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- Froude's History of England - 3/8 -


which his former books have shown, and which we have a right to expect from any scholar who has really profited by Aristotle's unrivalled Ethics. He has fairly examined every contemporary document within his reach, and, as he informs us in the preface, he has been enabled, through the kindness of Sir Francis Palgrave, to consult a great number of MSS. relating to the Reformation, hitherto all but unknown to the public, and referred to in his work as MSS. in the Rolls' House, where the originals are easily accessible. These, he states, he intends to publish, with additions from his own reading, as soon as he has brought his history down to the end of Henry the Eighth's reign.

But Mr. Froude's chief text-book seems to have been State Papers and Acts of Parliament. He has begun his work in the only temper in which a man can write accurately and well; in a temper of trust toward the generation whom he describes. The only temper; for if a man has no affection for the characters of whom he reads, he will never understand them; if he has no respect for his subject, he will never take the trouble to exhaust it. To such an author the Statutes at large, as the deliberate expression of the nation's will and conscience, will appear the most important of all sources of information; the first to be consulted, the last to be contradicted; the Canon which is not to be checked and corrected by private letters and flying pamphlets, but which is to check and correct them. This seems Mr. Froude's theory; and we are at no pains to confess that if he be wrong we see no hope of arriving at truth. If these public documents are not to be admitted in evidence before all others, we see no hope for the faithful and earnest historian; he must give himself up to swim as he may on the frothy stream of private letters, anecdotes, and pamphlets, the puppet of the ignorance, credulity, peevishness, spite, of any and every gossip and scribbler.

Beginning his history with the fall of Wolsey, Mr. Froude enters, of course, at his first step into the vexed question of Henry's divorce: an introductory chapter, on the general state of England, we shall notice hereafter.

A very short inspection of the method in which he handles the divorce question gives us at once confidence in his temper and judgment, and hope that we may at last come to some clearer understanding of it than the old law gives us, which we have already quoted, concerning the dog who went mad to serve his private ends. In a few masterly pages he sketches for us the rotting and dying Church, which had recovered her power after the Wars of the Roses over an exhausted nation; but in form only, not in life. Wolsey, with whom he has fair and understanding sympathy, he sketches as the transition minister, 'loving England well, but loving Rome better,' who intends a reform of the Church, but who, as the Pope's commissioner for that very purpose, is liable to a praemunire, and therefore dare not appeal to Parliament to carry out his designs, even if he could have counted on the Parliament's assistance in any measures designed to invigorate the Church. At last arises in the divorce question the accident which brings to an issue on its most vital point the question of Papal power in England, and which finally draws down ruin upon Wolsey himself.

This appears to have begun in the winter of 1526-27. It was proposed to marry the Princess Mary to a son of the French king. The Bishop of Tarbes, who conducted the negotiations, advised himself, apparently by special instigation of the evil spirit, to raise a question as to her legitimacy.

No more ingenious plan for convulsing England could have been devised. The marriage from which Mary sprang only stood on a reluctant and doubtful dispensation of the Pope's. Henry had entered into it at the entreaty of his ministers, contrary to a solemn promise given to his father, and in spite of the remonstrances of the Archbishop of Canterbury. No blessing seemed to have rested on it. All his children had died young, save this one sickly girl: a sure note of divine displeasure in the eyes of that coarse-minded Church which has always declared the chief, if not the only, purpose of marriage to be the procreation of children.

But more: to question Mary's legitimacy was to throw open the question of succession to half a dozen ambitious competitors. It was, too probably, to involve England at Henry's death in another civil war of the Roses, and in all the internecine horrors which were still rankling in the memories of men; and probably, also, to bring down a French or Scotch invasion. There was then too good reason, as Mr. Froude shows at length, for Wolsey's assertion to John Cassalis-- 'If his Holiness, which God forbid, shall show himself unwilling to listen to the King's demands, to me assuredly it will be but grief to live longer, for the innumerable evils which I foresee will follow . . . Nothing before us but universal and inevitable ruin.' Too good reason there was for the confession of the Pope himself to Gardner, 'What danger it was to the realm to have this thing hang in suspense . . . That without an heir-male, etc., the realm was like to come to dissolution.' Too good reason for the bold assertion of the Cardinal-Governor of Bologna, that 'he knew the guise of England as few men did, and that if the King should die without heirs-male, he was sure that it would cost two hundred thousand men's lives; and that to avoid this mischief by a second marriage, he thought, would deserve heaven.' Too good reason for the assertion of Hall, that 'all indifferent and discreet persons judged it necessary for the Pope to grant Henry a divorce, and, by enabling him to marry again, give him the hope of an undisputed heir-male.' The Pope had full power to do this; in fact, such cases had been for centuries integral parts of his jurisdiction as head of Christendom. But he was at once too timid and too time-serving to exercise his acknowledged authority; and thus, just at the very moment when his spiritual power was being tried in the balance, he chose himself to expose his political power to the same test. Both were equally found wanting. He had, it appeared, as little heart to do justice among kings and princes as he had to seek and to save the souls of men; and the Reformation followed as a matter of course.

Through the tangled brakes of this divorce question Mr. Froude leads us with ease and grace, throwing light, and even beauty, into dark nooks where before all was mist, not merely by his intimate acquaintance with the facts, but still more by his deep knowledge of human character, and of woman's even more than of man's. For the first time the actors in this long tragedy appear to us as no mere bodiless and soulless names, but as beings of like passions with ourselves, comprehensible, coherent, organic, even in their inconsistencies. Catherine of Arragon is still the Catherine of Shakspeare; but Mr. Froude has given us the key to many parts of her story which Shakspeare left unexplained, and delicately enough has made us understand how Henry's affections, if he ever had any for her--faithfully as he had kept (with one exception) to that loveless mariage de convenance--may have been gradually replaced by indifference and even dislike, long before the divorce was forced on him as a question not only of duty to the nation, but of duty to Heaven. And that he did see it in this latter light, Mr. Froude brings proof from his own words, from which we can escape only by believing that the confessedly honest 'Bluff King Hal' had suddenly become a consummate liar and a canting hypocrite.

Delicately, too, as if speaking of a lady whom he had met in modern society (as a gentleman is bound to do), does Mr. Froude touch on the sins of that hapless woman, who played for Henry's crown, and paid for it with her life. With all mercy and courtesy he gives us proof (for he thinks it his duty to do so) of the French mis-education, the petty cunning, the tendency to sensuality, the wilful indelicacy of her position in Henry's household as the rival of his queen, which made her last catastrophe at least possible. Of the justice of her sentence he has no doubt, any more than of her pre-engagement to some one, as proved by a letter existing among Cromwell's papers. Poor thing! If she did that which was laid to her charge, and more, she did nothing, after all, but what she had been in the habit of seeing the queens and princesses of the French court do notoriously, and laugh over shamelessly; while, as Mr. Froude well says, 'If we are to hold her entirely free from guilt, we place not only the King, but the Privy Council, the Judges, the Lords and Commons, and the two Houses of Convocation, in a position fatal to their honour and degrading to ordinary humanity' (Mr. Froude should have added Anne Boleyn's own uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, and her father, who were on the commission appointed to try her lovers, and her cousin, Anthony St. Leger, a man of the very highest character and ability, who was on the jury which found a true bill against her). 'We can not,' continues Mr. Froude, 'acquiesce without inquiry in so painful a conclusion. The English nation also, as well as she, deserves justice at our hands; and it cannot be thought uncharitable if we look with some scrutiny at the career of a person who, but for the catastrophe with which it closed, would not have so readily obtained forgiveness for having admitted the addresses of the King, or for having received the homage of the court as its future sovereign, while the King's wife, her mistress, as yet resided under the same roof.' Mr. Froude's conclusion is, after examining the facts, the same with the whole nation of England in Henry's reign: but no one can accuse him of want of sympathy with the unhappy woman, who reads the eloquent and affecting account of her trial and death, which ends his second volume. Our only fear is, that by having thus told the truth he has, instead of justifying our ancestors, only added one more to the list of people who are to be 'given up' with a cynical shrug and smile. We have heard already, and among young ladies too, who can be as cynical as other people in these times, such speeches as, 'Well, I suppose he has proved Anne Boleyn to be a bad creature; but that does not make that horrid Henry any more right in cutting off her head.' Thus two people will be despised where only one was before, and the fact still ignored, that it is just as senseless to say that Henry cut off Anne Boleyn's head as that Queen Victoria hanged Palmer. Death, and death of a far more horrible kind than that which Anne Boleyn suffered, was the established penalty of the offences of which she was convicted: and which had in her case this fearful aggravation, that they were offences not against Henry merely, but against the whole English nation. She had been married in order that there might be an undisputed heir to the throne, and a fearful war avoided. To throw into dispute, by any conduct of hers, the legitimacy of her own offspring, argued a levity or a hard- heartedness which of itself deserved the severest punishment.

We will pass from this disagreeable topic to Mr. Froude's lifelike sketch of Pope Clement, and the endless tracasseries into which his mingled weakness and cunning led him, and which, like most crooked dealings, ended by defeating their own object. Pages 125 et sqq. of Vol. I. contain sketches of him, his thoughts and ways, as amusing as they are historically important; but we have no space to quote from them. It will be well for those to whom the Reformation is still a matter of astonishment to read those pages, and consider what manner of man he was, in spite of all pretended divine authority, under whose rule the Romish system received its irrecoverable wound.

But of all these figures, not excepting Henry's own, Wolsey stands out as the most grand and tragical; and Mr. Froude has done good service to history, if only in making us understand at last the wondrous 'butcher's son.' Shakspeare seems to have felt (though he could explain the reason neither to his auditors nor, perhaps, to himself) that Wolsey was, on the whole, an heroical man. Mr. Froude shows at once his strength and his weakness; his deep sense of the rottenness of the Church; his purpose to purge her from those


Froude's History of England - 3/8

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