Abbildungen der Seite

with modesty, was cited to a trial; but, refusing to appear, she was pronounced contumacious; and judgement was given against the validity of her marriage with the king. At length, finding the inutility of farther resistance, she retired to Ampthill, near Dunstable, where she passed the rest of her life in privacy and peace. When this intelligence was conveyed to Rome, the conclave was in a rage; and the pope, incited by the ardour of the cardinals, and frightened also by the menaces of the emperor, published a sentence, declaring queen Catharine alone to be Henry's lawful wife; and requiring him to take her again, with a denunciation of censures in case of refusal. On the other hand, Henry, finding that his subjects of all ranks had taken part with him, and had willingly complied with his attempts to break off a foreign dependence, resolved no longes to continue those submissions which no power could extort. The people had been prepared by degrees for this great innovation: care had been taken for some years to inculcate the doctrine, that the pope was entitled to no authority beyond the limits of his own diocese. The king, therefore, no longer delayed his meditated scheme of separating entirely from the church of Rome. The parliament was at his devotion; the majority of the clergy were in his interest, as they had already declared against the pope, by decreeing in favour of the divorce; and the people, above all, wished to see the church humbled, which had so long controlled them at pleasure, and grown opulent by their labours and distresses. Thus all things conspiring to co-operate with his designs, he ordered himself to be declared by his A. D. clergy the supreme head of the church ; the 1534. parliament confirmed the title, abolished all authority of the pope in England, voted all tributes formerly paid to the holy see as illegal, and intrusted the king with the collation to all ecclesiastical benefices. The nation came into the king's measures with joy, and took an oath, called the oath of supremacy; all the credit of the pope, that had subsisted for ages, was now at once overthrown ; and none seemed to repine at the revolution, except those who were immediately interested by their dependence on the court of Rome.

But though Henry had thus separated from the church, he had not addicted himself to the system of any other reformer. The idea of heresy still appeared detestable as well as formidable to him ; and whilst his resentment against the see of Rome had removed one part of his early prejudices, he made it a point never to: relinquish the rest. Separate as he stood from the catholic church, and from the Roman pontiff, the head of it, he still valued himself on maintaining the catholic doctrines, and on guarding by fire and sword the imagined purity of its establishments. His ministers and courtiers were of as motley a character as his conduct, and seemed to waver, during the whole reign, between the ancient and the new religion. The young queen, engaged by interest as well as inclination, favoured the cause of the reformers; Thomas Cromwell, who, from being a creature of Wolsey, had, by an admirable defence of the conduct of his old master, procured the favour and confidence of the king, embraced the same views. Being a man of prudence and ability, he was very successful in promoting the Reformation, though in a concealed manner. Cranmer, who was now become archbishop of Canterbury, had all along adopted the protestant tenets, and had gained Henry's friendship by his candour and sincerity. On the other hand, the duke of Norfolk adhered to the old mode of worship; and by


the greatness of his rank, as well as by his talents for peace and war, he had great weight in the king's council. Gardiner, lately created bishop of Winchester, had enlisted himself in the same party; and the suppleness of his character, and the dexterity of his conduct, had rendered him extremely useful to it. The king, meanwhile, who held the balance between these contending factions, was enabled, by the courtship paid him by both protestants and catholics, to assume an immeasurable authority.

As the mode of religion was not yet known, and as the minds of those who were of opposite sentiments were extremely exasperated, it naturally followed that several must fall a sacrifice in the contest between ancient establishments and modern reformation. The reformers were the first who were exhibited as unhappy examples of the vindictive fury of those who were for the continuance of ancient superstitions. One James Bainham, a gentleman of the Temple, being accused of favouring the doctrines of Luther, had been brought before sir Thomas More during his chancellorship; and, after being put to the torture, was condemned as a relapsed heretic, and was burned in Smithfield. Thomas Bilney, a priest, had embraced the new doctrines; but, being terrified into an abjuration, he was so stung with remorse, that he went into Norfolk, publicly recanting his former conduct, and exposing the errors of popery. He was soon seized, tried in the bishop's court, condemned as a relapsed heretic, and burned accordingly. On the other hand, Henry was not remiss in punishing such as disowned the propriety of his late defection from Rome ; and, as the monks suffered most by the Reformation, so they were most obnoxious, from their free manner of speaking, to the royal resentment.

To assist him in bringing these to punishment, the parliament had made it capital to deny his supremacy over the church; and many priors and ecclesiastics lost their lives for this new species of crime. But of those who fell a sacrifice to this stern and unjust law, none are so much to be regretted as John Fisher, bishop of Rochester, and the celebrated sir Thomas More. Fisher was a prelate eminent for his learning and morals; but so firmly attached to ancient opinions, that he was thrown into prison, and deprived of his ecclesiastical revenues; so that he had scarcely even rags to cover him in his severe confinement. He was soon after indicted for denying the king's supremacy, A.D. condemned, and beheaded. 1535.

Sir Thomas More is entitled to still greater pity, as his merits were greater. This extraordinary man, who was one of the revivers of ancient literature, and incontestably the foremost writer of his age, had, for some time, refused to act in subserviency to the capricious passions of the king. He had been created chancellor; but gave up that high office rather than concur in the breach with the church of Rome. The austerity of this man's virtue, and the sanctity of his manners, had in no wise encroached on the gentleness of his temper; and even in the midst of poverty and disgrace, he could preserve that matural gaiety which was probably inspired by conscious innocence. But on the present occasion, being put into confinement, no entreaties or arguments could prevail upon him to pronounce an entire acknowledgment of the justice of the king's claims. One Rich, who was then solicitor-general, was sent to confer with him; and in his presence he was inveigled to say, that any question with regard to the law which established that prerogative, was like a twoedged sword: if a person answered one way, it would confound his soul; if another, it would destroy his body. These words were sufficient for the base informer to hang an accusation upon ; and, as trials at that time were mere formalities, the jury gave sentence against More, who had long expected his fate. His natural cheerfulness attended him to the last: when he was mounting to the scaffold, he said to one, “Friend, help me up; and when I go down again, let me shift for myself.” The executioner asking his forgiveness, he granted the request, but told him, “You will never get credit by beheading me, my neck is so short.” Then laying his head on the block, he bade the executioner stay till he had put aside his beard; “for,” said he, “ that has never committed treason.” The concurrence which the people seemed to lend to these severities, added to the great authority which IHenry, from his severe administration, possessed, inquced him to proceed still farther in his scheme of innovation. As the monks had all along shown him the greatest resistance, he resolved at once to deprive them -of future power to injure him. He accordingly empowered Cromwell, secretary of state, to send commissioners into the several counties of England to inspect the monasteries, and to report, with rigorous exactness, the Conduct and deportment of such as were resident there. This employment was readily undertaken by some creatures of the court, namely, Layton, London, Price, Gage, Petre, and Belasis, who are said to have discowered monstrous disorders in many of the religious houses;–whole convents of women abandoned to all manner of lewdness; friars accomplices in their crimes; pious frauds every where practised to increase the devotion and liberality of the people; and cruel and inveterate factions maintained between the members of many of these institutions. These accusations, whether

« ZurückWeiter »