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History of the Catholic Church from the Renaissance to the French Revolution Volume 2 by Rev. James MacCaffrey

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Lic. Theol. (Maynooth), Ph.D. (Freiburg i. B.)
Professor of Ecclesiastical History, St. Patrick's College, Maynooth

Nihil Obstat:
Thomas O'Donnell, C.M.
Censor Theol. Deput.

Imprimi Potest:
Archiep. Dublinen.,
Hiberniæ Primas.

Dublini, 16 Decembris, 1914.


From the Renaissance to the
French Revolution



Wilkins, /Concilia Magnae Britanniae/, iii., 1737. /Historia Regis
Henrici Septimi a Bernardo Andrea Thosolate/ (André of Toulouse),
edited by J. Gairdner, 1858. Capella-Sneyd, /A Relation or True
Account of the Isle of England ... under Henry VII./ (written by
Capella, the Venetian Ambassador, 1496-1502, and edited by C. A.
Sneyd, 1847). /A London Chronicle during the reigns of Henry VII.
and Henry VIII./ (Camden Miscellany, vol. iv., 1859). Sir Thomas
More's /Utopia/ (written 1516, edited by E. Arber, 1869). More's
English works, edited by William Rastell, 1557. Bridgett, /Life
and Writings of Sir Thomas More/, 1891. Busch-Todd, /England under
the Tudors/, 1892-95. Gasquet, /The Eve of the Reformation/, 1900;
/Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries/, 1888; /The Old English
Bible/, etc., 1897; /The Great Pestilence/, 1893; /Parish Life in
Mediaeval England/, 1906; /English Monastic Life/, 1904. Capes, /A
History of the English Church in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth
Centuries/, 1909. Seebohm, /Oxford Reformers/ (3rd edition), 1877.
Stone, /Reformation and Renaissance Studies/, 1904. Gairdner,
/Lollardy and the Reformation/, vol. i., 1908. Lilly, /Renaissance
Types/, 1901. Bridgett, /History of the Holy Eucharist in Great
Britain/ (new edition, 1908). Rivington, /Rome and England/, 1897.
Lingard, /History of England/, 10 vols., 1849. Hunt-Poole,
/Political History of England/, v., 1910. /Cambridge Modern
History/, vol. i., 1902.

With the advent of Henry VII. to the throne (1485) a new era opened in
the history of England. The English nation, weakened by the Wars of
the Roses and tired of a contest that possessed little interest for
the masses, was not unwilling to submit itself without reserve to the
guidance of a strong ruler provided he could guarantee peace both at
home and abroad. Practically speaking, hitherto absolutism had been
unknown. The rights that had been won by the barons on the plains of
Runnymede were guarded jealously by their descendants, and as a result
the power of the king, more especially in regard to taxation, was
hedged round by several restrictions. But during the long struggle
between the houses of Lancaster and York many of the great feudal
barons had fallen on the field of battle or by the hands of the
executioner, and the power of the nobles as a body had been
undermined. While the Lords could muster their own retainers under
their standard and put into the field a strong army almost at a
moment's notice, it was impossible for the sovereign to rule as an
absolute monarch. It was because he recognised this fact that Henry
VII. took steps to enforce the Statute of Liveries passed by one of
his predecessors, and to provide that armies could be levied only in
the king's name.

The day of government by the aristocracy had passed for ever to be
succeeded by the rule of the people, but in the interval between the
sinking of one and the rise of the other Tudor absolutism was
established firmly in England. In selecting his ministers Henry VII.
passed over the nobles in favour of the middle classes, which were
gaining ground rapidly in the country, but which had not yet realised
their strength as they did later in the days of the Stuarts. He
obtained grants of tonnage and poundage enjoyed by some of his Yorkist
predecessors, had recourse to the system of forced grants known as
benevolences, set up the Star Chamber nominally to preserve order but
in reality to repress his most dangerous opponents, and treated
Parliament as a mere machine, whose only work was to register the
wishes of the sovereign. In brief, Henry VII., acting according to the
spirit of the age, removed the elements that might make for national
disunion, consolidated his own power at the expense of the nobility,
won over to his side the middle and lower classes whose interests were
promoted and from whom no danger was to be feared, and laid the
foundations of that absolute government, which was carried to its
logical conclusions by his son and successor, Henry VIII.

By nature Henry VII. was neither overbearing nor devoid of tact, and
from the doubtful character of his title to the throne he was obliged
to be circumspect in his dealings with the nation. It was not so,
however, with Henry VIII. He was a young, impulsive, self-willed
ruler, freed from nearly all the dangers that had acted as a restraint
upon his father, surrounded for the most part by upstarts who had no
will except to please their master, and intensely popular with the
merchants, farmers, and labourers, whose welfare was consulted, and
who were removed so far from court that they knew little of royal
policy or royal oppression. The House of Lords, comprising as it did
representatives of the clergy and nobles, felt itself entirely at the
mercy of the king, and its members, alarmed by the fate of all those
who had ventured to oppose his wishes, would have decreed the
abolition of their privileges rather than incur his displeasure, had
they been called upon to do so. The House of Commons was composed to a
great extent of the nominees of the Crown, whose names were forwarded
to the sheriffs for formal confirmation. The Parliament of 1523 did
show some resistance to the financial demands necessitated by the war
with France, but the king's answer was to dissolve it, and to govern
England by royal decrees for a space of six years. Fearing for the
results of the divorce proceedings and anxious to carry the country
with him in his campaign against the Pope, Henry VIII. convoked
another Parliament (1529), but he took careful measures to ensure that
the new House of Commons would not run counter to his wishes. Lists of
persons who were known to be jealous of the powers of the Church and
to be sympathetic towards any movement that might limit the
pretensions of the clergy were forwarded to the sheriffs, and in due
course reliable men were returned. That the majority of the members of
the lower House were hostile to the privileges of the Church is clear
enough, but there is no evidence that any important section desired a
reformation which would involve a change of doctrine or separation
from Rome. The legislation directed against the rights of the Pope
sanctioned by this Parliament was accepted solely through the
influence of royal threats and blandishments, and because the
Parliament had no will of its own. Were the members free to speak and
act according to their own sentiments it is impossible to believe that
they would have confirmed and annulled the successive marriages of the
king, altered and realtered the succession to meet every new
matrimonial fancy of his, and proved themselves such negligent
guardians of the rights of the English nation as to allow him to
dispose of the crown of England by will as he might dispose of his
private possessions. Henry VIII. was undisputed master of England, of
its nobles, clergy, and people, of its Convocation, and Parliament.
His will was the law. Unless this outstanding fact, royal absolutism
and dictatorship be realised, it is impossible to understand how a
whole nation, which till that time had accepted the Pope as the Head
of the Church, could have been torn against its will from the centre
of unity, separated from the rest of the Catholic world, and subjected
to the spiritual jurisdiction of a sovereign, whose primary motive in
effecting such a revolution was the gratification of his own unbridled

It is not true to assert, as some writers have asserted, that before
the Reformation England was a land shrouded in the mists of ignorance;
that there were no schools or colleges for imparting secular education
till the days of Edward VI.; that apart from practices such as
pilgrimages, indulgences, and invocation of the saints, there was no
real religion among the masses; that both secular and regular clergy
lived after a manner more likely to scandalise than to edify the
faithful; that the people were up in arms against the exactions and
privileges of the clergy, and that all parties only awaited the advent
of a strong leader to throw off the yoke of Rome. These are sweeping
generalisations based upon isolated abuses put forward merely to
discredit the English mediaeval Church, but wholly unacceptable to
those who are best acquainted with the history of the period. On the
other side it would be equally wrong to state that everything was so
perfect in England that no reforms were required. Many abuses,
undoubtedly, had arisen in various departments of religious life, but
these abuses were of such a kind that they might have been removed had
the Convocations of the clergy been free to pursue their course, nor
do they justify an indiscriminate condemnation of the entire
ecclesiastical body.

It is true that the Renaissance movement had made great progress on
the other side of the Alps before its influence could be felt even in
educated circles in England, but once the attention of the English
scholars was drawn to the revival of classical studies many of them
made their way to the great masters of Italy, and returned to utilise
the knowledge they had acquired for the improvement of the educational
system of their country. Selling and Hadley, both monks, Linacre, one
of the leaders of medical science in his own time, Dean Colet of
Westminster whose direction of St. Paul's College did so much to
improve the curriculum of the schools,[1] Bishop Fisher of Rochester
described by Erasmus as "a man without equal at this time both as to
integrity of life, learning, or broadminded sympathies" with the
possible exception of Archbishop Warham of Canterbury,[2] and Sir
Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England and one of the earliest
martyrs for the faith in the reign of Henry VIII., were but a few of
the prominent men in a movement that made itself felt throughout the
entire country. Nowhere did Erasmus find a more enthusiastic welcome
or more generous patrons and nowhere were his writings more thoroughly
appreciated than in England.

Nor is it true to say that the advocates of classical learning were
animated by hostility to the Catholic Church in their demand for an
improvement in educational methods. Some murmurs were, indeed, heard
in certain quarters, and charges of unorthodoxy were formulated
vaguely against Colet and others of his party, but these were but the
criticisms levelled in all ages against those who are in advance of
their time, nor do they require serious refutation. The English
Humanists had nothing in common with the neo-pagan writers of the
Italian Renaissance as regards religion, and they gave no indication
of hostility to Rome. Whatever other influences may have contributed
to bring about the religious revolution in England, it was certainly
not due to the Renaissance, for to a man its disciples were as loyal
to the Catholic Church as were their two greatest leaders Fisher and
More, who laid down their lives rather than prove disloyal to the
successor of St. Peter.

Nor was education generally neglected in the country. The lists of
students attending Oxford and Cambridge[3] in so far as they have been
preserved point to the fact that in the days immediately preceding the
Reformation these great seats of learning were in a most flourishing
condition, and that for them the religious revolt fell little short of
proving disastrous. The explanation of the sudden drop in the number
of students attending the universities is to be found partially at
least in the disturbed condition of the country, but more particularly
in the destruction of the religious houses, which sent up many of
their members to Oxford and Cambridge, and which prepared a great
number of pupils in their schools for university matriculation, as
well as in the confiscation of the funds out of which bishops,
chapters, monasteries, religious confraternities, and religious
guilds, presented exhibitions to enable the children of the poor to
avail themselves of the advantages of higher education. Nor was
England of the fifteenth century without a good system of secondary
schools. It is a common belief that Edward VI. was the founder of
English secondary colleges, and that during the first fifty years
after the Reformation more was done for this department of education
than had been done in the preceding three hundred years. That such a
belief is entirely erroneous may be proved from the records of the
commissions held in the reigns of Henry VIII. and Edward VI., from
which it appears that there were close on three hundred secondary
schools in England before 1549, and that Henry VIII. and particularly
Edward VI. ought to be regarded as the despoilers rather than as the
patrons of the English colleges. Distinct from the universities and
from the mere primary schools there were in existence at the beginning
of the reign of Henry VIII. seven classes of educational
establishments, namely, cathedral, collegiate, and monastic colleges,
colleges in connexion with hospitals, guilds, chantries, and
independent institutions. These were worked in perfect co-ordination
with the universities, and in most cases exhibitions were provided for
the poorer scholars. "The Grammar Schools which existed," says a
reliable authority, "were not mere monkish schools or choristers'
schools or elementary schools. Many of them were the same schools
which now live and thrive. All were schools of exactly the same type,
and performing precisely the same sort of functions as the public
schools and grammar schools of to-day. There were indeed also
choristers' schools and elementary schools. There were scholarships at
schools and exhibitions thence to the universities, and the whole
paraphernalia of secondary education. Nor was secondary education
understood in any different sense to that in which it was understood
up to fifty years ago. It was conducted on the same lines and in the
main by instruments of the same kind, if not identically the same, as
those in use till the present generation."[4]

It cannot be said with justice that the English people at the time
were either badly instructed in the principles of their religion or
indifferent to the practices of the Church to which they belonged. The
decrees of the Synod of Oxford (1281), commanding the clergy who had
care of souls to explain regularly in simple language, intelligible to
their hearers the articles of the creed, the commandments, the
sacraments, the seven deadly sins and the seven works of mercy, were
renewed more than once, and presumably were enforced by the bishops.
The books published for the instruction of the faithful as for
example, /The Work for Householders/, /Dives et Pauper/, /The
Interpretation and Signification of the Mass/, /The Art of Good
Living/, etc., emphasise very strongly the duty of attending the
religious instruction given by the clergy, while the manuals written
for the guidance of the clergy make it very clear that preaching was a
portion of their duties that should not be neglected. The fact that
religious books of this kind were multiplied so quickly, once the art
of printing had been discovered, affords strong evidence that neither
priests nor people were unmindful of the need for a thorough
understanding of the truths of their religion. The visitations of the
parishes, during which some of the prominent parishioners were
summoned to give evidence about the manner in which the priests
performed their duty of instructing the people, were in themselves a
great safeguard against pastoral negligence, and so far as they have
been published they afford no grounds for the statement that the
people were left in ignorance regarding the doctrines and practices of
their religion. Apart entirely from the work done by the clergy in the
pulpits and churches, it should be remembered that in the cities and
even in the most remote of the rural parishes religious dramas were
staged at regular intervals, and were of the greatest assistance in
bringing before the minds even of the most uneducated the leading
events of biblical history and the principal truths of Christianity.

That the people of England as a body hearkened to the instructions of
their pastors is clear enough from the testimony of foreign visitors,
from the records of the episcopal visitations, the pilgrimages to
shrines of devotion at home and abroad, from the anxiety for God's
honour and glory as shown in the zeal which dictated the building or
decoration of so many beautiful cathedrals and churches, the funds for
which were provided by rich and poor alike, and from the spirit of
charity displayed in the numerous bequests for the relief of the poor
and the suffering. The people of England at the beginning of the
sixteenth century were neither idol-worshippers nor victims of a blind
superstition. They understood just as well as Catholics understand at
the present day devotions to Our Lady and to the Saints; Images,
Pictures and Statues, Purgatory, Indulgences and the effects of the
Mass. Nor were they so ignorant of the Sacred Scriptures as is
commonly supposed. The sermons were based upon some Scripture text
taken as a rule from the epistle and gospel proper to the Sunday or
festival, and were illustrated with a wealth of references and
allusions drawn from both the Old and New Testament sufficient to make
it clear that the Bible was not a sealed book either for the clergy or
laity. The fact that there was such a demand for commentaries on and
concordances to the Scriptures makes it clear that the clergy realised
sufficiently the importance of Scriptural teaching from the pulpits,
and the abundant quotations to be found in the books of popular
devotion, not to speak of the religious dramas based upon events in
biblical history, go far to show that the needs of the laity in this
respect were not overlooked.[5]

It is said, however, that the use of the Scriptures in the vernacular
was forbidden to the English people, and a decree of a Synod held at
Oxford in 1408 is cited in proof of this statement. The Synod of
Oxford did not forbid the use of vernacular versions. It forbade the
publication or use of unauthorised translations,[6] and in the
circumstances of the time, when the Lollard heretics were strong and
were endeavouring to win over the people to their views by
disseminating corrupt versions of the Scripture, such a prohibition is
not unintelligible. It should be borne in mind that French was the
language of the educated and was the official language of the English
law courts and of the Parliament till after 1360. The French or Latin
versions then current were, therefore, amply sufficient for those who
were likely to derive any advantage from the study of the Bible, while
at the same time the metrical paraphrases of the important books of
the Old Testament and of the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, and the
English prose translation of the Psalms, went far to meet the wants of
the masses. From the clear evidence of writers like Sir Thomas More,
Lord Chancellor of England and one of the best informed men of his
time, of Cranmer, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, and
of Foxe the author of the so-called Martyrology, it can be established
beyond the shadow of a doubt that prior to the Reformation there
existed an English Catholic version of the Scriptures, which was
approved for use by the ecclesiastical authorities.[7] It is true,
indeed, that the bishops of England made extraordinary efforts to
prevent the circulation of the versions made by Tyndale and Coverdale,
but considering the glosses, the corruptions, and the mis-translations
with which these abound no fair-minded person could expect them to
have acted otherwise. Their action was not dictated by hostility to
the reading of the Scriptures but by their opposition to heretical
doctrines, which it was sought to disseminate among the people by
means of dishonest versions of the Scriptures. The English bishops
were not content merely with prohibiting the use of these works. They
were most anxious to bring out a correct translation of the Scriptures
for general use, and were prevented from doing so only by the action
of Henry VIII. and of the heretical advisers, who urged him to make it
impossible for the bishops to carry out their design.[8]

It would, however, be far from the truth to assert that everything was
faultless during the years preceding the Reformation, or that all the
clergy were as perfect as they might have been. England, like every
other country at the same period, was afflicted with the terrible
evils resulting from the appropriation of parishes by laymen and by
religious establishments, a system which made it impossible for a
bishop to govern his diocese properly, from the non-residence of both
bishops and higher clergy, and from the plurality of benefices, which
meant that a person might be permitted to hold two or more benefices
to which the care of souls was attached, thereby rending impossible
the proper discharge of pastoral duties. More priests, too, were
ordained than could be provided with appointments, and consequently
many of the clergy were forced to act as chaplains and tutors in
private families, where they were treated as servants rather than as
equals, and where it was only too easy for them to lose the sense of
respect for their dignity and for themselves, and to sink to the level
of those with whom they were obliged to consort. It is not to be
wondered at if evidence is forthcoming that in particular cases, more
especially in Wales, clerical celibacy was not observed as it should
have been, or that in several instances the duty of preaching and
instructing the people was not discharged, nor is it surprising to
find that men who were comparatively unlearned were promoted over the
heads of their more educated companions to the disgust of the
universities and of those interested in the better education of the
clergy. Considering the fact that so many of the bishops were engaged
in the service of the State to the neglect of their duties in their
dioceses, and bearing also in mind the selfish use made too frequently
of the rights of lay patronage and the disorganisation to which even
the most enlightened use of such patronage was likely to lead, it is
little less than marvellous that the great body of the clergy were as
educated, zealous, and irreproachable as they can be proved to have

As a result of the disorganisation wrought by the Black Plague, the
civil strife which disturbed the peace of the country, and the
constant interference of the crown and lay patrons, many of the
religious houses, influenced to some extent by the general spirit of
laxity peculiar to the age, fell far short of the standard of severity
and discipline that had been set in better days. While on the one hand
it should be admitted freely that some of the monastic and conventual
establishments stood in urgent need of reform, there is, on the other
side, no sufficient evidence to support the wild charges of wholesale
corruption and immorality levelled against the monks and nuns of
England by those who thirsted for their destruction. The main
foundation for such an accusation is to be sought for in the letters
and reports (/Comperta/) of the commissioners sent out to examine into
the condition of the monasteries and convents in 1535. Even if these
documents could be relied upon as perfectly trustworthy they affect
only a very small percentage of the religious houses, since not more
than one-third of these establishments were visited by the
commissioners during their hurried tour through the country, and as
regards the houses visited serious crimes were preferred against at
most two hundred and fifty monks and nuns.

But there are many solid grounds for rejecting the reliability of
these documents. The commissioners were appointed by Cromwell with the
professed object of preparing the public mind for the suppression of
the monasteries and convents. They showed themselves to be his most
obsequious agents, always ready to accept as testimony popular rumours
and suspicions founded in many cases on personal dislikes, and, like
their master, more anxious to extract money bribes from the religious
than to arrive at the truth about their lives or the condition of
their establishments. That they were prejudiced witnesses, arrogant
and cruel towards the monks and nuns, and willing to do anything that
might win them the approval of Cromwell and the king is evident from
their own letters and reports, while if we are to credit the
statements of contemporaries, backed by a tradition, which survived
for centuries amongst the Catholic body in England, they were most
unscrupulous and immoral in their attitude towards the unfortunate
nuns who were placed at their mercy. Indeed the charges which they
make are so filthy and repulsive, and the delight with which they
revel in such abominations is so apparent, that one is forced to the
conviction that they must have been men of depraved tastes quite
capable of committing or of attempting to commit the crimes laid to
their charge. Even if it had been otherwise, had the two commissioners
been unprejudiced and fair in their proceedings, it is impossible to
understand how they could have had an opportunity of making a really
searching investigation into the condition of the monasteries and
convents during the short time assigned for the work. They began only
in July 1535 and their work was completed in February 1536.

In favour of the reliability of these reports the fact is urged that
they were placed before Parliament, and that the members of both
Houses were so impressed by the tale of corruption and wickedness
which they disclosed that they decided on the immediate suppression of
the monasteries. If this were true and if Parliament in the days of
Henry VIII. enjoyed the same rights and privileges as it enjoys to-day
such action would be in itself a strong corroboration of the veracity
of the commissioners. But there is no sufficient evidence to prove
that the reports or compilations made from them were ever submitted to
Parliament. The king and Cromwell informed the Houses of the charges
made by the commissioners, and demanded their consent to the bill of
suppression. The whole measure was passed in a few days (11th to 18th
March, 1536) and there is no proof that the /Comperta/ or a "Black
Book" were presented to the members. On the contrary, it is clear from
the preamble to the Act that in the larger monasteries "religion was
right well kept and observed," and that it was only in the smaller
houses with less than twelve members that disorder and corruption
existed, whereas in the reports of the commissioners no such
distinction is observed, the charges being levelled just as strongly
against the larger as against the smaller communities. Had Parliament
been in possession of the reports or had there been any adequate
discussion, it is difficult to see how such an arbitrary distinction,
founded neither on the nature of things, nor on the findings of the
commissioners, could have been allowed to pass. It is noteworthy too
that many of the individuals, whose names were associated in the
/Comperta/ with very serious crimes, were placed in the possession of
pensions on the dissolution of the monasteries, and some of them were
promoted to the highest ecclesiastical offices in the gift of the

Besides, if the reports of Leigh and Leyton be compared with the
episcopal visitations of the same houses or with those of the royal
visitors appointed in 1536 to carry out the suppression of the smaller
monasteries, it will be found that in regard to the very same houses
there exists a very open contradiction between their findings.
Unfortunately the accounts of the visitations have disappeared to a
great extent except in case of the diocese of Norwich. In this diocese
the visitations were carried out very strictly and very minutely, and
although some abuses were detected the bishop could find nothing of
the wholesale corruption and immorality discovered a few years later
by the minions of Cromwell. Similarly the commission appointed in 1536
to superintend the suppression decreed in that year, the members of
which were drawn from the leading men in each county, report in the
highest terms of houses which were spoken of as hot-beds of iniquity
only a few months before. Finally, if the monasteries and convents
were really so bad as they are painted, it is a curious fact that
although Leigh and Leyton were empowered by Cromwell to open the doors
to many of the monks and nuns they could find in the thirteen counties
which they visited only two nuns and fifty-three monks willing to
avail themselves of the liberty which they offered.[9]

As a general rule the monasteries were regarded with kindly feelings
by the great body of the people on account of their charity and
hospitality towards the poor and the wayfarer, their leniency and
generosity as compared with other employers and landlords, their
schools which did so much for the education of the district, and their
orphanages and hospitals. Many of them were exceedingly wealthy, while
some of them found it difficult to procure the means of existence, and
all of them suffered greatly from the financial burdens imposed upon
them in the shape of pensions, etc., by the king or by the family by
whom their endowments were provided originally. For this reason some
of the religious houses, imitating the example of the landowners
generally, began to form grazing enclosures[10] out of their estates
which had been hitherto under cultivation, a step that led in some
cases to eviction and in all cases to a great reduction in the number
of labourers employed. Others of them set up tanneries and such like
industries that had been best left to the laymen. These measures led
to ill-feeling and to a certain amount of hostility, but that the
religious houses were not hated by the people is proved to
demonstration by the rebellions which their suppression evoked in so
many different parts of the country.

It may be said in a general way that the relations between priests and
people were neither particularly close nor particularly strained. The
rights and privileges claimed by the clergy did indeed give rise to
murmurings and complaints in certain quarters, but these were neither
so serious nor so general as to indicate anything like a deep-rooted
and sharp division between priests and people. The question of the
rights of sanctuary, according to which criminals who escaped into the
enclosures of monasteries and churches were guaranteed protection from
arrest, led to a sharp conflict between the ecclesiastical and secular
jurisdictions, but with a little moderation on both sides it was not a
matter that could have excited permanent ill-feeling. In the days when
might was right the privileges of sanctuary served a useful purpose.
That in later times they occasioned serious abuses could not be
denied, and on the accession of Henry VII. the Pope restricted the
rights of sanctuary very considerably, thereby setting an example
which it was to be expected would have been followed by his
successors. The /privilegium fori/, by which clerics were exempted
from punishment by a secular tribunal, was another cause of
considerable friction. In 1512 Parliament passed a law abolishing this
privilege in case of clerics accused of murder, etc., and though it
was to have force only for two years it excited the apprehension of
the clergy more on account of what it heralded than of what it
actually enacted. When it came up again for discussion in 1515 even
those of the clergy who were most remarkable for their subservience to
the king protested vehemently against it. In a discussion that took
place in the presence of Henry VII. one of the friars brought forward
many arguments to prove that such a law was not outside the competence
of the state, much to the disgust of the bishops and of Cardinal
Wolsey. The king was most emphatic in his declaration that he intended
to take such action as would vindicate and safeguard his rights as
supreme lord of England, but notwithstanding this sharp reproof to his
opponents the measure was allowed to drop.

The excessive fees charged in the episcopal courts for the probate of
wills, the gifts known as mortuaries claimed on occasions of death,
the absence of the bishops and the clergy from their dioceses and
parishes to the consequent neglect of their duties to the people, the
bestowal of benefices oftentimes on poorly qualified clerics to the
exclusion of learned and zealous priests, the appointment of clerics
to positions that should have been filled by laymen on the lands of
the bishops and monasteries, and the interference of some of the
clergy both secular and regular in purely secular pursuits were the
principal grievances brought forward in 1529 by the House of Commons
against the spirituality. But in determining the value of such a
document it should be remembered that it was inspired by the king, and
in fact drafted by Thomas Cromwell, at a time when both king and
minister were determined to crush the power of the Church, and that,
therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect that it is exaggerated and
unfair. According to the express statement of Sir Thomas More, Lord
Chancellor of England, who was in a position to know and appreciate
the relations between clergy and people, the division was neither so
acute nor so serious as it was painted by those who wished to favour
religious innovations or to ingratiate themselves with the king and
his advisers.[11]

But, even though there existed some differences of opinion about
matters concerned with the temporalities of the Church or the
privileges of the clergy, there is no indication during the thirty
years preceding the revolt of any marked hostility to the doctrines
and practices of the Church. In an earlier age the Lollards, as the
followers of Wycliff were called, put forward doctrines closely akin
to those advocated by the early Reformers, notably in regard to the
constitution of the Church, the Papacy, the Scriptures,
Transubstantiation, Purgatory, and Tradition, but the severe measures
adopted by both Church and State had succeeded in breaking the
influence of Lollardy in England. Very few if any followers of this
sect remained to disturb the peace of the community in the early years
of the reign of Henry VIII., though it is quite possible that the
memory of their teaching and of the sturdy struggle which they had
waged did not fail to produce its effects at a later period. It is
true that in 1512 the statement is attributed to the Bishop of London
in connexion with the trial of an ecclesiastic, that on account of
their leaning towards heresy any twelve men of the city would bring in
a verdict of guilty against a cleric placed on his trial before
them,[12] but it is impossible to believe that such a statement
conveys an accurate view of the state of affairs. It is out of harmony
with the results of the episcopal visitations, with the records of the
few trials for heresy which took place, most of which resulted in the
repentance of the alleged culprits, and with the considered judgment
of such a well qualified contemporary authority as Sir Thomas More.

It is certain that during the first quarter of the sixteenth century
the student of history will search in vain for any evidence of
opposition among the clergy and people of England to the spiritual
supremacy of the Holy See. Disputes there had been, some of which were
peculiarly bitter in their tone, between the English sovereigns and
the Pope. Complaints had been made by the clergy against what they
considered the unwarranted interferences of the Roman Curia in
domestic affairs; but these disputes and complaints were concerned
either with purely secular matters, as for example the annual tribute
claimed by the Holy See since the famous surrender of the kingdom made
by King John, or with the temporal side of the spiritual jurisdiction.
The clergy and people resented generally the wholesale rights of
reservation exercised by the Pope in regard to English benefices, the
appointment of foreigners to offices in England, the heavy taxes
levied by the Roman Curia directly or indirectly in the shape of
Annats or First Fruits, the withdrawal of comparatively trivial cases
from the local courts, and the exercise of jurisdiction over the
highest dignitaries of England by the legates commissioned by the Holy
See. But it is one thing to criticise the actual working of papal
supremacy as interpreted by Roman officials, or to seek to limit its
exercise in the every-day life of any particular church, and another
to call in question the supremacy itself. The English clergy and
people did, indeed, object to allow papal supremacy to be pushed too
far in what they regarded as purely domestic affairs, but even in the
most prolonged and heated discussions they never once questioned the
fact that the Pope was Supreme Head of the Church in England, or that
he was Supreme Head of the Catholic Church throughout the world.

The Statute of Provisors (1350-1), by which all appointments to
English benefices were to be made by canonical election or by the
nomination of lay patrons to the exclusion of papal provisions, is
cited sometimes as a proof that the English nation disregarded the
claims of the Holy See, but with equal justice and for a similar
reason it might be maintained that the Council of Trent rejected the
Supremacy of the Pope (Session xxiv., chap. 19). The Statute was
called for, owing to the spiritual and economic losses inflicted on
the country by the appointment of foreigners, and its passage was
secured mainly by the lay patrons, whose rights of patronage were
infringed by the constant stream of papal provisions. It was neither
inspired by hostility to the Holy See, nor by any doubt about the
supremacy of the Pope, and in itself it was a piece of legislation
that might have merited the approval of the most loyal supporters of
Rome. But as a matter of fact, lest their acceptance of such a measure
might be misunderstood, the English bishops offered the most strenuous
opposition to the Statute of Provisors and insisted that their
protests against it should be registered, a policy which, it might be
added, was followed by the University of Oxford. The bishops demanded
later on that it should be repealed. Their request was not granted,
but from the numerous provisions made to bishoprics in England and
from the appointments made to English benefices during the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries it is evident that the Statute was allowed to
fall into abeyance. Similarly the Statute of Praemunire (1353) by
which it was forbidden under the penalty of forfeiture and outlawry to
bring cases cognizable in the English courts before foreign courts, or
to introduce into the realm provisions, reservations, or letters
contrary to the rights of the king or his subjects, was passed to
prevent an undoubted abuse at the time, and was enforced rarely as the
frequent appeals to Rome amply prove.

These measures serve to indicate at most only the attitude of the
Crown towards the Pope, not the attitude of the English clergy and
people. The loyal submission of the latter is evidenced from the papal
appointments to bishoprics and benefices, from the First Fruits paid
willingly to the Holy See by those who were called upon to pay them,
by the constant interference of the Holy See in regard to the division
and boundaries of parishes, the visitation of monasteries, the rights
of bishops, etc., as well as by the courts held in England in virtue
of the jurisdiction of the Pope. That the Pope was above the law and
that to dispute the authority of a papal decree was to be guilty of
heresy was a principle recognised by the English ecclesiastical
authorities and accepted also in practice by English jurists. The
oaths of loyalty to the Holy See taken by all the archbishops and
bishops, the tone and form of the letters addressed to the Pope, the
assertion of papal rights against the errors and attacks of Wycliff
and Luther, the full admission of papal supremacy contained in Henry
VIII.'s /Assertio Septem Sacramentorum/, and in the formal dying
declaration of Archbishop Warham of Canterbury (1533), and the
resolute attitude of two such learned representatives of the English
clergy and laity as Bishop Fisher of Rochester and Sir Thomas More,
are in themselves sufficient to establish the fact that in the days of
Henry VIII. England joined with the rest of the Catholic world in
recognising the supreme spiritual jurisdiction of the Bishop of

The controversies which had raged were not concerned with spiritual
supremacy nor were they peculiar to England. Much worse ones had
arisen to disturb the friendly relations that should exist between the
Holy See and France or Spain, and yet nobody would care to deny that
both of these nations acknowledged their subjection to Rome. Neither
were they between the English clergy or the English people and the
Pope; they were waged rather between the Crown and the Holy See. As
royal absolutism began to develop in Europe the policy of kings was to
increase their power over the ecclesiastical organisation in their
dominions by lessening the authority of the Pope. This tendency is
brought out clearly in the concessions wrung from the Pope by
Ferdinand I. of Spain and Louis XII. of France, but more especially in
the Concordat negotiated between Leo X. and Francis I. (1516),
according to which all appointments in the French Church were vested
practically in the hands of the king. Henry VIII. was a careful
observer of Continental affairs and was as anxious as Francis I. to
strengthen his own position by grasping the authority of the Church.
He secured a /de facto/ headship of the Church in England when he
succeeded in getting Cardinal Wolsey invested with permanent legatine
powers. Through Wolsey he governed ecclesiastical affairs in England
for years, and on the fall of Wolsey he took into his own hands the
control that he had exercised already through his favourite and
minister. Had Leo X. consented to a concordat similar to that
concluded with France, whereby the royal demands would have been
conceded frankly and occasions of dispute removed, or else had he
taken the strong step of refusing to delegate his authority
indefinitely to a minister of the king, he would have prevented
trouble and misunderstanding, and would have made the battle for royal
supremacy much more difficult than it proved to be in reality.

[1] Lupton, /Life of Dean Colet/, 1887.

[2] Gasquet, /Eve of the Reformation/, 142.

[3] Chalmers, /History of the College ... of Oxford/. Mullinger, /The
University of Cambridge to 1535/.

[4] Leach, /English Schools at the Reformation/, 1896, p. 6 (a
valuable book).

[5] Gasquet, op. cit., ix-xiii., English works of Sir Thomas More,
1557, (especially /The Dyalogue/, 1529).

[6] Wilkins, /Concilia/, iii. 317.

[7] Gasquet, op. cit., chap. viii., /The Old English Bible/, iv., v.
Maitland, /The Dark Ages/, 1845, no. xii.

[8] Gairdner, /Lollardy and the Reformation/, vol. ii., 221-303.

[9] On this subject, cf. Gasquet, /Henry VIII. and the English
Monasteries/. Gairdner, /Lollardy and the Reformation/, vol. ii.,
3-221. Jessopp, /Visitation of the Diocese of Norwich/, 1492-1532
(Camden Society).

[10] /Cambridge Modern History/, i., chap. xv.

[11] On the relations between the clergy and the laity, cf. Gairdner,
op. cit., vol. i., 243-86. Gasquet, op. cit., chap. iii.-v.
Gairdner, /History of the English Church in the Sixteenth
Century/, 41-59.

[12] Gairdner, /History of the English Church/, p. 31.

[13] On this subject, cf. Lingard, /History of England/, iii., 126-33.
Wilkins, /Concilia/ (for documents bearing on the authority of the
Pope in England, see Index to this work). Lyndewood's /Provinciale
seu Constitutiones Angliae/ (1501, Synodal Constitutions of the
Province of Canterbury). Moyes, /How English Bishops were made
before the Reformation/ (/Tablet/, Dec., 1893). Maitland, /The
Roman Law in the Church of England, and English Law and the
Renaissance/, 1901. Gairdner, /Lollardy/, etc., i., 495-8.



See bibliography, chap. i., /Calendar of Letters and Papers Henry
VIII./, 18 vols., 1862-1902. Brewer Gairdner, /The Reign of Henry
VIII./, 2 vols., 1884. Gairdner, /Lollardy and the Reformation/, 4
vols., 1908-13. Dodd, /Church History of England (1500-1688)/,
1737-42 (a new edition by Tierney, 5 vols., 1839). Sander, /Rise
and Growth of the Anglican Schism/ (trans. by Lewis), 1877.
Gasquet, /Short History of the Catholic Church in England/, 1903.
Dixon, /History of the Church in England from 1529/, 6 vols.,
London, 1878-1902. Cobbett, /A History of the Reformation in
England and Ireland/ (edited by Gasquet). Pocock, /Records of the
Reformation/ 2 vols., 1870. Burnet, /History of the Reformation/
(edited by Pocock), 1865. Gasquet and Bishop, /Edward VI. and the
Book of Common Prayer/, 1890. Taunton, /The English Black Monks of
St. Benedict/, 2 vols., 1897. Camm, /Lives of the English Martyrs/
vol. i., 1904. Stone, /An Account of the Sufferings of the English
Franciscans, during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries/,
1892. Pollen, /Acts of English Martyrs/, etc., 1891. Spillman,
/Die Englischen Martyrer unter Heinrich VIII./, 2 auf., 1900.
/Martyrum Monachorum Carthusianorum in Anglia passio/, etc. (/An.
Bolland./, 1903). /The Month/ (1882, 1883, 1902, 1905).

The accession of Henry VIII. (1509-47) was hailed with joy by all
classes in England. Young, handsome, well-developed both in mind and
body, fond of outdoor games and amusements, affable and generous with
whomsoever he came into contact, he was to all appearances qualified
perfectly for the high office to which he had succeeded. With the
exception of Empson and Dudley, who were sacrificed for their share in
the execution of his father, most of the old advisers were retained at
the royal court; but the chief confidants on whose advice he relied
principally were his Chancellor Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury and
Lord Chancellor of England, Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester and Lord
Privy Seal, and Thomas Howard, afterwards Duke of Norfolk, Lord
Treasurer of the kingdom. Soon, however, these trusted and loyal
advisers were obliged to make way for a young and rising
ecclesiastical courtier, Thomas Wolsey[1] (1471-1530), who for close
on twenty years retained the first place in the affections of his
sovereign and the chief voice in the direction of English affairs. As
a youth, Wolsey's marvellous abilities astonished his teachers at
Magdalen College, where the boy bachelor, as he was called because he
obtained the B.A. degree at the age of fifteen, was regarded as a
prodigy. As a young man he was pushed forward by his patrons, the
Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Winchester, and won favour
at court by the successful accomplishment of a delicate mission
entrusted to him by Henry VII., till at last in 1511 he was honoured
by a seat in the privy council. New dignities were heaped upon him by
Pope and sovereign in turn. He was appointed Bishop of Lincoln and
Archbishop of York (1514), was created a cardinal of the Roman Church
(1515), and in a short time he accepted the offices of Lord Chancellor
and papal legate for England. If he did not succeed in reaching the
papal throne, a dignity to which he was induced to aspire by the
promise of Charles V., his position as legate made him at least
virtual head of the English Church. Instead of being annoyed, Henry
VIII. was delighted at the honours showered upon his Lord Chancellor
by the Roman court. With Wolsey as his obedient minister and at the
same time an ecclesiastical dictator, he felt that he had more
authority in ecclesiastical affairs than was granted to Francis I. by
the Concordat of 1516, and, though possibly at the time he did not
advert to it, he was thus preparing the way for exercising in his own
name the control that he had exercised for years through his chief
minister in the name of the Pope.

The dream of reconquering the English possessions in France induced
Henry VIII., during the early years of his reign, to side with the
Emperor Maximilian and Ferdinand of Spain against Louis XII.; but the
comparative failure of the expeditions undertaken against France, the
resentment of the people who were burdened with taxation, and the
advice of Cardinal Wolsey, led him to forego his schemes of conquest
for a time in favour of a policy of neutrality. The election of
Charles V. in 1519 changed the whole aspect of affairs on the
Continent, and raised new hopes both in the minds of Henry VIII. and
of his faithful minister. An alliance with Charles V. might mean for
England the complete subjugation of France, and for Cardinal Wolsey
the votes of the cardinals at the approaching conclave. While
pretending to act the part of mediator between the rival sovereigns,
Henry concluded a secret alliance with the Emperor in 1521, and
prepared to make war on France. The failure of the forces dispatched
under the Earl of Surrey, the disappointment of Wolsey when he found
himself deceived by Charles V. at the conclaves of 1521 and 1523, and
the outcry raised in Parliament and throughout the country against the
French war, induced Henry VIII. to reconsider his foreign policy. The
defeat and capture of Francis I. at Pavia (1525) placed France at the
mercy of the Emperor, and made it necessary for Henry to come to the
relief of his old enemy unless he wished to see England sink to the
level of an imperial province. Overtures for peace were made to
France, and in April 1527 Grammont, Bishop of Tarbes, arrived in
England to discuss the terms of an alliance. The position of Cardinal
Wolsey, which had been rendered critical by the hatred of the nobles,
who resented his rule as the rule of an upstart, and by the enmity of
the people, who regarded him as the author of the French war and of
the increased taxation, was now threatened seriously by the public
discussion of difficulties that had arisen in the mind of the king
regarding the validity of his marriage.

The Lutheran movement that broke out in Germany two years after
Cardinal Wolsey's acceptance of the twofold office of papal legate and
royal chancellor, found little favour in England. Here and there, at
Oxford, at Cambridge, and in London, individuals were found to
subscribe to portion of Luther's programme; but the great body of the
people remained unmoved by the tirades of the German reformers against
Rome. Henry VIII., whose attention to religion was noted as one of his
characteristics by the observant Ambassador of Venice, did not
hesitate to take the field against the enemies of the Holy See and
more especially against Luther himself. In a work entitled /Assertio
Septem Sacramentorum/ (Defence of the Seven Sacraments)[2] published
against Luther in 1521, he defended in no uncertain terms the rights
and privileges of the Holy See, and in return for the very valuable
services that he rendered to religion he was honoured by Leo X. with
the title /Fidei Defensor/ (Defender of the Faith, 1521).[3] The
example of the king, and the activity of Cardinal Wolsey and of the
bishops, made it impossible for the few individuals who favoured the
German movement to spread their views.

Were it not for Henry's eagerness to secure a separation from his
wife, Catharine of Aragon, it is highly improbable that the anti-Roman
agitation would have made any considerable progress in England.[4] In
1499 Henry's wife, Catharine of Aragon, had been betrothed by proxy to
his brother Prince Arthur, heir-apparent to the English throne. She
arrived in England two years later, and the marriage was solemnised at
St. Paul's on the 14th November, 1501. Prince Arthur was then only a
boy of fifteen years of age, and of so delicate a constitution that
fears were entertained by many that his wife must soon don the widow's
weeds. Unfortunately these fears were speedily justified. In April
1502 the Prince fell a victim to a pestilence that raged in the
district round Ludlow Castle to which he and his wife had retired. To
prevent quarrels between Ferdinand and Henry VII. regarding
Catharine's dowry, a marriage was arranged between Catharine and
Prince Henry. The necessary dispensation for a marriage with a
deceased brother's wife was granted by Julius II. (December 1503), and
according to the agreement between the courts of England and of Spain,
the marriage should have taken place as soon as Henry reached the age
of puberty; but owing to certain political changes in Spain, and the
prospect of securing a better match for the heir presumptive to the
English throne, Henry VII. arranged that Prince Henry should appear
before Fox, Bishop of Winchester, and lodge a formal protest against a
marriage agreement that had been concluded during his minority and
which he now declared to be null and void (17th June, 1505). This
protest was kept secret, but for years Catharine was treated with
neglect and left in doubt regarding her ultimate fate. As soon,
however, as Henry was free to act for himself on the death of his
father, the marriage between himself and Catharine was solemnised
publicly (1509), and on the 24th June of the same year the king and
queen were crowned at Westminster Abbey.

For years Henry and Catharine lived happily together as man and wife.
Several children were born to them, all of whom unfortunately died in
their infancy except the Princess Mary, afterwards Queen Mary of
England. Even before there was any question of separation from his
wife, Henry's relations with some of the ladies at court were not
above suspicion. By one, Elizabeth Blount, he had a son whom he
created Duke of Richmond and to whom at one time he thought of
bequeathing the crown of England. In a short time Mary, the eldest
sister of Anne Boleyn, succeeded to Elizabeth in the affections of the
king. The fact that Catharine was some years older than her husband,
that infirmity and sorrow for the death of her children had dimmed her
charms, and that there could be no longer any hope for the birth of an
heir to the throne, preyed on Henry's mind and made him not unwilling
to rid himself of a wife, whom, however, he could not but admire even
though she had forfeited his love. Were he to die there was no one to
succeed him but the Princess Mary, and her right to the throne might
be contested. Even though she succeeded, her marriage must inevitably
create great difficulties. Were she to marry a foreign prince, he
feared that England might become a province; were she to accept the
hand of an English nobleman, a disputed succession ending in civil war
was far from being improbable. His gloomy anticipations were shared in
by many of his advisers; and Wolsey, who had set his heart on uniting
the forces of England and France against the Emperor, was not
unwilling to set a seal on the new French anti-imperial alliance by
repudiating Henry's marriage with the Emperor's aunt, if such a
dissolution could be brought about without infringing the laws of God.

Though it would seem that doubts had long since arisen in Henry's mind
regarding the lawfulness of his marriage to his deceased brother's
wife, and that questions of policy may have influenced the attitude of
his advisers towards the projected separation, yet it is certain that
it was the charms of the young and accomplished Anne Boleyn, that
brought matters to a crisis. With her experience of the gay and
corrupt court of France, she was not likely to be mistaken about the
influence of her charms or the violence of the king's passion. She
would be the king's wife if he wished; but she would not be, like her
sister, the king's mistress. Overcome by the force of his desires, he
determined to rid himself of a wife of whom he was tired, in favour of
her young and more attractive rival. The fact that Catharine had been
married to his brother Arthur was seized upon by him to furnish a
decent pretext for the projected separation. His conscience, he
averred, reproached him for such an incestuous alliance, and for his
own peace of mind it was necessary, he maintained, to submit the
validity of his marriage to the decision of the Church.

There is no convincing evidence that the idea of a separation from
Catharine originated with Cardinal Wolsey, though the latter, longing
for a matrimonial alliance of his king with a French princess, and not
aware of Henry's intention with regard to Anne, was probably not sorry
when he learned of Henry's scruples; and it is not true to say that
the first doubts regarding the illegitimacy of the Princess Mary were
raised by the French Ambassador in 1527. The whole story of the
negotiations with France regarding Mary's marriage at the time, makes
it perfectly clear that her legitimacy was assumed. The divorce
proceedings originated in Henry's own mind, and the plan of marrying
Anne Boleyn was kept a secret from Wolsey and from most of the royal
advisers. When exactly the question of a separation from Catharine was
first mooted is uncertain; but there can be no doubt that early in
1527 active steps were taken to secure a condemnation of the marriage.
Wolsey entered warmly into the project, but most of the bishops whom
he consulted were not anxious to assist him; and what was still more
serious Fisher, the learned and saintly Bishop of Rochester, declared
himself from the beginning a determined opponent. The capture of Rome
by imperial troops (1527) made it imperative that the terms of the
French alliance should be completed at once, and Cardinal Wolsey set
out for Paris as the representative of England. While Wolsey was
absent in France arranging the terms of the alliance, Anne Boleyn took
occasion to warn Henry that his great minister was unreliable, that in
his heart he was opposed to the separation, and that without his
knowledge or consent negotiations should be opened directly with the
Roman court. An agent was dispatched to Rome and succeeded in securing
an interview with Clement VII., after the latter had made his escape
from Rome to Orvieto (December 1527). It was contended on behalf of
the king that the dispensation granted by Julius II. was null and
void. In proof of this it was contended: that in the Bull it had been
stated that Henry desired to marry Catharine, and that the marriage
was necessary for preserving peace between England and Spain, both of
which statements, it was alleged, were false; that at the time the
disposition was granted Henry was only twelve years of age and
therefore incapable of accepting it; that several persons mentioned in
the Bull, as for example, Queen Isabella and Henry VII., had died
before the marriage took place; and lastly that when Henry reached the
age of puberty he had protested against the marriage, thereby
renouncing for himself the favours granted in the Bull of
dispensation.[5] Later on it was contended, by those who favoured the
separation, that the dispensation was issued by the Pope on the
supposition that the marriage between Arthur and Catharine had not
been consummated, and that therefore, since this condition was not
verified, the dispensation was invalid. But here they were faced with
the difficulty that the great weight of evidence favoured the view
that the marriage had not been consummated; that in any case the
dispensation was ample enough to cover both the impediment of affinity
and public honesty; and that, whatever might be said against the Bull
of dispensation, no such objection could be urged against the brief
said to have been forwarded by the Pope to the court of Spain.[6] As
the English agents had been instructed to seek not merely the
appointment of a commission to declare the invalidity of the
dispensation, and consequently of the marriage, but also for a
dispensation which would permit the king to marry a woman related to
him in the first degree of affinity, whether the affinity had been
contracted by a lawful or unlawful connexion, it was thought prudent
not to lay stress on the argument that marriage with the deceased
brother's wife was prohibited by the divine law, and that, therefore,
the Pope could not grant a dispensation such as had been issued by
Julius II. At a later date great stress was laid upon this argument.

Clement VII., while not unwilling to grant the dispensation
requested,[7] did not think it consistent with his own honour or that
of the king, to grant the commission according to the terms drawn up
for him in England. A new embassy, consisting of Edward Foxe, and Dr.
Stephen Gardiner, Wolsey's secretary, was dispatched, and arrived at
Orvieto in March 1528. The victorious progress of the French armies in
Italy (1527-28), by relieving Clement VII. from the pressure of the
imperial party, favoured the petition of Henry VIII. Arguments drawn
from canon law and from theology were driven home by Gardiner with a
fluency and wealth of knowledge that astonished the papal advisers,
and when arguments failed, recourse was had to threats of an appeal to
a general council, and of the complete separation of England from the
Holy See. The decretal commission demanded by the English ambassadors
was, however, refused; but, in its place, a decree was issued
empowering Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Campeggio to try the case in
England and to pronounce a verdict in accordance with the evidence
submitted to them. As this fell very far short of what had been
demanded by the English envoys, new demands were made for a more ample
authority for the commission, and in view of the danger that
threatened the Catholic Church in England, Clement VII. yielded so far
as to promise that he would not revoke the jurisdiction of those whom
he had entrusted with the trial of the case (July 1528).[8]

Meanwhile news of what was in contemplation was noised abroad. Many of
the English merchants, fearing that hostility to the empire would lead
to an interruption of their trade especially with the Netherlands,
detested the new foreign policy of the king, while the great body of
the people were so strongly on the side of Catharine that were a
verdict to be given against her a popular rebellion seemed inevitable.
So pronounced was this feeling even in the city of London itself, that
Henry felt it necessary to summon the Lord Mayor and the Corporation
to the royal palace, where he addressed them on the question that was
then uppermost in men's minds. He spoke of Catharine in terms of the
highest praise, assured them that the separation proceedings were
begun, not because he was anxious to rid himself of a wife whom he
still loved, but because his conscience was troubled with scruples
regarding the validity of his marriage, and that the safety of the
kingdom was endangered by doubts which had been raised by the French
ambassador regarding the legitimacy of Princess Mary. To put an end to
these doubts, and to save the country from the horror of a disputed
succession, the Pope had appointed a commission to examine the
validity of the marriage; and to the judgment of that commission
whatever it might be he was prepared to yield a ready submission. He
warned his hearers, however, that if any person failed to speak of him
otherwise than became a loyal subject towards his sovereign condign
punishment would await him. To give effect to these words a search was
made for arms in the city, and strangers were commanded to depart from

Though the commission had been granted in April, Cardinal Campeggio
was in no hurry to undertake the work that was assigned to him. He did
not leave Rome till June, and he proceeded so leisurely on his journey
through France that it was only in the first week of October that he
arrived in London. In accordance with his instructions, he endeavoured
to dissuade the king from proceeding further with the separation, but
as Henry was determined to marry the lady of his choice even though it
should prove the ruin of his kingdom, all the efforts of Campeggio in
this direction were in vain. He next turned his attention to
Catharine, in the hope of persuading her to enter a convent, only to
discover that her refusal to take any step likely to cast doubts upon
her own marriage and the legitimacy of her daughter was fixed and
unalterable. At the queen's demand counsel was assigned to her to
plead her cause. The situation was complicated by the fact that Julius
II. appears to have issued two dispensations for Henry's marriage, one
contained in the Bull sent to England, the other in a brief forwarded
to Ferdinand in Spain. The queen produced a copy of the brief, which
was drawn up in such a way as to elude most of the objections that
were urged against the Bull on the ground that the marriage had been
consummated. The original of the brief was in the hands of the
Emperor, and various attempts were made to secure the original or to
have it pronounced a forgery by the Pope; but the Emperor was too wily
a diplomatist to be caught so easily, and the Pope refused either to
order its production or to condemn it without evidence as a
forgery.[10] This question of the brief was seized upon by Cardinal
Campeggio as a good opportunity for delaying the trial. At last on the
31st May 1529, the legates Wolsey and Campeggio opened the court at
Blackfriars, and summoned Henry and Catharine to appear before them in
person or by proxy on the 18th June. Both king and queen answered the
summons, the latter, however, merely to demand justice publicly from
the king, to protest against the competence and impartiality of the
tribunal, and to lodge a formal appeal to Rome. Her appeal was
disallowed, and on her refusal to take any further part in the trial
she was condemned as contumacious; but even still she was not without
brave and able defenders. Bishop Fisher of Rochester spoke out
manfully against the unnatural and unlawful proceedings,[11] and his
protest found an echo not merely in the court itself but throughout
the country. The friends of Henry, fearing that the Pope might revoke
the power of the legates, clamoured for an immediate verdict; but this
Campeggio was determined to prevent at all costs. By insisting upon
all the formalities of law he took care to delay the proceedings till
the 23rd July, when he announced that the legatine court should follow
the rules of the Roman court, and should, therefore, adjourn to
October. Already he was aware of the fact that Clement VII., yielding
to the entreaties of Catharine and the demands of the Emperor, had
reserved the decision of the case to Rome (19th July), and that the
summons to the king and queen to proceed there to plead their cause
was already on its way to England.[12]

Henry, disguising his real feelings, pretended to be satisfied; but in
reality his disappointment was extreme. Anne Boleyn and her friends
threw the blame entirely on Wolsey. They suggested that the cardinal
had acted a double part throughout the entire proceedings. For a time
there was a conflict in the king's mind between the suggestions of his
friends and the memory of Wolsey's years of loyal service; but at last
Henry was won over to the party of Anne, and Wolsey was doomed to
destruction. He was deprived of the office of Lord Chancellor which
was entrusted to Sir Thomas More (Oct. 1529), accused of violating the
statute of Praemunire by exercising legatine powers, a charge to which
he pleaded guilty though he might have alleged in his defence the
permission and authority of the king, indicted before Parliament as
guilty of high treason, from the penalty of which he was saved by the
spirited defence of his able follower Thomas Cromwell (Dec.), and
ordered to withdraw to his diocese of York (1530). His conduct in
these trying times soon won the admiration of both friends and foes.
The deep piety and religion of the man, however much they might have
been concealed by his fondness for pomp and display during the days of
his glory, helped him to withstand manfully the onslaughts of his
opponents. His time was spent in prayer and in the faithful discharge
of his episcopal duties, but the enemies who had secured his downfall
at court were not satisfied. They knew that he had still a strong hold
on the affections of the king, and they feared that were any foreign
complications to ensue he might be recalled to court and restored to
his former dignities. They determined therefore to bring about his
death. An order for his arrest and committal to the Tower was issued,
but death intervened and saved him from the fate that was in store for
him. Before reaching London he took suddenly ill, and died after
having received the last consolations of religion (Nov. 1530).

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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] 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).[16] 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.[17] 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

This letter of Henry VIII. was clearly an ultimatum, non-compliance
with which meant open war. At the beginning of 1531 steps were taken
to prepare the way for royal supremacy. For exercising legatine powers
in England Cardinal Wolsey had been indicted and found guilty of the
violation of the stature of Praemunire, and as the clergy had
submitted to his legatine authority they were charged as a body with
being participators in his guilt. The attorney-general filed an
information against them to the court of King's Bench, but when
Convocation met it was intimated to the clergy that they might procure
pardon for the offence by granting a large contribution to the royal
treasury and by due submission to the king. The Convocation of
Canterbury offered a sum of £100,000, but the offer was refused unless
the clergy were prepared to recognise the king as the sole protector
and supreme head of the church and clergy in England. To such a novel
proposal Convocation showed itself decidedly hostile, but at last
after many consultations had been held Warham, the aged Archbishop of
Canterbury, proposed that they should acknowledge the king as "their
singular protector only, and supreme lord, and as far as the law of
Christ allows even supreme head." "Whoever is silent," said the
archbishop, "may be taken to consent," and in this way by the silence
of the assembly the new formula was passed.[19] At the Convocation of
York, Bishop Tunstall of Durham, while agreeing to a money payment,
made a spirited protest against the new title, to which protest Henry
found it necessary to forward a reassuring reply. Parliament then
ratified the pardon for which the clergy had paid so dearly, and to
set at rest the fears of the laity a free pardon was issued to all
those who had been involved in the guilt of the papal legate.

Clement VII. issued a brief in January 1531, forbidding Henry to marry
again and warning the universities and the law courts against giving a
decision in a case that had been reserved for the decision of the Holy
See. When the case was opened at the Rota in the same month an
excusator appeared to plead, but as he had no formal authority from
the king he was not admitted. The case, however, was postponed from
time to time in the hope that Henry might relent. In the meantime at
the king's suggestion several deputations waited upon Catharine to
induce her to recall her appeal to Rome. Annoyed by her obstinacy
Henry sent her away from court, and separated from her her daughter.
After November 1531, the king and queen never met again. Popular
feeling in London and throughout England was running high against the
divorce, and against any breach with the Emperor, who might close the
Flemish markets to the English merchants. The clergy, who were
indignant that their representatives should have paid such an immense
sum to secure pardon for an offence of which they had not been more
guilty than the king himself, remonstrated warmly against the taxation
that had been levied on their revenues. Unmindful of the popular
commotion, Henry proceeded to usurp the power of the Pope and of the
bishops, and though he was outwardly stern in the repression of
heresy, the friends of the Lutheran movement in England boasted
publicly that the king was on their side.

When Parliament met again (Jan. 1532), the attacks on the clergy were
renewed. A petition against the bishops, drawn up by Thomas Cromwell
at the suggestion of Henry,[20] was presented in the name of the House
of Commons to the king. In this petition the members were made to
complain that the clergy enacted laws and statutes in Convocation
without consulting the king or the Commons, that suitors were treated
harshly before the ecclesiastical courts, that in regard to probates
the people were worried by excessive fees and unnecessary delays, and
that the number of holidays was injurious to trade and agriculture.
This complaint was forwarded to Convocation for a reply. The bishops,
while vindicating for the clergy the right to make their own laws and
statutes, showed themselves not unwilling to accept a compromise, but
Parliament at the instigation of Henry refused to accept their
proposals. The king, who was determined to crush the power of the
clergy, insisted that Convocation should abandon its right to make
constitutions or ordinances without royal permission, and that the
ordinances passed already should be submitted to a mixed commission
appointed by the authority of the crown. Such proposals, so contrary
to the customs of the realm and so destructive of the independence of
the Church, could not fail to be extremely disagreeable to the
bishops; but in face of the uncompromising attitude of the king they
were forced to give way, and in a document known as the /Submission of
the Clergy/ they sacrificed the legislative rights of Convocation (May
1532). They agreed to enact no new canons, constitutions or ordinances
without the king's consent, that those already passed should be
submitted to a committee consisting of clergy and laymen nominated by
the king, and that the laws adopted by this committee and approved by
the king should continue in full force. Sir Thomas More, who had
worked hard in defence of the Church, promptly resigned his office of
Lord Chancellor that he might have a freer hand in the crisis that had

In March 1532 another step was taken to overawe the Roman court and
force the Pope to yield to Henry's demands. An Act was passed
abolishing the Annats or First Fruits paid to Rome by all bishops on
their appointment to vacant Sees. If the Pope should refuse to appoint
without such payments, it was enacted that the consecration should be
carried out by the archbishop of the province without further recourse
to Rome. Such a measure, tending so directly towards schism, met with
strong opposition in the House of Lords from the bishops, abbots, and
many of the lay lords, as it did also in the House of Commons. In the
end, it was passed only on the understanding that it should not take
effect for a year, and that in the meantime if an agreement could be
arrived at with the Pope, the king might by letters patent repeal it.
Henry instructed his ambassador at Rome to inform Clement VII. that
this legislation against Annats was entirely the work of the
Parliament, and that if the Pope wished for its withdrawal he must
show a more conciliatory spirit towards the king and people of

The Pope, however, refused to yield to such intimidation. When news
arrived at Rome that Henry had sent away Catharine from court, the
question of excommunication was considered, but as the excommunication
of a king was likely to be fraught with such serious consequences for
the English Church, Clement VII. hesitated to publish it in the hope
that Henry might see the error of his ways. The trial was delayed from
time to time until at last in November 1532 the Pope addressed a
strong letter to the king, warning him under threat of excommunication
to put away Anne Boleyn, and not to attempt to divorce Catharine or to
marry another until a decision had been given in Rome.[22] By this
time the king had given up all hope of securing the approval of Rome
for the step he contemplated. Even in England the divorce from
Catharine found much opposition from both clergy and laity. Sir Thomas
More and many of the nobles were on the side of Catharine, as were
also Bishop Fisher of Rochester and Bishop Tunstall of Durham. Even
Reginald Pole, the king's own cousin, who had been educated at Henry's
expense, and for whom the Archbishopric of York had been kept vacant,
refused the tempting offers that were made to him on condition that he
would espouse the cause of separation. He preferred instead to leave
England rather than act against his conscience by supporting
Catherine's divorce.[23] Fortunately for Henry at this moment Warham,
the aged Archbishop of Canterbury, who was a stout defender of the
Holy See,[24] passed away (Aug. 1532). The king determined to secure
the appointment of an archbishop upon whom he could rely for the
accomplishment of his designs, and accordingly Thomas Cranmer was
selected and presented to Rome. After much hesitation, and merely as
the lesser of two evils, his appointment was confirmed.

Thomas Cranmer was born in Nottingham, and educated in Cambridge. He
married early in life, but his wife having died within a few months,
he determined to take holy orders. His suggestion to submit the
validity of Henry's marriage to the judgment of the universities,
coming as it did at a time when Henry was at his wits' end, showed him
to be a man of resource whose services should be secured by the court.
He was appointed accordingly chaplain to Anne Boleyn's father, and was
one of those sent on the embassy to meet the Pope and Charles V. at
Bologna. During his wanderings in Germany he was brought into close
relationship with many of the leading Reformers, and following their
teaching and example he took to himself a wife in the person of the
well-known Lutheran divine, Osiander. Such a step, so highly
objectionable to the Church authorities and likely to be displeasing
to Henry, who in spite of his own weakness insisted on clerical
celibacy, was kept a secret, though it is not at all improbable that
the secret had reached the ears of the king. At the time when the
latter had made up his mind to set Rome at defiance, he knew how
important it was for him to sacrifice his own personal predilections,
for the sake of having a man of Cranmer's pliability as Archbishop of
Canterbury, and head of the clergy in England. On the 30th March,
1533, Cranmer was consecrated archbishop, and took the usual oath of
obedience and loyalty to the Pope; but immediately before the
ceremony, he registered a formal protest that he considered the oath a
mere form, and that he wished to hold himself free to provide for the
reformation of the Church in England.[25] Such a step indicates
clearly enough the character of the first archbishop of the
Reformation in England.

To prepare the way for the sentence that might be published at any
moment by the Pope a bill was introduced forbidding appeals to Rome
under penalty of Praemunire, and declaring that all matrimonial suits
should be decided in England, and that the clergy should continue
their ministrations in spite of any censures or interdicts that might
be promulgated by the Pope. The bill was accepted by the House of
Lords, but met with serious opposition in the Commons. An offer was
made to raise £200,000 for the king's use if only he would refer the
whole question to a General Council, but in the end, partly by threats
and partly by deception regarding the attitude of the Pope and the
Emperor, the opposition was induced to give way and the bill became
law. By this Act it was declared that the realm of England should be
governed by one supreme head and king, to whom both spirituality and
temporality were bound to yield, "next to God a natural and humble
obedience," that the English Church was competent to manage its own
affairs without the interference of foreigners, and that all spiritual
cases should be heard and determined by the king's jurisdiction and
authority.[26] The question of the divorce was brought before the
Convocation in March 1533, and though Fisher spoke out boldly in
defence of Catharine's marriage, his brethren failed to support him,
and Convocation declared against the legitimacy of the marriage.

Henry was now free to throw off the mask. He could point to the
verdict given in his favour by both Parliament and Convocation, and
could rely on Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury to carry out his
wishes. In order to provide for the legitimacy of the child that was
soon to be born, he had married Anne Boleyn privately in January 1533.
In April Cranmer requested permission to be allowed to hold a court to
consider Henry's marriage with Catharine, to which request, inspired
as it had been by himself, the king graciously assented. The court sat
at Dunstable, where Catharine was cited to appear. On her refusal to
plead she was condemned as contumacious. Sentence was given by the
archbishop that her marriage with Henry was invalid (23rd April,
1533). Cranmer next turned his attention to Henry's marriage with
Anne, and as might be expected, this pliant minister had no difficulty
in pronouncing in its favour. On Whit Sunday (1533) Anne was crowned
as queen in Westminster Abbey. The popular feeling in London and
throughout the kingdom was decidedly hostile to the new queen and to
the French ambassador, who was blamed for taking sides against
Catharine, but Henry was so confident of his own power that he was
unmoved by the conduct of the London mob. In September, to the great
disappointment of the king who had been led by the astrologers and
sorcerers to believe that he might expect the advent of an heir, a
daughter was born to whom was given the name Elizabeth.

The Pope, acting on the request of the French and English ambassadors,
had delayed to pronounce a definitive sentence, but the news of
Henry's marriage with Anne and of the verdict that had been
promulgated by the Archbishop of Canterbury made it imperative that
decisive measures should be taken. On the 11th July it was decreed
that Henry's divorce from Catharine and his marriage with Anne were
null and void.[27] Sentence of excommunication against him was
prepared, but its publication was postponed till September, when an
interview had been arranged to take place between the Pope and Francis
I. Francis I. was not without hope even still that an amicable
settlement could be arranged. Throughout the whole proceedings he had
espoused warmly Henry's cause, in the belief that England, having
broken completely with Catharine's nephew Charles V., might be forced
to conclude an alliance with France; but he never wished that Henry
VIII. should set the Holy See at defiance, or that England should be
separated from the Catholic Church. To the Pope and to Henry he had
addressed his remonstrances and petitions in turn, but events had
reached such a climax that mediation was almost an impossibility. The
interview arranged between the Pope and Francis I. took place at
Marseilles in October 1533. Regardless of all the rules of diplomatic
courtesy and of good manners, Henry's representative forced his way
into the presence of the Pope, and announced to him that the King of
England had appealed from the verdict of Rome to the judgment of a
General Council. Notices of this appeal were posted up in London, and
preachers were ordered to declaim against the authority of the Pope,
who was to be styled henceforth Bishop of Rome, and whose sentences
and excommunications, the people were to be informed, were of no
greater importance than those of any other foreign bishop. The way was
now open for the final act of separation.

Parliament met in January 1534. The law passed the previous year
against the payment of annats was now promulgated. According to this
Act the Pope was not to be consulted for the future regarding
appointments to English Sees. When a bishopric became vacant, the
chapter having received the /Congé d'élire/ should proceed to elect
the person named in the royal letters accompanying the /Congé/, and
the person so elected should be presented to the metropolitan for
consecration. In case of a metropolitan See, the archbishop-elect
should be consecrated by another metropolitan and two bishops or by
four bishops appointed by the crown. Another Act was passed forbidding
the payment of Peter's Pence and all other fees and pensions paid
formerly to Rome. The Archbishop of Canterbury was empowered to grant
dispensations, and the penalties of Praemunire were levelled against
all persons who should apply for faculties to the Pope. By a third Act
a prohibition against appeals to Rome was renewed, although it was
permitted to appeal from the court of the Archbishop of Canterbury to
the king's Court of Chancery. Convocation was forbidden to enact any
new ordinances without the consent of the king, and those passed
already were to be subject to revision by a royal commission. Finally,
an Act was passed vesting the succession in the children of Henry and
Anne to the exclusion of the Princess Mary. The marriage with
Catharine was declared null and void by Parliament on the ground
principally that no man could dispense with God's law, and to prevent
such incestuous unions in the future a list of the forbidden degrees
was drawn up, and ordered to be exhibited in the public churches. To
question the marriage of Henry with Anne Boleyn by writing, word,
deed, or act was declared to be high treason, and all persons should
take an oath acknowledging the succession under pain of misprision of
treason. That the Parliament was forced to adopt these measures
against its own better judgment is clear from the small number of
members who took their seats in the House of Lords, as well as from
the fact that some of the Commoners assured the imperial ambassador
that were his master to invade England he might count on considerable

In Rome the agents of Francis I., fearing that an alliance between
France and England would be impossible were Henry to throw off his
allegiance to the Church, moved heaven and earth to prevent a
definitive sentence. The fact that the Emperor was both unable and
unwilling to enforce the decision of the Pope, and that instead of
desiring the excommunication and deposition of Henry he was opposed to
such a step, made it more difficult for the Pope to take decisive
measures. Finally after various consultations with the cardinals,
sentence was given declaring the marriage with Catharine valid and the
children born of that marriage legitimate (23rd March, 1534). When the
news of this decision reached England Henry was alarmed. He feared
that the Emperor might declare war at any moment, that an imperial
army might be landed on the English shores, and that Francis I.
yielding to the entreaties of the Pope might make common cause with
the imperialists. Orders were given to strengthen the fortifications,
and to hold the fleet in readiness. Agents were dispatched to secure
the neutrality of France, and preachers were commanded to denounce the
Bishop of Rome. As matters stood, however, there was no need for such
alarm. The Emperor had enough to engage his attention in Spain and
Germany, and the enmity between Charles V. and the King of France was
too acute to prevent them from acting together even in defence of
their common religion.

Meantime it was clear to Henry that popular feeling was strong against
his policy, but instead of being deterred by this, he became more
obstinate and determined to show the people that his wishes must be
obeyed. A nun named Elizabeth Barton, generally known as the "Nun of
Kent," claimed to have been favoured with special visions from on
high. She denounced the king's marriage with Anne, and bewailed the
spread of heresy in the kingdom. People flocked from all parts to
interview her, and even Cranmer pretended to be impressed by her
statements. She and many of her principal supporters were arrested and
condemned to death (Nov. 1534). It was hoped that by her confession it
might be possible to placate Bishop Fisher, who was specially hated by
Henry on account of the stand he had made on the question of the
marriage, and the late Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More. Both had met
the nun, but had been careful to avoid everything that could be
construed even remotely as treason. In the Act of Attainder introduced
into Parliament against Elizabeth Barton and her confederates, the
names of Fisher and More were included, but so strong was the feeling
in More's favour that his name was erased. Fisher, although able to
clear himself from all reasonable grounds of suspicion, was found
guilty of misprision of treason and condemned to pay a fine of £300.
Fisher and More were then called upon to take the oath of succession,
which, as drawn up, included, together with an acknowledgement of the
legitimacy of the children born of Henry and Anne, a repudiation of
the primacy of the Pope, and of the validity of Henry's marriage with
Catharine. Both were willing to accept the succession as fixed by Act
of Parliament, but neither of them could accept the other
propositions. They were arrested therefore and lodged in the Tower
(April 1534).

Commissions were appointed to minister the oath to the clergy and
laity, most of whom accepted it, some through fear of the consequences
of refusal and others in the hope of receiving a share of the monastic
lands, which, it was rumoured, would soon be at the disposal of the
king. A royal commission consisting of George Brown, Prior of the
Augustinian Hermits, and Dr. Hilsey, Provincial of the Dominicans, was
appointed to visit the religious houses and to obtain the submission
of the members (April 1534). By threats of dissolution and
confiscation they secured the submission of most of the monastic
establishments with the exception of the Observants of Richmond and
Greenwich and the Carthusians of the Charterhouse, London. Many of the
members of these communities were arrested and lodged in the Tower,
and the decree went forth that the seven houses belonging to the
Observants, who had offered a strenuous opposition to the divorce,
should be suppressed.[28] The Convocations of Canterbury and York
submitted, as did also the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

When Parliament met again in November 1534 a bill was introduced
proclaiming the king supreme head of the Church in England. The
measure was based upon the recognition of royal supremacy extracted
from Convocation three years before, but with the omission of the
saving clause "as far as the law of Christ allows." According to this
Act it was declared that the king "justly and rightly is and ought to
be the supreme head of the Church in England, and to enjoy all the
honours, dignities, pre-eminences, jurisdictions, privileges,
authorities, immunities, profits and commodities" appertaining to the
dignity of the supreme head of the Church.[29] An Act of Attainder was
passed against Fisher, More, and all others who had refused
submission. The First Fruits, formerly paid to the Pope, were to be
paid to the king, and bishops were allowed to appoint men approved by
the crown to be their assistants.

By these measures the constitution of the Church, as it had been
accepted for centuries by the English clergy and laity, was
overturned. The authority of the Pope was rejected in favour of the
authority of the king, who was to be regarded in the future as the
source of all ecclesiastical jurisdiction. This great religious
revolution was carried out without the consent of the bishops and
clergy. With the single exception of Cranmer the bishops to a man
opposed the change, and if they and the great body of the clergy made
their submission in the end, they did so not because they were
convinced by the royal arguments, but because they feared the royal
displeasure. Neither was the change favoured by any considerable
section of the nobles and people. The former were won over partly by
fear, partly by hope of securing a share in the plunder of the Church;
the latter, dismayed by the cowardly attitude shown by their spiritual
and lay leaders, saw no hope of successful resistance. Had there been
any strong feeling in England against the Holy See, some of the
bishops and clergy would have spoken out clearly against the Pope, at
a time when such a step would have merited the approval of the king.
The fact that the measure could have been passed in such circumstances
is in itself the best example of what is meant by Tudor despotism, in
the days when an English Parliament was only a machine for registering
the wishes of the king.

In January 1535 an order was made that the king should be styled
supreme head of the Church of England. Thomas Cromwell, who had risen
rapidly at court in spite of the disgrace of his patron, Cardinal
Wolsey, was entrusted with the work of forcing the clergy and laity to
renounce the authority of the Pope. The bishops were commanded to
surrender the Bulls of appointment they had received from Rome, and to
acknowledge expressly that they recognised the royal supremacy.
Cromwell was appointed the king's vicar-general, from whom the bishops
and archbishops were obliged to take their directions. Severe measures
were to be used against anybody who spoke even in private in favour of
Rome. The Prior of the London Charterhouse and some other Carthusians
were brought to trial for refusing to accept the royal supremacy
(April, 1535). After an able and uncompromising defence they were
found guilty of treason and were put to death with the most revolting
cruelty.[30] Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More, who were prisoners in
the Tower, were allowed some time to consider their course of conduct.
Fisher declared that he could not acknowledge the king as supreme head
of the Church. While he lay in prison awaiting his trial, Paul III.,
in acknowledgment of his loyal services to the Church, conferred on
him a cardinal's hat. This honour, however well merited, served only
to arouse the ire of the king. He declared that by the time the hat
should arrive Fisher should have no head on which to wear it, and to
show that this was no idle threat a peremptory order was dispatched
that unless Fisher and More took the oath before the feast of St. John
they should suffer the penalty prescribed for traitors. Fisher,
together with some monks of the Carthusians, was brought to trial
(June 1535), and was found guilty of treason for having declared that
the king was not supreme head of the Church. The prisoners were
condemned to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. In the case of the
Carthusians the sentence was carried out to the letter, but as it was
feared that Fisher might die before he reached Tyburn he was beheaded
in the Tower (22nd June), and his head was impaled on London

Sir Thomas More was placed on his trial in Westminster Hall before a
special commission (1st July). Able lawyer as he was, he had no
difficulty in showing that by silence he had committed no crime and
broken no Act of Parliament, but no defence could avail him against
the wishes of the king. The jury promptly returned a verdict of
guilty. Before sentence was passed the prisoner spoke out manfully
against royal supremacy, and in defence of the authority of Rome. He
declared that the Act of Parliament, which conferred on the king the
title of supreme head of the Church, was opposed both to the laws of
God and man, that it was in flagrant contradiction to the Magna
Charta, and that the king of England could no more refuse obedience to
the Holy See than a child could refuse obedience to his father. Even
after his trial and condemnation another attempt was made to induce
him to submit, but he refused, and on the 6th July he finished his
career as a martyr for Rome.[32]

The execution of Fisher and More showed plainly to all that the breach
with Rome was not likely to be healed. When news of what had taken
place in England reached Rome Paul III. was anxious to issue a decree
of deposition against Henry. Had he done so, and had he been supported
by the Emperor and Francis I. there is no doubt that many of the
English noblemen would have joined the standard of the invaders, but
the hostility between France and the Emperor saved Henry. Neither
party was willing to aid the Pope lest the other should form an
alliance with England. Fearing such a union, however, between Francis
I. and Charles V. Henry hastened to seek the aid of the Protestant
princes of Germany. From 1531 he had been in communication with them
urging them to be careful about introducing religious innovations, but
he was now so alarmed lest the Emperor and the King of France might
join hands to assist the Pope in convoking a General Council, that
English envoys were directed to meet the Protestant princes at
Schmalkald (1535), to arrange for common action. A close union between
England and the Protestant states of Germany could not be effected,
because the Protestant princes insisted that Henry should accept the
Confession of Augsburg, and Henry refused to permit such interference
in the religious affairs of England. Still, English divines were
instructed to remain at Wittenberg, and Lutheran theologians were
invited to come to England for the discussion of religious

Meanwhile Cromwell was engaged in a visitation of the monasteries of
England (1535). To bring home to the minds of the bishops the meaning
of royal supremacy, he suspended their visitations while the royal
visitors were at work. Cromwell, unable to undertake the duty himself,
appointed delegates, and supplied them with the list of questions that
should be administered. His principal delegates were Richard Leyton
and Thomas Leigh, both men, as is evident from their own letters, who
were not likely to be over scrupulous about the methods they employed.
They were harsh, rude, and brutal in their treatment of both monks and
nuns, especially in houses where they suspected hostility to the
recent laws. They used every means in their power to break up the
harmony of religious life, and to unsettle the minds of the younger
members of the communities. In a few months the visitations were
finished, and the reports of the visitors were presented to Cromwell.
According to these reports most of the monasteries and convents were
homes of sin and vice, and many of the monks and nuns were guilty of
heinous crimes, but, though in particular instances there may have
been some grounds for these charges, there is good reason for not
accepting as trustworthy this account of monastic discipline. In the
first place the royal visitors traversed the country with such
lightning-like rapidity that it would have been impossible for them to
arrive at a correct judgment even had they been impartial and honest
men. That they were neither honest nor impartial is clear enough from
their own correspondence. They were sent out by Cromwell to collect
evidence that might furnish a decent pretext for suppressing the
monasteries and for confiscating the monastic possessions, and they
took pains to show their master that his confidence in them had not
been misplaced. Their only mistake was that in their eagerness to
black the character of the unfortunate religious they exceeded the
limits of human credulity. They positively revelled in sin, and the
scandals they reported were of such a gross and hideous kind that it
is impossible to believe that they could have been true, else the
people, instead of taking up arms to defend the religious houses,
would have risen in revolt to suppress such abominations. Nor is it
correct to say that the /Comperta/ were submitted to Parliament for
discussion, and that the members were so shocked by the tale they
unfolded that they clamoured for the suppression of these iniquitous
institutions. There is abundant evidence to prove that Parliament was
reluctant to take any action against the religious houses, that it was
only by the personal intervention of the king that the bill for the
suppression of the lesser monasteries was allowed to pass, and that it
is at least doubtful if any but general statements founded on the
/Comperta/ were brought before Parliament. The story of the production
of the "Black Book" supposed to contain the reports is of a much later
date, and comes from sources that could not be regarded as
unprejudiced. It had its origin probably in a misunderstanding of the
nature of the /Compendium Compertorum/, which dealt only with parishes
of the northern province. It is strange that though the commissioners
made no distinction between the condition of the larger and the
smaller monasteries, the Act of Parliament based upon these reports
decreed only the suppression of the smaller monasteries, as if vice
and neglect of discipline were more likely to reign in the small
rather than in the larger communities; and it is equally strange that
the superiors of many of the houses, about which unfavourable reports
had been presented, were promoted to high ecclesiastical offices by
the king and by his vicar-general, who should have been convinced of
the guilt and unworthiness of such ministers, had they trusted their
own commissioners. In the case of some of the dioceses, as for example
Norwich, it is possible to compare the results of an episcopal
visitation held some years previously with the reports of Cromwell's
commissioners, and though it is sufficiently clear from these earlier
reports that all was not well with discipline, the discrepancy between
the accounts of the bishops and the royal commissioners is so
striking, that it is difficult to believe that the houses could have
degenerated so rapidly in so short a space of time as to justify the
/Comperta/ of the commissioners. But what is still more striking is
the fact that after the decree of suppression had gone forth, other
commissioners, drawn largely from the local gentry, many of whom were
to share in the plunder of the monastic lands, visited several of the
houses against which serious charges had been made, and found nothing
worthy of special blame. These men were not likely to be prejudiced in
favour of the monks and nuns. They were well acquainted with the
people of the district, and had every opportunity of learning the
verdict of the masses about the discipline of the religious
communities. They were, therefore, in a much better position to arrive
at the truth than the royal commissioners who could only pay a flying
visit of a few hours or at most of a few days.[34]

The real object of the visitation and of the scandalous reports to
which it gave rise, was to secure some specious pretext that would
justify the king in the eyes of the nation in suppressing the
monasteries and in confiscating their possessions. The idea that the
monastic establishments enjoyed only the administration of their lands
and goods, and that these might be seized upon at any moment for the
public weal, was not entirely a new one either in the history of
England or in that of some of the Continental countries. Years before,
Cardinal Wolsey, for example, had dissolved more than twenty
monasteries in order to raise funds for his colleges at Ipswich and
Oxford, while not unfrequently the kings of England rewarded their
favourites and servants by granting them a pension to be paid by a
particular monastery. With the rise of the middle classes to power and
the gradual awakening of greater agricultural and commercial activity,
greedy eyes were turned to the monasteries and the farms owned by the
religious institutions. Unlike the property of private individuals
these lands were never likely to be in the market, and humanly
speaking a transfer of ownership could be effected only by a violent
revolution. Many people, therefore, though not unfriendly to the monks
and nuns as such, were not disinclined to entertain the proposals of
the king for the confiscation of religious property, particularly as
hopes were held out to the nobles, wealthy merchants, and the
corporations of cities and towns that the property so acquired could
take the place of the taxes that otherwise must be raised to meet
local and national expenditure.

For months before Parliament met (Feb. 1536) everything that could be
done by means of violent pamphlets and sermons against the monks and
the Papacy was done to prepare the country for the extreme measures
that were in contemplation. The king came in person to warn the House
of Commons that the reports of the royal commissioners, showing as
they did the wretched condition of the monasteries and convents called
for nothing less than the total dissolution of such institutions. The
members do not appear, however, to have been satisfied with the king's
recommendations, and it was probably owing to their feared opposition
to a wholesale sacrifice of the monasteries that, though the
commissioners had made no distinction between the larger and the
smaller establishments the measure introduced by the government dealt
only with the houses possessing a yearly revenue of less than £200.
Even in this mild form great pressure was required to secure the
passage of the Act, for though here and there complaints might have
been heard against the enclosures of monastic lands or about the
competition of the clerics in secular pursuits, the great body of the
people were still warmly attached to the monasteries. Once the decree
of dissolution had been passed the work of suppression was begun.
Close on four hundred religious houses were dissolved, and their lands
and property confiscated to the crown. The monks and nuns to the
number of about 2,000 were left homeless and dependent merely on the
miserable pensions, which not unfrequently remained unpaid. Their
goods and valuables including the church plate and libraries were
seized. Their houses were dismantled, and the roofless walls were left
standing or disposed of as quarries for the sale of stones.[35] Such
cruel measures were resented by the masses of the people, who were
attached to the monasteries, and who had always found the monks and
nuns obliging neighbours, generous to their servants and their
tenants, charitable to the poor and the wayfarer, good instructors of
the youth, and deeply interested in the temporal as well as in the
spiritual welfare of those around them. In London and the south-
eastern counties, where the new tendencies had taken a firmer root, a
strong minority supported the policy of the king and Cromwell, but
throughout England generally, from Cornwall and Devon to the Scottish
borders, the vast majority of the English people objected to the
religious innovations, detested Cromwell and Cranmer as heretics,
looked to Mary as the lawful heir to the throne in spite of the
decision of the court of Dunstable, and denounced the attacks on the
monasteries as robbery and sacrilege. The excitement spread quickly,
especially amongst the peasants, and soon news reached London that a
formidable rebellion had begun in the north.

In October 1536 the men of Lincoln took up arms in defence of their
religion. Many of the noblemen were forced to take part in the
movement, with which they sympathised, but which they feared to join
lest they should be exposed to the merciless vengeance of the king.
The leaders proclaimed their loyalty to the crown, and announced their
intention of sending agents to London to present their petitions. They
demanded the restoration of the monasteries, the removal of heretical
bishops such as Cranmer and Latimer, and the dismissal of evil
advisers like Cromwell and Rich. Henry VIII. returned a determined
refusal to their demands, and dispatched the Earl of Shrewsbury and
the Duke of Suffolk to suppress the rebellion. The people were quite
prepared to fight, but the noblemen opened negotiations with the
king's commanders, and advised the insurgents to disperse. The Duke of
Suffolk entered the city of Lincoln amidst every sign of popular
displeasure, although since the leaders had grown fainthearted no
resistance was offered. Those who had taken a prominent part in the
rebellion were arrested and put to death; the oath of supremacy was
tendered to every adult; and by the beginning of April 1537, all
traces of the rebellion had been removed.

The Pilgrimage of Grace in the north was destined to prove a much more
dangerous movement. Early in October 1536 the people of York,
determined to resist, and by the middle of the month the whole country
was up in arms under the leadership of Robert Aske, a country
gentleman and a lawyer well-known in legal services in London. Soon
the movement spread through most of the counties of the north. York
was surrendered to the insurgents without a struggle. Pomfret Castle,
where the Archbishop of York and many of the nobles had fled for
refuge, was obliged to capitulate, and Lord Darcy, the most loyal
supporter of the king in the north, agreed to join the party of Aske.
Hull opened its gates to the rebels, and before the end of October a
well trained army of close on 40,000 men led by the principal
gentlemen of the north lay encamped four miles north of Doncaster,
where the Duke of Norfolk at the head of 8,000 of the king's troops
awaited the attack. The Duke, fully conscious of the inferiority of
his forces and well aware that he could not count on the loyalty of
his own soldiers, many of whom favoured the demands of the rebels,
determined to gain time by opening negotiations for a peaceful
settlement (27th Oct.). Two messengers were dispatched to submit their
grievances to the king, and it was agreed that until an answer should
be received both parties should observe the truce. The king met the
demands for the maintenance of the old faith, the restoration of the
liberties of the Church, and the dismissal of ministers like Cromwell
by a long explanation and defence of his political and religious
policy, and the messengers returned to announce that the Duke of
Norfolk was coming for another conference. Many of the leaders argued
that the time for peaceful remonstrances had passed, and that the
issue could be decided now only by the sword. Had their advice been
acted upon the results might have been disastrous for the king, but
the extreme loyalty of both the leaders and people, and the fear that
civil war in England would lead to a new Scottish invasion, determined
the majority to exhaust peaceful means before having recourse to

An interview between the leaders and the Duke of Norfolk, representing
the king, was arranged to take place at Doncaster (5th Dec.). In the
meantime a convocation of the clergy was called to meet at Pomfret to
formulate the religious grievances, and a lay assembly to draw up the
demands of the people. Both clergy and people insisted on the
acceptance of papal supremacy, the restoration of all clergy who had
been deposed for resisting royal supremacy, the destruction of
heretical books, such as those written by Luther, Hus, Melanchthon,
Tundale, Barnes, and St. German, the dismissal of heretical bishops
and advisers such as Cromwell, and the re-establishment of religious
houses. Face to face with such demands, backed as they were by an army
of 40,000 men, Norfolk, fearing that resistance was impossible, had
recourse to a dishonest strategy. He promised the rebels that a free
Parliament would be held at York to discuss their grievances, that a
full pardon would be granted to all who had taken up arms, and that in
the meantime the monks and nuns would be supported from the revenues
of the surrendered monasteries and convents. Aske, whose weak point
had always been his extreme loyalty, agreed to these terms, and
ordered his followers to disband. He was invited to attend in London
for a conference with the king, and returned home to announce that
Henry was coming to open the Parliament at York, and that the people
might rely with confidence on the royal promises. But signs were not
wanting to show that the insurgents had been betrayed, and that they
must expect vengeance rather than redress. Soon it was rumoured that
Hull and Scarborough were being strengthened, and that in both cities
Henry intended to place royal garrisons. The people, alarmed by the
dangers that threatened them, attempted vainly to seize these two
towns, and throughout the north various risings took place. The Duke
of Norfolk, taking advantage of this violation of the truce, and
having no longer any strong forces to contend with, promptly
suppressed these rebellions, proclaimed martial law, and began a
campaign of wholesale butchery. Hundreds of the rebels, including
abbots and priests, who were suspected of favouring the insurgents,
were put to death. The leaders, Aske, Lord Darcy, Lord Hussey, Sir
Thomas Percy, Sir Francis Bigod, together with the abbots of Jervaux
and of Fountains, and the Prior of Bidlington were arrested. Some of
them suffered the penalty of death in London, while others were sent
back to be executed in their own districts. By these measures the
rebellion was suppressed in the north, and the rest of the counties
were intimidated into submission.[36]

Had the Emperor decided upon supporting the people of the north the
course of English history might have been different, but as war had
broken out once more between France and the empire, both nations,
anxious to maintain good relations with England, abstained from active
interference in English affairs. Pope Paul III., deeply interested as
he was in the English revolution, summoned to his assistance one who
understood better than most of his contemporaries the character of the
king and the condition of the country, namely, Reginald Pole. The
latter, turning his back on the favour of the king and the offer of
the Archbishopric of York, had left England rather than approve of the
king's separation from Catharine. Henry, however, hoping to induce him
to return to England, maintained friendly relations with Pole, and
requested him to state frankly his views on royal supremacy. Pole
replied in a long treatise afterwards published under the title /Pro
ecclesiasticae unitatis Defensione/ (1536), in which he reproved the
conduct of the king, and warned him of the dangers that his religious
policy might involve. Henry, though deeply mortified by the substance
and tone of this work, pretended not to be displeased, and in the hope
of silencing his distinguished kinsman whom he now both feared and
hated he urged him to come back to England. Pole's mother and brothers
besought him to yield to the royal wishes, or else he should prove the
ruin of all those who were dear to him. Though deeply affected by
their appeals, he preferred duty to family affection. He went to Rome
where he was created a cardinal (1536), and appointed to assist in
drawing up a scheme of ecclesiastical reforms in preparation for the
General Council. Soon news arrived in Rome that a rebellion had broken
out in England, that the people were ready to die in defence of their
religion, and that the king might be forced to adopt a more
conciliatory attitude towards Rome. It was decided to appoint Cardinal
Pole papal legate, and to send him to England. Such an appointment
coming at such a time filled Henry with alarm. He feared that James V.
of Scotland might be induced to lead an army across the borders to the
assistance of the northern rebels, and that France and the Emperor
might unite their forces against one who was regarded by both as
little less than a heretic. He induced the privy council to address a
letter to the cardinal (Jan. 1537) reproaching him for his ingratitude
and disloyalty to the king, and inviting him to come to Flanders for a
friendly discussion with the English agents. Before the legate could
leave Italy the Pilgrimage of Grace had been suppressed, and all hope
of a successful mission in England was lost. He passed through France
and Flanders, where he received a very cool reception from Francis I.
and the regent of the Netherlands, both of whom had been requested to
deliver him to Henry VIII. After a short stay in the territory of the
Prince-bishop of Liège he returned to Rome in August 1537.[37]

But though the rebellion in the north had been suppressed, it was
sufficiently grave to show Henry the danger incurred at home by
religious innovations, while the legatine mission of Cardinal Pole
made it advisable to prove to the Catholic rulers of Europe that
England had not gone over to the Lutheran camp. The greatest
objection taken by the conservative party in England to the /Ten
Articles/, drawn up by the king and accepted by Convocation in the
previous year (1536), was the absence of express reference to any
Sacrament except Baptism, Penance, and the Eucharist. At the meeting
of Convocation (1537) the battle was waged between the Catholic-minded
bishops let by Tunstall of Durham and the Lutheran party let by
Cranmer. At last the other four Sacraments were "found again," and a
settlement agreeable to both parties arrived at and embodied in a
treatise known as /The Institution of a Christian Man/. It consisted
of four parts, the Apostle's Creed, the Seven Sacraments, the Ten
Commandments, and the Our Father and Hail Mary. Two separate articles
dealing with justification and purgatory taken from the Ten Articles
previously issued were appended. The bishops submitted /The
Institution/ to the judgment of the king, inviting him as supreme head
of the Church to correct whatever was amiss with their doctrine, but
Henry, anxious to hold himself free to bargain with the Lutheran
princes if necessary, refused to take any responsibility for the work
beyond ordering that it might be read in the churches for three years.
Hence it was called the /Bishop's Book/.[38]

Against this and as a concession to the reforming party in England
Henry was pleased to approve of a translation of the Bible presented
to him by Cranmer, and to order copies of it to be provided for the
use of the faithful in every parish church (1537-38). William Tyndale,
who had fled from England to Wittenberg, set himself to complete a
translation of the Bible, which translation was published and smuggled
into England in 1526. The translation was in itself bristling with
errors, and the marginal notes were stupidly offensive. The bishops
made desperate attempts to secure its suppression, but despite their
efforts the obnoxious translation and even many of the more
objectionable works written by the same author continued to find their
way into England. The king, though nominally supporting the bishops,

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