue of Six Articles which was passed in 1539.
The provisions of the Six Articles Act were definitely for the purpose of preserving Catholicism in England. These provisions preserved the fundamental Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation, i.e. change of substance—wine and bread after the Eucharist into blood and flesh of the Lord.
This was the most important of doctrines that Luther had assailed. Celibacy of priesthood, communion of one kind, that is only bread without wine for the laity after the Mass, private confession, private Masses, monastic vows, etc., were all retained. These Catholic doctrines were to be followed on pain of punishment.
Thus Henry wanted Catholicism not to be supplanted in England although the English church had gone independent of the Pope. John Fisher, Sir Thomas More, etc., and thousands of others were condemned to death for not conforming to the supremacy of the king over the church which was the only point where Henry allowed Reformation to be confined in the English church.
Henry VIII’s attitude towards Reformation was not religious, it was purely political. Catholicism and its creed continued to be followed. The elimination of the Pope from the English church made the king all the more autocratic, for he now became supreme both in state and church.
All that his Reformation meant was Catholicism minus the Pope. It was in complete consonance with the Tudor policy of gaining absolute power for the Crown. All the same, by taking the first step, Henry VIII paved the way for doctrinal change in the future.
The emphasis on the reading of the Bible and the introduction of the English Bible went a long way to prepare the ground for reformed religion. His political reconstruction ultimately brought religious reformation.
15. Religious and Constitutional Significance of the Work of the Reformation Parliament:
The Reformation Parliament assembled on November 3, 1529 and sat for an unprecedentedly long period, until 1536. About the character of the Reformation Parliament, the contemporary opinion was that it was influenced by bribes.
Royal influence was used to get Knights and burgesses returned who would be prepared to support the new trend of the royal policy. In any event, the Parliament, it may be reasonably inferred, was in a pliable mood, even a servile body.
Besides, it was dominated by the king and his ministers. Personal presence of the king and his ministers often bore on the course of the debate. It must also be remembered that the House of Commons was not sufficiently developed to follow an independent control over the business before the house.
Yet there were contradictions. Criticism of king’s policy, oppositions to bills, amendments to and withdrawal of proposals were also there. The Reformation Parliament reflected diversity of opinion which was characteristic of the age and society that produced it.
The Parliament of 1529 was summoned to deal with the enormities of the clergy. But the legislation against the church at the initial stage was not much revolutionary. Mortuary fees the abuse of which occasioned Hunne’s case, were limited. Sanctuary was regulated, a scale of fees was prescribed for the probate of wills in ecclesiastical courts. Pluralities were forbidden except under certain stricter conditions.
Non-residence of the clergy was penalised and spiritual persons were forbidden to take lands to farming. These legislations remedied some of the abuses of the church. The law against non-residence took away the power of the Pope to sanction non- residence by his dispensations. This was significant of the future invasion of the papal powers.
In 1530 the Attorney-General brought before the King’s Bench an indictment of the clergy as a whole on the ground that they were abettors to the violation of the Statute Praeumunire by submitting to the jurisdiction of Wolsey since dismissed and convicted of violation of this statute.
They were allowed to buy pardon by agreeing to accept king as the supreme head of the English church and clergy with the reservation that ‘so far as the law of Christ allows’, and payment of £10,000 by Canterbury and £18,000 by York. On the basis of this achievement Thomas Cromwell sought to mobilise the anti-clericalism of Parliament.
The First Act of Annates was passed by which the annates or the payment to the Pope of the first year’s income of newly appointed archbishops and bishops was prohibited. This was how, the Parliament was being carried with the king in shaking off an ancient rival, that is the Pope.
The immediate effect of the measure was to deprive the Pope of a lucrative source of revenue and enable Henry to bring increasing pressure on the Pope in regard to the divorce question. But the Pope prohibited the divorce and king’s remarrying (Nov., 1532). Soon after in January, 1533, king secretly married Anne Boleyn.
In the same year the exclusive jurisdiction of the papacy over the ecclesiastical cases was replaced by the exclusive, jurisdiction of the Crown by the Act of Appeals. This Act was a decisive instrument in destruction of the Roman authority, it was more than that the ecclesiastical authority was to be drawn from the Crown.
In 1534, the Second Act of Annates was passed prohibiting papal nominations to bishoprics, renewed prohibition of the payment of annates, empowered the king to fill up ecclesiastical vacancies. First fruits and tenths of benefices were annexed to the Crown. Peter’s pence, a tax of one penny per hearth paid to Rome, was declared illegal.
In the same year the Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy. The royal supremacy now became an axiomatic truth. The former reservation ‘as far as the law of Christ allows’ was omitted. The king was accepted the only supreme head on earth of the church of England. The right to use all jurisdiction for the repression of error, heresy and other offences which the Pope so long possessed came to the Crown.
To enforce the anti-papal statutes, Treasons Act provided terribly severe punishment. Marriage with Catherine was declared invalid and that with Anne Boleyn accepted as lawful. Refusal to accept all this was made punishable for treason. Fisher, More and thousand others were executed for refusal to accept the king as the head of the church.
In 1536 and in 1539 by two Acts, the lesser and the greater monasteries were dissolved and their properties taken over by the Crown. The monastic lands were sold to men of different walks of life, particularly those on whom the king could rely for support.
The religious significance of the acts of the Reformation Parliament was that the royal supremacy was not confined to external points of order and discipline. The beliefs to be held forth and professed by the English church were settled by royal authority.
The government issued proclamation against heretical books, unauthorised translation of the Bible was burnt under government order, heretics were imprisoned or sent to the stake.
To enforce uniformity of belief, the king brought the question before the Parliament in 1539 and the Six Articles Act was passed. It was not so important whether this Act preserved Catholicism, as it showed that the Parliament sanctioned royal authority over doctrine.
The English king became supreme not in the external authority over the church, but also over doctrine. This prepared the way for the Reformation of doctrine in the English church in no distant future.
The constitutional significance of the Acts passed by the Reformation Parliament was the introduction of the parliamentary authority into the actual exercise of royal supremacy. The king had asserted his ecclesiastical supremacy through the Parliament and it opened the way for wider claims by the Parliament.
In future, the Parliament might as well claim that the king could not exercise his ecclesiastical authority except through the Parliament. ‘He had united spiritual to temporal authority. Both might pass under control and be exercised in Parliament alone’.
Further, the Parliament’s empowering Henry to regulate the succession to the Crown, was by implication, a recognition of the authority of the Parliament to guide successions itself, as it actually did in the future.
16. Estimate of Henry VIII:
Since his death on January 28, 1547, Henry continues to remain a controversial figure in respect of his character and achievements. Even his funeral evoked contradictory feelings. While Bishop of Winchester was arranging for a solemn dirge for the late English sovereign ‘certain players of my Lord of Oxford’s’ intended on the other side to have a solemn play.
Nothing can perhaps be more injudicious than the remarks of the Protestant writers identifying Henry with Reformation, or Catholic writers’ to charge the Reform with the vices of Henry. True, selfishness formed the basis of Henry’s character.
He never was known to sacrifice an inclination to the interest or happiness of another. Peter Heylin remarked that “he spared no man in his anger and no woman in his lust”. He was rapacious and profuse, vain and self-conscious.
Yet at the same time he was courteous and affable and when in good humour, had a gay, jovial manner highly captivating in a ruler. The magnificence of his early reign, his handsome person and his skill in martial exercises were remembered by his people and he was popular up to the very last.
His patronage of letters was highly commendable, he was an excellent judge of persons and selected capable persons for employment in state and church. He never promoted an incapable or inefficient person.
Hume estimates him by saying “It is difficult to give a just summary of this prince’s qualities; he was so different in different parts of his reign, that, as is well remarked by Lord Herbert, his history is his best character and description.”
The absolute and uncontrolled authority which he maintained at home and the regard that he acquired among foreign nations entitled him to the appellation of a great prince, but his tyranny and barbarity exclude him from the good ones. He possessed great vigour of mind, courage, vigilance, intrepidity and inflexibility.
His vices would comprehend many of the worst qualities, such as cruelty, violence, profusion, rapacity, obstinacy, injustice, arrogance, bigotry, caprice, presumption and all that. The extensive powers of his prerogative and the submissive disposition of his Parliaments made it easy for him to assume and maintain that entire dominion by which his reign is so much distinguished in English history.
Despite his many vices, he not only acquired the regard of his subjects, but was never the object of their hatred.
The statutes of his reign made for better administration of justice. The pernicious immunities of the clergy were restrained by Henry. No sanctuaries were allowed in cases of high treason. Laws regarding beggars and vagrants, passed during his reign are instances which are to be found in a benevolent legislator. In 1546 interest on loans was fixed at 10 per cent., the first legal interest taken in England in this regard.
Henry possessed some talent for letters and. would encourage it in others. He founded the Trinity College in Cambridge and endowed it liberally. During his reign Wolsey founded the Cardinal College in Oxford, which came to be known as the Christ Church College. The countenance given to letters by the king, made learning fashionable in England.
Froude while admitting Henry’s faults, eulogises him by remarking:
“Beyond and besides Reformation, the constitution of these islands (British Isles) now rests in large measure on foundations laid in this reign. Henry brought Ireland within the reach of the English civilisation. He absorbed Wales and the Palatinates into general English system. He it was who raised the House of Commons from the narrow duty of voting supporters, and of passing the measures of the Privy Council and converted it into first power in the state under the Crown”.
It was under him that England was made the arbiter of European politics and she held the balance of European power in English hands. Balance of Power became clearly a well-defined system of international political system during his rule by Wolsey.
Henry was the first sovereign for many years of English history, to make a real effort to found a Royal Navy which he felt necessary for the national defence. Many new ships were built under his orders. By the end of his reign the Royal Navy had 53 ships with two thousand guns. For shipbuilding two dockyards, besides Portsmouth were built by Henry.
The breach with Rome that occurred during Henry VIII’s reign which substituted the Pope by the king as the head of the English church while made the king absolute, prepared the way for the future reformation of the doctrine.
In these diverse ways. Henry VIII made himself not only an absolute king, but a national king as well. The ecclesiastical independence which was the traditional policy of the English nation, was indeed a popular measure.
With both political and ecclesiastical independence, with a strong navy that was to defeat the Spanish Armada not in distant future, with a national church, a national Parliament, Henry VIII had laid the foundations of modern England. The magnificent development of the Elizabethan age was possible because of these foundations.