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Robin were able to hold their own against such forces as could be brought against them. Much has been made out of exaggerated reports of the number of victims during the reign, but the rope was the only cure for such desperate characters as could be laid by the heels, and the terror which proved effective for the greater offenders was equally necessary to overawe the criminal, especially in the absence of any proper prison system. Henry was determined to be no respecter of persons, and one of the most striking events of his reign is the execution of young Lord Dacre, who had killed a man in a poaching affray, and was not unnaturally an object of sympathy. Nowadays it is more than probable that influence could have been brought to bear for the commutation of such a sentence; but birth and compassion were no arguments with Henry, and the young lord had to suffer death like any other murderer.
HERE was another influence besides that of the nobles which tended to make good government impossible, and with this Henry VIII also set himself to deal. This is not the place to go into the vast and complicated problems of the Reformation, and we must content ourselves with indicating in what respects the change from Roman to Anglican tended to promote national unity. The Church exercised only a shadow of the power which had made King John tremble on his throne, and the opposition to her pretensions was no new thing. The Law of Præmunire, as Wolsey was to find, only slept. But the Church's privilege, though no longer terrible, was still irritating, for not only did it conflict with the proper administration of justice, but fostered an allegiance which was in direct conflict with patriotism. The student of Henry VII's reign must be struck with the way in which the most dangerous offenders were in the habit of claiming sanctuary, and either coming out, like Lord Lovell, to try another chance, or else, like Perkin, escaping the full penalty of their misdoings. Anybody who could read, or even learn the fifty-ninth Psalm by heart, could escape altogether out of the clutches of the judge, were his record never so black. Again, the Church had a law and jurisdiction of her own, which was capable of being used with deadly effect for the fleecing of unfortunate laymen.
Her primitive enthusiasm was almost cold; her function of relieving the poor was imperfectly performed; her prerogative of mercy had become a positive nuisance. Her pretensions were, in fact, an anachronism, and it was imperative that they should be crushed sooner or later.
In the matter of the divorce, which fired a longprepared train, there is no need for us to have any particular sympathy with the plaintiff's case, in order to perceive the intolerable nature of the tribunal. Had an Innocent III or a Hildebrand boldly denounced the royal adulterer, and thundered at him bulls of excommunication or deposition in case of his refusal, such conduct might have at least commanded respect, though it might have failed of obedience. But that such a shifty and timorous fellow as the Medici Pope should have been able, from no motive higher than that of his own supposed interests, to delay indefinitely, and frustrate ultimately, the arrangements which a King of England sought fit to make for the welfare of the realm, and the perpetuation of his linethis was plainly intolerable.
The struggle between Henry and the Pope was essentially political and not theological. Henry never receded from his position as the champion of dogmatic orthodoxy, though to strengthen his European position he did not stick at siding with Protestants, and even Anabaptists. But the question, which had already been answered in so many different ways, now called for a final solution-was the King of England to be master in his own realm? As regards the nobles, that answer had already been recorded in letters of blood, and the turn of the Church might not be long delayed. But few of us can realize how terrible were the risks involved. We are apt to look only at what has been, and forget what might have been. We see in the coarse face and huge form of Henry, the image of brutal tyranny; we read of a succession of queens divorced and beheaded, of the long line of pathetic
and often admirable victims, of a career which from the cradle to the grave seems one of such continuous successes as to be almost a mockery of God's providence. We who watch, from some distant cliff, the proud ship glide into harbour over an expanse of calm water, are only conscious of the ease and grace with which she answers to the helm, little recking of the pilot's almost breaking nerves, as she threads her way between rocks uncharted and barely submerged.
Whatever faults we may attribute to Henry, we must at least grant that he was possessed of courage. In his defiance of the Pope he was doing a thing that in all human probability must end in humiliation, if not death, for himself. He was not only setting at defiance the opinion of Christian Europe, but that of his own subjects. The cause of the Queen was one peculiarly calculated to arouse the sympathies of Englishmen. She had deserved well of the country, for it was she who had organized the great national rally which resulted in Flodden. The King's amours with Anne Boleyn were common knowledge, and a common scandal. When the King went abroad, the women openly insulted Anne, and reproached her with the term of greatest abuse known to their sex. Even when she was crowned, amid every circumstance of pomp and pageantry, the people refused her the tribute of ordinary respect, and her jester tried to relieve his mistress' feelings, by telling the crowd that they would not take off their hats, because they had scurvy heads.
Even the Parliament elected in 1529, which is usually regarded as so subservient, was at one time perilously near mutiny. For this we have the testimony both of the English chronicler and the Emperor's ambassador. From Hall, we learn that a motion was actually before the House advising the King to take back his wife, and that the King had to use his powers of persuasion with the Speaker in order to get it dropped; from Chapuys,
that on the King's soliciting Parliament with regard to the defence of the Scotch frontier, two worthy men, with the general approval of the House, urged that since the Scots could do nothing without foreign aid, and since the best fortification was justice at home and friendship with the Emperor, the wisest plan would be for the King to abandon his scheme and take back his wife. The very agents of Henry were beginning to waver, the common people were murmuring, the nobles disapproved. The Duke of Norfolk, after a wrangle with Anne, was said to have called her "grande putain," and in the same letter of Chapuys, on New Year's Day, 1535, we read the ominous words that, "the Earl of Northumberland is not too well pleased either with the King or his ministers, as the said Earl's physician informed me two days ago, declaring that his master said the whole realm was so indignant at the oppressions and enormities now practised, that if the Emperor would make the smallest effort, the King would be ruined." We catch only faint echoes of the murmurs that must have been swelling in hall and cottage over all the kingdom. We find Lord Darcy, the subsequent rebel and traitor, eagerly intriguing with Chapuys for the armed support of the Emperor, and talking about 1600 gentlemen in the North who were only waiting the signal to rise. Subsequent events showed that Darcy was not exaggerating. Lord Dawbeny talked with obvious approval of a rising of the priests, while. men of lower status were denouncing the King as a false wretch, a bawdy wretch and a tyrant, one bibulous individual having even declared that he would kick his sovereign's head like a football.
With his whole population discontented and ripe for rebellion, Henry might well tremble to think of the danger which threatened him from abroad. The mighty Emperor, whose sway extended from Vienna to Cadiz, and from Naples to Flanders, was bound by every con