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- Froude's History of England - 6/8 -


suppose, as we should in the case of any other men, that they best knew their own business? May we not apply to this case, and to others, mutatis mutandis, the argument which Mr. Froude uses so boldly and well in the case of Anne Boleyn's trial--'The English nation also, as well as . . . deserves justice at our hands?'

Certainly it does: but it is a disagreeable token of the method on which we have been accustomed to write the history of our own forefathers, that Mr. Froude should find it necessary to state formally so very simple a truth.

What proof, we ask again, is there that this old Parliament was 'servile'? Had that been so, Wolsey would not have been afraid to summon it. The specific reason for not summoning a Parliament for six years after that of 1524 was that they were not servile; that when (here we are quoting Mr. Hallam, and not Mr. Froude) Wolsey entered the House of Commons with a great train, seemingly for the purpose of intimidation, they 'made no other answer to his harangues than that it was their usage to debate only among themselves.' The debates on this occasion lasted fifteen or sixteen days, during which, says an eye-witness, 'there has been the greatest and sorest hold in the Lower House,' 'the matter debated and beaten'; 'such hold that the House was like to have been dissevered'; in a word, hard fighting--and why not honest fighting?--between the court party and the Opposition, 'which ended,' says Mr. Hallam, 'in the court party obtaining, with the utmost difficulty, a grant much inferior to the Cardinal's original requisition.' What token of servility is here?

And is it reasonable to suppose that after Wolsey was conquered, and a comparatively popular ministry had succeeded, and that memorable Parliament of 1529 (which Mr. Froude, not unjustly, thinks more memorable than the Long Parliament itself) began its great work with a high hand, backed not merely by the King, but by the public opinion of the majority of England, their decisions are likely to have been more servile than before? If they resisted the King when they disagreed with him, are they to be accused of servility because they worked with him when they agreed with him? Is an Opposition always in the right; a ministerial party always in the wrong? Is it an offence against the people to agree with the monarch, even when he agrees with the people himself? Simple as these questions are, one must really stop to ask them.

No doubt pains were often taken to secure elections favourable to the Government. Are none taken now? Are not more taken now? Will any historian show us the documents which prove the existence, in the sixteenth century, of Reform Club, Carlton Club, whippers-in and nominees, governmental and opposition, and all the rest of the beautiful machinery which protects our Reformed Parliament from the evil influences of bribery and corruption? Pah!--We have somewhat too much glass in our modern House to afford to throw stones at our forefathers' old St. Stephen's. At the worst, what was done then but that without which it is said to be impossible to carry on a Government now? Take an instance from the Parliament of 1539, one in which there is no doubt Government influence was used in order to prevent as much as possible the return of members favourable to the clergy--for the good reason that the clergy were no doubt, on their own side, intimidating voters by all those terrors of the unseen world which had so long been to them a source of boundless profit and power.

Cromwell writes to the King to say that he has secured a seat for a certain Sir Richard Morrison; but for what purpose? As one who no doubt 'should be ready to answer and take up such as should crack or face with literature of learning, if any such should be.' There was, then, free discussion; they expected clever and learned speakers in the Opposition, and on subjects of the deepest import, not merely political, but spiritual; and the Government needed men to answer such. What more natural than that so close on the 'Pilgrimage of Grace,' and in the midst of so great dangers at home and abroad, the Government should have done their best to secure a well-disposed House (one would like to know when they would not)? But surely the very effort (confessedly exceptional) and the acknowledged difficulty prove that Parliament were no mere 'registrars of edicts.'

But the strongest argument against the tyranny of the Tudors, and especially of Henry VIII. in his 'benevolences,' is derived from the state of the people themselves. If these benevolences had been really unpopular, they would not have been paid. In one case we have seen, a benevolence was not paid for that very reason. For the method of the Tudor sovereigns, like that of their predecessors, was the very opposite to that of tyrants in every age and country. The first act of a tyrant has always been to disarm the people, and to surround himself with a standing army. The Tudor method was, as Mr. Froude shows us by many interesting facts, to keep the people armed and drilled, even to compel them to learn the use of weapons. Throughout England spread one vast military organisation, which made every adult a soldier, and enabled him to find, at a day's notice, his commanding officer, whether landlord, sheriff, or lieutenant of the county; so that, as a foreign ambassador of the time remarks with astonishment (we quote from memory), 'England is the strongest nation on earth, for though the King has not a single mercenary soldier, he can raise in three days an army of two hundred thousand men.'

And of what temper those men were it is well known enough. Mr. Froude calls them--and we beg leave to endorse, without exception, Mr. Froude's opinion--'A sturdy high-hearted race, sound in body and fierce in spirit, and furnished with thews and sinews which, under the stimulus of those "great shins of beef," their common diet, were the wonder of the age.' 'What comyn folke in all this world,' says a State Paper in 1515, 'may compare with the comyns of England in riches, freedom, liberty, welfare, and all prosperity? What comyn folk is so mighty, so strong in the felde, as the comyns of England?' In authentic stories of actions under Henry VIII.--and, we will add, under Elizabeth likewise--where the accuracy of the account is undeniable, no disparity of force made Englishmen shrink from enemies whenever they could meet them. Again and again a few thousands of them carried dismay into the heart of France. Four hundred adventurers, vagabond apprentices of London, who formed a volunteer corps in the Calais garrison, were for years, Hall says, the terror of Normandy. In the very frolic of conscious power they fought and plundered without pay, without reward, save what they could win for themselves; and when they fell at last, they fell only when surrounded by six times their number, and were cut to pieces in careless desperation. Invariably, by friend and foe alike, the English are described as the fiercest people in all Europe--English wild beasts Benvenuto Cellini calls them; and this great physical power they owed to the profuse abundance in which they lived, to the soldier's training in which every one of them was bred from childhood.

Mr. Froude's novel assertion about profuse abundance must be weighed by those who have read his invaluable introductory chapter. But we must ask at once how it was possible to levy on such an armed populace a tax which they were determined not to pay, and felt that they were not bound to pay, either in law or justice? Conceive Lord Palmerston's sending down to demand a 'benevolence' from the army at Aldershot, beginning with the general in command and descending to the privates . . . What would be the consequences? Ugly enough: but gentle in comparison with those of any attempt to exact a really unpopular tax from a nation of well-armed Englishmen, unless they, on the whole, thought the tax fit to be paid. They would grumble, of course, whether they intended to pay or not,--for were they not Englishmen, our own flesh and blood?--and grumble all the more in person, because they had no Press to grumble for them: but what is there then in the M.P.'s letter to Lord Surrey, quoted by Mr. Hallam, p. 25, or in the more pointed letter of Warham's, two pages on, which we do not see lying on our breakfast tables in half the newspapers every week? Poor, pedantic, obstructive old Warham, himself very angry at so much being asked of his brother clergymen, and at their being sworn as to the value of their goods (so like are old times to new ones); and being, on the whole, of opinion that the world (the Church included) is going to the devil, says that as he has been 'showed in a secret manner of his friends, the people sore grudgeth and murmureth, and speaketh cursedly among themselves, as far as they dare, saying they shall never have rest of payments as long as some liveth, and that they had better die than thus be continually handed, reckoning themselves, their wives and children, as despoulit, and not greatly caring what they do, or what becomes of them.'

Very dreadful--if true: which last point depends very much upon who Warham was. Now, on reading Mr. Froude's or any other good history, we shall find that Warham was one of the leaders of that despondent party which will always have its antitype in England. Have we, too, not heard within the last seven years similar prophecies of desolation, mourning, and woe--of the Church tottering on the verge of ruin, the peasantry starving under the horrors of free trade, noble families reduced to the verge of beggary by double income-tax? Even such a prophet seems Warham to have been--of all people in that day, one of the last whom one would have asked for an opinion.

Poor old Warham, however, was not so far wrong in this particular case; for the 'despoulit' slaves of Suffolk, not content with grumbling, rose up with sword and bow, and vowed that they would not pay. Whereon the bloated tyrant sent his praetorians, and enforced payment by scourge and thumbscrew? Not in the least. They would not pay; and therefore, being free men, nobody could make them pay; and although in the neighbouring county of Norfolk, from twenty pounds (i.e. 200 pounds of our money) upward--for the tax was not levied on men of less substance--there were not twenty but what had consented; and though there was 'great likelihood that this grant should be much more than the loan was' (the 'salt tears' shed by the gentlemen of Norfolk proceeding, says expressly the Duke of Norfolk, 'only from doubt how to find money to content the King's Highness'); yet the King and Wolsey gave way frankly and at once, and the contribution was remitted, although the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, writing to Wolsey, treat the insurrection lightly, and seem to object to the remission as needless.

From all which facts--they are Mr. Hallam's, not Mr. Froude's--we can deduce not tyranny, but lenity, good sense, and the frank withdrawal from a wrong position as soon as the unwillingness of the people proved it to be a wrong one.

This instance is well brought forward (though only in a line or two, by Mr. Froude) as one among many proofs that the working classes in Henry the Eighth's time 'enjoyed an abundance far beyond that which in general falls to the lot of that order in long-settled countries, incomparably beyond what the same class were enjoying at that very time in Germany or France. The laws secured them; and that the laws were put in force, we have the direct evidence of successive acts of the Legislature, justifying the general policy by its success: and we have also the indirect evidence of the contented loyalty of the great body of the people, at a time when, if they had been discontented, they held in their own hands the means of asserting what the law acknowledged to be their right. 'The Government,' as we have just shown at length, 'had no power to compel injustice . . . If the peasantry had been suffering under any real grievances we should have heard of them when the religious rebellions furnished so fair an opportunity to press them forward. Complaint was loud enough, when complaint was just, under the Somerset Protectorate.'


Froude's History of England - 6/8

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