CHAPTER VIII. HENRY VIII (iv) 1529-33 - THE BREACH WITH ROME

[1529 No revolt as yet]

It will have been observed that when Wolsey found that the divorce was inevitable, his energies were concentrated on the single purpose of securing it under papal authority. For this he had two reasons - one, that without that authority the King's act would appear in all its arbitrariness, causing grave scandal: the other that if that authority were refused, he foresaw the cleavage between England and Rome which did eventually take place. Apart however from the divorce, there had not been up to the time of Wolsey's fall any hint of an opinion in high places that such a cleavage was per se desirable or desired - although both Wolsey himself and Gardiner had given Clement fair warning that Henry was likely to reconsider the papal claims altogether unless the Pope complied with his wishes. The revocation of the cause to Rome immediately brought the execution of this threat into the sphere of practical politics.

In the second place there had been no tendency to encourage or allow deviations from recognised orthodox doctrine. The new criticism had been so far admitted as to produce a rigid section and a liberal section among the orthodox, such leading prelates as Wolsey himself, Warham, Fox, Fisher, and Tunstal, all favouring the new learning in various degrees, and being supported therein by such learned laymen as Sir Thomas More. Their toleration however had not extended to anything censurable as heresy, and their attitude had been somewhat stiffened by the course of the Lutheran revolt on the Continent. The increased licence within the Empire, following the edict of Spires in 1528, led to an increased activity in the suppression of heretics and heretical publications in England, first under Wolsey and then under his successor in the Chancellorship.

[Growth of anti-clericalism]

In a third direction however, though not much had been done in the way of measures, an anti-clerical party had been growing up: a party which sought to diminish clerical jurisdiction, clerical privileges, and clerical emoluments. Among the ecclesiastics themselves there were not a few who desired to improve clerical administration from within, but without diminution of ecclesiastical authority; the anti-clericals were laymen who wished the reforms to be forced on the Church from outside, reducing ecclesiastical authority in the process. These two policies were in direct opposition, seeing that antagonism to Wolsey - emphatically a reformer of the prior class - was the leading motive with the nobility who headed the second class; while the Commons in general desired primarily to be freed from the exactions by which the clergy benefited, and from which they did not believe the clergy would of their own initiative cut themselves off. Wolsey had begun the internal amendment, by his visitation and suppression of the smallest monasteries and the appropriation of ecclesiastical property to educational purposes, and by some substitution of the superior organisation of the legatine court for that of the Ordinaries; but the latter step had been cancelled by his fall and by the ominous appeal to the statute of Praemunire against legatine jurisdiction. On the other hand, the anti-clerical action had been practically confined so far to the modifications as to Benefit of Clergy; unless we include the publication of pamphlets and rhymes attacking the ecclesiastical body in general, or Wolsey in particular as the incarnation of their shortcomings.

Some years were still to elapse before any material changes from orthodox theological doctrine were to be entertained. But in 1529, the suspension of the Trial was forthwith followed by the adoption of a policy - as yet only provisional - setting aside the Pope's authority; and the assembly of Parliament in November was marked by an immediate attack on ecclesiastical abuses.

[Thomas Cranmer]

In the last six months of this year the King discovered two instruments consummately adapted for executing his will. It appears that the idea of obtaining the opinions of the Doctors at the English Universities had already been mooted, and that one of those selected [Footnote: Strype, Memorials of Cranmer. Hook, Life of Cranmer.] at Cambridge was Thomas Cranmer, a learned and amiable divine with marked leanings towards the New Learning; who in his early graduate days had fallen under the influence of the teaching at Cambridge of Erasmus; in scholarship subtle and erudite, in affairs guileless and easily swayed; timorous by nature, but capable of outbreaks of audacity as timid persons often are: a gentle and lovable man, but lacking in that robust self-confidence needed by one who would take a resolutely independent line; a man intended to be a student and forced by an unkind fate to assume the role of a man of action. Such a character, brought under the direct influence of a powerful will and a magnetic personality, is readily led to see everything as it is desired that he should see it, and at the worst to differ from the master-mind only with submission.

[Appeal to the universities]