H. D. (Henry Duff) Traill.

Social England; a record of the progress of the people in religion, laws, learning, arts, industry, commerce, science, literature and manners, from the earliest times to the present day (Volume 3) online

. (page 7 of 68)
Online LibraryH. D. (Henry Duff) TraillSocial England; a record of the progress of the people in religion, laws, learning, arts, industry, commerce, science, literature and manners, from the earliest times to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 7 of 68)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the royal power expressed and embodied the whole nation,
that the king's glory and the king's will meant at bottom the
national glory and the national will; but he failed to foresee
how easily and with what callous remorselessness the king
could strike down in a moment the servant who had so much
as crossed him or had merely ceased to be useful. He was
the last medieval minister the last of a line which goes back
to Dunstan, and includes Lanfranc and Roger of Salisbury,



THE CONSTITUTION UNDER HENRY VIII.



9



1547]

Becket and Langton, Arundel and Beaufort, as Avell as Fox
and Warham ; men who typified the medieval idea of the
Church- State. With him fell the English Church of the
Middle Ages, which had for two and a half centuries past
been too wealthy and privileged not to challenge constant
attacks, but too strong to yield to them, and perhaps too
corrupt and too ultramontane to be reformed by any but the
most drastic measures.

FROM 1485 to 1529, the date of the Reformation Parliament, the A. HASSALL,




REMAINS OF WOLSET'S PALACE, ESHER.

country was p-overned to a great extent without Parliaments. It Tlie Con -

. , , r TT -V - TT-J stitution

is true that as long as Archbishop Morton was Henry \ 11. s under

chief minister the Lancastrian tradition was carried on, and six Henr y VIIi
Parliaments met in the first twelve years of the reign. But by
Morton's successors a thoroughly Yorkist policy was adopted
which continued till 1529, and of this policy Wolsey is the chief
exponent. He cannot be called a constitutional minister. Both
Henry VII. and Henry YIIL, while observing the forms of the
constitution, managed to manipulate them to their own ends.
Wolsey, on the other hand, paid little attention to constitutional



10



THE OLD on in-: it CHANGED.



Wolsey
and
Parlia-
ment.



The
Income
of the
Crown.



Bene-
volences.



J509

Conns. As long as ho WHS in office only one Parliament was
summoned, and with that lie quarrelled.

ic was not till 1 523, after an interval oC eight years, that the
necessities of the Avar with France forced Henry id summon a
Parliament. Various circumstances had enahled Wolsey to carry
on the government without having recourse to a parliamentary
assemhly. Henry VII. 's peaceful foreign policy, combined with
his hahitnal parsimony, had smoothed the way Cor his son.
Then the enormous increase of the king's estates, patronage, and
ordinary revenues, rendered Henry VIII. for main years abso-
lutely independent of Parliament, There is little doubt that,
had Henry been satisfied with his life revenue and his un-
checked power of exacting money from the rich, he might have
continued to rule for most of his reign without having recourse
to Parliament, and would have become substantially an absolute
sovereign. To appreciate the real meaning of Wolsey's attitude
to Parliaments and the danger arising from his unconstitutional

o O

views, the distinction between the regular and constitutional
sources of income and those royal resources which were uncon-
stitutional must be clearly realised. Henry's regular and con-
stitutional sources of income were indeed considerable. Of the
Parliamentary grants, tonnage and poundage, and the subsidy
on wool, woolfells and leather, were granted to him for life in
the first Parliament of the reign. Then he could obtain from
Parliament a vote of tenths and fifteenths, and subsidies which
resembled a graduated income and property-tax, and which
Avere levied for the expedition for 1512 and 1513, and for the
warlike preparations in 1523, 1539, and 1543. In addition. (Jon-
vocation voted taxes in due proportion to those granted by
Parliaments. Besides these constitutional taxes, the king could
at times fall back on a benevolence or amicable contribution,
such as he attempted to levy in 1525, on heav}* loans which
were exacted in the years 1522-28, on exactions from the clergy,
on sums raised under occasional forfeitures, and, later in his
reign, on the plunder of the monasteries. Of these unconstitu-
tional methods of raising money the most important were the
loans that were never repaid, and benevolences exacted under
the title of free gifts.

It was by forced loans and benevolences that the money
which was constantly required for the Avars was collected. In



THE CONSTITUTION UNDER HENRY VIII.



11



1547]

employing these methods for raising money, Henry and Wolsey
were but following the example of earlier sovereigns. Richard II.
had used forced loans and blank charters ; and these measures
some of the worst in his reign, resembling, as they did, similar
acts on the part of Edward II. were extremely unpopular.
They were not repeated by Richard's immediate successors ; and
it was not till 1473 that Edward IV. began to collect contribu-
tions under the inappropriate name of benevolences ; and this
course was repeated in 1482 in order to raise money for the
Scottish Avar. This collection of a benevolence was regarded as
an innovation, and as a new method of unlawful taxation. But
Edward IV. was popular, and showed considerable financial




=- 's^i/A- ' ? <ifer i S ? =/

' ^MIS^wl-'^

,-' *& " f p" - ^if 9 * ' 6/




SEAL OF IIEXRY VIII.

ability in the way he requested and extorted " free-will offer-
ings " from his subjects. Still he was rich both in respect to
Parliamentary grants and also by private enterprise, and had no
excuse for the collection of benevolences.

Though Parliament in 14S4 declared benevolences illegal,
Richard III. would not forego this easy method of getting
money. In spite of the fact that benevolences were unconstitu-
tional, Henry VII. continued to collect them, and his son, as has
been observed, followed in his father's steps. The importance
of benevolences is at once realised when it is remembered that
they " Avere adopted with the view of enabling the sovereign to
rule without that reference to Parliamentary supply and audit
which had become the safeguard of national liberty." It seemed
quite possible that Henry VIII, with an unchecked power of



12 Till'. OLD ORDER CHANGED.

H509

exacting money from the rich, might have become an absolute
sovereign of a Continental type. But benevolences were always
unpopular, and their collection required considerable tact. The
struck; at Ac worth in 1492 was probably caused by the exac-
tion of a benevolence in the previous year. At the same time
they were of great value, and the king was not willing to forego
them. The Parliament of 1495 passed an Act empowering tlu;
Crown to enforce, if necessary by imprisonment, payment by
those persons who had promised money in 1491 and had not
fulfilled their engagements. Hence it was natural, Henry VIII.
being in a stronger position than Henry TIL and far more
popular, that Wolsey should have recourse to the system of
benevolences; and we do not find that he met with any marked
resistance at first. Under the Tudors, benevolences, as long as
t.hcv fell 011 the wealthy classes, were, for very obvious reasons,
by no means unpopular with the lower orders. If Henry Till.
and Wolsey had abstained from wars and foreign expeditions, it
is quite possible that the king's unchecked power of exacting
money, together with his life revenue, would have rendered him
entirely independent of further Parliamentary grants. Forced
loans were very similar, but they were loans without interest.
Though usury was legalised in 15o6 (p. ]72), these forced
loans were, later in the reign, regarded as a real hardship,
because the king was on several occasions released from repay-
ment. <^ueen Elizabeth, was far more honest, and consequently
her loans were cheerfully provided. As time went on, Wolsey's
difficulties began : the- weight of taxation became oppressive,
the royal expenditure increased, and the king's ordinary revenue
proved quite unequal to the task of giving England a prominent
place in European politics. The expenses of the campaign of
1522 against the French were difficult to meet, and it became
necessary to summon Parliament. Thus the extravagance of
the king, and an ambitious foreign policy, combined with the
decline in the value of money owing to the influx of the
precious metals from the American colonies of Spain into
Europe (p. 106), compelled Wolsey to deviate from the lines of
his domestic policy, and to acquiesce in the summoning of
Parliament.

He had, on becoming Chancellor in 1515, assumed the entire
responsibility for all affairs of state, and had introduced some



THE CONSTITUTION UNDER HENRY VIII.



13




1547]

order into the finances. He had hoped to dispense with Parlia- The
ment. but the costliness of the French expeditions and the mTn
king's debts were matters with which even Wolsey, single- 1523.
handed, could not cope. In April, 1523, Parliament was opened.
Wolsey's whole attitude to this memorable Parliament proves
conclusively that he . had no regard for constitutional forms,
and little appreciation of the influence of precedent. He
thought that the sole function of Parliament, if it was summoned,
was to grant money for the king's needs. This was not the view
held by the members of the
Commons, and the whole pro-
ceedings of this Parliament,
together with the words used
by Wolsey in his speech pro-
roguing the Assembly, testify to
the existence of a new spirit
which was unknown in the
previous reign. The famous
anecdote of More's conduct as
Speaker may or may not be
authentic, but at any rate it
is valuable as illustrating the
temper of the House of
Commons. The cardinal, so it
is related, made his appearance
in the House, and, after a long
oration advocating the necessity
of a subsidy, asked the opinions

of various members. His questions being receiA'ed with " a
marvellous obstinate silence, he required answer of Master
Speaker." Then More, on his knees, " excused the silence of the
House as abashed by the sublimity of the cardinal's presence
among them, and showed him that it was neither expedient nor
agreeable with their ancient privileges to comply with the
cardinal's demands/' This defence of the privileges of the
House was unexpected, and " the cardinal, displeased with Sir
Thomas More, that had not in this Parliament in all things
satisfied his desire, suddenly arose and departed." The story is
very characteristic of Wolsey's conception of the position of
Parliament in the Constitution, and of the duty of its members.




SEAL OF WOLSEY.



14 77//v' <>IJ> ORDER CHANGED.

[1509

The object of the summoning of Parliament being to obtain
supplies, \Volsey had proposed that Parliament should vote a
subsidy of 800,000 ; and when the Commons demurred to this
proposal, Wolsey liad attempted to browbeat, them and to set
aside their privileges. He did not understand the temper of the
Knglish people; he failed to manage the Parliament and to
convert it into a "submissive instrument" of royal despotism.
Parliament, indeed, agreed to give the subsidy, but the payments
were to be spread over a period of four years. But what was
more important, the members showed, by refusing to debate in
his presence, that they would not submit to \Volsey's high-
handed dictation, and that if they were to be managed, skill-
not force must be employed. Wolsey had, however, been
successful in his immediate object. Parliament had granted the
subsidy, which, with a loan which had already been arranged
before Parliament met, would, it was hoped, prove sufficient for
the king's needs. When Parliament was prorogued, Wolsey, as
Chancellor, thanked the two Houses in the king's name for their
grant : " Whereas for the furniture of the said war, both defen-
sive and offensive, ye have after long pain, study, travel, great
charges, and costs, devised, made, and offered an honourable and
right large subsidy which ye have now presented in the name
and in behalf of all the subjects of this his realm unto his
majesty, his Grace doth not only right acceptably and thank-
fully receive, admit, and take the same, but also therefor
giveth unto you his most hearty thanks; assuring the same
that his ('{race shall in such wise employ the said subsidy and
loving contribution as shall be to the defence of his realm and

Q

of you his subjects, and the persecution and pressing of
his enemy; for the attaining of good peace, recovering of his
rights, and redress of such injuries as hath been done to you
his loving subjects in time past." In these words the Crown
assured Parliament that the money should only be used for
constitutional purposes, and recognised the principle that the
king was as much a part of the nation as the Lords and Com-
mons, and that the king's cause was the cause of the nation.

The whole affair is a striking example of NVdsey's genius
and boldness. A great financial scheme was carried out in the
face of strenuous opposition from both clergy and laity alike.
The taxation was oppressive and general, but the tact that the



THE CONSTITUTION UNDER HENRY VIII. 15

IS47J

national prosperity was in no way impaired by it justifies the
confidence of the minister, and is a conclusive proof of the wealth
and elasticity of the nation. The entire responsibility of these
measures was borne by Wolsey ; Henry VIII. remained in the
background, and while Wolsey was wringing supplies from a
reluctant Parliament, the king was spending whole days in the
chase. Henry VIII. was, undoubtedly, personally popular.
Wolsey stood between the king and his subjects ; he did all the
unpleasant work, and willingly bore the odium incurred by the
imposition of taxation, while Henry spent the nation's money at
his own pleasure. While Wolsey laboured in all things to
exalt the royal power, he incurred on all sides great personal
unpopularity. Every harsh measure was attributed to him ;
every unsuccessful act was visited on his head. He was regarded
as the king's chief adviser, and responsible for all the policy of
the government. And this, the popular view of Wolsey 's posi-
tion, was undeniably correct. During the cardinal's tenure of
office, Henry, though he always made his will felt on critical
occasions, was only feeling his way and finding out what he
could do. The civil and religious administration was, in reality,
concentrated in Wolsey's hands. But though the nation was
right in its estimate of the position held by the great minister
in the councils of the country, men were unaware that Wolsey
was at one with them in desiring peace. It was obvious to him,
as it was to them, that a Continental war at that juncture was
a mistake that by it agriculture would be interfered with, trade
and industry deranged, commerce disturbed.

As there was no chance of obtaining in future large supplies
from Parliament, a lucrative peace was clearly the best policy.
Contributions, though readily granted, were not always easily
levied. Discontent was rife, a new Parliament was out of the
question ; an arbitrary loan in the present crisis would have
caused a violent outcry. Till peace Avas actually made Wolsey
was bound to raise supplies, for the captivity of Francis in
Madrid had raised Henry's hopes of conquests in France. For
war or for diplomacy a loan was required, and it seemed very
improbable that a loan would be successful. In his extremity
Wolsey hit upon an expedient which had long been forgotten.
He announced that the king proposed to cross the sea and lead
an invasion of France in person. For the king's proper equip-



16 THE OLD ORDER CHANGED.

11509

ment bo demanded an amicable loan, and in 1525 commissioners
were appointed in every sbire to assess property, and to require
that " tbc sixtb part of every man's substance should without
delay be paid in money or plate, to the king for the furniture
of his war."
The This amicable loan raised a storm of opposition : the people

Ami c 3. 1)1 G

Loan. cursed the cardinal, and complained that before they had paid
the subsidy voted by the Parliament of 1528 they were exposed
to a new exaction. The clergy also distinguished themselves
by their hostility to the loan. It was argued that coin was
scarce in England, that France would be enriched by the money
spent there, and that if the king conquered France he would
waste his time and his revenues in a foreign kingdom. Most
of the counties evinced great unwillingness to contribute, and
they were encouraged in their attitude by the dogged opposi-
tion of the clergy and religious orders. Many hoped that
through the resistance of London and other places they would
escape from the necessity of paying ; in no case was anything
but reluctance shown in considering the king's demand. It-
became evident that the opposition all over England would
become still more fierce if the cardinal's determination to
collect the amicable grant was persisted in. The Commission
was accordingly withdrawn, and this attempt to raise money on
the basis of each man's ratable value was abandoned. When
the cardinal announced to the mayor and corporation the abro-
gation of the Commission, he assured them that the king
would take nothing from them except a benevolence or free
grant. But this new attempt to obtain money by means of a
benevolence met Avith an equal amount of opposition. The
mayor and corporation being assembled a second time showed
increased boldness, and one of the citizens declared that by the
statute of Richard III. no such benevolence could lie legally
demanded. \Volsey retorted that Richard was a usurper and
murderer : of so evil a man how could his acts lie good ff . " An't
please your Grace," was the reply, " although he did evil, yet in
his time were many good acts, made not by him only, but by
the consent of the body of the whole realm, which is the Par-
liament," AYolsey was forced to withdraw from his position,
leaving each man to "grant privily what he would."

Hi ii the feeling in the country was as strong as that shown



THE CONSTITUTION UNDER HENRY VIII.



17



1547]

in London. There the popular discontent, fired by the example
of the clergy and also of London, and intensified by the bad
management of the commissioners themselves, became so
threatening that it was evident that the money could not
be collected without risk of a rebellion of a very serious
character. At one time it seemed as if the main features of
the peasant insurrection then raging in Germany might be
reproduced in the eastern counties of England. Essex showed
little disposition to comply with the demands made by the




THE OLD GUILDHALX, LAVEXIIAM, SUFFOLK.

(One of the principal centres of resistance to the loans.)

royal agents, and with Lincolnshire was ready to follow the
example of Cambridge, where the town and university had
combined to offer resistance to an unjust exaction. In Suffolk
the commissioners were threatened with death ; in Norfolk
the attitude of the people was still more menacing. When the
duke appeared to appease a tumult in Norwich, the leader of
the Commons, one John Greene, thus addressed him :

" My lord," he said, " sitli you ask who is our captain, forsooth his
name is Poverty : for he and his cousin Necessity hath brought us to this
doing. For all these persons, and many more which I would were not
here, live not of ourselves, but all we live by the substantial occupiers of

96



18 THE OLD ORDER CHANGED.

[1509

this county, and yet they give us so little wages for our workmanship that
scarcely we be able to live; and this is penury we give the time, we. our
wives and children. And if they by whom we live be brought in that
case that they of their little cannot help us to earn our living, then
must we perish and die miserably. I speak this, my lord : the cloth-
makers have put all these people, and a far greater number, from work.
The husbandmen have put a-ay their servants aud given up household ;
they say the king asketh so much that they be not able to do as they
have done before this time, and then of necessity must we die wretchedly.'

The period of social change through which England was
then passing finds forcible expression in .John Greene's words.
The growth of corn was less profitable than the growth of wool,
the towns were thriving at the expense of the country (pp. 150,
1 .1!)). The great displacement of labour and the existence of
grave discontent were not incompatible with the increase of
England's wealth as a nation. The benevolence was distinctly
unconstitutional, but the refusal of some and the reluctance of
i it hers to advance money towards the king's necessities were due
to the temporary exhaustion owing to wars and bad seasons
rather than to any desire to oppose a demand because it was
unconstitutional.

The policy which had resulted in the proposal for an
amicable loan certainly did not originate with Wolsey. The
king and his companions advocated war, and encouraged the
royal extravagance ; Wolsey desired peace and economy. Henry
dreamt of the conquest of France ; Wolsey saw clearly that war
with France was a mistake, that England's true policy Avas to
counteract the emperor's designs, and that her real strength lay
in neutrality and alliance with France. But m carrying out this
statesmanlike policy Wolsey ran counter t< the Avishes of the
mass of the nation. The preference he showed lor a French
instead of an Imperial alliance tended to make him more un-
popular. Bad harvests aggravated the discontent caused by
war with the emperor, which stopped trade and inconvenienced
the merchants. It was true that Henry's anxiety for a divorce
led him to desire a French alliance, but on Wolsey, always
regarded as the author of all the royal acts, fell, as usual, the
brunt of hostile criticism.

Wolsey r ri 10 \\-hole history of the amicable loan is important for

and the . . A . T ,

King. several reasons. On that, as on previous occasions, \\olscy

assumed the responsibility for a policy to which he was in reality



THE CONSTITUTION UNDER HENRY VIII. 19

1547]

opposed, and screened the king from the popular odium which
he himself incurred. His sense of ministerial obligation be-
longed rather to the nineteenth than to the sixteenth century.
Then, again, the occasion was important in that the rebuff
administered to the king was the first he had experienced.
Henceforward Henry bore a special grudge to the clergy, whose
example of independence was as unexpected as it was effective.
Henceforward, too, the popular hatred of Wolsey, wrongfully
regarded as the real author of the Commission, increases in
vehemence and in intensity. It is also interesting to notice
that the amicable loan had to be withdrawn mainly on ac-
count of the opposition which it met with in Kent. That
county had ever taken an independent line. The memory
of Wat Tyler and Jack Cade still lingered there, and as soon
as the loan was resolved upon, Kent at once menaced the
government.



This failure to raise money, however, rendered war impossible woisey's

Domest'
Policy.



and aided Wolsey in carrying out his peace policy. Henry VIII. Domestlc



had just convinced himself that nothing was to be gained from
his alliance with Charles V.,and henceforth he accepted Woisey's
views of peace with Francis. In 1527 the Treaty of Amiens was
signed, and England and France were again allies.

Wolsey could now turn to the many domestic questions
which required careful attention. The labouring population was
discontented, the merchants were irritated. The sweating sick-
ness had reappeared (p. 366). The popular dislike of the cardinal
was deeper than ever. But, undeterred, Wolsey set to work to
carry out necessary internal reforms. Since 1515 these reforms
had been thrust into the background, and an adventurous foreign
policy had been embarked on. For a successful foreign policy a
strong government at home was necessary, and Wolsey had suc-
ceeded in making the monarchy exceedingly powerful. He had,
indeed, no conception of a strong government of a constitutional
type. He found England in the midst of a political, social, and
intellectual crisis. The nation wished for a vigorous govern-
ment capable of putting down anarchy. Henry VII. had made
the monarchy strong, Wolsey made the basis of monarchical
power still stronger. All classes looked to the king, and Wolsey,
conscious of the necessity of a constructive policy in domestic
affairs, was convinced that the royal power was the only



20 THE OLD ORDER CHANGED.

[1509

possible instrument capable and vigorous enough to carry out
re tun us.

To make that instrument as strong and as efficacious as
possible was therefore Wolsey 's aim from the first. And, in



Online LibraryH. D. (Henry Duff) TraillSocial England; a record of the progress of the people in religion, laws, learning, arts, industry, commerce, science, literature and manners, from the earliest times to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 7 of 68)