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

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exalting the king's power, Wolsey was acting in agreement with
the general feeling of Englishmen. " For good or 'evil, England
was identified with her king, and it was long before it could be
otherwise." Though Wolsey was a far greater man than his
successors, he was interior to both Henry and Cromwell in his
grasp of the true position of the English monarchy. But nis
mistakes or shortcomings only bring out the more clearly the
real temper of the English people and the problems of the time.
In 152<S Wolsey began what might have proved the inauguration
of a successful internal policy by suppressing a certain number
of the smaller religious foundations; but in 1529 he fell, before
he had had time to carry through any great religious revolution.
The history of his ministerial career is most instructive, and
constitutionally of distinct importance. We can, as we study it,
grasp the salient characteristics of the Tudor monarchy, and dis-
cover numerous illustrations which prove conclusively that the
Tudor despotism existed because it was popular, and that Parlia-
mentary rights, during the most despotic period of Henry's rule,
were not abrogated, but evaded.

Wolsey undoubtedly wished to convert Parliament into a
submissive instrument of royal despotism. His conspicuous
failure with the Parliament of 1523, and the further failure of
the amicable loan and benevolence of 1525, must have brought

o

home to him the existence of definite limitations to the monarch-
ical power. He had underestimated the strength of constitu-
tional forms ; he had expected to find the Parliament servile,
and ready to submit to his overbearing treatment. He had
imagined that the nation would contribute willingly to the royal
necessities, whereas, though the king might raise money by un-
constitutional exactions levied on rich individuals, it was only
courting failure to embarrass the bulk of the middle classes,
busied with trade, by endeavouring to fix upon them increased
burdens. Wolsey would have not only rendered the Crown
independent of Parliament; he even wished to dispense with
Parliament itself. His attempt to make the royal power
supreme over Parliament failed because he did not understand



THE CONSTITUTION UNDER HENRY VIII. 21

.547]

the temper of the English people. His endeavours to raise
money in 1525 failed because he did not see that the king could
only do what he liked provided he did not ask for large sums
from the middle classes. He did not appreciate that condition
of national feeling which was willing to give the king a free
hand so long as the pockets of the Commons were spared.

In spite, then, of his industry and broad views, Wolsey failed
in managing the middle classes, and his failure enabled Parlia-
ment and the middle classes to show that they were by no
means in a condition of servility. His ministry lay in an
exceptional period, when, for the maintenance of order at home
and for security from foreign aggression, the nation was willing
to acquiesce in the temporary evasion of its constitutional
rights and in temporary illegal acts. But the royal exactions
were not taxes, nor were the
royal proclamations laws.
Wolsey's failure taught
Henry VIII. a lesson. From
1529 begins a period of
government by means of ' "T~/"
Parliament. Henry VIII.,
instead of attempting, like

A TT -, i i V( SIGNATURE OF fl'OLSET.

Wolsey, to make the Crown IMS ACM 25144)

independent of Parliament,

" induced Parliament to be a willing instrument of the royal
will. Wolsey would have subverted the constitution, or at
least would have reduced it to a lifeless form ; Henry VIII.
so worked the constitutional machinery that it became an
additional source of power to the monarchy."

With Wolsey's fall the manipulation of Parliament began. The King
This system was introduced under Cromwell's auspices, and by
his means the subservience of Parliament was secured. The
methods employed were : direct interference with elections,
bribery, the creation of boroughs, and the influence of the Court
over members of the Lower House. This new policy was
attended with decisive success, and the result was that the royal
power was established on a "broader and securer basis than
Wolsey could have erected."

Wolsey's ministry, then, covers the period when the power summary,
of the Crown was more free from constitutional limitations than



22 THE OLD OEDER CHANGED.

[1509

in ;my previous; reign. His term of olHce saw the attempt m;ule
by the royal power under Hldward \\ . to dispense with Parlia-
ments reaoli its culminating point. The meeting of the
Parliament of 1523 was a definite blow at this unconstitutional
system, and with the fall and death of Wolsey that system
e;ime to an end. It was not, however, till Elizabeth's reign that
Parliament definitely emerged from its position as a tool of the
Crown. The Tudor despotism had by this time done its work:
it was a means to an end, and that end was attained. Wolsey's
great fault was that he regarded the royal absolutism as an end
in itself, and that he never appreciated the fact that it was hm
a means towards the attainment of a definite end. As soon as
England had been safely steered through the political, social,
and religious revolutions of the sixteenth century, the necessity
for the Tudor rule had passed away. Wolsey was a minister
"of an age of grand transitions," and, though his political
measures were often shortsighted and his financial policv a

o /

hand-to-mouth one, he was too great a man to be a mere tool
of his despotic master.



CHARLES THE dividing-line between medieval and modern England, it

BEAZLEY lias been sa ^' comes m tne reign of Henry VII. ; but it is in the
The life of his son that the change becomes apparent, as a revolution

oiJe g from the age of rights to that of powers, from the Catholic to
Reforma- t ] 10 Reformed system in Church and State.

At the accession of Henry VIII. English religion did not
seem very different from Continental. All Latin Christendom
had passed through the common religions decline, and had
shared in the common failure to reform the Church from within.
A practical paganism seemed to rule in the higher classes of
Southern Europe, and a superstitious lethargy had crept over
the lower, in every one of the Christian nations, except, per-
haps, the Spanish. Devotion was more and more fixed upon
the terrors of death, and hell, and purgatory. Gerson, and
Sigismund, and Pius II. had worked in vain to restore the life
of the Church. She was atrophied, said the alarmists, in head
and members. The Popedom was vicious or paganised, and
Christendom submitted to its rule. Commerce, science, and
naval enterprise the real activities of the age now went on



1547]



THE COMING OF THE REFORMATION.



23



apart from religious impulse, except, again, in the Spanish
peninsula.

In England, as on the Continent, Christianity had slowly The
become debased not so much by a perversion of true doctrines Religious
into false, as by the general decay of zeal and interest. The Fe eiing.
chantry system, the mass traffic, the monastic decline, the later



'.




THE POPULAR CREED (MS. Add. 18,193).

scholasticism, the widening gulf between clergy and laity, were
all, in different ways, evidence of decay, though the gorgeous
elaboration of the Church system had never been so great.
From the days of Walter de Merton the energy of the religious
leaders had been mainly turned to education. Even bishops l

1 Of. Fox. Fisher, and Oldham of Exeter. Fisher is specially notable in
this connection as the real founder, through Lady Margaret, his penitent, of
St. John's and Christ's Colleges, Cambridge, and of the Divinity professor-



iM- 777 /; OLD OEDEE CHANG-ED.

1509

now divided "learned clerks" from "idle monks," and pre-
fcrred like Wykeham, Waynflete, and Fox to found colleges
rather than abbeys. Only eight houses of religion, ;md nearly
seventy houses of learning and charity, had nsen between
1 :>!)!) and 1509, and in tlie .S70 monasteries of earlier date
numbers had decayed with devotion. A few examples may
stand for all. The great Friary at ( iloucester, which in 12(i7
bad forty inmates, only sheltered seven in Wolsey's day.
The Templars in 1:510, and the alien priories in 1414 (II., p. 35),
had gone the way that all were going. 1 The chantry system-
ahnost unknown before Edward T. had overgrown the
cathedral and parochial, and the mass priests whom it pro-
duced, though sometimes used as additional curates, or local
schoolmasters and lecturers, lived by abusing the very first
principles of the Church; for they sold the Eucharist to
those able and willing to buy so many masses for the re-
mission of so many days in purgatory; and though much
good work could be done by the chantry priests, and though
chantries may have been chapels- of -ease to many parish
churches, 2 this tendency to supersede 3 the regular organi-
sation by an exceptional one was certainly felt in the time of
\Volsey to have over-reached itself, and was one of the first
and favourite marks of Protestant attack. But it was not
only a practical, but a doctrinal exaggeration. We must
connect it with the popular worship, " not of love, but of
fear/' with the pictures of hell and judgment, and the
dance of death, and the material agonies of the damned, if
we would understand, for instance, Latimer's horror of the
' Devil's satisfactory propitiatory-mass our old ancient Pur-
gat ory Pickpurse, that evacuates the Cross and the Supper
of the Lord."

But to get anything like a general view of English religion
in the first half of Henry's reign (1509-29), during the political

ships in both universities, as well as the true beginner of Greek study at
Cambridge, just as he be.u'an it in his old age for himself and others.

1 Of 1.200 monasteries, etc.. founded in England during the Middle Ages,
only about half remained for Henry's dissolution. During the thirty years
before l.'.u'.i not one was founded.

2 As in York Cathedral, where Richard III. be^an a chantry of loo priests.
:i As the parish system had been superseded in past time especially from

the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries by monastic and mendicant orders.



THE COMING OF THE REFORMATION.



25



1547]



supremac}' of Wolsey, and while the medieval system was
still in name untouched, we must not only look at the proofs




TIIK DANCE OF DEATH (MS. Add. 17, >n).



of a dying world, but at the preparation for a new and living-
one. For the historical Christianity of the older time was not
destroyed in England by the revolution, but re-formed, and, as



26



THE OLD ORDER CHANGED.



Conser-
vatives,
1509-1529.



Super-
stition.



[1500

on the Continent, religion revived in the two ion us of Protest-
ant movement ;m<l Catholic reaction. Along with practical and
doctrinal corruptions, along with decay in art and defection in
literature, there was a mass of earnest conservatism, which
would soon purity the Church from within, once it were made
intelligent, roused to action by fierce attacks from without.

The main body of Englishmen, led by their clergy, still
held to the medieval faith, as it had been finally presented in
the thirteenth century the three creeds and seven sacraments,
the mysterious presence and sacrifice in the mass, the primacy
or supremacy of the Pope, and all the doctrine and discipline of
their mother, the Roman Church " Mater et niagistra omnium
ecclesiarum urbis et orbis " ; but the Papal privileges were
only a tradition by the side of the sacramental system, the
belief in Divine action through material forms, 1 which was the
philosophy of Catholicism, the essence of ordinary Christian
doctrine at that time. Yet behind this there was, among the
more ignorant, a certain background of superstition, and ob-
servers feared that this was on the increase. One saint, one day.
one image, was preferred to another, for this boon or for that :
the invocation of saints resembled polytheism. " We set every
saint in his office and assign him such a craft as pleaseth us
Saint Loy .... a horse leech, Saint Ippolitus .... a smith,
Saint Apollonia a tooth drawer. Saint Syth women set to rind
their keys, Saint Roke we appoint to see to the great sickness,
and Saint Sebastian with him. Some saints serve for the eye
only, others for a sore breast." . ..." As many things as we
wish, so many gods have we made," adds Erasmus in his 'En-
comium of Folly." The conception of the mass became crudely
material : some were accused of thinking that the body of Christ
could only lie in a rutt.ixl wafer. The doctrine of the sacra-
ments, by which the schoolmen had tried to spiritualise the
spiritual gifts of the Divine presence, and which had been en-
dorsed by the Lateran decrees of 1215, was not altogether
realised by many, who still talked in the language, not of the

1 E.IJ., in holy places, causing- pilgrimages ; in holy earth and water, leading
to churchyards and ceremonial sprinklings ; in holy persons, causing ivlic-
worship (and. on another side, the consecration of the ministry in Apostolical
Succession) ; in holy words, causing mystical change of xiibstitntia or essence,
as in the Eucharist.



1547T



THE COMING OF THE REFORMATION.



27



thirteenth, century, but of the eleventh. 1 Some of the cere-
monies of Lent and Passion- tide seemed to countenance the
more gross and material language ; and the gloom of the
later Middle Ages naturally passed into the religion of men
whose daily toil was one of fearful necessity, and who were
often forced to crouch before their lords as those lords crouched




"ST. LOT A HORSE LEECH."

(From a sculptured stone in Wincanton Church, Somerset.)

before the despotism of the Xew Monarchy. Local currency was
certainly given to pious frauds,- to abuses of the Treasury of
Merits, and of the Church's " deposit of power." If only money
could be raised, as for the Papal schemes in Roman buildings
and temporal aggrandisement, indulgences were readily granted

1 C'f. the Lateran Council of 1059. under Xicholas II., and its language
about Christ's body in the Eucharistic wafer being ground by the teeth of
the faithful.

2 Beside the well-known rood of Boxley and wonder-working statutes and
wells, there was the Holy Thorn at Glastonbury, which bloomed at Christmas,
and Our Lady's Girdle at Bruton, which gave safe delivery in childbirth.
Several other girdles of the Virgin were shown elsewhere.



28



TIIK OLD ORDER CHANGED.



Corrup-
tion.



Clerical
Vice.



'1509



f'>r thousands of years from that "fiery furnace t,li;>t hath
burned away so many pence " along with "canonisations and
expectations, pluralities and unions, 1 tot -(plots and dispen-
sations, pardons and stationaries, jubilaries and pociilaries,
mannaries for relics, pedaries for pilgrims, oscularies for
kissers." So, at least, said the Hot Gospellers of the time.

But the Church courts and the unemployed and immoral
clergy were the most serious difficulties of a conservative re-
formation, such as Wolsey desired, with the great majority of
men of the old and new learning.- " Is there nought to be
amended in the Arches.'"' says Latimer in 1.58(5. "Do they
rid the people's business, or ruffle and cumber them? Do they
correct vice or defend it ? How many sentences be given there
in time, how many without bribes, if men say true? And what
in bishops' consistories ? Shall you often see the law's punish-
ments executed, or money redemptions used instead ? "

As Bishop Stubbs has told us, :! the treatment of such
moral evils as did not come under the common law Avas left to
the Church courts : these became centres of corruption which
primates, legates, and councils tried to reform and failed,
acquiescing in the failure rather than allow the intrusion of
the secular power. 4 Again, "the majority of the persons now
ordained had neither cure of souls nor duty of preaching: their
spiritual duty was to say masses for the dead," and, as the result,
instead of greater spirituality, there is greater frivolity. In
the self-indulgent ranks of the lowest clergy there existed, as
among the faity, an amount of coarse vice which had no secrecy
to screen it or to prevent it from spreading ; and, though the



1 A list was made by Bishop Gibson of twenty-three clergymen holding-,
on the average, eight benefices apiece at the opening- of Henry VIII. 's reign.

'-' <'/. Colet's Sermon before the Convocation of Canterbury, December. l.">12.
"All evil in the Church is either the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or
the pride of life. . . . We are troubled with heresies, but not so much as
with naughty lives. ... No new laws are needed, only let the old ones
be observed. . . . The Bishops must begin.' 1

s "Constitutional History of England,'' III.. H7:>.

4 <'/. Hunne's case, iniS-l. 1 ), and the king's decision therein: "You of tho
spiritualty act expressly against the words of our predecessors, who had never
any superior but God. You interpret your decrees at your pleasure, but I will
never consent to this, any more than my progenitors." On the other hand,
Warham drew up rules for the reform of Church courts, and in ir>18 sum-
moned a special synod at Lambeth to treat " of abatement of divers abuses."



THE COMING OF THE REFORMATION. 29

1547]

higher clergy were mostly pure in life, they were violently
charged with pride and worldliness. Churchmen like Morton
and Wolsey, the prime ministers of the earlier Tudors,
appeared to have more of the statesman than of the pastor ;
and in the growing prejudice of Englishmen against clerical
government, even the abuse of Latimer found a hearing.
" Unpreaching prelates ... be so troubled with lordly living,
so placed in palaces, crouched in courts, ruffling in their rents,
dancing in their dominions, burdened with ambassages, moil-
ing in their manors and mansions, loitering in their lordships,
that they cannot attend " their duties. " Some are in king's
matters, some ambassadors, some of the Privy Council, some
furnish the court, some are lords of Parliament, presidents,
controllers of mints." " Since priests have been minters," said
an unfair proverb, " money hath been worse." The moral side
of the Catholic system had been obscured by the ideal, and
the rationale of worship, to some extent, forgotten in ritual
developments. Latin, still popularly understood in the four-
teenth century, had become a hierarchic and learned language
in the sixteenth. Though of untold value in the revival of
learning, and in the general intercourse of the educated world,
the more rigid conservatives threatened to destroy much of its obscur-
value by refusing to accept its results. For nearly a thousand antlsm -
years Greek thought had been known to the West in Latin
versions : now the renewed study of Greek (as in Dean Colet's
School at St. Paul's) was challenged as dangerous : " Greek is
the tongue of heresy," said Colet's opponents, though Greek
was the original tongue of the local Roman Church and
its missal.

But it was in this new learning that the chief hope of Reform-
the historical faith really lay. Christian society was not
altogether corrupt and outworn, even after Piers Plowman's
vision and Morton's visitation of St. Albans (Vol. II., p. 631).
The old Church only needed mending, not ending, and the
reconstructive movement from within was led by such men as
the Oxford reformers of 1498 by Colet, Erasmus, and More-
men who deliberately chose conservative reform against revolu-
tion when they came to the parting of the ways. In Colet's
sermon before the Convocation of 1512, as well as in his Oxford
lectures of 1497, on St. Paul's Epistles, and his oration on



ers.



30 TIIK OLD ORDER CHANGED.

11509

Wolsey's Cardinalate, we have, perhaps, the best expression
of this temper, and of the party who, by such expression, saved
the Church. To keep the Catholic system, but to make of it
MI M-O more a reasonable service, the friend of every onward
movement in society, was their policy. The}- would fain
preserve by adding intelligence to caution.

Yet among these, the true reformers, there were two
parties. One, represented by Erasmus, cared for knowledge
rather as the end and religion as the means: the other, the
party of Warham and Wolsey, of Tunstall and Colet and
More, at least believed religion to be the greatest of social
forces, if not of human goods, and hoped that learning would
refine and invigorate the faith which was the basis of national
character. From the latter the churchmen of the Catholic
revival drew their leaders, from the former came more and
more defection to avowed freethought.

But even without the conscious action of reformers, there
had been some signs in the medieval system that it was coming
some way to meet the new age. English was displacing Latin
in hymns and carols Wynkyn de Worde's first collection was
printed in 1531 1 and even in some of the processional re-
sponses: 2 authorised private devotions, or primers, had been
wholly in the vulgar tongue since 1410, and more than
thirty editions were printed as late as the years 1520-47.
Only the alarm of the Lollards prevented an authorised English
Bible long before 15:>9. " 'Tis not much above 100 years," says
Cranmer in his Preface to the Great Bible of that year, "since
Scripture hath not been read in the common tongue within
this realm." In 1407-!)<s Colet had lectured in English on the
Epistles of St. Paul, and referred his Oxford hearers irom all
" mystical glosses" back to the true literal sense of the words.

/

1 f'f. the "macaronic'' hymn :

" Now make us joye in this feste
In ([no Christus natus est
A patre unixenitus.
Siii^ \ve to Him ami >ay welcome.
Vcui Redemptor gentium."

2 Cf. the Sarum Vrrsr ;ii sprinkling of holy water, drcn A.D. 117n :

" If. member your promise made in Baptism,
And Christ's merciful blOOdshedding,
By the uliicli most holy sprinkling,
Ye tuna all your sins have pardon."



THE COMING OF THE REFORMATION. 31

1547]

Last among its advantages, the Church was in possession of
the ground, penetrated men's lives as nothing else could do, and
possessed in its 30,000 clergy, its 8,000 parish churches, its
100,000 consecrated buildings, its property equal perhaps to near
one-tilth of the national wealth, resources which only needed
direction. To pull it down from its privileged, wealthy, ultra-



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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 8 of 68)