Copyright
Goldwin Smith.

The United kingdom; a political history online

. (page 26 of 84)
Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 26 of 84)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


cipline, out of obedience, caring neither for Protector nor
king, and much less for any other mean officer." "And
what is the cause ? Your own lenity, your softness, your
opinion to be good to the poor ; the opinion of such as
saith to your Grace, 'Oh! Sir, there was never man had
the hearts of the poor as you have. Oh! the commons
pray for you sir, they say " God save your life." ' I know
your gentle heart right well, and that your meaning is
good and godly, however some evil men list to prate
here that you have some greater enterprise in your head
that lean so much to the multitude." It is certain that
Somerset's head had been somewhat turned by his eleva-
tion. He had addressed the king of France as "my
brother." Paget complains that he is testy and will
not listen to advice. In vain Paget, like one bred in the
school of strong government, conjured him to call out his
Almains and take the work of repression into his own
hands, assuring him that by doing so he would lose no
popularity that was worth keeping. Somerset stood
irresolute, only showing his sympathy with the commons
enough to incur the hatred of the aristocracy and set
them conspiring for his destruction.

The council had apparently been from the outset little
better than a knot of viperine ambitions. The first to
conspire against the Protector was his brother Seymour,
high admiral of England. Seymour's aim, apparently.



XVII EDWARD VI 356

was to make the princess Elizabeth his wife and perhaps
to place himself beside her on the throne. This mad
scheme certainly led him into treasonable practices, and 1540
his execution reflects no discredit on the Protector, who
showed natural feeling on the occasion. The next con- 1553
spiracy was more formidable. It was headed by Dudley,
Duke of Northumberland, son of Dudley the fiscal myr-
midon of Henry VII., and heir of his father's character,
who also had designs upon the crown. The Protector's
display of sympathy with the commons, and the offence
given to the aristocracy by his democratic manifesto,
combined with the general disorders of government,
afforded Northumberland an opening. A cabal was
formed in the council, before which the Protector fell.
He rose again with dimmed splendour and diminished
authority. But Northumberland persevered. Somerset
was again arrested on charges, transparently fictitious,
of treason and felony. In order probably to give mur-
der a colour of justice, he was acquitted by the peers
who tried him on the charge of treason, but found
guilty of the felony. By the people, whose idol he still 1551
was, his acquittal, which, seeing the axes turned from
him as he left the court, they supposed to extend to all
the charges, was hailed with a burst of joy. The young
king in his diary makes a dry entry, which is taken as a
proof of his want of feeling. He was probably deceived
as to the facts, and, even if he knew the truth, his pen
may not have been free.

Something was gained during the reign by constitu-
tional liberty. The treason law of Henry, which had
been enlarged by a servile parliament into an unlimited
warrant for the destruction of the king's enemies, was



366 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap, xyii

1547 swept away, and the law of Edward III. was restored.

1552 Other new-fangled treasons were afterwards added ; but
instead of conviction or attainder without evidence in
cases of treason, it became law that two witnesses should
be required and that they should be confronted with the
accused. This Act ended a legal reign of terror. The
statute which gave royal proclamations the force of law,
and that which empowered a king on coming of age to
cancel laws made during his minority, were also repealed,
and the legislative authority of parliament was thus, in
principle at least, restored. Nor were there during this
reign any benevolences or forced loans. On the other
hand, there was repeated and scandalous robbery of the
subject by the continued debasement of the currency, of
which Henry VIII. had set the example. The flight of
sound money, the derangement of prices and wages, and
the sufferings consequent on the demoralization of in-
dustry and commerce, were the inevitable results of this
fraud, while scandalous gains were made by members of
the government who got the mint into their hands. A
standing army of foreign mercenaries was introduced, and
the gendarmerie, as it was called, in London amounted to
nine hundred men.



CHAPTER XVIII

MARY
Born 1516; Succeeded 1553; Died 1558

TF any statesman, or historian emulating statesmen, thinks
that good will come of doing a moderate amount of
evil, let him consider what all the fraud, lying, hypoc-
risy, and murders of the government of Henry VIIT. did
towards settling the succession to the English crown.
The only son, born after all that labour of infamy, was
dead. Both his sisters had been bastardized, and upon
their demise the question was open between claimants by
descent and claimants under the will of Henry VIII.,
whose title, created by the Act of a single parliament,
conflicted with the established custom of the realm. As
to the Reformation, which, as well as the succession, is
supposed to have needed the service of iniquity, it was
now about to fall into the hands of the daughter of the
divorced wife, exasperated against it by her mother's
wrongs and by her own.

The headship of the. nation, once elective, had been
so far converted into the heritable property of a family
as to admit what John Knox still denounced as the
monstrous regiment of women.

The death of Somerset had deprived the protestant
party of the one man who, with all his faults and errors,
had gained something like a national leadership, and

367



358 THE UNITED KINGDOM ohap.

might have controlled the situation. To save the re-
ligious revolution there was but one way, to set aside
Mary, send her back to her cousin the Emperor, and
resettle the succession by Act of parliament on a protes-
tant heir. This, though hardly possible in face of the
general belief that Mary was the lawful heiress, and of
the discredit into which the protestant government had
fallen, might conceivably have been done. There could
be only one end to the attempt to make the dying king
exercise a power, which no one believed him to possess,
in favour of Lady Jane Grey, or rather of her father-
in-law, Northumberland, under her name. Jane, grand-
daughter of Mary sister of Henry VIII., was postponed by
his will, sanctioned by parliament, to his daughters Mary
and Elizabeth. Cranmer, by complying with the plot, once
more showed his weakness. Northumberland's usurpa-
tion failed, as it was sure to fail, and brought the assassin
of Somerset to his merited doom, while his wretched
recantation of protestantism under the terrors of death
showed what sort of leader the cause had, and what
sort of ruler the realm would have had in him. Not only
was there a national feeling in favour of the rightful heir,
which Northumberland's government by persecuting Mary
had enhanced, but there was a general reaction against
the revolutionary violence in matters of religion which
had marked the reign of Northumberland as well as that
of Somerset. Tired of iconoclasm, which was often at-
tended with profanity and disorder, most of the people
were not unwilling to be led back to the ancient paths.
" Bloody Mary " was a good woman spoiled by circum-
stance and religious superstition. Apart from her Span-
ish blood and her own tendencies, how could the daughter



XVIII MARY 359

of the injured Catherine of Aragon have been anything
but a bitter enemy of the Reformation? She was not
cruel by nature. She had at first spared Lady Jane
Grey and Guildford Dudley. She would have shed very
little blood upon the scaffold had not the rebellion of 1554
Carew and Wyatt shaken her throne and driven her,
according to the notions of policy which then prevailed,
to measures of severity. Hef religious persecutions did
not spring from thirst of blood, but from her passionate
desire to bring back her subjects to the only religion
which could save their souls, and the belief, which she
shared with the most enlightened men of her time, that
it was right, and her bounden duty, to use her power for
that purpose. Untrue to us, her religion was true to her,
and she must be judged by a standard which in those
days superstition had falsified alike for all. Nor does
she seem to have been naturally despotic. She wished
to act with parliament, and rejected with indignation
the suggestion that on the quibbling pretext that stat-
utes applied only to kings, not to queens, she should set
herself above the law. Her reign opened in a popular 1553
way with the remission of taxes and the abrogation of
new-fangled treasons, the latter, no doubt, mainly in the
interest of catholics, and notably of the exiled Cardinal
Pole. Hatred, which in the end she too well deserved,
has made of her an ogress. The truth seems to be that
she was well educated, amiable in her manners, and,
though meagre, not unlovely, until she was made hag-
gard by disease and grief. Amidst the severe trials which
she had undergone from the ire of her despotic father,
the spite of his second wife, and the vexatious attempts
of her brother's government to force her into conformity



360 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

with the royal religion, she had borne herself well. She
had on her side the hearts of the great majority of the
people, as well as the relic of the old nobility, which had
- remained hostile to revolution. Protestant government
had not shone under Somerset, much less under Northum-
berland. Politicians like the extremely able Paget, who
believed little in religion of any kind, and cared less for
any form of it, would thinl^ only of a peaceful succession
and a stable government ; and of these Mary's name was
the pledge.
1553 There followed 'a counter-revolution in religion. The
parliament through which it was effected was no doubt
packed for the crown. Still, the ease with which Catholi-
cism was restored throughout the country seems to show
that protestantism had gained no strong hold upon the
mass of the people. It was probably almost confined to
the towns. To the clergy generally the return from pro-
testantism to Catholicism was no doubt welcome. Pro-
testant bishops were ejected from their sees ; catholic
bishops were reinstated. Gardiner and Bonner came
out of prison in triumph to put themselves at the head
of the reaction. Foreign protestants were expelled.
The body of Peter Martyr's wife, Avho had been buried
in the cathedral at Oxford, was dug up and cast upon a
dunghill. Of the English reformers many fled to the
city of Calvin. Cranmer stayed at Lambeth meekly
awaiting his fate, which came to him in the shape of
attainder for treason in attempting to give the crown
to Jane Grey. The Mass and the whole catholic sys-
tem of worship, doctrine, and discipline were restored.
Catholic visitations undid, as far as they could, what
protestant commissions had done ; the ravages made in



xvm MARY 361

images, painted windows, and shrines by the hammer
of protestantism they could not restore. Married bishops
and clergy were summarily expelled. The ecclesias-
tical legislation of the last reign was bodily swept away.
The statute for the burning of heretics was re-enacted. 1554
The impious title of supreme head of the church was
renounced by the queen. The supremacy of the pope
was again recognized, and the gate of the realm opened
to his missives. In defiance of the statute of Prae-
munire, Cardinal Pole was received as the pope's legate. 1554
He came in triumphant ecstasy to reconcile England to
Rome. This he did at a solemn assembly of parliament,
and having done it he pronounced the papal absolution.
So far reaction swept the field. But the Reformation,
though it had not been national as a doctrinal move-
ment, had been national as a revolt against clerical
tyranny and against the intrusive despotism of a for-
eign power. Foreign to England, and in a measure
to all nations but Italy, the papacy has been. To
the Teutonic nations it was more foreign than to the
Latin. On this line something of a stand was made
by Paget and other politicians, who, though they might
not object to transubstantiation, did object to priestly
or papal rule. Even Gardiner, though the leader of
the doctrinal reaction, Avas in his way patriotic, and did
not wish to see England under the feet of Rome. He
had not only acknowledged the royal supremacy under
Henry VIII., but had written in vindication of it. On
another point the pope and his representative encoun-
tered a resistance which was not to be overcome. The
new proprietary absolutely refused to part with the
church lands, and made its secure retention of them



362 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

an indispensable condition of its assent to the catholic
restoration. It thus in effect sold the national religion
for a quiet title to its own acres. Quieted formally
and by law, ecclesiastical as well as civil, the title now
was ; yet, so long as catholic sentiment prevailed, it was
clouded by sacrilege, and a bond thus remained between
the owners of the church lands and the protestant cause.

Monasticism, the mainstay of the religious reaction, had
received its death-blow in the dispersion of its votaries,
the confiscation of its estates, the demolition of its dwell-
ings. Little was done towards its restoration when three
monasteries were refounded by the queen.

Whatever reactionary laws or governments might do,
the English Bible remained, and while the English Bible
remained all efforts to stamp out protestantism were vain.
In one other all-important respect the work of Henry VIII.
and his executors continued in force. This counter-revo-
lution was, like the revolution, practically brought about
by the secular power. It followed upon a demise of the
crown. The state retained its virtual supremacy over the
church.

That application of the hereditary principle which
places a woman at the head of the state exposes the state
to the chances of her marriage. Bishop Gardiner would
have had the queen marry an Englishman. Her marriage
1554 with Philip of Spain lost her the heart of the nation. It
aroused a jealousy, which neither Spanish diplomacy nor
Spanish gold could appease, and which the character of
Philip, a type of the bigotry and haughtiness of his race,
was not likely to allay. The wording of the marriage
treaty, securing the independence of England, was strict;
but, as a bold member of the House of Commons said, if



XVIII MARY 363

the agreement was broken, who was to sue upon the bond ?
The immediate consequence was Wyatt's rebellion, and 1554
though this was repressed, and the queen gained by her
courageous bearing on that occasion, she was henceforth,
as the bride of Spain, fatally estranged from her own
people.

Now, as afterwards in the reign of James II., all
depended on the birth of an heir. The passionate yearn-
ings and prayers of Mary for offspring, her distracted
hopes, and their tragic disappointment will hardly seem ,
fit subjects for mockery to a generous heart. It is some-
thing of a tribute to her honesty that there seems to have
been no fear of a warming-pan, such as there was in the
case of James II. Chagrin caused by her barrenness, by
the coldness and absence of her husband, and by the
national hatred which she must have felt to be gathering
round her, appear to have combined with disease in giv-
ing her character a turn for the worse. At all events, she
devoted herself with her whole soul to the extirpation of
heresy and the restoration of her realm to the true faith.
The means which she used, hideous as they were, were
prescribed to her by law and sanctioned by the almost
universal sentiment of the time. Cranmer had been a
party to the burning of Anabaptists, and Latimer had
preached a sermon when the catholic Father Forest was 1538
put to a death of torture by swinging him in an iron
cradle over the flames. We may well allow that Mary
believed herself to be doing God's work, and a work not
of cruelty but of mercy. It is the easier for us to admit
her plea since' her policy was fatal to her cause. It
brought her into mortal conflict not with the law or with
theory, but with humanity in the hearts of the people.



364 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

In the Marian persecution there were burned, according to
the received authority, five bishops, twenty-one divines,
eight gentlemen, eighty-four artificers, a hundred husband-
men, servants, and labourers, twenty-six wives, twenty
widows, nine unmarried women, and four children. In
this roll of martyrs the gentry are poorly represented, the
aristocracy not at alL Probably not a single holder of
abbey lands died for the cause to which he owed them.
It was hard for a rich man to enter by fire into the
kingdom of heaven. Cranmer's weakness, as has been
acutely remarked, excited public pity probably even more
than the unshaken courage of Hooper, Latimer, and Ridley.
It showed how terrible was the trial. Near the spot where
Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley suffered, triumphant protes-
tantism raised in our century a monument to their mem-
ory which revived Catholicism compared to the pile of
stones heaped upon Achan.

By Gardiner, an ecclesiastical martinet, the signal for
persecution seems to have been given; but its cruelty was
ascribed by popular opinion, which is not likely to have
been wrong, to Bonner, noted for his brutality, whose
diocese furnished the largest number of victims. On par-
liament rests the responsibility of reviving the heretic-
burning laws. The queen herself undoubtedly urged on
the holy work of extirpating heresy; probably she was
the chief mover; but her council must share with her the
blame. The Spaniards had little to do with the religious
atrocities, though they were true to their character in
pressing measures of political ferocity, such as the execu-
tion of Jane Grey, and would, probably, if they could,
have had Elizabeth put to death. Charles V. was not
fanatical, nor were statesmen bred in his school. Their



XVIII MARY 365

hatred of heresy was political, and they were wise enough
to see that the Spanish marriage and the stake at the same
time were too much. A Spanish friar was put up to dis-
connect them and Philip from the persecution by preach-
ing against it. A literary worshipper of Henry VIII. has
cast the blame on Pole. Stung to the heart by Henry's
conduct in rending the seamless garment of Christ and
shedding the blood of Fisher and More, Pole had written
with violence and had acted with indiscretion. He seems
to have been a man of sensibility and impulse, but he was
no bigot. For a catholic and a cardinal he was liberal, a
friend to reconciliation and comprehension, a believer in
the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith, an oppo-
nent of the Jesuits. The suspicion of Lutheranism still
clove to him, and he was mistrusted and his legateship was 1557
at last cancelled by the fanatic Paul IV. He publicl}^
told the clergy that the best way of reclaiming the people
was not by measures of severity, but by reforming their
own lives. On one occasion he let go with a mere, sub-
mission twenty-two heretics whose case had been laid
before him by Bonner. He believed that the burnings
were lawful, and he might at last be led to show zeal
in the execution of the law by a sense of his own posi-
tion as a suspected liberal and the object of mistrust
at Rome. It has been insinuated that he had Cranmer
burned in order that he might take possession of the
archbishopric. Cranmer, having been attainted of treason
by the state and degraded by the church, was civilly
and ecclesiastically dead, and could no longer stand in
Pole's way. The burnings were confined to the south
and east of England. Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, to his
lasting honour, refused to take any part in them. It is



366 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap, xviii

true that the north was still mainly catholic, and that
in Tunstall's diocese not many victims would have been
found. The martyrdoms purged protestantism in the
national mind of the stain which it had contracted under
the misgovernment of Edward VI.

The epithet which has clung to Mary's name, if not in
its obvious sense deserved by her, is a sign of that hatred
. of bloodshed which is a happy part of the character of the
English people. Her misfortunes, as she would think, her
sins, as her people thought, were crowned by the loss of
1558 Calais, the name of which she was patriotic enough to say
would be found engraved upon her heart when she was
dead. The loss which forever closed to English ambition
the gate of conquest in France was a great gain in
disguise.



CHAPTER XIX

ELIZABETH

Born 1533; Succeeded 1558; Died 1603

A FTER Mary, her Spanish husband, and her persecu-
tions, the accession of Elizabeth came like sunrise
after the murkiest night. The peril to which she had
been exposed, especially after Wyatt's rebellion, when
the Spaniards sought her blood, had more than ever en-
deared her to the nation. Her youth, her good looks,
her high spirit and princely carriage, with her mental
accomplishments, which were remarkable, awakened an
enthusiasm of which she had the tact to make the most.

A writer, who, before he had studied the history of
Elizabeth, spoke of her as "the great nature which,
in its maturity, would remould the world," having
studied her history, can only speak of her as a little
figure at the head of a great age, and has to admit that
her policy everywhere was " partial, feeble, and fretful,"
that " wherever her hand is visible there is always vacilla-
tion, infirmity of purpose, and general dishonesty," while
where her subjects act for themselves the opposite quali-
ties appear. False and perfidious she was, heartless and
selfish, capable at times of hateful cruelty, possessed with
a vanity such as could hardly dwell in the same breast
with greatness, to say nothing of her indelicacy and at
least one darker stain, for if she was not criminally cog-

367



368 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

nizant of the murder of Amy Robsart, she certainly
prompted to the assassination of Mary queen of Scots.
Yet Elizabeth, in spite of all revelations and dissections,
keeps the title of the Great Queen. Writers again
bestow it upon her after recounting the proofs of her
littleness. They say, with scant justice to her sex, that,
after all, she had only the faults of a woman. She had
the sense to keep good counsellors, though she preferred
to them unworthy favourites and sometimes treated them
with base ingratitude. She had remarkable arts of popu-
larity when she chose to exert them. She had a queenly
bearing tempered with condescension. She had personal
courage which was needed in an era of assassination.
She knew how to identify herself with the nation. Her
sex in a chivalrous age made her the object of a devotion
which was enhanced by her danger. The nation in its
mortal conflict with catholic enemies felt itself imper-
sonated in its queen. Something also her reputation
gained from the contrast of her reign with the political
troubles which followed, albeit of those troubles her self-
will was in part the cause. The illusion was strong. It
was strong enough in her lifetime to make men fancy
themselves, or at least say that they fancied themselves,
in love with a virago who spat, swore, and culf ed ; and
this when she was past middle age and the last traces of
her youthful comeliness had fled. But those who still
call her great, if they do more than pay tribute to
custom, have before their mind's eye, not the figure of
the queen in the grotesque trappings of her vanity ; but
the figures of Burghley and Walsingham, of Sir Philip
Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh, of Shakespeare and
Spenser, of Drake and Frobisher, of the heroic mariners



XIX ELIZABETH 369

of England returning from the attack on Cadiz or the
victory over the Armada.

A young queen was fortunate in having already at her
side so wise a counsellor as Cecil, presently made Lord
Burghley. To Cecil were then, or afterwards, added Sir
Nicholas Bacon, lord keeper, and Walsingham, with other
ministers and diplomatists of the same school, such as
Knollys, Randolph, and Davison. To say that these men
opened the line of English statesmen would be too
much ; Morton, Fox, and Wolsey ^ fully deserved the
name вАҐ, yet as a group there had been nothing like them,
and they were wholly devoted to the country, while their
ecclesiastical predecessors had steered the vessel of state



Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 26 of 84)