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England under the Tudors By Arthur D. Innes Characters: 38588

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


HENRY VIII (vii), 1509-47-ASPECTS OF HENRY'S REIGN

[Sidenote: Ireland, 1509-20]

Affairs in the sister island did not, after the final collapse of Perkin Warbeck directly affect the course of events in England: so that they lend themselves more conveniently to summary treatment. Ireland in fact hardly thrust herself forcibly on English notice until Thomas Cromwell was in power, and even then she only received incidental attention.

[Sidenote: Surrey in Ireland, 1520]

It appears to be generally recognised that when Gerald Earl of Kildare finally made up his mind to serve Henry VII. loyally and was for the last time re-instated as Deputy, he proved himself a capable ruler and kept his wilder countrymen in some sort of order. In 1513 he was succeeded in the Deputyship by his son Gerald, who bore a general resemblance to him, but lacked his exceptional audacity and resourcefulness. It was not long before the Earl of Ormonde-head of the Butlers, the traditional rivals of the Fitzgeralds, and chief representative of the loyalist section-was complaining of disorder and misgovernment; and in course of time, Kildare was deposed and Surrey [Footnote: The Surrey who became Duke of Norfolk in 1524, and was under attainder when Henry died in 1547.]-son of the victor of Flodden-was sent over to take matters in hand (1520). Kildare was summoned to England, where after his father's fashion he made himself popular with the King whom he accompanied to the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Surrey was a capable soldier, and took the soldier's view of the situation. There would be no settled government until the whole country was brought into subjection; it must be dealt with as Edward I. had dealt with Wales. The chiefs must be made to feel the strong hand by a series of decisive campaigns, the whole country must be systematically garrisoned, and the Englishry must be strengthened by planting settlements of English colonists. Half-measures would be useless, and he could not carry out his programme with a less force than six thousand men.

[Sidenote: Irish policy, 1520-34]

Henry however had no inclination to set about the conquest of Ireland. His own theory, with which it may be assumed that Wolsey, now in the plenitude of his power, was in accord, was more akin to his father's. Moreover, Wolsey and the Howards were usually in opposition to each other. Surrey was instructed to appeal to the reason of the contumacious chiefs; to point out that obedience to the law is the primary condition of orderly government; to authorise indigenous customs in preference to imposed statutes where it should seem advisable. In fact there were two alternatives; one, to govern by the sword, involving a military occupation of the island; the other to endeavour to enlist the Irish nobles on the side of law and order and to govern through them. The first policy, Surrey's, was rejected; the second was attempted. But the Irish chiefs had no a priori prejudice in favour of law and order, and something besides rhetoric was needed to convince them that their individual interests would be advanced by such a policy. Henry VII. had prospered by reinstating the old Earl of Kildare; Henry VIII. tried reinstating the young one. But precedents suggested the unfortunate conclusion that a little treason more or less would hurt no one, least of all a Geraldine. Things went on very much as before. Kildare was summoned to London again, rated soundly by Wolsey, suffered a brief imprisonment, and was again restored. Desmond, his kinsman, intrigued with the Emperor, who was in a state of hostility to Henry because of the divorce proceedings; Kildare was accused of complicity, and going to London a third time in 1534 was thrown into the Tower from which he did not again emerge. Henry had just burnt his boats in his quarrel with Rome and was by no means in a placable mood.

[Sidenote: Fitzgerald's revolt, 1534]

Kildare had named his eldest son Lord Thomas Fitzgerald, a young man of twenty-one, to act as Deputy in his absence; moreover he had so fortified his castle of Maynooth and otherwise made military preparations, as to give colour to the idea that he had rebellion in contemplation. Excited by a report that his father had been put to death, Lord Thomas-known as Silken Thomas from a badge worn by his men-burst into the Council at Dublin, threw down the sword of office, and renounced his allegiance; then raised an insurrection at the head of his friends and followers. Dublin Castle was soon besieged by a large miscellaneous force; the Archbishop, a leader of the loyalists, attempted to escape but was taken and foully murdered; bands of marauders ravaged the Pale. The only effective counter-move was made by Ormonde who rejected Fitzgerald's overtures, and, in spite of Desmond's menacing attitude on the South-west, raided the Kildare country, and brought Silken Thomas back in hot haste to defend his own territories.

[Sidenote: 1535 The revolt quelled]

Fitzgerald's rising began in June. Henry had appointed as Deputy Sir William Skeffington, an old soldier who had held that office before during Kildare's last suspension. But his departure from England with his troops was delayed. Fitzgerald was back before Dublin in September, after a vain attempt to win over Ormonde who defied him boldly. Again the Kildare lands were raided, and Lord Thomas had to raise the siege; and now at the end of October Skeffington succeeded in crossing the channel and securing Dublin, while the rebels carried fire and sword through the neighbouring districts. For the rest of the winter Skeffington did nothing but send out a futile expedition, a detachment of which was ambuscaded: while the loyalists fumed. In the spring however he shook off some of this inactivity, whether due to sickness, advancing years, or general incompetence, and besieged Maynooth which was reputed impregnable. The fortress fell before long; owing to treachery as tradition relates, but more probably to the improved siege artillery as the official despatches affirm. Most of the garrison were promptly hanged; a fatal blow was dealt to the insurrection. The "pardon of Maynooth" became a proverb. Skeffington, retaining the deputyship, was replaced in command of the army by Lord Leonard Grey, Kildare's brother-in-law, son of Lord Dorset; to whom ultimately Silken Thomas surrendered under a vague half-promise of lenient treatment. Kildare himself had died in the Tower not long before; Lord Thomas and his principal kinsmen were executed after a little delay; the one surviving representative of the great house which had "ruled all Ireland" was a child, preserved in hiding by loyal friends and retainers. The Geraldine power was at an end.

[Sidenote: 1535-40 Lord Leonard Grey]

Grey himself was now appointed to the deputyship in place of Skeffington, Desmond in the south-west and O'Neill in Ulster carried on the resistance, but were no match for Grey, who followed up his military successes by attempting to carry out the principles of conciliation which Henry had laid down-to the bitter indignation of those loyalists who favoured the methods advocated in the past by Surrey. To this and to Grey's insolent temper were due violent altercations between him and the Council. A Commission was sent over to examine and set matters straight, but instead the commissioners took sides with the Council or with the Deputy. Affairs were complicated by the application to Ireland of the English theory of ecclesiastical Reformation as understood by Henry and Cromwell. The suppression of the monasteries was acquiesced in (though not till 1541); since their condition was undeniably bad, and the distribution of their property convenient for the recipients; but the revolt from Rome was antagonistic to Irish feeling. Disloyalty to England, the natural and normal condition of three-fourths of the island, received a new authority from the sanction of loyalty to the Church. Grey persisted in his policy of domineering over the English party-who would have preferred to do the domineering themselves-and of laying himself open to the charge of favouring and fostering rebels, especially of the Geraldine faction. Another rising of O'Neill and Desmond in 1539 forced him to reassert his authority, but he again allowed it to appear that he was influenced by his connexion with the Geraldines; and in 1540 he was recalled, attainted, and executed. Experience of Henry had taught the conclusion that to fight the charge of treason was useless; but Grey gained nothing by throwing himself on the royal clemency, though his admission of guilt is not under the circumstances very conclusive.

[Sidenote: 1540 St. Leger]

Whatever the extent of his actual guilt, his downfall was due not so much to his professed policy as to the personal methods adopted which in the end had excited almost universal distrust and hostility. The proof of this lies in the fact that St. Leger, his successor as Deputy, carried out the same nominal policy with very remarkable success, and, it would seem, with general approval: mainly because he applied the principles impartially instead of as a partisan. The agent of conciliation was judicious, clear-headed, and tactful, instead of being injudicious, hot-headed, and tactless. The new Deputy distributed titles and monastic lands with a shrewd perception of the value of the services to be purchased thereby; legal commissioners were appointed who were allowed a due latitude in applying native customs and relaxing the rigour of English law; a number of important chiefs were converted into supporters of the Government instead of its more or less open enemies; the Pale settled down into the condition of a reasonably well ordered State. In the last years of Henry there is a complete disappearance of the wonted turmoil. At length he had found a man capable of administering the policy he had enunciated in 1520. The Deputyship of St. Leger gave promise of initiating a new era; but it showed also how completely the working out of the Irish problem would depend on the character and capacity of the men to whom the task should be successively entrusted.

[Sidenote: Henry "King of Ireland"]

One significant change remains to be noted. Hitherto the King of England had borne the title of Lord of Ireland, the theory being that Ireland was held as a fief from the Pope. As marking a final repudiation of every kind of papal authority, Henry, after the suppression of the Geraldine rising, assumed the style of King of Ireland. The fact that the change was needed has some bearing on the opposed papal and royal claims to Irish allegiance. Wales, it may be remarked, acquired citizenship when for the first time she sent representatives to Parliament in 1537.

[Sidenote: Wolsey's work]

Throughout the first half of Henry's reign the figure of the great Cardinal dominates the political field. In two respects at least his work was the extension of what Henry VII. initiated. By his efforts, the personal power of the crown became irresistible; and as the old King raised England from being almost a negligible quantity on the Continent to become at the lowest an effective make-weight in European combinations, so Wolsey raised her still further to a position of equality with the two great Powers which overshadowed all the rest. This he did by the same method of evading serious military operations whenever the evasion was possible, and by the exercise of a diplomatic genius almost unmatched among English statesmen. After his fall, the King's domestic interests withdrew him from a like active participation in the quarrels of Charles and Francis, although in his last years he became involved in a French war.

[Sidenote: The Army]

It is singular however to observe that Wolsey won for England all the prestige of a great military Power, after a period during which that ancient reputation of hers had been all but completely lost, without any single achievement memorable in the annals of war, and without producing any commander even of the second rank. With the sole exception of Surrey's victory at Flodden, due rather to the disastrous blunder of James than to the Earl's exceptional ability, no striking strategical or tactical feats are recorded, and few remarkable displays even of personal valour: nothing at all comparable to the brilliant if sometimes hazardous operations of the great Plantagenets. Nothing more is heard of that once triumphant arm, the Archery: the English bowmen had not, it would seem, lost their cunning, but they could no longer overwhelm hostile battalions. Nor does this seem to have been owing as yet to the displacement of the bow by firearms, though cannon both for defence and destruction of fortresses were improving-as exemplified at Maynooth. In the Scots wars, the border moss-troopers fought after their own fashion: but in the French wars the levies, no longer fighting in bodies following their own lord's flag, and feeling neither a personal tie to their leaders nor any particular bond among themselves, repeatedly displayed mutinous tendencies-as befel in Ireland under Lord Leonard Grey, and earlier with the entire army commanded by Dorset in 1512 and again with Suffolk's soldiery in 1523. The transition period from the era of feudal companies to that of disciplined regiments was a long one, particularly in England. During the whole of that period, English armies accomplished no distinguished military achievement.

[Sidenote: The Navy]

It was otherwise with English navies. All through the Tudor period, the nation was steadily realising its maritime capacities. Whether the strategic meaning of "ruling the seas" was understood or not, the century witnessed the rise of the English naval power from comparative insignificance to an actual pre-eminence. The two Henries fostered their fleets; when Elizabeth was reigning, the sea-faring impulse was past any need of artificial encouragement. But it is noteworthy that coast defence and ship-building were almost the only public purposes to which an appreciable share of the King's ecclesiastical spoils was appropriated. The King's ships were few, but they were supplemented by an ever-increasing supply of armed merchant-craft; and in the French war at the end of Henry's reign is the premonition of the great struggle with Spain, in which one most characteristic feature was the comparative reliance of England on sails and of her rivals on oars. As yet however, naval fighting was still governed by military analogies.

[Sidenote: The New World]

Though Henry was keenly interested in ship-building and naval construction, in the matter of ocean voyages and the acquisition of new realms Spain and Portugal still left all competitors far behind. Albuquerque had already founded a Portuguese Maritime empire in the Indian Ocean when Henry VIII. ascended the throne, and Spain was established in the West Indies. In 1513, Balboa sighted the Pacific from the Isthmus of Darien. In 1519 Cortes conquered Mexico; in 1520 Magelhaens passed through the straits [Footnote: It was still believed that Tierra del Fuego was a vast continent stretching to the South.] that bear his name, and his ships completed their voyage round the globe in the course of the next two years; in 1532 Pizarro conquered Peru; Brazil and the River Plate were already discovered and appropriated. All that England had done was represented by some Bristol explorers in the far North, some tentative efforts in the direction of Africa; and some four voyages to Brazil, the first two under William Hawkins, father of the more famous Sir John.

[Sidenote: Absolutism]

As Wolsey's policy was a development of that of Henry VII. in the direction of raising England's international prestige, so it was also in the concentration of power in the hands of the sovereign: and the process was carried still further though in a somewhat different way when Wolsey had fallen. It is curious to note that Henry VII. for the first half of his reign ruled by a skilful reliance on parliamentary sanctions, in the second half almost dispensing with parliaments. This order was reversed by his son. For the first twenty years, there were hardly any parliaments: from 1529 there was no prolonged interval without one. The economies of the old King sufficed to support the extravagant expenditure of his successor with only an occasional appeal to the purses of the Commons. It was only the necessities of a war-budget that involved such an appeal, so that none took place between 1514 and 1523. Had Wolsey been permitted to maintain his peace-policy unbroken, there would have been no rebuff from the House of Commons in 1523, no trouble over the Amicable Loan two years later. The country, habituated to an absence of parliaments, might have come to accept a monarchy absolute in form as well as in fact.

[Sidenote: The Parliamentary sanction]

But when Wolsey fell, Henry was embarking on a policy in which he knew that he must keep the nation on his side; the support of the body representing the nation must be secured. Whether that support was granted spontaneously, or was encouraged by manipulation, or spurred by the menace of coercion, was comparatively unimportant. The powers which the King was resolved to exercise must ostensibly at least have the sanction of national approval. The thing was managed with such thoroughness that long before the close of the reign the royal absolutism was confirmed by the Act which gave the force of law to the King's proclamations, and by the authorisation for him to devise the crown by will; and with such skill that Henry's and Cromwell's critics are obliged to fall back on the alleged subserviency of the parliaments to account for it, although these same subservient parliaments were quite capable of offering an obstinate resistance whenever their own pockets were threatened. Henry was one of those born rulers who impress their own views on masses of men by force of will. He made the country believe that it was with him. But behind the dominant force of will, he possessed the instinctive sense of its limits, besides being endowed with that final remorseless selfishness which made him ready to make scape-goats of the most loyal servants, to deny responsibility himself and to fling the odium upon them, as soon as he found that those limits had been transgressed.

[Sidenote: Depression of the Nobles]

Alike, then, by his disuse and his use of parliaments, Henry strengthened the royal power, the initiative of all legislation remaining in his hands. To the same end he continued to depress the great nobles and to create a new nobility dependent on royal favour. All who threatened to display a dangerous ambition, from Buckingham on, were struck down; the House of Norfolk survived till the end of the reign, when the Duke was attainted and his son was sent to the block. No ancient House was represented in the Council of Regency nominated under Henry's will. The men who served the King were those whom he had himself raised, and could himself cast down with a word. The edifice of his absolutism was complete, though it was modified by the conditions under which his s

on and his two daughters succeeded to the throne.

[Sidenote: Parliament and the purse]

The theory of absolutism from Richard II. to Wolsey had been that the King should make it his aim to rule without parliaments; whereas we are confronted with the apparent paradox that Henry was never more absolute than when his parliaments were in almost continual session. The explanation lies in this, that he did not usually call them to ask them for money out of their own pockets; for the most part he invited them to approve of his taxing some one else, by confiscations or the conversion of loans received into free gifts-a much more congenial task. The King had found other methods of raising revenues than by appealing to the generosity of his faithful Commons-methods which in effect relieved them of demands which they would otherwise have been obliged to face. The vast sums wrung from Convocation or from the Monasteries went to relieve the Commons from taxes. The parliament of 1523, summoned to grant subsidies, faced Wolsey with an independence which fully justified the minister in avoiding the risk of similar rebuffs: the Reformation parliament itself offered a stubborn resistance to the Bill of Wards, which touched its own pocket. Independence and resistance vanished when the incentive was withdrawn, and the diversion of the stream of ecclesiastical wealth into the abysses of the royal treasury was acquiesced in with a certain enthusiasm. The King got the credit of the ends secured, his minister the odium for the methods of obtaining them: and so year by year the crown became more potent.

[Sidenote: The Land]

The economic troubles brought about mainly by the new agricultural conditions in the reign of the first Tudor were exaggerated in that of the second, and were further intensified by the dissolution of the Monasteries. The evils at which More pointed in his Utopia, when Henry VIII. had been but seven years on the throne, showed no diminution when another thirty years had passed. The new landowners who came into possession of forfeited estates or of confiscated monastic lands continued to substitute pasture for tillage, and to dispossess the agricultural population as well by the reduced demand for labour as by rack-renting and evictions. The country swarmed with sturdy beggars; and the riotous behaviour encouraged when religious houses were dismantled or even "visited" must have tended greatly to increase the spirit of disorder, evidenced by the frequent popular brawling over the public reading of the Bible. The usual remedies of punishing vagabondage, and of attempting to force industry into unsuitable fields and to drive capital into less lucrative investment in order to provide employment, failed-also as usual. The landowners did not emulate the monastic practice of dispensing charity, so that distress went unrelieved. Charity often encourages un-thrift; but its absence sometimes leads not to industry but to thieving; and in this reign, crimes of violence were notably abundant. The economic conditions were therefore in fact unfavourable to thrift. But apart from economic conditions, the practice of that virtue is apt to be largely influenced by social standards. An ultra-extravagant court, and the calculated magnificence of such a minister as Wolsey, went far to induce a reckless habit of expenditure in the upper classes; and the inordinate display of the Field of the Cloth of Gold was merely an extreme instance of the prevalent passion for costly pageantries.

[Sidenote: Finance]

The resulting distress was not compensated in other directions. During the earlier half of the reign, Commerce did no doubt continue to prosper; but the King's financial methods were hardly more conducive to public industry and thrift than his personal example. Wolsey indeed was an able finance minister. In spite of the enormous expenditure on display, his mastery of detail prevented mere waste; and until the pressing necessities of a war-budget arose in 1523, enough money was found by tapping the sources to which Henry VII. had applied, supplemented by the ample hoards which that monarch had left behind. In 1523, the Cardinal's scheme of graduated taxation was sound and scientific in principle, so far as existing methods of assessment permitted. But for the remaining years of his life, the process of raising money to meet the King's requirements was exceedingly difficult and unpopular. After his death, the King discovered an additional and productive source of revenue in the property of the Church; but even this did not suffice for his needs.

[Sidenote: The Currency]

Henry therefore resorted to an expedient as disastrous as it was dishonest-a wholesale debasement of the coinage, which was continued into the following reign and was remedied only under Elizabeth. The first experiment was made as early as 1526; but it was the financial embarrassments of Henry's last years which brought about a debasement that was almost catastrophic. From 1543 to 1551 matters went from bad to worse till the currency was in a state of chaos: and the silver coin issued in the last year contained only one-seventh of the pure metal that went to that of twenty-five years before.

It followed that the purchasing power of the debased coinage sank-in other words, prices went up. On the other hand, the new coin remaining legal tender in England up to any amount, creditors who were paid in it lost heavily, the Royal debtor-and others-discharging their obligations by what was practically a payment of a few shillings in the pound. Also as a matter of course, the better coins, with each fresh debasement, passed out of the country or at any rate out of circulation, the base coins becoming the medium of exchange. Thus the foundations of commercial stability were sapped, while foreign trading operations were thrown into desperate and ruinous confusion.

Nor did the evil end here. For the influx of silver and gold from the Spanish possessions in America, though its effects were felt only very gradually, tended to depreciate the exchange value of the metals themselves. This depreciation, added to the debasement, further increased the rise of prices. But while prices went up, money-wages did not rise in anything like the same proportion; labour being cheapened by the continuous displacement of the agricultural population, which was not attended by an equivalent increase of employment in the towns, and by the dissolution of the monasteries, which at the same time wiped out the sole existing system of poor-relief. The natural Economic transition that began in the previous reign, while producing wealth, was also attended by distress: now, for a vast proportion of the population, Henry's artifical expedients for filling his own coffers converted distress into grinding want, destitution, and desperation.

[Sidenote: Learning and Letters]

The earlier half of the reign promised well for Education; but the promise was not duly fulfilled in the latter portion. The funds which Wolsey would have devoted to that object were wanted for other purposes. The Universities discarded the study of the schoolmen, but their attention was absorbed rather by loud-voiced wrangling than by the pursuit of learning. Nevertheless, in great families at least, the education of the younger members was carried to a high pitch. The King, a man of accomplishments which would have made him remarkable in any station, himself set the example, and in this respect at least his children were not lacking; the literary impulse was at work.

[Sidenote 1: The Utopia]

[Sidenote 2: Prose and Verse]

[Sidenote 3: Surrey and Wyatt]

Yet the literary achievements of Henry's time can hardly be called great. One work by an Englishman, More's Utopia, alone stands out as a classic on its own merits: and that was written in Latin, and remained untranslated till a later reign. In its characteristic undercurrent of humour, and its audacious idealism, it betrays the student of Plato; standing almost alone as a product of the dawning culture. Partly by direct statement, partly by implication, we may gather from it much information as to the state of England in Henry's early years, much as to the political philosophy of the finer minds of the day. But that philosophy was choked by revolution; More himself so far departed from its tenets of toleration as to become a religious persecutor. Most of the English writing of the reign took the form of controversial or personal pamphlets in prose or verse; such as the extravagant Supplicacyon for the Beggers, a rabid tirade against the clergy, or Skelton's rhyme Why come ye nal to Court, an attack chiefly on the Cardinal. The splendid raciness of Hugh Latimer's sermons belongs to oratory rather than to letters. The exquisite prose of Cranmer found its perfection in the solemn music of the Prayer-book of Edward VI. The translations of the Bible made no great advance on Wiclif. In the realm of verse, John Skelton was a powerful satirist with a unique manipulation of doggerel which has permanently associated a particular type of rhyme with his name; an original and versatile writer was Skelton, but without that new critical sense of style which was to become so marked a feature of the great literary outburst under Elizabeth. Herein, two minor poets alone, Surrey and Wyatt, appear as harbingers of the coming day. A hundred anonymous writers of Gloriana's time produced verses as good as the best of either Wyatt or Surrey; but these two at least discovered the way which, once found, became comparatively easy to tread. They introduced the sonnet, learnt from Petrarch; Surrey (the same who was executed on the eve of Henry's death) wrote the first English blank verse. The moribund tradition of the successors of Chaucer continued to find better exponents in Scotland than in England, in the persons first of bishop Gawain Douglas-who perhaps should rather be connected with the previous reign-and later of Sir David Lyndsay. But doctrinal controversy does not provide the best atmosphere for artistic expression. The whole literature of the reign, while showing emphatic signs of reviving intellectual activity, is remarkable not for its own excellence, for profundity of thought, intensity of passion, or mastery of form, but as exhibiting the first random and tentative workings of the new spirit.

[Sidenote: Estimate of Henry VII.]

The most arresting figure of the period is that of Henry himself. No English King has been presented by historians in more contradictory colours than he. One has painted him as the Warrior of God who purged the land of the Unclean Thing: to another he is merely a libidinous tyrant. One contrasts his honesty and honour with the habitual falsehood of his contemporaries: to another he appears supreme in treachery. In fact, there is an element of truth in both estimates, however exaggerated.

[Sidenote: His Morals]

In the matter of personal morality, in the restricted sense, it does not appear-in spite of his list of wives-that he compares unfavourably with contemporary princes. He had only one child certainly born out of wedlock-which cannot be said even of Charles V., [Footnote: It should perhaps be remarked that whenever Charles had a wife living he appears to have been faithful to her. His divagations took place in the intervals.] and contrasts with the unbridled profligacy of Francis, the frequent amours of his Stewart brother-in-law and nephew. The stories of his relations with both Anne and Mary Boleyn before the marriage, even if untrue (which is not probable), would never have been told of a man whose life was clean; but it is what may be called the accident of his numerous marriages which has given a misleading prominence to licentious tendencies not perhaps abnormally developed. With the exception of his passion for Anne Boleyn, there is no trace of his amours influencing his general conduct: and it is at least probable that after the death of Jane Seymour he would have remained a widower, but for the desire to make the succession more secure. Yet the story of his reign hinges upon the Divorce; and in the divorce, however much other considerations may have influenced him, the controlling consideration was the determination to make Anne Boleyn his wife since she would have him on no other terms. That fact, with the disastrous termination of the marriage with her, the fiasco of Anne of Cleves, and the catastrophe of Katharine Howard, is responsible for the somewhat mythical monster of popular imagination. The man who divorced two wives and beheaded two more is too suggestive of Bluebeard to be readily regarded as after all to some extent the victim of circumstance.

[Sidenote: His general character]

While Anne Boleyn was the object of his pursuit, Henry was dominated by his passion for her: but that passion cooled quickly enough after possession. Jane Seymour was not his wife long enough to put him to the test: but it would certainly seem that his affections were short-lived and easily transferred. This was manifestly the case with men: at least it never appeared to cause him a moment's compunction to hand over an intimate to the executioner. While a man was rendering him efficient service the King was lavish of praises and rewards; when the need for him was past the services were forgotten. His sentiments were always of the loftiest; it habitually "consorted not with his honour or his conscience" to do otherwise than he did; but the correspondence between his honour and conscience on one side and his personal advantage on the other presents a unique phenomenon. His conscience permitted him to connive at schemes for kidnapping the King of Scots or assassinating his ministers, and his honour permitted him to encourage his own servants in a course of action for which he had subsequently no hesitation in sending them to the block. He could give, prodigally; but what he gave had generally been taken from some one else. He could protest against the cruel burden of the annates, and then absorb them himself. And with all this, it is not difficult to suppose that he constantly persuaded himself that he was an honest man beset with dishonest rogues, since he rarely broke the letter of an engagement except on the pretext of bad faith made manifest in the other party.

[Sidenote 1: His peculiar abilities]

[Sidenote 2: Intention and achievement]

Henry's ethical standards were thus in no way calculated to hamper his actions, owing to his happy capacity for colouring his actions in conformity with them. When he set an end before himself, no influence could make him waver a hair's-breadth in his pursuit of it, and he spared neither friend nor foe in the attainment of it. As a statesman he did not lay down far-seeing designs. But he had the art of maintaining popularity, and a shrewd eye for a good servant. Thus as a rule he gave Wolsey a free hand and very vigorous support. But when he elected to order a change of policy, the Cardinal proved to have been right and the King wrong. His candidature for the Empire, and his dreams of the French and Scottish thrones show him capable of indulging in entirely impracticable visions. The vital achievement of his reign was the severance from Rome; and that was merely-as far as he was concerned-the accidental outcome of the Pope's opposition to the Divorce. In the destruction of the ecclesiastical imperium in imperio, the subordination of the Church to the State, it is difficult to tell how far the policy was his own and how far it was Cromwell's; but the King never recognised as Cromwell did that the logical corollary of the whole ecclesiastical policy was a Protestant League. The defiance of Rome, and the subjection and spoliation of the Church, were accompanied by a measure in which Cranmer was the moving spirit, and to which Henry gave full support-the open admission of the Scriptures in the vernacular-which made it no longer possible for the individual to disclaim responsibility on the score that the priesthood alone held the key to the mysteries of religion. This was in truth the keystone of the Reformation, since it entailed upon every man the duty of private judgment even though the right continued to be denied; yet this was not the effect which Henry contemplated. Hence, out of the four points in the ecclesiastical revolution of the reign: the subordination of the Church to the State was a constitutional change absolutely Henry's or Cromwell's own; the spoliation was the same, but reflects no credit on either; the severance from Rome was an accident; and the creation of the duty, to be ultimately recognised as the right, of private judgment was unintentional. And on the kindred subject, the persecution of innovators labelled as heretics, Henry's policy represented nothing but the commonplace attitude of Authority in his times.

[Sidenote: A Dominant personality]

We cannot, in short, find in Henry a statesman remarkable for far-sighted perceptions or ennobling idealism: but he gauged the sentiment of his subjects and the abilities of his servants acutely and was shrewd enough as a rule to identify himself with the schemes of those whom he trusted. Nevertheless he stands out, with all his faults, as a very tyrannical King yet a very kingly tyrant. If his personal ambitions and desires over-ruled other considerations, he never forgot the greatness of the country he ruled, and his personal ambitions at least involved England's magnification. For good or for evil, his actions were on a great scale. He knew his own mind, and he never shrank from the risks involved in giving his will effect. He defied successfully the Power which had brought the mightiest monarchs to their knees. He had the kingly quality, shared by his great daughter, of inspiring in his servants a devotion which made them ready to sacrifice everything for his glorification. Two of the most powerful ministers known in English history recognised the domination of his personality whenever he chose to exercise it.

[Sidenote: Summary]

Even when he was most feared he maintained his place in the popular affection. His parliaments carried out his will, but his will and theirs were in conformity: while Wolsey ruled, he rarely consulted them, but after Wolsey's fall they were called upon to ratify all the King's measures, and were in frequent session. He promoted a revolution, but while he lived he controlled it; through all the accompanying shocks and upheavals his mastery remained unshaken. The proof of the man's essential force, the greatness we may not deny him, is made manifest by the chaos which followed his death. He was gross; he was cruel; he was a robber; he suborned traitors and was prepared to suborn assassins; but his selfishness, flagrant as it was, did not wholly absorb him; behind it there was a sense of the greatness of his office, a desire to make England great; and therewith he had the indomitable resolution and the untiring energy for lack of which statesmen have failed who intellectually and morally stand far above him, while no monarch has left on the history of England a stamp more indelible than Henry VIII.

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