Imagens das páginas

wives, was continued by Somerset, the murderer of his brother, and completed by Elizabeth, the murderer of her guest. Sprung from brutal passion,-nurtured by selfish policy,—the Reformation in England displayed little of what had, in other countries, distinguished it,-unflinching and unsparing devotion, boldness of speech, and singleness of eye. These were indeed to be found; but it was in the lower ranks of the party which opposed the authority of Rome, in such men as Hooper, Latimer, Rogers, and Taylor. Of those who had any important share in bringing the alteration about, the excellent Ridley was perhaps the only person who did not consider it as a mere political job. Even Ridley did not play a very prominent part. Among the statesmen and prelates who principally gave the tone to the religious changes, there is one, and one only, whose conduct partiality itself can attribute to any other than interested motives. It is not strange, therefore, that his character should have been the subject of fierce controversy. We need not say that we speak of Cranmer.

Mr Hallam has been severely censured for saying, with his usual placid severity, that if we weigh the character of this * prelate in an equal balance, he will appear far indeed removed • from the turpitude imputed to him by his enemies; yet not • entitled to any extraordinary veneration. We will venture to expand the sense of Mr Hallam, and to comment on it thus : If we consider Cranmer merely as a statesman, he will not appear a much worse man than Wolsey, Gardiner, Cromwell, or Somerset. But when an attempt is made to set him up as a saint, it is scarcely possible for any man of sense, who knows the history of the times well, to preserve bis gravity. If the memory of the Archbishop had been left to find its own place, he would soon have been lost among the crowd which is mingled

• A quel cattivo coro Degli' angeli, che non furon ribelli,

Nè fur fedeli a Dio, ma per se furo.' And the only notice which it would have been necessary to take of his name, would have been

• Non ragioniam di lui; ma guarda, e passa.' But when his admirers challenge for him a place in the noble army of martyrs, his claims require fuller discussion.

The shameful origin of his history, common enough in the scandalous chronicles of courts, seems strangely out of place in a hagiology: Cranmer rose into favour by serving Henry in the disgraceful affair of his first divorce. He promoted the marriage of Anne Boleyn with the King. On a frivolous pretence he pronounced it null and void. On a pretence, if possible, still. more frivolous, he dissolved the ties which bound the shameless tyrant to Anne of Cleves. He attached himself to Croinwell, while the fortunes of Cromwell flourished. He voted for cutting off his head without a trial, when the tide of royal favour turned. He conformed backwards and forwards as the King changed his mind. While Henry lived, he assisted in condemning to the flames those who denied the doctrine of transubstantiation. When Henry died, he found out that the doctrine was false. He was, however, not at a loss for people to burn. The authority of his station, and of his grey hairs, was employed to overcome the disgust with which an intelligent and virtuous child regarded persecution.

Intolerance is always bad. But the sanguinary intolerance of a man, who thus wavered in his creed, excites a loathing, to which it is difficult to give vent without calling foul names. Equally false to political and to religious obligations, he was first the tool of Somerset, and then the tool of Northumberland. When the former wished to put his own brother to death, without even the form of a trial, he found a ready instrument in Cranmer. In spite of the canon law, which forbade a churchman to take

any part in matters of blood, the Archbishop signed the warrant for the atrocious sentence. When Somerset bad been in his turn destroyed, his destroyer received the support of Cranmer in his attempt to change the course of the succession.

The apology made for him by his admirers, only renders his conduct more contemptible. He complied, it is said, against his better judgment, because he could not resist the entreaties of Edward! A holy prelate of sixty, one would think, might be better employed by the bedside of a dying child, than in committing crimes at the request of his disciple. If he had shown half as much firmness when Edward requested him to commit treason, as he had before shown when Edward requested him not to commit murder, he might have saved the country from one of the greatest misfortunes that it ever underwent. He became, from whatever motive, the accomplice of the worthless Dudley. The virtuous scruples of another young and amiable mind were to be overcome. As Edward had been forced into persecution, Jane was to be seduced into usurpation. No transaction in our annals is more unjustifiable than this. If a hereditary title were to be respected, Mary possessed it. parliamentary title were preferable, Mary possessed that also. If the interest of the Protestant religion required a departure from the ordinary rule of succession, that interest would have been best served by raising Elizabeth to the throne. If the foreign

If a

relations of the kingdom were considered, still stronger reasons might be found for preferring Elizabeth to Jane. There was great doubt whether Jane or the Queen of Scotland had the better claim; and that doubt would, in all probability, have produced a war, both with Scotland and with France, if the project of Northumberland had not been blasted in its infancy. That Elizabeth had a better claim than the Queen of Scotland, was indisputable. To the part which Cranmer, and unfortunately some better men than Cranmer, took in this most reprehensible scheme, much of the severity with which the Protestants were afterwards treated, must in fairness be ascribed.

The plot failed; Popery triumphed; and Cranmer recanted. Most people look on bis recantation as a single blemish on an honourable life-the frailty of an unguarded moment. But in fact, it was in strict accordance with the system on which he had constantly acted. It was part of a regular babit. It was not the first recantation that he had made; and, in all probability, if it had answered its purpose, it would not have been the last. We do not blame him for not choosing to be burnt alive. It is no very severe reproach to any person that he does not possess heroic fortitude. But surely a man who liked the fire so little, should have had some sympathy for others. A persecutor who inflicts nothing which he is not ready to endure, deserves some respect. But when a man who loves his doctrines more than the lives of his neighbours, loves his own little finger better than his doctrines, a very simple argument, a fortiori, will enable us to estimate the amount of his benevolence.

But his martyrdom, it is said, redeemed every thing. It is extraordinary that so much ignorance should exist on this subject. The fact is, that if a martyr be a man who chooses to die rather than to renounce his opinions, Cranmer was no more a martyr than Dr Dodd. He died solely because he could not help it. He never retracted his recantation, till he found he had made it in vain. The Queen was fully resolved that, Catholic or Protestant, he should burn. Then he spoke out, as people generally speak out when they are at the point of death, and have nothing to hope or to fear on earth. If Mary had suffered him to live, we suspect that he would have heard mass, and received absolution, like a good Catholic, till the accession of Elizabeth; and that he would then have purchased, by another apostacy, the power of burning men better and braver than himself.

We do not mean, however, to represent him as a monster of wickedness. He was not wantonly cruel or treacherous. He was merely a supple, timid, interested courtier, in times of frequent and violent change. That which has always been repre

sented as his distinguishing virtue, the facility with which he forgave his enemies, belongs to the character. Those of his class are never vindictive, and never grateful. A present interest effaces past services and past injuries from their minds together. Their only object is self-preservation; and for this they conciliate those who wrong them, just as they abandon those who serve them. Before we extol a man for his forgiving temper, we should inquire whether he is above revenge, or below it.

Somerset, with as little principle as his coadjutor, had a firmer and more commanding mind. Of Henry, an orthodox Catholic, excepting that he chose to be his own Pope, and of Elizabeth, who certainly had no objection to the theology of Rome, we need say nothing. But these four persons were the great authors of the English Reformation. Three of them had a direct interest in the extension of the royal prerogati The fourth was the ready tool of any who could frighten him. It is not difficult to see from what motives, and on what plan, such persons would be inclined to remodel the Church. The scheme was merely to rob the Babylonian enchantress of her ornaments, to transfer the full cup of her sorceries to other hands, spilling as little as possible by the way. The Catholic doctrines and rites were to be retained in the Church of England. But the King was to exercise the control which had formerly belonged to the Roman Pontiff. In this Henry for a time succeeded. The extraordinary force of his character, the fortunate situation in which he stood with respect to foreign powers, and the vast resources which the suppression of the monasteries placed at his disposal, enabled him to oppress both the religious factions equally. He punished with impartial severity those who renounced the doctrines of Rome, and those who acknowledged her jurisdiction. The basis, however, on which he attempted to establish his power, was too nar

It would have been impossible even for him long to persecute both persuasions. Even under his reign there had been insurrections on the part of the Catholics, and signs of a spirit which was likely soon to produce insurrection on the part of the Protestants. It was plainly necessary therefore that the government should form an alliance with one or with the other side. To recognise the Papal supremacy, would have been to abandon its whole design. Reluctantly and sullenly it at last joined the Protestants. In forming this junction, its object was to procure as much aid as possible for its selfish undertaking, and to make the smallest possible concessions to the spirit of religious innovation.

From this compromise the Church of England sprung. In many respects, indeed, it has been well for her, that in an age


of exuberant zeal, her principal founders were mere politicians. To this circumstance she owes her moderate articles, her decent ceremonies, her noble and pathetic liturgy. Her worship is not disfigured by mummery. Yet she has preserved, in a far greater degree than any of her Protestant sisters, that art of striking the senses, and filling the imagination, in which the Catholic Church so eminently excels. But, on the other hand, she continued to be, for more than a hundred and fifty years, the servile handmaid of monarchy, the steady enemy of public liberty: The divine right of kings, and the duty of passively obeying all their commands, were her favourite tenets. She held thein firmly through times of oppression, persecution, and licentiousness; while law was trampled down; while judgment was perverted; while the people were eaten as though they were bread. Once, and but once,- for a moment, and but for a moment, -when her own dignity and property were touched, she forgot to practise the submission which she had taught.

Elizabeth clearly discerned the advantages which were to be derived from a close connexion between the monarchy and the priesthood. At the time of her accession, indeed, she evidently meditated a partial reconciliation with Rome. And throughout her whole life, she leaned strongly to some of the most obnoxious parts of the Catholic system. But her imperious temper, her keen sagacity, and her peculiar situation, soon led her to attach herself completely to a church which was all her own. On the same principle on which she joined it, she attempted to drive all her people within its pale by persecution. She supported it by severe penal laws, not because she thought conformity to its discipline necessary to salvation ; but because it was the fastness which arbitrary power was making strong for itself;because she expected a more profound obedience from those who saw in her both their civil and their ecclesiastical head, than from those who, like the Papists, ascribed spiritual authority to the Pope, or from those who, like some of the Puritans, ascribed it only to Heaven. To dissent from her establishment, was to dissent from an institution founded with an express view to the maintenance and extension of the royal prerogative.

This great Queen and her successors, by considering conformity and loyalty as identical, at length made them so. With respect to the Catholics, indeed, the rigour of persecution abated after her death. James soon found that they were unable to injure him; and that the animosity which the Puritan party felt towards them, drove them of necessity to take refuge under his throne. During the subsequent conflict, their fault was any thing but disloyalty. On the other band, James hated the Pu

« AnteriorContinuar »