CHAPTER IV. THE PROGRESS OF NATIONALISM
The advisers of Edward VI embarked on the more difficult task of making this organization Protestant; and the haste with which they, and especially Northumberland, pressed on the change provoked first rebellion in 1549 and then reaction under Mary. They were also confronted with social discontent arising out of the general substitution of competition for custom as the ruling economic principle. Capital amassed in trade was applied to land, which began to be treated as a source of money, not a source of men. Land held in severalty was found more profitable than land held in common, large estates than small holdings, and wool-growing than corn-growing. Small tenants were evicted, small holdings consolidated, commons enclosed, and arable land converted to pasture. The mass of the agricultural population became mere labourers without rights of property on the soil they tilled; thousands lost employment and swelled the ranks of sturdy beggars; and sporadic disorder came to a head in Kett's rebellion in Norfolk in 1549, which was with difficulty suppressed. But even this highhanded expropriation of peasants by their landlords stimulated national development. It created a vagrant mobile mass of labour, which helped to meet the demands of new industrial markets and to feed English oversea enterprise. A race that sticks like a limpet to the soil may be happy but cannot be great; and the ejection of English peasants from their homesteads saved them from the reproach of home-keeping youths that they have ever homely wits.
Mary's reign, however, checked the national impulse towards expansion, and thrust England for the moment back into the Middle Ages. First she put herself and her kingdom under the aegis of Spain, to which in heart and mind she belonged, by marrying Philip II. Then with his assistance she restored the papal jurisdiction, and England surrendered its national independence. Those who repudiated their foreign jurisdiction were naturally treated as contumacious by the papal courts in England and sent to the stake; and English adventurers were prohibited, in the interests of Spain and Portugal, from trespassing in the New World. Finally England was plunged into war with France in order to help Philip, and lost Calais for its pains. Mary's reign showed that in a sovereign good intentions and upright conversation exaggerate rather than redeem the evil effects of bigotry and blindness. She had, however, made it impossible for any successor to perpetuate in England the Roman jurisdiction and the patronage of Spain.
Elizabeth was a sovereign more purely British in blood than any other since the Norman Conquest; and to her appropriately fell the task of completing her country's national independence. Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy and Edward VI's of Uniformity were restored with some modifications, in spite of the opposition of the Catholic bishops, who contended that a nation had no right to deal independently with ecclesiastical matters, and suffered deprivation and imprisonment rather than recognize a schismatic national church. Elizabeth rejected Philip's offers of marriage and paid no heed to his counsels of state. She scandalized Catholic Europe by assisting the revolted Scots to expel the French from North Britain; and revenged the contempt, in which England had been held in Mary's reign, by supporting with impunity the Dutch against Philip II and the Huguenots against the king of France. She concealed her aggressions with diplomatic artifice and caution; but at heart she was with her people, who lost no opportunity, in their new-found confidence, of plundering and insulting the Catholic powers in their way.
The astonishing success of England amid the novel conditions of national rivalry requires some attempt at explanation. It seems to have been due to the singular flexibility of the English character and national system, and to the consequent ease with which they adapted themselves to changing environment. Indeed, whatever may be the case at present, a survey of English history suggests that the conventional stolidity ascribed to John Bull was the least obvious of his characteristics; and even to-day the only people who never change their mind at general elections are the mercurial Celts. Certainly England has never suffered from that rigidity of social system which has hampered in the past the adaptability of its rivals. Even in feudal times there was little law about status; and when the customary arrangement of society in two agricultural classes of landlord and tenant was modified by commerce, capitalism, and competition, nobles adapted themselves to the change with some facility. They took to sheep-farming and commercial speculations, just as later on they took to keeping dairy-shops. It is the smallness rather than the source of his profits that excites social prejudice against the shopkeeper in England. On the Continent, however, class feeling prevented the governing classes from participating in the expansion of commerce. German barons, for instance, often with only a few florins a year income, could not supplement it by trade; all they could do was to rob the traders, robbery being a thoroughly genteel occupation. Hence foreign governments were, as a rule, less alive and less responsive to the commercial interests of their subjects. Philip II trampled on commercial opinion in a way no English sovereign could have done. Indeed, complaints were raised in England at the extent to which the commercial classes had the ear of parliament and the crown; since the accession of Henry VIII, it was said in 1559, they had succeeded by their secret influence in procuring the rejection of every bill they thought injurious to their interests.