A History of England

England Breaks With The Roman Church, Destruction Of The Monasteries

Author:      Green, John Richard

 

Part II.

 

     Their death was soon followed by that of More.  The interval of

imprisonment had failed to break his resolution, and the new statute sufficed

to bring him to the block.  With Fisher he was convicted of denying the King's

title as only supreme head of the Church.  The old bishop approached the

scaffold with a book of the New Testament in his hand.  He opened it at a

venture ere he knelt, and read, "This is life eternal to know thee, the only

true God." In July More followed his fellow-prisoners to the block.  On the

eve of the fatal blow he moved his beard carefully from the reach of the

doomsman's axe.  "Pity that should be cut," he was heard to mutter with a

touch of the old sad irony, "that has never committed treason."

 

     Cromwell had at last reached his aim.  England lay panic-stricken at the

feet of the "low-born knave," as the nobles called him, who represented the

omnipotence of the crown.  Like Wolsey he concentrated in his hands the whole

administration of the state; he was at once foreign minister and home

minister, and vicar-general of the Church, the creator of a new fleet, the

organizer of armies, the president of the terrible star chamber.  His Italian

indifference to the mere show of power stood out in strong contrast with the

pomp of the Cardinal.  Cromwell's personal habits were simple and

unostentatious; if he clutched at money, it was to feed the army of spies whom

he maintained at his own expense, and whose work he surveyed with a ceaseless

vigilance.  For his activity was boundless.

 

     More than fifty volumes remain of the gigantic mass of his

correspondence.  Thousands of letters from "poor bedesmen," from outraged

wives and wronged laborers and persecuted heretics, flowed in to the

all-powerful minister, whose system of personal government turned him into the

universal court of appeal.  But powerful as he was, and mighty as was the work

which he had accomplished, he knew that harder blows had to be struck before

his position was secure.

 

     The new changes, above all the irritation which had been caused by the

outrages with which the dissolution of the monasteries was accompanied, gave

point to the mutinous temper that prevailed throughout the country; for the

revolution in agriculture was still going on, and evictions furnished

embittered outcasts to swell the ranks of any rising.  Nor did it seem as

though revolt, if it once broke out, would want leaders to head it.  The

nobles, who had writhed under the rule of the Cardinal, writhed yet more

bitterly under the rule of one whom they looked upon not only as Wolsey's

tool, but as a low-born upstart.  "The world will never mend," Lord Hussey had

been heard to say, "till we fight for it."

 

     "Knaves rule about the King!" cried Lord Exeter; "I trust some day to

give them a buffet!" At this moment, too, the hopes of political reaction were

stirred by the fate of one whom the friends of the old order looked upon as

the source of all their troubles.  In the spring of 1536, while the

dissolution of the monasteries was marking the triumph of the new policy, Anne

Boleyn was suddenly charged with adultery and sent to the Tower.  A few days

later she was tried, condemned, and brought to the block.  The Queen's ruin

was everywhere taken as an omen of ruin to the cause which had become

identified with her own, and the old nobility mustered courage to face the

minister who held them at his feet.

 

     They found their opportunity in the discontent of the North, where the

monasteries had been popular, and where the rougher mood of the people turned

easily to resistance.  In the autumn of 1536 a rising broke out in

Lincolnshire, and this was hardly quelled when all Yorkshire rose in arms.

From every parish the farmers marched with the parish priest at their head

upon York, and the surrender of this city determined the waverers.  In a few

days Skipton castle, where the Earl of Cumberland held out with a handful of

men, was the only spot north of the Humber which remained true to the King.

Durham rose at the call of the chiefs of the house of Neville, Lords

Westmoreland and Latimer.  Though the Earl of Northumberland feigned sickness,

the Percies joined the revolt.  Lord Dacre, the chief of the Yorkshire nobles,

surrendered Pomfret, and was acknowledged as their chief by the insurgents.

 

     The whole nobility of the North were now enlisted in the "Pilgrimage of

Grace," as the rising called itself, and thirty thousand "tall men and well

horsed" moved on the Don demanding the reversal of the royal policy, a reunion

with Rome, the restoration of Catherine's daughter, Mary, to her rights as

heiress of the crown, redress for the wrongs done to the Church, and above all

the driving away of base-born councillors, or, in other words, the fall of

Cromwell.  Though their advance was checked by negotiation, the organization

of the revolt went steadily on throughout the winter, and a parliament of the

North, which gathered at Pomfret, formally adopted the demands of the

insurgents.  Only six thousand men under Norfolk barred their way southward,

and the Midland counties were known to be disaffected.

 

     But Cromwell remained undaunted by the peril.  He suffered, indeed,

Norfolk to negotiate; and allowed Henry under pressure from his council to

promise pardon and a free parliament at York, a pledge which Norfolk and Dacre

alike construed into an acceptance of the demands made by the insurgents.

Their leaders at once flung aside the badge of the "Five Wounds" which they

had worn, with a cry, "We will wear no badge but that of our lord the King,"

and nobles and farmers dispersed to their homes in triumph.  But the towns of

the North were no sooner garrisoned and Norfolk's army in the heart of

Yorkshire than the veil was flung aside.  A few isolated outbreaks in the

spring of 1537 gave a pretext for the withdrawal of every concession.

 

     The arrest of the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace was followed by

ruthless severities.  The country was covered with gibbets.  Whole districts

were given up to military execution.  But it was on the leaders of the rising

that Cromwell's hand fell heaviest.  He seized his opportunity for dealing at

the northern nobles a fatal blow.  "Cromwell," one of the chief among them

broke fiercely out as he stood at the council board, "it is thou that art the

very special and chief cause of all this rebellion and wickedness, and dost

daily travail to bring us to our ends and strike off our heads.  I trust that

ere thou die, though thou wouldst procure all the noblest heads within the

realm to be stricken off, yet there shall one head remain that shall strike

off thy head."

 

     But the warning was unheeded.  Lord Darcy, who stood first among the

nobles of Yorkshire, and Lord Hussey, who stood first among the nobles of

Lincolnshire, went alike to the block.  The Abbot of Barlings, who had ridden

into Lincoln with his canons in full armor, swung with his brother-abbots of

Whalley, Woburn, and Sawley from the gallows.  The abbots of Fountains and of

Jervaulx were hanged at Tyburn side by side with the representative of the

great line of Percy.  Lady Bulmer was burned at the stake.  Sir Robert

Constable was hanged in chains before the gate of Hull.

 

     The defeat of the northern revolt showed the immense force which the

monarchy had gained.  Even among the rebels themselves not a voice had

threatened Henry's throne.  It was not at the King that they aimed these

blows, but at the "low-born knaves" who stood about the King.  At this moment,

too, Henry's position was strengthened by the birth of an heir.  On the death

of Anne Boleyn he had married Jane Seymour, the daughter of a Wiltshire

knight; and in 1537 this Queen died in giving birth to a boy, the future

Edward VI.  The triumph of the Crown at home was doubled by its triumph in the

great dependency which had so long held the English authority at bay across

St. George's Channel.

 

     With England and Ireland alike at his feet, Cromwell could venture on a

last and crowning change.  He could claim for the monarchy the right of

dictating at its pleasure the form of faith and doctrine to be taught

throughout the land.  Henry had remained true to the standpoint of the New

Learning; and the sympathies of Cromwell were mainly with those of his master.

They had no wish for any violent break with the ecclesiastical forms of the

past.  They desired religious reform rather than religious revolution, a

simplification of doctrine rather than any radical change in it, the

purification of worship rather than the introduction of any wholly new ritual.

Their theology remained, as they believed, a Catholic theology, but a theology

cleared of the superstitious growths which obscured the true Catholicism of

the early Church.

 

     In a word, their dream was the dream of Erasmus and Colet.  The spirit of

Erasmus was seen in the articles of religion which were laid before

convocation in 1536; in the acknowledgment of justification by faith, a

doctrine for which the founders of the New Learning, such as Contarini and

Pole, were struggling at Rome itself; in the condemnation of purgatory, of

pardons, and of masses for the dead, as it was seen in the admission of

prayers for the dead and in the retention of the ceremonies of the Church

without material change.

 

     A series of royal injunctions which followed carried out the same policy

of reform.  Pilgrimages were suppressed; the excessive number of holy days was

curtailed; the worship of images and relics was discouraged in words which

seemed almost copied from the protest of Erasmus.  His appeal for a

translation of the Bible which weavers might repeat at their shuttle and

ploughmen sing at their plough received at last a reply.  At the outset of the

ministry of Norfolk and More, the King had promised an English version of the

Scriptures, while prohibiting the circulation of Tyndale's Lutheran

translation.  The work, however, lagged in the hands of the bishops; and as a

preliminary measure the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments

were now rendered into English, and ordered to be taught by every schoolmaster

and father of a family to his children and pupils.  But the bishops' version

still hung on hand; till, in despair of its appearance, a friend of Archbishop

Cranmer, Miles Coverdale, was employed to correct and revise the translation

of Tyndale; and the Bible which he edited was published in 1538 under the

avowed patronage of Henry himself.

 

     But the force of events was already carrying England far from the

standpoint of Erasmus or More.  The dream of the New Learning was to be

wrought out through the progress of education and piety.  In the policy of

Cromwell, reform was to be brought about by the brute force of the monarchy.

The story of the royal supremacy was graven even on the title-page of the new

Bible.  It is Henry on his throne who gives the sacred volume to Cranmer, ere

Cranmer and Cromwell can distribute it to the throng of priests and laymen

below.  Hitherto men had looked on religious truth as a gift from the Church.

They were now to look on it as a gift from the King.  The very gratitude of

Englishmen for fresh spiritual enlightenment was to tell to the profit of the

royal power.  No conception could be further from that of the New Learning,

from the plea for intellectual freedom which runs through the life of Erasmus,

or the craving for political liberty which gives nobleness to the speculations

of More.  Nor was it possible for Henry himself to avoid drifting from the

standpoint he had chosen.  He had written against Luther; he had persisted in

opposing Lutheran doctrine; he had passed new laws to hinder the circulation

of Lutheran books in his realm.  But influences from without as from within

drove him nearer to Lutheranism.  If the encouragement of Francis had done

somewhat to bring about his final breach with the papacy, he soon found little

will in the French King to follow him in any course of separation from Rome;

and the French alliance threatened to become useless as a shelter against the

wrath of the Emperor.

 

     Charles was goaded into action by the bill annulling Mary's right of

succession; and in 1535 he proposed to unite his house with that of Francis by

close intermarriage, and to sanction Mary's marriage with a son of the French

King if Francis would join in an attack on England.  Whether such a proposal

was serious or no, Henry had to dread attack from Charles himself and to look

for new allies against it.  He was driven to offer his alliance to the

Lutheran princes of North Germany, who dreaded like himself the power of the

Emperor, and who were now gathering in the League of Smalkald.

 

     But the German princes made agreement as to doctrine a condition of their

alliance; and their pressure was backed by Henry's partisans among the clergy

at home.  In Cromwell's scheme for mastering the priesthood it had been

needful to place men on whom the King could rely at their head.  Cranmer

became primate, Latimer became Bishop of Worcester, Shaxton and Barlow were

raised to the sees of Salisbury and St. David's Hilsey to that of Rochester,

Goodrich to that of Ely, Fox to that of Hereford.  But it was hard to find men

among the clergy who paused at Henry's theological resting-place; and of these

prelates all except Latimer were known to sympathize with Lutheranism, though

Cranmer lagged far behind his fellows in their zeal for reform.

 

     The influence of these men, as well as of an attempt to comply at least

partly with the demand of the German princes, left its stamp on the articles

of 1536.  For the principle of Catholicism, of a universal form of faith

overspreading all temporal dominions, the Lutheran states had substituted the

principle of territorial religion, of the right of each sovereign or people to

determine the form of belief which should be held within their bounds. The

severance from Rome had already brought Henry to this principle, and the Act

of Supremacy was its emphatic assertion.

 

     In England, too, as in North Germany, the repudiation of the papal

authority as a ground of faith, of the voice of the Pope as a declaration of

truth, had driven men to find such a ground and declaration in the Bible; and

the articles expressly based the faith of the Church of England on the Bible

and the three creeds.  With such fundamental principles of agreement it was

possible to borrow from the Augsburg Confession five of the ten articles which

Henry laid before the convocation.  If penance was still retained as a

sacrament, baptism and the Lord's Supper were alone maintained to be

sacraments with it; the doctrine of transubstantiation, which Henry stubbornly

maintained, differed so little from the doctrine maintained by Luther that the

words of Lutheran formularies were borrowed to explain it; confession was

admitted by the Lutheran churches as well as by the English. The veneration of

saints and the doctrine of prayer to them, though still retained, were so

modified as to present little difficulty even to a Lutheran.

 

     However disguised in form, the doctrinal advance made in the articles of

1536 was an immense one; and a vehement opposition might have been looked for

from those of the bishops like Gardiner, who, while they agreed with Henry's

policy of establishing a national church, remained opposed to any change in

faith.  But the articles had been drawn up by Henry's own hand, and all

whisper of opposition was hushed.  Bishops, abbots, clergy, not only

subscribed to them, but carried out with implicit obedience the injunctions

which put their doctrine roughly into practice; and the failure of the

Pilgrimage of Grace in the following autumn ended all thought of resistance

among the laity.

 

     But Cromwell found a different reception for his reforms when he turned

to extend them to the sister-island.  The religious aspect of Ireland was

hardly less chaotic than its political aspect had been.  Ever since

Strongbow's landing, there had been no one Irish church, simply because there

had been no one Irish nation.  There was not the slightest difference in

doctrine or discipline between the Church without the pale and the Church

within it.  But within the pale the clergy were exclusively of English blood

and speech, and without it they were exclusively of Irish.  Irishmen were shut

out by law from abbeys and churches within the English boundary; and the

ill-will of the natives shut out Englishmen from churches and abbeys outside

it.

 

     As to the religious state of the country, it was much on a level with its

political condition.  Feuds and misrule told fatally on ecclesiastical

discipline.  The bishops were political officers, or hard fighters, like the

chiefs around them; their sees were neglected, their cathedrals abandoned to

decay.  Through whole dioceses the churches lay in ruins and without priests.

The only preaching done in the country was done by the begging friars, and the

results of the friars' preaching were small.  "If the King do not provide

remedy," it was said in 1525, "there will be no more Christentie than in the

middle of Turkey."

 

     Unfortunately the remedy which Henry provided was worse than the disease.

Politically Ireland was one with England, and the great revolution which was

severing the one country from the papacy extended itself naturally to the

other.  The results of it indeed at first seemed small enough.  The supremacy,

a question which had convulsed England, passed over into Ireland to meet its

only obstacle in a general indifference.  Everybody was ready to accept it

without a thought of the consequences.  The bishops and clergy within the pale

bent to the King's will as easily as their fellows in England, and their

example was followed by at least four prelates of dioceses without the pale.

 

     The native chieftains made no more scruple than the lords of the council

in renouncing obedience to the Bishop of Rome, and in acknowledging Henry as

the "supreme head of the Church of England and Ireland under Christ.There was

none of the resistance to the dissolution of the abbeys which had been

witnessed on the other side of the channel, and the greedy chieftains showed

themselves perfectly willing to share the plunder of the Church.

 

     But the results of the measure were fatal to the little culture and

religion which even the past centuries of disorder had spared.  Such as they

were, the religious houses were the only schools that Ireland contained.  The

system of vicars, so general in England, was rare in Ireland; churches in the

patronage of the abbeys were for the most part served by the religious

themselves, and the dissolution of their houses suspended public worship over

large districts of the country.  The friars, hitherto the only preachers, and

who continued to labor and teach in spite of the efforts of the government,

were thrown necessarily into a position of antagonism to the English rule.

 

     Had the ecclesiastical changes which were forced on the country ended

here, however, in the end little harm would have been done.  But in England

the breach with Rome, the destruction of the monastic orders, and the

establishment of the supremacy had aroused in a portion of the people itself a

desire for theological change which Henry shared and was cautiously

satisfying.  In Ireland the spirit of the Reformation never existed among the

people at all.  They accepted the legislative measures passed in the English

Parliament without any dream of theological consequences, or of any change in

the doctrine or ceremonies of the Church.  Not a single voice demanded the

abolition of pilgrimages or the destruction of images or the reform of public

worship.

 

     The mission of Archbishop Browne in 1535 "for the plucking down of idols

and extinguishing of idolatry" was a first step in the long effort of the

English government to force a new faith on a people who to a man clung

passionately to their old religion.  Browne's attempts at "tuning the pulpits"

were met by a sullen and significant opposition.  "Neither by gentle

exhortation," the Archbishop wrote to Cromwell, "nor by evangelical

instruction, neither by oath of them solemnly taken nor yet by threats of

sharp correction, may I persuade or induce any, whether religious or secular,

since my coming over once to preach the Word of God, nor the just title of our

illustrious Prince."

 

     Even the acceptance of the supremacy, which had been so quietly effected,

was brought into question when its results became clear.  The bishops

abstained from compliance with the order to erase the Pope's name out of their

mass-books.  The pulpits remained steadily silent.  When Browne ordered the

destruction of the images and relics in his own cathedral, he had to report

that the prior and canons "find them so sweet for their gain that they heed

not my words."

 

     Cromwell, however, was resolute for a religious uniformity between the

two islands, and the primate borrowed some of his patron's vigor. Recalcitrant

priests were thrown into prison, images were plucked down from the rood-loft,

and the most venerable of Irish relics, the staff of St. Patrick, was burned

in the market-place.  But he found no support in his vigor save from across

the channel.  The Irish council looked coldly on; even the Lord Deputy still

knelt to say prayers before an image at Trim.  A sullen, dogged opposition

baffled Cromwell's efforts, and their only result was to unite all Ireland

against the Crown.

 

     But Cromwell found it easier to deal with Irish inaction than with the

feverish activity which his reforms stirred in England itself.  It was

impossible to strike blow after blow at the Church without rousing wild hopes

in the party who sympathized with the work which Luther was doing oversea. Few

as these "Lutherans" or "Protestants" still were in numbers, their new hopes

made them a formidable force; and in the school of persecution they had

learned a violence which delighted in outrages on the faith which had so long

trampled them under foot.  At the very outset of Cromwell's changes, four

Suffolk youths broke into a church at Dovercourt, tore down a wonder-working

crucifix, and burned it in the fields.

 

     The suppression of the lesser monasteries was the signal for a new

outburst of ribald insult to the old religion.  The roughness, insolence, and

extortion of the commissioners sent to effect it drove the whole monastic body

to despair.  Their servants rode along the road with copes for doublets or

tunicles for saddle-cloths, and scattered panic among the larger houses which

were left.  Some sold their jewels and relics to provide for the evil day they

saw approaching.  Some begged of their own will for dissolution.  It was worse

when fresh ordinances of the vicar-general ordered the removal of objects of

superstitious veneration.  Their removal, bitter enough to those whose

religion twined itself around the image or the relic which was taken away, was

embittered yet more by the insults with which it was accompanied.

 

     A miraculous rood at Boxley, which bowed its head and stirred its eyes,

was paraded from market to market and exhibited as a juggle before the court.

Images of the Virgin were stripped of their costly vestments and sent to be

publicly burned at London.  Latimer forwarded to the capital the figure of Our

Lady, which he had thrust out of his cathedral church at Worcester with rough

words of scorn: "She with her old sister of Walsingham, her younger sister of

Ipswich, and their two other sisters of Doncaster and Penrice, would make a

jolly muster at Smithfield." Fresh orders were given to fling all relics from

their reliquaries, and to level every shrine with the ground. In 1538 the

bones of St. Thomas of Canterbury were torn from the stately shrine which had

been the glory of his metropolitan church, and his name was erased from the

service-books as that of a traitor.

 

     The introduction of the English Bible into churches gave a new opening

for the zeal of the Protestants.  In spite of royal injunctions that it should

be read decently and without comment, the young zealots of the party prided

themselves on shouting it out to a circle of excited hearers during the

service of mass, and accompanied their reading with violent expositions.

Protestant maidens took the new English primer to church with them and studied

it ostentatiously during matins.  Insult passed into open violence when the

bishops' courts were invaded and broken up by Protestant mobs; and law and

public opinion were outraged at once when priests who favored the new

doctrines began openly to bring home wives to their vicarages.

 

     A fiery outburst of popular discussion compensated for the silence of the

pulpits.  The new Scriptures, in Henry's bitter words of complaint, were

"disputed, rhymed, sung, and jangled in every tavern and alehouse." The

articles which dictated the belief of the English Church roused a furious

controversy.  Above all, the sacrament of the mass, the centre of the Catholic

system of faith and worship, and which still remained sacred to the bulk of

Englishmen, was attacked with a scurrility and profaneness which pass belief.

The doctrine of transubstantiation, which was as yet recognized by law, was

held up in scorn in ballads and mystery plays.  In one church a Protestant

lawyer raised a dog in his hands when the priest elevated the host.  The most

sacred words of the old worship, the words of consecration, "Hoc est corpus,"

were travestied into a nickname for jugglery as "Hocus-pocus."

 

     It was by this attack on the mass, even more than by the other outrages,

that the temper both of Henry and the nation was stirred to a deep resentment.

With the Protestants Henry had no sympathy whatever.  He was a man of the New

Learning; he was proud of his orthodoxy and of his title of "Defender of the

Faith." And above all he shared to the utmost his people's love of order,

their clinging to the past, their hatred of extravagance and excess.  The

first sign of reaction was seen in the parliament of 1539. Never had the

houses shown so little care for political liberty.  The monarchy seemed to

free itself from all parliamentary restrictions whatever when a formal statute

gave the King's proclamations the force of parliamentary laws.

 

     Nor did the Church find favor with them.  No word of the old opposition

was heard when a bill was introduced granting to the King the greater

monasteries which had been saved in 1536.  More than six hundred religious

houses fell at a blow, and so great was the spoil that the King promised never

again to call on his people for subsidies.  But the houses were equally at one

in withstanding the new innovations of religion, and an act for "abolishing

diversity of opinions in certain articles concerning Christian religion"

passed with general assent.  On the doctrine of transubstantiation, which was

reasserted by the first of six articles to which the act owes its usual name,

there was no difference of feeling or belief between the men of the New

Learning and the older Catholics.  But the road to a further instalment of

even moderate reform seemed closed by the five other articles which sanctioned

communion in one kind, the celibacy of the clergy, monastic vows, private

masses, and auricular confession.

 

     A more terrible feature of the reaction was the revival of persecution.

Burning was denounced as the penalty for a denial of transubstantiation; on a

second offence it became the penalty for an infraction of the other five

doctrines.  A refusal to confess or to attend mass was made felony.  It was in

vain that Cranmer, with the five bishops who partially sympathized with the

Protestants, struggled against the bill in the lords: the commons were "all of

one opinion," and Henry himself acted as spokesman on the side of the

articles.  In London alone five hundred Protestants were indicted under the

new act.  Latimer and Shaxton were imprisoned, and the former forced into a

resignation of his see.  Cranmer himself was only saved by Henry's personal

favor.

 

     But the first burst of triumph was no sooner spent than the hand of

Cromwell made itself felt.  Though his opinions remained those of the New

Learning and differed little from the general sentiment which found itself

represented in the act, he leaned instinctively to the one party which did not

long for his fall.  His wish was to restrain Protestant excesses, but he had

no mind to ruin the Protestants.  In a little time therefore the bishops were

quietly released.  The London indictments were quashed.  The magistrates were

checked in their enforcement of the law, while a general pardon cleared the

prisons of the heretics who had been arrested under its provisions.

 

     A few months after the enactment of the Six Articles we find from a

Protestant letter that persecution had wholly ceased, "the Word is powerfully

preached and books of every kind may safely be exposed for sale." Never indeed

had Cromwell shown such greatness as in his last struggle against fate.

"Beknaved" by the King, whose confidence in him waned as he discerned the full

meaning of the religious changes which Cromwell had brought about, met too by

a growing opposition in the council as his favor declined, the temper of the

man remained indomitable as ever.  He stood absolutely alone. Wolsey, hated as

he had been by the nobles, had been supported by the Church; but churchmen

hated Cromwell with an even fiercer hate than the nobles themselves.  His only

friends were the Protestants, and their friendship was more fatal than the

hatred of his foes.  But he showed no signs of fear or of halting in the

course he had entered on.  So long as Henry supported him, however reluctant

his support might be, he was more than a match for his foes.

 

     He was strong enough to expel his chief opponent, Bishop Gardiner of

Winchester, from the royal council.  He met the hostility of the nobles with a

threat which marked his power.  "If the lords would handle him so, he would

give them such a breakfast as never was made in England, and that the proudest

of them should know."

 

     He soon gave a terrible earnest of the way in which he could fulfil his

threat.  The opposition to his system gathered, above all, round two houses

which represented what yet lingered of the Yorkist tradition, the Courtenays

and the Poles.  Courtenay, the Marquis of Exeter, was of royal blood, a

grandson through his mother of Edward IV.  He was known to have bitterly

denounced the "knaves that ruled about the King"; and his threats to "give

them some day a buffet" were formidable in the mouth of one whose influence in

the western counties was supreme.

 

     Margaret, the Countess of Salisbury, a daughter of the Duke of Clarence

by the heiress of the Earl of Warwick, and a niece of Edward IV, had married

Sir Richard Pole, and became mother of Lord Montacute as of Sir Geoffry and

Reginald Pole.  The temper of her house might be guessed from the conduct of

the younger of the three brothers.  After refusing the highest favors from

Henry as the price of his approval of the divorce, Reginald Pole had taken

refuge at Rome, where he had bitterly attacked the King in a book, The Unity

of the Church.

 

     "There may be found ways enough in Italy," Cromwell wrote to him in

significant words, "to rid a treacherous subject.  When Justice can take no

place by process of law at home, sometimes she may be enforced to take new

means abroad." But he had left hostages in Henry's hands.  "Pity that the

folly of one witless fool," Cromwell wrote ominously, "should be the ruin of

so great a family.  Let him follow ambition as fast as he can, those that

little have offended (saving that he is of their kin), were it not for the

great mercy and benignity of the Prince, should and might feel what it is to

have such a traitor as their kinsman." The "great mercy and benignity of the

Prince" was no longer to shelter them.

 

     In 1538 the Pope, Paul III, published a bull of excommunication and

deposition against Henry, and Pole pressed the Emperor vigorously, though

ineffectually, to carry the bull into execution.  His efforts only brought

about, as Cromwell had threatened, the ruin of his house.  His brother, Lord

Montacute, and the Marquis of Exeter, with other friends of the two great

families, were arrested on a charge of treason and executed in the opening of

1539, while the Countess of Salisbury was attainted in parliament and sent to

the Tower.

 

     Almost as terrible an act of bloodshed closed the year.  The abbots of

Glastonbury, Reading, and Colchester, men who had sat as mitred abbots among

the lords, were charged with a denial of the King's supremacy and hanged as

traitors.  But Cromwell relied for success on more than terror.  His single

will forced on a scheme of foreign policy whose aim was to bind England to the

cause of the Reformation while it bound Henry helplessly to his minister. The

daring boast which his enemies laid afterward to Cromwell's charge, whether

uttered or not, is but the expression of his system - "In brief time he would

bring things to such a pass that the King with all his power should not be

able to hinder him."

 

     His plans rested, like the plan which proved fatal to Wolsey, on a fresh

marriage of his master; Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, had died in

childbirth; and in the opening of 1540 Cromwell replaced her by a German

consort, Anne of Cleves, a sister-in-law of the Lutheran Elector of Saxony. He

dared even to resist Henry's caprice when the King revolted on their first

interview from the coarse features and unwieldy form of his new bride.  For

the moment Cromwell had brought matters "to such a pass" that it was

impossible to recoil from the marriage, and the minister's elevation to the

earldom of Essex seemed to proclaim his success.

 

     The marriage of Anne of Cleves, however, was but the first step in a

policy which, had it been carried out as he designed it, would have

anticipated the triumphs of Richelieu.  Charles and the house of Austria could

alone bring about a Catholic reaction strong enough to arrest and roll back

the Reformation; and Cromwell was no sooner united with the princes of North

Germany than he sought to league them with France for the overthrow of the

Emperor.

 

     Had he succeeded, the whole face of Europe would have been changed,

Southern Germany would have been secured for Protestantism, and the Thirty

Years' War averted.  But he failed as men fail who stand ahead of their age.

The German princes shrank from a contest with the Emperor, France from a

struggle which would be fatal to Catholicism; and Henry, left alone to bear

the resentment of the house of Austria and chained to a wife he loathed,

turned savagely on his minister.

 

     In June the long struggle came to an end.  The nobles sprang on Cromwell

with a fierceness that told of their long-hoarded hate.  Taunts and

execrations burst from the Lords at the council table as the Duke of Norfolk,

who had been intrusted with the minister's arrest, tore the ensign of the

garter from his neck.  At the charge of treason Cromwell flung his cap on the

ground with a passionate cry of despair.  "This, then," he exclaimed, "is my

guerdon for the services I have done!  On your consciences, I ask you, am I a

traitor?" Then, with a sudden sense that all was over, he bade his foes make

quick work, and not leave him to languish in prison.

 

     Quick work was made.  A few days after his arrest he was attainted in

parliament, and at the close of July a burst of popular applause hailed his

death on the scaffold.