CHAPTER II. THE RELIGIOUS CHANGES UNDER HENRY VIII. AND EDWARD VI.
Henry, having failed to obtain a favourable verdict from the legatine commission, determined to frighten the Pope into compliance with his wishes by showing him that behind the King of England stood the English Parliament. The most elaborate precautions were taken to secure that members likely to be friendly were elected. In many cases together with the writs the names of those whose return the court desired were forwarded to the sheriffs. The Parliament that was destined to play such a momentous part in English affairs met in 1529. It was opened by the king in person attended by Sir Thomas More as Lord Chancellor. At a hint from the proper quarter it directed its attention immediately to the alleged abuses of the clergy. The principal complaints put forward were the excessive fees and delays in connection with the probate of wills, plurality of benefices, and the agricultural and commercial activity of priests, bishops, and religious houses, an activity that was detrimental to themselves and unfair to their lay competitors. Measures were taken in the House of Commons to put an end to these exactions and abuses, but when the bills reached the House of Lords Bishop Fisher lodged an emphatic protest for which he was called to account by the king. When Parliament had done enough to show the bishops and the Roman court what might be expected in case Henry's wishes were not complied with it was prorogued (Dec. 1529), and in the following month a solemn embassy headed by the Earl of Wiltshire, Anne Boleyn's father, was dispatched to interview the Pope and Charles V. at Bologna. The envoys were instructed to endeavour to win over the Emperor to the king's plans, but Charles V. regarded their advances with indignation and refused to sacrifice the honour of his aunt to the friendship of England. The only result of the embassy was that a formal citation of Henry to appear at Rome was served on the Earl of Wiltshire, but at the request of the latter a delay of some weeks was granted. Unless some serious measures were taken immediately, Henry had every reason to expect that judgment might be given against him at Rome, and that he would find himself obliged either to submit unconditionally or to defend himself against the combined forces of the Emperor and the King of France.
To prevent or at least to delay such a result and to strengthen the hands of the English agents at Rome, he determined to follow the advice that had been given him by Thomas Cranmer, namely, to obtain for the separation from Catharine the approval of the universities and learned canonists of the world. Agents were dispatched to Cambridge and Oxford to obtain a verdict in favour of the king. Finding it impossible to secure a favourable verdict from the universities, the agents succeeded in having the case submitted to a small committee both in Cambridge and Oxford, and the judgment of the committees, though by no means unanimous, was registered as the judgment of the universities. Francis I. of France, who for political reasons was on Henry's side throughout the whole proceedings, brought pressure to bear upon the French universities, many of which declared that Henry's marriage to Catharine was null and void. In Italy the number of opinions obtained in favour of the king's desires depended entirely upon the amount of money at the disposal of his agents. To support the verdict of the learned world Henry determined to show Rome that the nobility and clergy of his kingdom were in complete sympathy with his action. A petition signed by a large number of laymen and a few of the bishops and abbots was forwarded to Clement VII. (13th July, 1530). It declared that the question of separation, involving as it did the freedom of the king to marry, was of supreme importance for the welfare of the English nation, that the learned world had pronounced already in the king's favour, and that if the Pope did not comply with this request England might be driven to adopt other means of securing redress even though it should be necessary to summon a General Council. To this Clement VII. sent a dignified reply (Sept.), in which he pointed out that throughout the whole proceedings he had shown the greatest regard for Henry, and that any delay that had occurred at arriving at a verdict was due to the fact that the king had appointed no legal representatives at the Roman courts. The French ambassador also took energetic measures to support the English agents threatening that his master might be forced to join hands with Henry if necessary; but even this threat was without result, and the king's agents were obliged to report that his case at Rome was practically hopeless, and that at any moment the Pope might insist in proceeding with the trial.
When Henry realised that marriage with Anne Boleyn meant defiance of Rome he was inclined to hesitate. Both from the point of view of religion and of public policy separation from the Holy See was decidedly objectionable. While he was in this frame of mind, a prey to passion and anxiety, it was suggested to him, probably by Thomas Cromwell, the former disciple of the fallen cardinal, that he should seize this opportunity to strengthen the royal power in England by challenging the authority of the Pope, and by taking into his own hands the control of the wealth and patronage of the Church. The prospect thus held out to him was so enticing that Henry determined to follow the advice, not indeed as yet with the intention of involving his kingdom in open schism, but in the hope that the Pope might be forced to yield to his demands. In December 1530 he addressed a strong letter to Clement VII. He demanded once more that the validity of his marriage should be submitted to an English tribunal, and warned the Pope to abstain from interfering with the rights of the king, if he wished that the prerogatives of the Holy See should be respected in England.