CHAPTER IX. HENRY VIII (v), 1533-40 - MALLEUS MONACHORUM

Before the end of the year (1534) Parliament was again in session. The argument submitted to the Pope before the passing of the Annates Act - that it pressed with undue severity on the bishops - was shown in its true character by a new Annates Act which appropriated to the King the funds of which the Pope had been deprived. The relief of the bishops was ignored. By the "Act of the Supreme Head," Parliament also professedly confirmed the declaration of Convocation in 1531; but omitted the saving [Footnote: See p. 125] clause; and by a fresh Act of Succession, regularised the treatment of More and Fisher, enforcing the oath in the form in which it had been submitted to them, retrospectively. Then came the Treasons Act, the coping stone of Resolute Government; bringing into the category of Treason not only the specific overt actions to which it had been limited by the Act of Edward III., but also "verbal treason" and even the refusal to answer incriminating questions. It is easy to see what vast opportunities were thus given for fastening a practically irrefutable charge of treason on any victim selected, when the recognised principle was that the onus probandi lay with the accused. An irresistible instrument of tyranny was created, justified of course by the usual argument that without such powers it was not possible to deal adequately with the abnormal dangers of the situation. It need only be remarked that where there is practically no check on the abuse of such powers save the scrupulosity of the persons in whom they are vested, the risk of flagrant injustice becomes almost incalculable. Since the days of Edward III., no monarch had occupied the throne with less risk of serious treason than Henry VIII. Under all save Henry V. there had been active rebellion, and under him there was at least one serious plot. Yet the treason statute of Edward III. had under them been held sufficient. The new Act was in truth but one step in the systematic development of autocracy under constitutional forms to which the policy of Thomas Cromwell was devoted.

[Sidenote 1: 1529-34 The New Policy] [Sidenote 2: Cromwell]

When Wolsey fell in 1529 the Duke of Norfolk became ostensibly the King's most powerful subject. But it is impossible to trace to him or to his following among the nobility the formulation of any sort of definite policy. Nevertheless, a quite definite policy had been initiated after a short lapse of time. Starting with the checking of palpable ecclesiastical abuses, it had gone on to assert with steadily increasing rigour the subjection of the entire clerical organisation to the Supreme Head, and to embody the assertion of the theory in practical legislation, and dictation to Convocation. It had threatened the papacy, till the threats issued virtually in an ultimatum followed by repudiation of papal authority. It had placed papal and ecclesiastical perquisites under gradual restrictions, till by the last Annates Act it began transferring them openly to the Crown. In many instances, the initiative had been ostensibly taken by Parliament; in others, the King had exercised direct pressure on the clergy, but had obtained from Parliament a ratification of the ecclesiastical concessions. The whole trend of the policy, culminating in the Treasons Act, was to concentrate effective control in the hands of the sovereign, by consent of Parliament. And now Cromwell emerges as the man who was to give that policy tremendous effect, and by inference at least as its probable creator and organiser from the close of 1530. It is not till 1535 however that he becomes openly and indisputably first minister; Wolsey's successor in Henry's confidence - and to Henry's gratitude.

[1535 More and Fisher]

Before the prorogation of Parliament in February (1535) the two recalcitrants in the Tower, More and Fisher, were attainted High Treason for maintaining their refusal to take the prescribed oath under the Act of Succession. It was perhaps in the hope that the King might hesitate to proceed to extremities, in the face of a very marked expression of sentiment, that the new Pope, Paul III., proceeded to nominate Fisher a Cardinal. It ought to have been obvious that the very contrary effect would have been produced: the step was naturally looked upon as a challenge. More and Fisher were condemned to death and executed in the summer - martyrs assuredly to conscience. The whole of their offence consisted in the single fact that they could not and would not recant their belief in the validity of Katharine's marriage. Had they sought to make converts to that opinion, or to make it a text for preaching sedition, there might have been some colour of justice in their punishment. As it was, such danger as there might be in their holding that view lay entirely in the advertisement of it by insistence on the oath. All Europe shuddered, and half England trembled at the demonstration of ruthless power, when those two were struck down - the aged bishop whose spotless character and saintly life had for many a year given the lie to those who included all the higher clergy in a universal condemnation; and the ex-chancellor, the friend of Erasmus, whose wide learning, kindly wit, intellectual eminence, and unswerving rectitude had won for him a European reputation greater than that of any other Englishman of his time. The Carthusians, Brigittines, and Observants who had been induced to give way on the question of the Oath reverted to the position of More and Fisher. Their heads also were put to death, and the houses broken up.

The wrath of the Pope was expressed in a Bull of Deposition; which however on second thoughts he found it advisable to hold in suspense till three years later.

[Cromwell made Vicar-General]