« AnteriorContinuar »
sideration of honour and affection to avenge the wrongs of a kinswoman; and his rival of France, though he might avail himself for the moment of Henry's support, was a more than doubtful friend, and was at this time manifesting an ominous zeal in the conversion of heretics, having them dipped, by an ingenious contrivance, in and out of the flames, a form of amusement with which the Most Christian King was wont to beguile his leisure. Whatever the exigencies of the hour might dictate, there was no doubt concerning the natural sympathies of Charles and Francis, while as for Scotland, her hostility went without saying. The century had already seen the greater part of Europe leagued together for the plunder of Venice, and the motives impelling the powers against England were more obvious than those which had united the allies of Cambray. At any moment Henry might have found himself without an army and with a mutinous people at his back, compelled to face a Franco-Imperial-ScottishPapal alliance, and what chance could he then have had of averting ruin?
In this terrible situation his nerve never appears to have failed him for a moment, except if it be when he told the nuncio, almost with tears, that he had only put the Queen away because she used such high words and was always threatening him with the name of the Emperor. It appears to have been the impression of that most shrewd observer, Chapuys, that he could only be bluffing. But Henry never looked back for a moment. He saw that the situation was desperate, and desperate and decisive were the measures he took to meet it. After the final breach with the Pope, we have a document in Cromwell's handwriting, which shows the temper in which it was resolved to face the danger. The Government was bracing itself for a supreme crisis, and practically putting the nation in a state of siege. "To appoint the most assured and substantial gentlemen in every shire to be sworn of
the King's Council, with orders to apprehend all who speak or preach in favour of the Pope's authority. To have substantial persons in every good town to discover all who speak or preach thus. To have the Act of Succession openly proclaimed, that the people may not make themselves ignorant thereof; whosoever shall offend to be ordered according to the same statute. The beacons throughout the realm to be repaired. Letters to be written to persons having fortresses near the coast, to see them ordered and artillery and munitions put in readiness and cleansed. The Master of the Ordnance to be warned to see all the ordnance and munitions put in order. To call upon Wm. Gonston, Spert and others having charge of the King's ships to have them repaired. To send for my Lord Chancellor to-morrow and for my Lord of Wiltshire. To appoint preachers throughout the realm to preach the gospel and the true word of God. . . . A deputy to be sent into Ireland with all speed to set a stay there. Letters to be sent to the officers in Wales to have regard to those parts, and gentlemen and yeomen to be appointed to apprehend any Papists who preach, etc., to the advancement of the Bishop of Rome. The Scotch ambassadors to be put off till Tuesday. General musters to be made throughout the realm, if it is the King's pleasure."
The impression left by this document is one of furious, yet ordered haste, in the face of a danger so vast and so imminent as to demand the instant calling forth of all the energies and resources of the nation. It reminds us of the preparations made by Napoleon to grapple with the problem of the Hundred Days. Orders like these are only issued on the eve of what is expected to be a struggle of life or death, and it was for this that Henry and Cromwell prepared themselves. One thing at least was certain. The system of terror by which the magnates had already been subdued, could not be allowed to fall into disuse in
face of this greater peril. Rome had her garrisons established all over England in the shape of the monasteries. The clergy had been accustomed to look to the Pope as the head of the Church, and the unheard-of crime of cutting England loose from orthodox Christianity, of openly setting at naught the authority ordained by Christ, might strike the most lukewarm of priests with horror. One preacher had even dared rebuke the King publicly to his face, and such easy subjects of inspiration as the Nun of Kent might at any time fan a spark of discontent into the flame of rebellion.
Under these circumstances the King had to choose between ignominious surrender, or going on as with a forlorn hope, and striking down any thing or any one who might possibly stand in his way. An army in the field has not time to think of the innocent lives and private property that may be sacrificed to its victory, and this was Henry's case. Humane men of all ages will drop a tear over the fate of Sir Thomas More, even though he is no more to be pitied than any other good man, who finds in death the climax and appropriate close of his career. His story is as tragic as that of Zola's little boy, who lay in a fever while his mother was killed, and the house was set on fire by the Prussian shells. War, as General Sheridan truly said, is hell, and the childbirth of a new era is often a hell too. England was in peril, and against her safety, the virtue and learning of her noblest sons count not at all in the balance.
The issue was simple. It was necessary that the King should command the undivided fealty of the nation, and that at a time when the Pope was moving Europe to the destruction of England, subjects of Henry must be either King's men or dead men. This was a question on which there could be no compromise, and there could be no more question of refusal, than of a soldier in an army trying to qualify his allegiance. A form of oath was drawn up
which made it definite that Englishmen were to acknowledge none but an English authority for their governance in Church and State. This oath was put to More and Fisher, of whom More tried to evade it by some ingenuous dialectic, and Fisher refused it outright. Both men believed in their soul and conscience that the Pope was the true head of the Church, and both men honourably and firmly gave their lives for that belief. But the courage displayed by Henry in sending them to their death was equal to their own. It was an intimation to all Europe that the King was in deadly earnest about his pretensions, and that he had cut off his last hope of retreat. It was an intimation to every Englishman that he must either dethrone the King, or obey him unconditionally, and that neither power, nor saintliness, nor the sympathy of the whole Christian world would delay the fall of the axe for a moment. Henry had considered himself explicitly challenged when the Pope tried to make a Cardinal out of Fisher, a prisoner in the Tower. With a sombre magnificence he declared that the Bishop might wear the red hat upon his shoulders, and before it could reach him, the old man paid the penalty of his divided allegiance.
The case of More is the more tragic of the two, for he naturally excites our admiration as well as our sympathy. About some of his suggestions there is a glow of divination, which seems to anticipate doctrines that came into vogue centuries later. Some of the hints of his "Utopia stamp him as the father of social reformers in the modern sense of the term, and in particular, his suggestions about hospitals and sanitation. However much he may have been indebted to Plato and the schoolmen, he had at least grasped the conception of a community in which the State should take in hand, not only the more obvious duties of sovereignty, but the ordering of social life upon a democratic basis. The regulation of labour and the
institution of a six hours' day go beyond the proposals even of our own Socialists. But the "Utopia" is a dream within a dream. The good Sir Thomas was struck to the heart by the misery and heartlessness of social life as he knew it, and it relieved him to imagine a community where everything should be the direct opposite of the reality which saddened him. That he ever thought the realization of his dream could be a matter of practical politics, there is no evidence. When he became Chancellor, he took no steps in the direction indicated by his writings, and contented himself with a vain effort to preserve the status quo in a time of necessary transition.
The policy of the country had too long been in the hands of churchmen, and even in that lukewarm age it was impossible that such men could give their undivided service to one master. Wolsey, at once Cardinal and Chancellor, had been hampered in his policy by the hope, which he always entertained, of harmonizing English with papal interests. He had aspired to use the French alliance as a means of making Henry, and not Charles, the champion of Christendom; and it is hardly conceivable that any circumstances could have induced him to emulate the arch-heretic, Luther, in defying the Pope altogether, and flinging his bulls into the fire in England's name. More was the last of a line of good men who tried to serve two masters. The supremacy of the King he could not and would not allow. Indeed More's patriotism seems to have been a plant of the most stunted growth. The impression that we get from the "Utopia " is that he regarded his country as Kakotopia, a hell on earth, a thing to be endured rather than loved. In his English treatise of "Comfort against Tribulation," he makes this plain. He is speaking about captivity, and he counsels the sufferer to remember that if he frets about being no longer in his own country, he must remember that to talk of any place as one's own country is a fallacy. “We