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- England Under the Tudors - 30/90 -

[Sidenote: The Black Book]

Also, it is very doubtful whether the "black book" of monastic offences was ever laid before parliament. The preamble to the bill set forth, luridly enough, the conclusions arrived at by the King and the vicar-general, and summed up the grounds for them. But it seems by no means improbable that parliament simply accepted the statement thus laid before it. The black book itself disappeared. The Protestant historians of Elizabeth's reign said that Bonner destroyed it; the Roman Catholics affirm that it was the other party who took care that the evidence on which they acted should never be made known. The actual surviving evidence is to be found in the partial summaries known as the Comperta and in the letters of the commissioners to Cromwell. The examination of these can hardly fail to leave the reader with a conviction that the methods of the Commissioners were atrociously iniquitous, but that a strictly judicial investigation would still have revealed a state of things often appalling, not seldom vicious, and commonly reprehensible, without the elements which might have made effective reform possible: while it is beyond a doubt that especially among the younger monks and nuns, the desire to escape from the bonds of monastic rule was common.

[Sidenote: The Consequent Commission]

In favour of the monasteries however, it is to be noted that these 376 minor houses were suppressed not as having been individually condemned, but on the theory that the report pointed to the system of maintaining minor houses as bad. Mixed commissions were now appointed to continue the visitation, carry out the suppression, and recommend exemptions when it was desirable; and the reports of these commissions were of a far less unfavourable character, though (as we have seen) only 31 houses were actually reinstated. It is to be observed also, in a somewhat different connexion, that the further visitation was accompanied by the issuing of Injunctions for the conduct of monastic establishments which may have been designed solely with a view to enforcing a pure and pious manner of living, but are undoubtedly open to the suspicion of having been deliberately calculated to make the monastic life insupportable and so to encourage the religious houses to efface themselves by voluntary surrender--a course which was not infrequently adopted.

[Sidenote: The policy discussed]

There was sufficient precedent for laying the Church under heavy contributions to the exchequer. The idea of deliberately confiscating Church property had before now been seriously put forward. There had been previous suppressions of monastic establishments; but in these cases the funds, ostensibly at least, had been diverted to other purposes recognised as ecclesiastical, such as Wolsey's schools and colleges. The differentiating feature of Cromwell's confiscation was that the funds were for the most part withdrawn from any ecclesiastical purpose whatever. [Footnote: There was precedent for the proposal however in Parliamentary petitions of Richard II.'s reign; but these had not taken effect in legislation.] The monastic lands passed to lay owners by grant or purchase; they enriched the King or his friends or those whom Cromwell thought fit to enrich or to gratify. The evidence that in the public interest it was time for the religious houses to go is convincing; the method of proceeding against the smaller houses first was tactically shrewd, as evoking less opposition at the outset; but even if it be conceded that the Church had forfeited her property, it is impossible to find any excuse for the application of the spoils to other than public objects. The Church might simply be looked upon as a vast corporation, holding its wealth in trust for the nation, and rightly deprived of that wealth when it failed to fulfil the trust. But on that view, the wealth was bound to be handed over to another body, to administer as a trust for the nation. The fact that this was not done makes possible only one conclusion as to the motive of the suppression. The Church was both the wealthiest and the least dangerous victim available for bleeding, besides being open to the charge of deserving to be penalised.

[Sidenote 1: Anne Boleyn threatened] [Sidenote 2: Her condemnation and death]

In January 1536 the deeply-injured Katharine died; to be followed ere many months had passed by her supplanter. Ostensibly, Henry had married Anne Boleyn, because a male heir was needed to secure the succession; but she had borne him only a daughter and a still-born son. Henry was disappointed in her. Moreover, his passion had for some time been cooling: nor was her character--even on the most favourable reading--calculated to retain affections that had begun to wane. She was frivolous and undignified; her arrogance and her assumption had left her few friends. She was jealous of the attentions paid by her husband to Jane Seymour, who had been one of Katharine's ladies-in-waiting--attentions which she received with a becoming reserve. Suddenly it appeared that Anne had been guilty of gross misconduct. Sundry gentlemen of the court, including her brother Lord Rochford were charged with sharing her guilt. One of them ultimately made confession--true or false. There were stories, flatly denied, that she had been contracted to Northumberland: that she had actually been his wife when she married Henry. There were stories that the marriage was void, because of earlier relations between Henry and her mother and sister. Whether the queen was guilty or not, the judges of course did what they were expected to do; she was tried for treason and condemned. Cranmer was torn between an affectionate conviction that she was really a good woman and an inability to believe that the King could be misled, much less do her a deliberate and conscious wrong. But some sort of admission which she made before him was interpreted by the Archbishop as involving the nullity of the marriage. Anne was executed: next day, the King married Jane Seymour; the marriage with Anne was officially declared to have been invalid; Elizabeth being of course de-legitimatised, and so occupying precisely the same position as Mary. Thus Henry was left with three illegitimate children (the third being the Duke of Richmond who died not long after), and no legitimate heir--truly an ironical outcome of that divorce which his apologists defend as having been demanded by the need of a successor with an indisputable title to the throne!

[Sidenote: The Succession]

Within three weeks of Anne Boleyn's execution (May 19th, 1536), a new parliament was sitting; for that which had commenced its sessions at the end of 1529 had been dissolved in the spring of this year. The first business was formally to ratify the late proceedings, and fix the succession on the offspring of the new queen; the second was formally to authorise the King himself to lay down the order of succession thereafter. Incidentally we may note that the actual legitimate heir presumptive [Footnote: See _Appendix B_, and _Front_.] to the throne was now the King of Scotland, the son of Henry's elder sister Margaret. The claims of a child of Jane Seymour could alone on legitimist principles take precedence of his, if the judgments invalidating the two previous marriages held good. It is only by admitting the power of parliament to fix or delegate its power of fixing the succession, that James's claim to be heir presumptive could be challenged. But there was no sort of doubt that it would be in actual fact challenged, simply because the English would not take a King from another land. There was not much room in England for advocates of the doctrine of Divine Right. Neither Henry IV, and his successors, nor Henry VII., nor Elizabeth, could have maintained a plausible claim to the throne apart from their title by Act of Parliament. Of present importance however was the fact that both Katharine and Anne were dead before the marriage of Queen Jane; there could therefore be absolutely no ground for challenging the legitimacy of any children of hers, while any conceivable claims on behalf of either Mary or Elizabeth would necessarily yield precedence to the claim of Jane's son, should she bear one. Moreover, since there was now no Katharine to claim rights as a queen, and her supplanter had died a traitor's death, Mary might without risk be re-instated as a Princess on sufficient grounds. Thus a door was opened for a renewal of amity with the Emperor.

[Sidenote: Punishment of Heresy]

The aims and objects of the Reformation in England had been entirely political and financial. There had been no official movement towards a new doctrinal standpoint. On the contrary, the suppression of heresy had been not less active after Cranmer's accession to the primacy than before. The prosecutions however do not at any time appear to have originated with the clergy: and the Ordinaries habitually endeavoured to procure the recantation of heresy rather than the exaction of its penalties. But the most advanced of the clergy, even those who like Latimer were continually verging on doctrines which their stricter brethren regarded as heretical, showed as little mercy as any one to the upholders of Anabaptism; whose theology was usually combined--or supposed to be so--with perverted views on the political and social order. To this class belong most of the martyrs of the period; with the notable exception of John Frith. Frith was a young man of great piety and learning, who would probably never have been arrested but for his association with the distributors of forbidden literature. Being arrested, he maintained--in spite of earnest efforts to persuade him to recant--the Zwinglian doctrine of the Lord's Supper: but further he stood almost alone in declaring that to hold a correct opinion on this point of doctrine could not be essential to salvation. Frith was the first and almost the only martyr (July, 1533) to the theory of toleration, to which neither Romanists nor Protestants, Anglicans nor Zwinglians, were yet ready to give ear.

[Sidenote 1: Progressive Movement] [Sidenote 2: The Ten Articles]

Although, however, there had been no revolt from orthodox doctrine the course of the Reformation abroad could not be without influence in England. There was a growing inclination to think and speak of minor questions as being debatable; an increasing suspicion on one side that the spread of knowledge and of discussion tended to heresy and to irreverence--on the other, that they tended to edification. In theory the leading ecclesiastics agreed that an authorised translation of the Bible would be good, but half of them were afraid that it would lead to novel and dangerous interpretations. The general attitude may be regarded as one of uneasiness. Hence the commission appointed under Cranmer's auspices did little; and Cranmer himself, whose heart was really in the scheme, was overjoyed [Footnote: Dr. Gairdner (_Eng. Church_, p. 192) thinks however that it was Matthew's Bible, issued next year, to which Cranmer's expressions of satisfaction were applied.] when Coverdale produced a rendering to which an authoritative _imprimatur_ could be given. The general sense of unrest, aggravated perhaps by some alarm lest the Augsburg Confession should attract adherents--especially since the Lutherans had been told that there might be room for its discussion--led to the enunciation of the first of the Anglican formulae of Faith, known as the Ten Articles "for establishing Christian Quietness," in July 1536: professedly prepared by the King's own hand. These Articles contained no deviation from orthodox dogma; but their most notable feature lay in the distinction drawn between institutions necessary and convenient, with the implication that the latter were liable to modification.

[Sidenote: The Lincolnshire rising]

The issuing of these Articles with the sanction alike of King, Parliament, and Convocation, was probably intended to counteract the alarm attendant on the visitation and suppression of the monasteries. Those institutions, though not popular in cities, and viewed with jealousy by the secular clergy, provided in many country districts the only existing charitable or educational organisations; and moreover, whatever their defects were in the eyes of the Economist, they were much more lenient landlords than the average lay landowner. It would have been strange indeed if some of the dispersed monks had not allowed their tongues to wag, to the stirring up of alarm and discontent. In the autumn of this year, the effect of these

England Under the Tudors - 30/90

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