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- Froude's History of England - 5/8 -


between Mr. Froude and other Liberals; and therefore, of course, first, as between Mr. Froude and Mr. Hallam.

Mr. Hallam's name is so venerable and his work so Important, that to set ourselves up as judges in this or in any matter between him and Mr. Froude would be mere impertinence: but speaking merely as learners, we have surely a right to inquire why Mr. Hallam has entered on the whole question of Henry's relations to his Parliament with a praejudicium against them; for which Mr. Froude finds no ground whatsoever in fact. Why are all acts both of Henry and his Parliament to be taken in malam partem? They were not Whigs, certainly: neither were Socrates and Plato, nor even St. Paul and St. John. They may have been honest men as men go, or they may not: but why is there to be a feeling against them rather than for them? Why is Henry always called a tyrant, and his Parliament servile? The epithets have become so common and unquestioned that our interrogation may seem startling. Still we make it. Why was Henry a tyrant? That may be true, but must be proved by facts. Where are they? Is the mere fact of a monarch's asking for money a crime in him and his ministers? The question would rather seem to be, Were the moneys for which Henry asked needed or no; and, when granted, were they rightly or wrongly applied? And on these subjects we want much more information than we obtain from any epithets. The author of a constitutional history should rise above epithets: or, if he uses them, should corroborate them by facts. Why should not historians be as fair and as cautious in accusing Henry and Wolsey as they would be in accusing Queen Victoria and Lord Palmerston? What right, allow us to ask, has a grave constitutional historian to say that 'We cannot, indeed, doubt that the unshackled and despotic condition of his friend, Francis I., afforded a mortifying contrast to Henry? What document exists in which Henry is represented as regretting that he is the king of a free people?--for such Mr. Hallam confesses, just above, England was held to be, and was actually in comparison with France. If the document does not exist, Mr. Hallam has surely stepped out of the field of the historian into that of the novelist, a la Scott or Dumas. The Parliament sometimes grants Henry's demands: sometimes it refuses them, and he has to help himself by other means. Why are both cases to be interpreted in malam partem? Why is the Parliament's granting to be always a proof of its servility?--its refusing always a proof of Henry's tyranny and rapacity? Both views are mere praejudicia, reasonable perhaps, and possible: but why is not a praejudicium of the opposite kind as rational and as possible? Why has not a historian a right to start, as Mr. Froude does, by taking for granted that both parties may have been on the whole right; that the Parliament granted certain sums because Henry was right in asking for them; refused others because Henry was wrong; even that, in some cases, Henry may have been right in asking, the Parliament wrong in refusing; and that in such a case, under the pressure of critical times, Henry was forced to get as he could the money which he saw that the national cause required? Let it be as folks will. Let Henry be sometimes right, and the Parliament sometimes likewise; or the Parliament always right, or Henry always right; or anything else, save this strange diseased theory that both must have been always wrong, and that, evidence to that effect failing, motives must be insinuated, or openly asserted, from the writer's mere imagination. This may be a dream: but it is as easy to imagine as the other, and more pleasant also. It will probably be answered (though not by Mr. Hallam himself) by a sneer: 'You do not seem to know much of the world, sir.' But so would Figaro and Gil Blas have said, and on exactly the same grounds.

Let us examine a stock instance of Henry's 'rapacity' and his Parliament's servility, namely, the exactions in 1524 and 1525, and the subsequent 'release of the King's debts.' What are the facts of the case? France and Scotland had attacked England in 1514. The Scotch were beaten at Flodden. The French lost Tournay and Therouenne, and, when peace was made, agreed to pay the expenses of the war. Times changed, and the expenses were not paid.

A similar war arose in 1524, and cost England immense sums. A large army was maintained on the Scotch Border, another army invaded France; and Wolsey, not venturing to call a Parliament,--because he was, as Pope's legate, liable to a praemunire,--raised money by contributions and benevolences, which were levied, it seems on the whole, uniformly and equally (save that they weighed more heavily on the rich than on the poor, if that be a fault), and differed from taxes only in not having received the consent of Parliament. Doubtless, this was not the best way of raising money: but what if, under the circumstances, it were the only one? What if, too, on the whole, the money so raised was really given willingly by the nation? The sequel alone could decide that.

The first contribution for which Wolsey asked was paid. The second was resisted, and was not paid; proving thereby that the nation need not pay unless it chose. The court gave way; and the war became defensive only till 1525.

Then the tide turned. The danger, then, was not from Francis, but from the Emperor. Francis was taken prisoner at Pavia; and shortly after Rome was sacked by Bourbon.

The effect of all this in England is told at large in Mr. Froude's second chapter. Henry became bond for Francis's ransom, to be paid to the Emperor. He spent 500,000 crowns more in paying the French army; and in the terms of peace made with France, a sum-total was agreed on for the whole debt, old and new, to be paid as soon as possible; and an annual pension of 500,000 crowns besides. The French exchequer, however, still remained bankrupt, and again the money was not paid.

Parliament, when it met in 1529, reviewed the circumstances of the expenditure, and finding it all such as the nation on the whole approved, legalised the taxation by benevolences retrospectively: and this is the whole mare's nest of the first payment of Henry's debts; if, at least, any faith is to be put in the preamble of the Act for the release of the King's Debts, 21 Hen. VIII. c. 24. 'The King's loving subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, calling to remembrance the inestimable costs, charges, and expenses which the King's Highness hath necessarily been compelled to support and sustain since his assumption to his crown, estate, and dignity royal, as well for the extinction of a right dangerous and damnable schism, sprung in the Church, as for the modifying the insatiable and inordinate ambition of them who, while aspiring to the monarchy of Christendom, did put universal troubles and divisions in the same, intending, if they might, not only to have subdued this realm, but also all the rest, unto their power and subjection--for resistance whereof the King's Highness was compelled to marvellous charges--both for the supportation of sundry armies by sea and land, and also for divers and manifold contribution on hand, to save and keep his own subjects at home in rest and repose--which hath been so politically handled that, when the most part of all Christian lands have been infested with cruel wars, the great Head and Prince of the world (the Pope) brought into captivity, cities and towns taken, spoiled, burnt, and sacked--the King's said subjects in all this time, by the high providence and politic means of his Grace, have been nevertheless preserved, defended, and maintained from all these inconvenients, etc.

'Considering, furthermore, that his Highness, in and about the premises, hath been fain to employ not only all such sums of money as hath risen or grown by contributions made unto his Grace by his loving subjects--but also, over and above the same, sundry other notable and excellent sums of his own treasure and yearly revenues, among which manifold great sums so employed, his Highness also, as is notoriously known, and as doth evidently appear by the ACCOUNTS OF THE SAME, hath to that use, and none other, converted all such money as by any of his subjects hath been advanced to his Grace by way of prest or loan, either particularly, or by any taxation made of the same--being things so well collocate and bestowed, seeing the said high and great fruits and effects thereof insured to the surety and commodity and tranquillity of this realm--of our mind and consent, do freely, absolutely, give and grant to the King's Highness all and every sum or sums of money,' etc.

The second release of the King's debts, in 1544, is very similar. The King's debts and necessities were really, when we come to examine them, those of the nation: in 1538-40 England was put into a thorough state of defence from end to end. Fortresses were built along the Scottish Border, and all along the coast opposite France and Flanders. The people were drilled and armed, the fleet equipped; and the nation, for the time, became one great army. And nothing but this, as may be proved by an overwhelming mass of evidence, saved the country from invasion. Here were enormous necessary expenses which must be met.

In 1543 a million crowns were to have been paid by Francis the First as part of his old debt. It was not paid: but, on the contrary, Henry had to go to war for it. The nation again relinquished their claim, and allowed Henry to raise another benevolence in 1545, concerning which Mr. Hallam tells us a great deal, but not one word of the political circumstances which led to it or to the release, keeping his sympathies and his paper for the sorrows of refractory Alderman Reed, who, refusing (alone of all the citizens) to contribute to the support of troops on the Scotch Border or elsewhere, was sent down, by a sort of rough justice, to serve on the Scotch Border himself, and judge of the 'perils of the nation' with his own eyes; and being--one is pleased to hear--taken prisoner by the Scots, had to pay a great deal more as ransom than he would have paid as benevolence.

But to return. What proof is there, in all this, of that servility which most historians, and Mr. Hallam among the rest, are wont to attribute to Henry's Parliaments? What feeling appears on the face of this document, which we have given and quoted, but one honourable to the nation? Through the falsehood of a foreign nation the King is unable to perform his engagements to the people. Is not the just and generous course in such a case to release him from those engagements? Does this preamble, does a single fact of the case, justify historians in talking of these 'king's debts' in just the same tone as that in which they would have spoken if the King had squandered the money on private pleasures? Perhaps most people who write small histories believe that this really was the case. They certainly would gather no other impression from the pages of Mr. Hallam. No doubt the act must have been burdensome on some people. Many, we are told, had bequeathed their promissory notes to their children, used their reversionary interest in the loan in many ways; and these, of course, felt the change very heavily. No doubt: but why have we not a right to suppose that the Parliament were aware of that fact; but chose it as the less of the two evils? The King had spent the money; he was unable to recover it from Francis; could only refund it by raising some fresh tax or benevolence: and why may not the Parliament have considered the release of old taxes likely to offend fewer people than the imposition of new ones? It is certainly an ugly thing to break public faith; but to prove that public faith was broken, we must prove that Henry compelled the Parliament to release him; if the act was of their own free will, no public faith was broken, for they were the representatives of the nation, and through them the nation forgave its own debt. And what evidence have we that they did not represent the nation, and that, on the whole, we must


Froude's History of England - 5/8

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