ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
In 1485, as a result of the battle of Bosworth, Henry Tudor became king of England as Henry VII. For several decades, the country had suffered from internal strife as rival factions struggled for the throne. This civil war is known as the Wars of the Roses, and the two contending factions were the house of York, symbolized by the white rose, and the house of Lancaster, represented by the red rose. Though the English monarchy had been one of the strongest in medieval Europe, it suffered a decline for most of the fifteenth century, and its weakness was both a cause and an effect of the Wars of the Roses. The disorder and suffering caused by these wars had made it clear that the indispensable prerequisite for peace was a strong monarch. Throughout the Tudor period the fear of a recurrence of civil strife was ever present in the minds of Englishmen, and this fear helps to explain two conspicuous facts: the acquiescence of the English in the sometimes arbitrary behavior of the Tudor monarchs and the almost obsessive concern with the succession. A disputed succession might bring back chaos; to avert this dreadful possibility it seemed necessary that the monarch should leave behind legitimate male heirs.
Henry VII himself came to the throne with a flimsy hereditary claim. His ancestry on both sides was tainted with illegitimacy, a serious bar to the throne. The Tudors themselves were a Welsh family of little distinction of birth. Henry became king in fact because he triumphed at Bosworth. In the battle his rival, the Yorkist king Richard III, was killed leaving no heirs. Richard's brother and predecessor, Edward IV, who had died in 1483, had left behind two sons, who were murdered. The death of these two young princes is one of the great unsolved mysteries of English history. Suspicion has generally rested on Richard III as the murderer of his nephews, but his guilt has never been conclusively proved; in fact, it has been seriously doubted by some students.
When Henry VII came to the throne, he faced staggering problems. He needed to heal the wounds left by the civil wars and to restore internal peace and unity. He had to strengthen both his own claim to the throne and the badly damaged prestige of the crown. The treasury was empty, the economy had been disrupted, and English standing abroad was low. The fact that he achieved a considerable measure of success in all these areas is a sign of his greatness as a king.
Shortly after his coronation, he married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV. The marriage took place on January 18, 1486, thus uniting the two houses that had struggled for the throne. Nevertheless, Henry was plagued for several years by the appearance of a succession of pretenders, trying to wrest the throne from him. They could count on a good deal of support. Yorkist sympathizers, enemies of the Tudor claim, were to be found not only in England but also in Ireland and Scotland and on the Continent. In Burgundy there was Dowager Duchess Margaret, widow of Charles the Bold and sister of Edward IV and Richard III. The Continental monarchs could be persuaded to give aid and comfort to these pretenders if it seemed to suit their interests. Two of these pretenders, who seemed at the time to pose serious threats, may be mentioned here: Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck.
Lambert Simnel, a young Englishman of obscure birth, appeared on the scene in 1487. His Yorkist backers put him forward as the earl of Warwick, a nephew of the two Yorkist kings. The real earl had been made a prisoner after the battle of Bosworth and placed in the Tower. Simnel was crowned Edward VI in Dublin. With support from Ireland, from Margaret of Burgundy and from some English Yorkists, he invaded England from Ireland with a force of several thousand men. They were met and defeated by the king's forces at the battle of Stoke on June 16, 1487. Henry executed only a few leaders, but collected large fines from many others. The king recognized Simnel as being a tool in the hands of others and no threat to himself. He took him into his own service, first as a kitchen boy and later as a falconer.
The threat from Simnel had been serious. Even more serious, and more long-lived, was the crisis connected with Perkin Warbeck, whose prominence dates from 1491 when he appeared in Cork in Ireland. He appears to have been from Tournai in the Netherlands and to have been in the employ of a Breton merchant. He was persuaded to pass himself off as the younger of the sons of Edward IV, allowed to remain alive after his brother's murder. Once the plot had gotten started, Warbeck threw himself into it. He was "recognized" by Margaret of Burgundy and even by Emperor Maximilian and other European rulers. The young king of Scotland, James IV, bold and ambitious, backed Warbeck as a weapon against the ancient enemy, and even arranged a marriage between Warbeck and a Scottish noblewoman.
Warbeck, however, helped to precipitate his own ruin by displaying a fatal weakness and lack of courage at decisive moments. In 1495 he came to England from the Low Countries with fourteen ships, but was afraid to land, and the expedition was a fiasco. In 1497 an uprising in Cornwall against the English government provided another opportunity. Warbeck came down from Scotland, picked up several thousand men, was badly defeated at Exeter, took flight, and, unable to escape, gave himself up. Again, Henry was merciful, executing few, fining many, and putting Warbeck under very light imprisonment. He took advantage of the situation to escape, but was recaptured. This time he was placed in the Tower under close confinement. In 1499 he and the earl of Warwick were accused of plotting with each other to escape and make war against the king. They were both executed in that same year.
There were other threats to Henry's throne, but all were successfully met. The problem of the pretender was related, as we have noted, to foreign affairs. Here Henry, like other contemporary rulers, used his children for diplomatic purposes. In spite of the hostile attitudes of the Scottish king, Henry sought to establish peaceful relations with his neighbor to the north, ending centuries of hostility made more dangerous by the "Old Alliance" between Scotland and France, which went back to the thirteenth century. To this end he worked to arrange a marriage between his older daughter Margaret and James IV. Henry was successful, and the marriage took place in 1503. It did not bring about an immediate end to conflict; Scotland and England were to fight many bloody wars in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Yet the long-term effects of the marriage were momentous; exactly one hundred years after it took place, a descendant of James and Margaret would unite the thrones of England and Scotland; and after another century the two countries would be joined in the kingdom of Great Britain.
Henry was also anxious to establish good relations with Spain, which, since the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella (See Chapter 18), was on its way to becoming one of the most powerful states of Europe. An alliance with Spain would serve to offset the hostility of France. Here again Henry achieved his wishes. In 1489 England and Spain signed the Treaty of Medina del Campo. It provided, among other things, for a marriage between Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, and Arthur, oldest son of Henry and heir to the English throne. The prospective bride and groom were young children at the time, and the marriage did not take place until 1501, when both were in their teens.
Arthur survived the marriage by only a few months. His widow remained in England, certain that she had a divine mission to bring the two countries closer together by marrying Prince Henry, the surviving brother of her late husband. Meanwhile her father and her father-in-law bartered over her fate, both of them neglecting to provide adequately for her needs and the needs of her household. Since canon law forbade marriage between a man and his brother's widow, a dispensation from the pope was necessary. This was granted, after some hesitation, by Pope Julius II. However, at the time of the Henry VII's death in 1509, the marriage had still not taken place.
The Treaty of Medina del Campo contained clauses directed against France, and Henry VII was reluctantly drawn into war on the Continent. In 1489 English troops invaded France in a vain effort to prevent French annexation of the province of Brittany. In 1492 Henry invaded France once more with a large force, but peace was soon made; the French agreed, among other things, to pay the English a large sum of money and not to assist rebels against the king.
From this time on, Henry refused to get involved in wars on the Continent. As the conflict between France and Spain developed, both sides sought his support; but he remained uncommitted, and his peaceful policy helped greatly in building up the English treasury. One of Henry's great achievements was to make the English crown, impoverished by the civil wars, prosperous and even wealthy. He devised no revolutionary new methods of raising revenue, but made careful use of the traditional sources and took advantage of all his legal rights in this field.
The methods used by the state to raise money differed from those employed today. It is true that Parliament might be called on to grant taxes out of income, but this was considered an emergency expedient to be used in extreme cases, such as war. Furthermore, this sort of taxation, when it was resorted to, was based on an obsolete assessment and its yield was inadequate. The monarch was expected to "live of his own," from the yield of crown lands, customs duties, and his feudal rights. These latter included the lucrative right known as wardship. This meant that when one of the king's vassals died leaving a minor as an heir, the heir became the king's ward until he reached the age of majority, and during the intervening period the income from the estate reverted to the king. Henry's practice was to sell wardship to the highest bidder, and for this he got a very good price.
The income from the royal lands had fallen very low in the turmoil of the civil wars. Henry rectified this in his first Parliament by securing passage of two acts that restored to the crown all lands that had been in its possession on October 2, 1455. The effect of this was to provide the king with a large accretion of landed property from which he was able to draw a sizable income.
Henry's solicitude for English merchants and English trade helped to bring an increase in the level of customs duties. The king kept watch zealously over the commercial interests of his subjects and did not hesitate to take strong action to protect their position. He backed the Merchant Adventurers, who dominated the English cloth trade with Antwerp, when their position was threatened by action of the government of the Netherlands. As a result he was able to conclude treaties that secured their rights.
In his commercial relations with other countries, Henry knew how to use the techniques of trade treaties, tariff wars, and navigation acts. Two such acts were passed, in 1485 and 1489, which required that certain imports be brought into England only on English ships, whose crews were to be predominantly English, and that English merchants should import no goods at all in foreign ships if English ones were available. These acts must have had some effect, since they aroused objections and retaliatory measures from other trading powers.
Henry's commercial policy was quite successful in dealing with the Netherlands, France, Portugal, Spain, and the Italian cities. He had more trouble with the Hanseatic League, which had extensive privileges in England that Henry would have liked to reduce. He tried in various indirect ways to chip away at those privileges, without a great deal of success. Time was on the English side in this case, though Henry could not have known it. The rise of the national state spelled doom for an international trading organization like the Hanseatic League, which had passed its great days.
Henry's interest in trade partly accounts for his support of the exploring voyages of the Cabots. John Cabot, a Venetian sailor, had interested the merchants of Bristol in sponsoring a voyage westward to Asia, which they did not think Columbus had really reached. The king became interested in the plan, and in 1496 issued letters to Cabot authorizing him to sail east, north, and west (thus avoiding lands to the south claimed by Spain) and discover and occupy any lands not known to Christians. Cabot sailed west in 1497 and reached North America, which he was sure was Asia. He sailed again in 1498 and never returned. Apparently some of his ships once more reached the coast of North America. This voyage may have made clear the fact that the coast of Asia had not in fact been reached, since the area was afterwards referred to by the English as the "New Found Land."
The merchants of Bristol did not lose interest in discovery and colonization, nor did the king. The men of Bristol, in company with some men from the Azores, formed the Company Adventurers to the New Found Land, which received royal letters in 1501 and 1502 giving the rights to found colonies, expel foreigners, and trade with no more restrictions as to place. What they actually accomplished is no longer clear, and nothing is known about them after 1505 and 1506.
In 1509, John Cabot's son Sebastian sailed on an expedition to find the northwest passage to Asia, thus making it clear that the English knew that they had not reached Asia but a new continent. He apparently reached what later became known as Hudson's Bay. He thought that it would reach to Asia, but the danger from ice caused the crew to force a return to England. When Cabot arrived home, Henry VII was dead. In the reign of the new king, Henry VIII, nothing was done by the English in the field of overseas discovery and exploration.
As a king, Henry VII may in one sense have marked the start of a new age in English history because he restored order and founded a stable dynasty. However, in his methods of government and in the character of his rule, he did not break new ground. The "new monarchies" of the sixteenth century, about which historians used to write, are proving on closer examination not to be so new after all. Henry VII, for all practical purposes, ruled like a medieval king, using traditional methods of government, but restoring them to an efficiency that they had lacked for a century or more.
The English monarchy, like other contemporary monarchies, had worked well with a strong and capable king, but had broken down in the absence of such a king. Henry VII was not only strong and capable, but also hardworking. Surviving documents bearing his initials give proof that he was diligent in overseeing the day-to-day business of administration. His chief instrument of government was the royal council, which had in the fifteenth century been dominated by the nobles and was consequently ineffective. Henry retained the institution but made it an instrument of the royal will. Members of the council were chosen by the king, and Henry picked an able group to assist him, both clergymen and laymen. Like some other monarchies of the time, Henry did not find his chief advisers from among the members of the old nobility.
The royal council did not have a fixed membership or regularly scheduled meetings. There were actually two aspects to the council. On the one hand, there was a small group of advisers the council attendant who remained with the king and were consulted by him on a regular day-to-day basis. There was in addition a larger group the great council varying in number and composition according to the king's pleasure and called on special occasions. To keep order in the west and the north, Henry VII appointed a Council for Wales and the Marches and a Council of the North. Both of these were older institutions now revived and strengthened, and were considered extensions of the royal council and thus the king's authority.
Parliament, like the council, went from being a tool of noble factions to largely an instrument of royal government. Parliament was called at the king's pleasure, and he had the right to dissolve or adjourn it at any time. Henry used it sparingly. He called only seven parliaments during his reign, five during his first ten years and only two during the last fourteen. In the whole reign, Parliament met for a total of only sixty-nine weeks. This infrequency raised no known objections in the country, since Parliament had not yet established itself as a guardian of popular rights in fact, there was no clear conception of popular rights and there was no great demand for regular meetings. Frequent meetings, indeed, might have been unpopular, since they would probably have meant frequent requests for taxes. When Parliament did meet, Henry had little difficulty in getting what he wanted, as his desires tended to coincide with those of the members. The upper house contained the lords temporal and spiritual that is, the members of the nobility or peerage and the archbishops, bishops, and some heads of monasteries. The members of the House of Commons were drawn from the bourgeoisie merchants, businessmen, lawyers and the non-noble landowners who made up the country gentry.
These country gentlemen were to become more and more significant in English government, both local and national. In fact they owed their national significance largely to their local stature, being the leaders in the political and social life of their shires, or counties. In each county, the leading gentry formed the "county families." From these families the king chose the most important local officials, the justices of the peace. Though the sheriffs, formerly the highest county officials, retained important functions, it was the justices, performing a variety of judicial and administrative duties, who were becoming the chief factors in local administration. Though unpaid, they were willing to serve for the prestige involved in their offices. Henry VII increased their functions, and at the same time brought them under closer royal control.
Some of Henry's predecessors, to expedite the transaction of business or to circumvent the nobles with whom they might be engaged in a struggle for control of the government, had resorted to the use of household offices rather than the great offices of state to handle important affairs. Household offices, as the name indicates, were more closely subject to royal control and less rigidly bound by accumulated rules of procedure. Henry followed this example by using the Chamber, a household office, as his chief financial department, rather than the Exchequer.
Henry knew that his strength rested upon his treasury, and he was, no doubt, aware that, in comparison with the rulers of France and Spain, he was not really rich. By making the most of what he had, and avoiding unnecessary expenditures, particularly wars, he left to his successor a full treasury. He also left behind a reputation for extortion and rapacity especially in the later years of his reign, which his name has carried every since. Two of his assistants in financial matters, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, were so unpopular that they were executed early in the next reign.
The final test of the solidity of Henry's work could not come until his death, when a peaceful succession would crown his work or a new outbreak of civil war would destroy it. On April 21, 1509, the king died, and the uneventful accession of his son Henry to the throne showed that the old king had done his work well.
The new king, Henry VIII, who was approaching his eighteenth birthday at the time of his accession, was a brilliant and popular young man. He had fair hair and skin and was regarded as very handsome. Athletic and learned, he displayed a taste for theology and for humanistic letters. He was fond of music and was both a composer and a performer. One of the earliest acts of his reign was to marry Catherine of Aragon in June and carry out a wish expressed by his father toward the end of his life. The new queen was almost six years older than her husband, who gave every indication of being deeply devoted to her.
During the first years of his reign, Henry VIII seemed willing to devote himself to enjoyment, spending freely the hard-won treasure of his father. He seemed content in those early days to let others govern for him, retaining his father's chief advisers.
The king soon displayed an appetite for military adventure and a willingness to become involved in the complicated diplomatic relationships of the Continental powers that departed sharply from the more prudent policy of his predecessor. Influenced partly by his wife, partly by the traditional enmity with France, he entered into alliance with his father-in-law, Ferdinand of Spain, and mounted invasions of France, which resulted in great expenditures of English money and no substantial gains. Ferdinand, with characteristic duplicity, abandoned his son-in-law when his own purposes had been achieved; Henry learned his lesson.
However, the alliance with Spain continued to be an important part of English policy for several years, after Ferdinand had been replaced by his grandson and Catherine of Aragon's nephew, who became King Charles I of Spain and Emperor Charles V. The Anglo-Spanish alliance was mutually advantageous to both countries because of their common hostility to France and, even more, because of the importance to both of trade between England and the Low Countries, which were part of Charles's empire.
The traditional conflict with Scotland continued. Indeed, the one great military success of Henry's early years was the defeat of the Scots at the battle of Flodden in 1513 when Henry was pursuing his ambitions in France and Catherine was serving as regent in his absence.
The early years of Henry VIII's reign saw the rise of Thomas Wolsey to become the king's chief minister. A man of humble birth his father was a butcher and innkeeper of Ipswich Wolsey had taken the only route by which someone of his status could make his career in government service. He had studied at a university, Oxford in his case, and had become a priest. He had served Henry VII, but his spectacular rise to power came in the new reign. By 1518 he had attained the highest secular and ecclesiastical offices; he was chancellor, archbishop of York, cardinal, and papal legate. In the latter capacity, he was the pope's personal representative, and took it on himself to dominate the church in England, treating the bishops, and even the archbishop of Canterbury, as his subordinates.
For some years he was preeminent in Henry's councils, and the chief executor of policy. It is difficult to know whether he was also a maker of policy; foreign observers thought Wolsey was the real ruler of the kingdom. But from what we know of Henry's character, as it became manifest in later years, it seems quite likely that the king knew from the beginning that he was master and that Wolsey could follow only those policies Henry originated or at least found acceptable.
Wolsey was a man of extraordinary abilities and an immense capacity for hard work. He was also proud, even arrogant, and given to lavish display. The holder of several lucrative church livings besides his archbishopric, he enjoyed vast wealth and lived magnificently, thereby exciting the envy and incurring the hostility of those who resented his power and despised his lowly birth. In the biography of Wolsey by his gentleman usher, George Cavendish, there are hints that even Henry may have been a bit jealous of Wolsey's spectacular entertainments and was determined to outdo them.
Wolsey was widely hated. Not only did the nobles object to the power and wealth of the upstart, but the bishops resented the way that he rode roughshod over their rights. The commoners were aroused by the money that they had to pay out to support his ambitious foreign policy. Those who were shocked by the worldliness of the clergy had plenty of reason to be dismayed at Wolsey's behavior. He was a pluralist and an absentee. He had two illegitimate children, a daughter and a son; on the latter he conferred a large number of church livings. Since Wolsey represented the pope, his general unpopularity was transferred to the papacy and probably helped prepare the way for the destruction of papal authority in England.
Wolsey had an interest in education. He dissolved some monasteries and used the income to endow a new school in his native Ipswich and to found a college at Oxford. The college was later taken over by the king and named Christ Church. Wolsey did not believe in representative institutions, preferring to run things by himself. Parliament and the Convocation of the Clergy hardly met at all while he was at the height of his power.
During this period England played an active role in European politics. Wolsey's aims have been variously interpreted. One, older view has him seeking to maintain the balance of power. A. F. Pollard, his best biographer, claimed that Wolsey's diplomacy was based on adherence to the papacy. J. J. Scarisbrick believes that he sincerely wanted peace.
Wolsey and Henry adhered for some years to the Spanish alliance, but after the battle of Pavia (1525) when Charles V was on his way to dominating Italy, England joined Charles's enemies in the League of Cognac in 1527. Wolsey's growing antagonism to the emperor was based partly on the fact that the latter had failed to assist in fact frustrated Wolsey's desire to be elected pope.
In 1527 Charles's troops took Rome, put it to the sack, and made Pope Clement VII a virtual prisoner. Wolsey's diplomacy was in ruins. It was just at this time, when the pope was no longer a free agent, that Henry needed help that only a pope acting freely could supply. Henry's need for the pope at this juncture was the result of his matrimonial problems. Catherine of Aragon had not produced a male heir. She had had seven children, four of whom were boys. Of the seven only one had survived, and this one was a girl, Mary, born in 1516. By 1525 Catherine was forty years old; it was, therefore, unrealistic to expect that she would have more children. As we have seen, the Tudors and many of their subjects were obsessed by what they felt to be the imperative necessity for a male succession to insure domestic peace and to avert a return to the horrors of the Wars of the Roses.
Thus Henry had not obtained what he perhaps desired most of all, a son to succeed him. Being a religious man, in his own way, he came to believe or affected to believe that he had offended God by marrying his brother's widow, even though there was a papal dispensation. He began to contemplate the possibility of a divorce or more accurately an annulment. Since marriage was a sacrament, all matrimonial questions were dealt with by the church, which did not normally permit the dissolution of a valid marriage. To get a marriage dissolved, it was necessary to satisfy the church that there had been some canonical impediment to it. In this case, the impediment would be the fact that Henry had married his brother's widow.
Furthermore, the king was passionately in love with Anne Boleyn, who refused to be his mistress and insisted on marriage. Thus began the long and involved process, which resulted in the separation from Catherine and eventually the break with Rome. In the course of the next few years, the king's character became more clearly discernible. He was a complete egotist, determined to have his way at all costs all costs to others, at least. He rode roughshod over the lives, the feelings, and the human dignity of all who seemed to thwart his purposes, even of those who loved him most and served him most devotedly. He destroyed some of his most faithful, gifted, and noble subjects. Whether he was interested in the welfare of his people is doubtful, except to the extent that he may have thought that their welfare coincided with his.
To secure his divorce, Henry needed a legal decision from the pope declaring his marriage to Catherine null and void in canon law. This decision, if given, would mean that Princess Mary was illegitimate and that Henry had been living with Catherine for all those years in an illicit relationship. The negotiations were entrusted at first to Wolsey, who failed to get the desired result. Henry, no doubt encouraged by Anne and by those of his advisers who hated Wolsey, suspected the cardinal of dragging his feet. It is true that Wolsey was not enthusiastic about the marriage to Anne, and would have preferred that the king marry a French princess. Henry, therefore, deprived him of the office of chancellor, in which he was succeeded by Thomas More. Wolsey, still archbishop of York, went north to take up the duties of that position, which for years he had neglected. The king's suspicions and the slander of his enemies followed him, and he was arrested and ordered back to London, where he would have faced trial and no doubt death. He was spared all this by dying on the way, in Leicester Abbey, on November 29, 1530.
Whether Clement VII would have granted Henry's divorce had he not been under the preponderant influence of Charles V, we cannot know. The fact is, after 1527 Clement was in no position to defy Charles, who was Catherine's nephew, and whose honor and family sense compelled him to stand by her. Henry's efforts to persuade the pope to accede to his wishes came to nothing.
In 1528 the pope granted permission for a trial of the marriage case to be held in England, presided over by Wolsey and Cardinal Campeggio, sent from Italy for the purpose. The court met in 1529. Catherine, summoned before it, steadfastly repudiated its jurisdiction and appealed to Rome. Before a decision could be reached, Campeggio adjourned the court until fall in conformity with the Roman practice. The court never reconvened, because the pope called the case to Rome. In desperation at getting satisfaction from the pope, who was clearly determined to drag matters out as long as he could, Henry took things more and more into his own hands.
The instrument by which the king finally achieved his wishes in the divorce crisis, and in the process led the way to a severance of English relations with the Church of Rome, was Parliament. Unlike his father and Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII freely used Parliament, enhancing its power while providing a firm basis for his own policies. He did not bully the Parliament or try to pack it, though the crown was able to ensure the presence of men who would present its wishes and provide leadership in getting those wishes enacted into law. Though Henry did not always get everything that he would have liked, there was a basic compatibility of views, which made his dealings with Parliament harmonious. It was the Commons that particularly responded to his wishes; the clerical members of the upper house were not always in agreement with him. The reign of Henry VIII marks an important phase not only in the rise of Parliament but also in the growth of the power of the House of Commons.
The Parliament, which met in 1529 and was not dissolved until 1536, was the Reformation Parliament, which enacted the most momentous body of legislation that had ever been produced in England. During the life of this Parliament there emerged as Henry's chief adviser Thomas Cromwell, one of the most gifted ministers in English history. After some years spent in military and business activity in Italy and the Netherlands, Cromwell had returned to England and entered Wolsey's service. After the cardinal's fall, he worked for the king. From 1532 onwards he began to accumulate offices, including that of principal secretary in 1534. In 1536 he became lord privy seal and was made a baron.
In the early stages of the Reformation Parliament, laws were passed against certain abuses in the church, such as pluralism and nonresidence. The purpose of these enactments was presumably to put pressure on the pope to accede to the king's wishes for fear of something worse. If so, they did not succeed; the pope would not or could not release Henry from his marriage.
From 1532, the legislation became more radical, perhaps under Cromwell's influence. In the next two years, the ties that bound England to Rome were severed. The payment of annates to the pope was cut off. Appeals from English courts to the Roman Curia were forbidden; all ecclesiastical cases were to be settled in English courts. Finally, in 1534, by the Act of Supremacy, the king was named "the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England."
The process of stripping the pope of his power in England did not mean any increase in independence for the English church; rather it diminished that independence by substituting the rule of a distant pope with the rule of the king. Among other things the acts of the Reformation Parliament gave the crown the right to approve all future canons, or laws made by the church, and to submit existing canons to review. Payments withheld from Rome were to go into the royal treasury. The Act in Restraint of Appeals of 1533, in a remarkable preamble, which may have come from the hand of Thomas Cromwell, set forth the principle of the modern sovereign state, unified under one government and recognizing no allegiance to any external authority.
This law facilitated the trial of the divorce case by a purely English court, and such a trial was held in the same year, presided over by the new archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who was Henry's man through and through. A longtime foe of the Roman headship of the English church and a firm adherent of the royal supremacy, Cranmer was perhaps the most faithful of Henry's servants and was rewarded by his master's support and protection to the end. The result of the trial was to declare null and void Henry's marriage to Catherine, and to make valid his marriage to Anne Boleyn, which had taken place secretly in January, hastened by Anne's pregnancy and the imperative need of insuring that the child of this union should be born in wedlock and thus eligible to succeed to the throne. Anne was crowned in June. The marriage was unpopular; Catherine was loved by the people, who disliked her successor.
In September 1533, Anne's child was born. To Henry's disappointment, the baby was a girl. Her father could not know that this child would be, as Elizabeth I, one of the most successful of all English monarchs. It was a son that he wanted, and at this point still hoped that Anne would bear him one. In 1534, Parliament passed an Act of Succession, the first of three such acts in Henry's reign. It declared that the issue of the king's marriage to Anne were to be recognized as legitimate heirs to the throne, and had the effect of setting aside and bastardizing Mary, as the offspring of an illegal union.
The act also authorized an oath recognizing the validity of its provisions. As this oath came to be drawn up, taking it meant repudiating the pope's authority and the validity of Henry's marriage to Catherine. Most of those who were required to swear this oath did so, impelled by whatever motives of conviction, fear, calculation or indifference may have prevailed in each case. A very small number found it so repugnant to their consciences that they faced death rather than submit. Among those martyrs were two of the most distinguished men in the country: John Fisher, bishop of Rochester, an unflinching defender of the rights of the church and staunchest friend of Queen Catherine, and Sir Thomas More, one of the most distinguished lawyers, scholars, and statesmen in England. Fisher and More went to their deaths two weeks apart, in the summer of 1535. Both have been canonized by their church.
Although the break with Rome brought money as well as power to the crown, it did not solve Henry's financial problems. Unlike his father, he was not a prudent financial manager, and his extravagant expenses, especially his adventurous foreign policy and wars, left him short of money. This appears to have been the underlying reason for the next great step in the English Reformation, the dissolution of the monasteries. There had long been dissatisfaction with the state of monastic life, a feeling that monks, friars, and nuns were not performing socially useful functions and services that would justify their continued existence. The desire for the considerable property that they controlled was also a factor. Some religious houses had already been dissolved by Wolsey and others; their income was used for charitable and educational purposes.
Whether the idea was the king's or Cromwell's, a campaign against the monasteries was undertaken starting in 1535, when visitors were sent out by Cromwell to inspect and report on the state of the religious life. The visitors sent back exaggerated reports of laziness, neglect of duty, and immorality, which were intended to make a case for the dissolution of at least some of the monastic houses. In 1536, Parliament passed a law dissolving all the monasteries worth an annual income of less than 200, and annexing their property to the crown. Within the next few years the larger monasteries were dissolved one by one until by 1540 there were no religious houses left in England.
The end of monastic life had been such a prominent feature of the English landscape for many centuries and was, no doubt, a fact of enormous and even revolutionary importance; but this importance is not susceptible to easy measurement. It has been both asserted and denied that religion in England lost much. What is undeniable is that a vast transfer of property took place. Henry found himself compelled to sell much of the former monastic holdings to meet his continued financial needs, and the result was that a great many individuals acquired monastic property. For some families, this was an important step in their rise to wealth and prominence. For the purchasers in general, it meant an incentive to support the break with Rome and to oppose any return of papal jurisdiction, which might mean the surrender of newly acquired land.
The dissolution of the smaller monasteries in 1536 helped to precipitate the one serious uprising against the government of Henry VIII. It took place in the north of England, the most conservative part of the kingdom, where the great families like the Percys retained much of the old feudal allegiance and where the old religion had not been undermined by the newer currents. Grievances were manifold: The religious changes, the harsh treatment of the Princess Mary, the apparent ascendancy of Thomas Cromwell, and now the attack on the monasteries, were some of the factors contributing to discontent. The trouble started in Lincolnshire, and soon spread to Yorkshire, which became the center of the movement. The religious element in the uprising is seen in the name given to it, the Pilgrimage of Grace. The most important of the leaders was Robert Aske, a lawyer who came from a gentry family in the north.
The Pilgrimage of Grace was unquestionably a serious crisis. Henry had no standing army, and the troops he finally mustered were outnumbered by the pilgrims. In these circumstances the king chose to temporize and to negotiate rather than to risk battle. He sent the duke of Norfolk to deal with the rebels. Playing on their loyalty to the king and a promise of the royal pardon for all but the leaders, Norfolk persuaded the rebels to disband and return home. Henry made no attempt to redress their grievances or even consider them seriously and a recurrence of trouble early in 1537 gave him an excuse for executing Aske, who had nothing to do with this renewed outbreak. During the course of the rising, the king had promised to make a trip to the North but failed to do so.
Early in 1536 Catherine died, after years of pitiless neglect and mistreatment by Henry. Anne Boleyn did not long survive her. Anne had failed to produce a male heir, Henry had grown tired of her, and his eye had fallen on Jane Seymour. Anne was tried on charges of adultery and incest, condemned to death, and beheaded on May 19. Whether she was guilty or not can probably never be determined exactly. Fifteen days later Henry married Jane, who in the following year gave birth to Henry's long-desired son, the future Edward VI. Jane failed to recover from the effects of childbirth and died shortly thereafter.
Henry married three more times, but none of the subsequent marriages produced offspring. Anne of Cleves, a German princess, proved so unattractive that he had the marriage annulled. Catherine Howard proved unfaithful and was beheaded. Catherine Parr outlived the king.
In 1540 came the fall of Thomas Cromwell. The exact causes are still not quite clear. He had arranged the ill-fated marriage with Anne of Cleves to provide Henry with German Protestant connections against the danger of a French-Spanish rapprochement. Henry was firmly opposed to Protestantism, the Spanish and French resumed their conflict, and Anne proved unattractive. Cromwell had powerful enemies at court eager to seize on any opportunity to discredit him in the eyes of the king. It is likely that the charge that weighed most heavily against him in Henry's eyes was the charge of heresy, which the king could not abide.
In spite of perhaps in part because of his break with Rome, Henry always considered himself orthodox in religion. In 1539 Parliament passed the so-called Act of Six Articles, which set forth some of the required articles of religious faith for Englishmen; these were all strictly Catholic in nature, and very harsh penalties were set forth for departing from them. Though the act was never strictly enforced, it gives some indication of the religious tightrope the English had to walk: repudiation of papal authority and acceptance of Catholic doctrine. In 1538 Henry authorized placing an English Bible in each parish church, but in 1543 the reading of the Bible was restricted to the wealthier classes.
In these circumstances the question naturally arises whether a religious revolution had actually taken place in England. The answer is that there had indeed been a revolution, but it was not doctrinal. It consisted in the fact that the supreme authority in religion in England had passed into the hands of laymen, the king, and Parliament. This was a change so drastic that it offended not only Catholics, but also such reformers as Luther himself.
This assumption of responsibility for religion made it necessary to establish some sort of settlement that would be acceptable to as many Englishmen as possible, in order to avoid strife. Thus a number of attempts at such a settlement were made after the ties with Rome had been severed; as has been shown, the tendency was toward a more conservative outlook as Henry grew older. In this area, neither Henry nor his two immediate successors achieved permanent success; not until the reign of Elizabeth was a stable arrangement reached.
In his last years, Henry resumed a policy of war with both France and Scotland. In Scotland, his army won a great battle at Solway Moss in 1542, but Henry did not know how to maintain his advantage. Instead, his harsh treatment of the Scots helped to push Scotland into the arms of France.
Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547. He had attained a more absolute authority than almost any other ruler of England. He had led England with remarkably little disturbance through an epoch-making change in church and religion, from which he emerged as supreme head of the church. He had helped to found the English navy. He had played an active but rather futile part in European diplomacy. He had dissipated the carefully husbanded resources of his father, largely in wars from which England gained nothing. He had done little or nothing for learning, education, literature, or art. He had superintended the destruction of some of his ablest and noblest subjects. Opinions of Henry differ and will no doubt continue to do so. For some, he is a ruthless destroyer of the beautiful and valuable; to others, he seems a great king.
That he was not so Catholic as may appear is indicated by the fact that, in selecting the men who were to educate his successor, and in choosing in his will a Council of Regency to rule until the new king came of age, Henry gave preference to men who were inclined toward Protestantism. The new monarch, Edward VI, was not yet ten years old at the time of his accession. His father's attempt to govern England from the grave, as it were, did not succeed. The king's uncle, Edward Seymour, who became duke of Somerset, managed by acting quickly to have himself named Lord Protector.
Protector Somerset was a man of noble intentions, who earnestly sought the welfare of ordinary Englishmen. In religion, he was Protestant, and extremely tolerant by the standards of the time. He was one of the ablest generals of the day. Yet he was hampered by his own difficult personality, which antagonized his colleagues on the council and which became even more of a handicap as the exercise of power tempted him into the use of arbitrary methods. He also alienated the affections of the young king; Somerset apparently had no skill at understanding or managing a young boy.
Edward VI, in his tragically short life, displayed remarkable qualities that might have made him, had he lived, an outstanding king. His intelligence was precocious. He early displayed a great interest in governmental affairs and drew up plans for the reform of administration. He was not of a devout nature, though he was clearly Protestant in sympathy. Calvin had great hopes for him. There was a coldness about him, which in a way is typically Tudor. In his diary he recalled without apparent emotion the execution of his uncle, Protector Somerset, who had been in charge of his upbringing for a long time it must be remembered that he apparently did not much like his uncle.
Until the fall of 1549 the government was dominated by Edward Seymour. In 1547, he invaded Scotland, where the English position had deteriorated seriously. Soon after crossing the border, he met the Scottish forces in the battle at Pinkie (September 10), which brought great slaughter of the Scots. Interestingly enough, Somerset's attitude toward Scotland was far from hostile. In fact, he wanted to help bring about a union between the two countries, and was anxious, as had been Henry VIII before him, to arrange a marriage between the young king of England and the even younger queen of Scotland, Mary Stuart. Not unnaturally, his methods had quite a different effect from the one he intended. The Scots were driven even closer to France, and the French responded to their call for help by sending in troops in 1548. The young queen was sent from Scotland to France, where she later married the heir to the French throne. In 1549 the bulk of the English forces was withdrawn; the Scottish expedition was a failure.
The withdrawal of English troops in 1549 was caused by the outbreak of war with France, a war which was unsuccessful and humiliating for the English. For a long time to come, England was to be impotent in foreign affairs.
In 1549, there were uprisings in various parts of the country, due partly to economic and partly to religious factors. The economic grievances included resentment at enclosures, while the religious motivation was the introduction of a new service book, the Book of Common Prayer, the work of Cranmer. By the Act of Uniformity of that year, all services in the Church of England were to be conducted in accordance with this new liturgy, and to be in English. It may have been the change in language, more than anything else, that offended conservative religious attitudes in Cornwall and Devon, where the so-called Prayer Book Rebellion took place.
These risings helped to bring about the overthrow of Protector Somerset, who was arrested in the fall of 1549 and executed on trumped up charges in January 1552. The leader of the forces against him was John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, who became the most powerful man in the government until the end of Edward's reign. A ruthless and dangerous man, he was hated and despised by great numbers of people, and feared by his colleagues. During his period of dominance, conditions in England did not improve. The country remained humiliatingly weak in foreign relations. The economy was in bad shape as the coinage was debased. The rulers of the country enriched themselves by plundering the property of the church.
In religion, Northumberland's policy was to move in a more Protestant direction. This was also the way in which Cranmer's thought was evolving, as can be seen in the revised edition of the Book of Common Prayer, which appeared in 1552. It was more Protestant than the earlier version. The 1549 edition had been so ambiguous on the subject of the communion service that it was used as a subterfuge for continuing to perform the Mass. This ambiguity was now removed. In other ways also the trend was unmistakably toward Continental Protestantism.
From about January 1553, Edward VI was sick with what proved to be his fatal illness. As it became clear that he could not long survive, the prospect of the accession of his sister Mary presented itself. Mary, who was Catholic, had not been well treated during the reign of Edward. If she became queen, the outlook for the Protestant church would be very uncertain. In the closing weeks of Edward's reign, a plan was devised whereby Mary would be set aside in favor of Lady Jane Grey, the young granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary. It was arranged that Lady Jane Grey should marry Guildford Dudley, son of the duke of Northumberland, and be proclaimed queen. A document was drawn up to this effect, and signed in the king's presence by the leading men in the kingdom.
It has generally been believed that the contriver of this desperate scheme was the duke of Northumberland, but Professor W. K. Jordan has put forth the interesting and arresting theory that it was the young king himself who originated the scheme and forced Northumberland into attempting to carry it out, thereby, as it happened sealing his own destruction. When Edward died, on July 6, 1553, Northumberland proclaimed Lady Jane queen of England. In this crisis, Mary showed courage and stood firm. Support for her cause soon became widely apparent, while it became equally evident that Northumberland was so much hated that he could not hope to succeed. His movement collapsed, Mary became queen and the unfortunate Lady Jane and her husband were put into the Tower. Mary was unmerciful, executing Northumberland, who went to his death claiming to be Catholic. Two of his accomplices were also executed.
Unfortunately, Mary did not understand the reasons for her enthusiastic acceptance by the English people. They saw in her the legitimate successor to Henry VIII, and they hated the duke of Northumberland. They did not, however, signify approval of her religious sympathies. Mary, unlike the more gifted Tudor rulers, lacked a real understanding for or sympathy with the people. She was thirty-six at the time of her accession, and had led a life that could not have prepared her to be queen. She was deeply perhaps fanatically devoted to the Catholic church and to the memory of her mother, Catherine of Aragon, whom she revered as a martyr. Thus she regarded the restoration of the papal obedience as her chief task.
She was unmarried when she became queen. Negotiations had been carried on from time to time concerning her possible marriage; at one time she had been betrothed to her cousin, Charles V. Now she was anxious to marry Charles's son, Prince Philip, the heir to the Spanish throne. She held on to this plan with blind and dogged persistence, ignoring the distaste of her subjects for a Spanish marriage. In her dark days Mary had turned to Charles for support and counsel. Charles, who was a true Hapsburg in his use of marriage as a diplomatic device, was eager to seize this opportunity to extend Hapsburg influence to England, with the prospect that one of his descendants would some day mount the English throne.
Philip was notably less enthusiastic. He was about ten years younger than his proposed bride, and may well have known that she was not especially attractive. He was, however, an obedient son who revered his father; in any event, there was little that he could have done about it.
Before the marriage, however, a serious uprising took place in England in the attempt to prevent it. This rising, Wyatt's Rebellion, takes its name from one of its leaders, Sir Thomas Wyatt, whose father was an important poet. The rebellion was suppressed, but not until Wyatt and some of the insurgents had reached the gates of London. The revolt had come close to success. Mary showed great courage during this crisis, a courage that was greater than her prudence or her willingness to read the signs. In spite of the lessons that might have been learned from Wyatt's rising, she went ahead stubbornly with the Spanish marriage, which took place on July 25, 1554. The queen fell deeply in love with her young husband, who did not return her feeling.
The marriage treaty, severely restricting Philip's prerogatives as far as England was concerned, reflects the feelings of Englishmen about their queen's husband. One of their fears was that English interests would be subordinated to those of Spain, still the more powerful of the two countries, and to some extent this fear proved too well grounded. Philip managed to persuade Mary to join him in the Spanish struggle against France, and the result was that the French had an opportunity to attack Calais, the one remaining English possession on the Continent. The English defenders of the city fought bravely, even heroically, but its fortifications had long been shamefully neglected, and Calais fell to the French.
If Mary's reign proved disastrous in foreign affairs, it was no more successful in the field of religion. Mary's aim of reunion with Rome was not accomplished all at once. Her first Parliament in 1553 was willing to restore the religious situation essentially as it had existed at the end of her father's reign, with Catholic worship reestablished, but with the royal headship of the church retained. It was not until her third Parliament in 1554 that Mary was able to secure return to the papal obedience. This was completed when on November 30, 1554, papal legate, Cardinal Reginald Pole, in a ceremony attended by Philip, Mary, and both Houses of Parliament, absolved the country from the sin of schism.
During the last four years or so of Mary's reign, there occurred the campaign of religious persecution that has earned the queen the epithet "Bloody Mary." Protestants were burned at the stake in numbers unprecedented in England; something like three hundred victims of both sexes and all ages died for their faith. Their deaths, instead of frightening their fellow countrymen into returning to the Roman church, caused a revulsion against the persecuting church and in favor of a religion for which so many were willing to lay down their lives.
Most of the victims were plain people, but some were leaders in English Protestantism. Hugh Latimer, a great preacher, and Nicholas Ridley, former bishop of London, died together at Oxford in 1555. As they went to their deaths, Latimer uttered his stirring and prophetic exclamation: "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace in England as shall never be put out." The most illustrious of all the martyrs was Cranmer, who also died at Oxford in 1556.
In addition to those who stayed home and suffered from her policy, there was a larger number, about eight hundred, who fled the country to await a better time. These so-called Marian exiles naturally took refuge in leading Protestant centers on the Continent, such as Geneva, and there came into contact with doctrines and practices that not only confirmed their faith but also made it even more radical. In future years they would return and help to make the Church of England Protestant.
Thus Mary had managed to produce results exactly the opposite of those for which she had hoped. One further disappointment darkened her days: her inability to bear a child who should succeed her. From time to time she was deluded into thinking that she was pregnant, but it always proved a vain hope; and as she neared the end, she was forced to recognize that she would be succeeded by her hated half-sister Elizabeth, daughter of the woman who had usurped her mother's place. It was as a lonely, defeated, and unhappy woman that she died on November 17, 1558.
The new queen, who had turned twenty-five a couple of months earlier, had been reared in a difficult school. Her mother had been executed by order of her father; she had had to adjust herself to numerous changes in the official religion; and during the reign of her half-sister she had been in mortal danger. There had been plots against Mary, including Wyatt's Rebellion, and Elizabeth was suspected of complicity in them. For a while she was imprisoned in the Tower in connection with Wyatt's Rebellion, but nothing could be proved against her and she was released; either she was innocent or she had been prudent.
Such experiences had taught her a good deal. She had learned to keep her thoughts and intentions to herself, and to be hesitant to trust anybody. Her qualities, innate and acquired, were well suited to the times. She was above all prudent and cautious, preferring if possible to solve problems by postponing action rather than by committing herself too strongly. She was intensely political, interested in the welfare and security of her country; unlike her half-sister and some of her contemporaries in other countries, she would never subordinate national interests to confessional considerations.
Her personal religious outlook, indeed, is difficult to fathom. It is unlikely that she had intense religious feelings. Her policy, as distinct from her personal feelings, was, as will be seen, conservative. She was parsimonious with both money and honors, apparently believing that men should serve her and England without considerations of reward. She was on the whole an excellent judge of men, and surrounded herself with able and dedicated advisers. She loved flattery, and her male courtiers were expected to treat her as an object of romantic adoration. She sometimes showed a fondness for handsome young men, but this did not normally cause her to give positions of responsibility to those unfit to bear them. She combined intelligence and courage, but lacked the cruelty of which her father had been capable.
She needed all her good qualities. She came to the throne of a country that had lost its prestige in foreign affairs and counted for little in European politics.
The treasury was empty, and the country's defenses were crumbling. The queen of Scotland was married to the heir of the French throne; and Mary's mother, a member of the powerful French family of Guise, was regent of Scotland. The persecutions of Mary Tudor had not solved the religious problem, but had made a solution more urgent than ever. It also was universally believed that a woman could not rule successfully and that the queen should marry soon. Children were needed of this prospective marriage, moreover, to assure a peaceful succession and avoid the twin dangers of civil war and foreign intervention.
The religious problem was dealt with in the first Parliament, which met in 1559. By this time many of the Protestant exiles from Mary's reign had returned, confirmed in their faith and determined to move the established church in the direction of their views. According to the interpretation of J. E. Neale, which is now more or less the standard one, these people were represented in the House of Commons by a powerful minority, which succeeded in forcing upon the queen a settlement more Protestant than she would have wished.
The settlement was chiefly embodied in two laws. The Act of Supremacy made the ruler the supreme governor of the Church of England, thus restoring the royal headship and abolishing once more the authority of the pope. The Act of Uniformity restored the Prayer Book of 1552; that is, the one more advanced in its Protestantism. This settlement was the first one that brought a solid measure of religious concord after the upheavals of the reign of Henry VIII, and it has remained, with modifications and interruptions, the basis for the Church of England as it still exists today.
This longevity could hardly have been predicted at the time, because the Elizabethan settlement could hardly have struck anyone as ideal. To the Roman Catholics, its repudiation of the papal supremacy made it completely unacceptable. To the more militant Protestants, it was condemned by its retention of vestiges of "popery." The queen was, therefore, faced with problems from both ends of the religious spectrum: At one end were the Catholics. At the other were the unsatisfied Protestants, who came to be called, among other names, Puritans.
The Puritans, in Elizabeth's reign, tended to be Calvinistic in doctrine. It was not primarily their doctrinal ideas, however, that made them unhappy with the established religion as much as their views on religious ceremonial and church polity, or government. They believed in a simple church service, centered around the sermon; the church edifice itself, in their view, should be free of the elaborate ornamentation sometimes found in churches of the old faith. Images and relics of the saints they rejected, as well as the elaborate vestments worn by the priests. Early in Elizabeth's reign came the so-called Vestiarian Controversy, in which the Puritans waged a fruitless campaign against priestly vestments. Their dislike of outward ceremony extended even to the rejection of the use of the ring in the marriage ceremony and the sign of the cross in baptism.
With respect to church polity, the Puritans were opposed to government by bishops. They differed among themselves as to the proper form of church government to substitute for the episcopal form. In Elizabeth's time the predominant party among the Puritans was that of the presbyterians. They wanted a church governed by an ascending series of representative bodies of the local congregation to regional assemblies with a national assembly at the top of the structure. This form had two distinguishing characteristics. First of all, the government of the church would be representative, rather than monarchical or hierarchical, as in the Church of Rome and the established church in England. Second, laymen would participate, since the governing committees would be made up of lay elders, or presbyters. Among the leaders of the presbyterian party in Elizabeth's reign, the most prominent was Thomas Cartwright, who lost his professorship at Cambridge because of his views.
It must be understood that the presbyterians were not proposing to separate church and state by overthrowing the institution of the established church. On the contrary, they wanted to take over the established church and remodel it in accordance with their own convictions. There was a party that wanted to separate from the established church, and they were appropriately known as separatists. The best known among them in Elizabeth's reign was probably Robert Browne. The separatists were congregationalists; that is, they believed that the individual congregation should govern itself.
It may be said of the Puritans that, whatever their specific ideas may have been on the points in dispute, they were people who believed that each individual lives at every moment in the eyes of the Lord. Every act, every thought and feeling, even the most fleeting impulse, though secret from one's fellowmen, was known to the Almighty and under His judgment. The Puritans were characterized above all by their moral character, their striving for righteousness.
They also differed from those who regarded certain ideas and practices as being "things indifferent," on which Christians might disagree without danger to salvation and without leaving the church. These "things indifferent" were known as adiaphora, and the Church of England came to have a strong Adiaphoristic tradition. For the Puritans, little or nothing was considered indifferent; thus they made issues out of matters that to many others did not appear to be worth the trouble.
Throughout the reign of Elizabeth, the Puritans and their sympathizers, who included members of the nobility, pushed for their program in Parliament and elsewhere. They met at every turn with one immovable obstacle the queen. Elizabeth could not tolerate any body of opinion that contested her authority, and the Puritans threatened her authority in the church. On the other hand, she could not afford to suppress them too harshly, because they were among her most loyal and devoted subjects. An attempt to set up a secret presbyterian organization throughout the country was uncovered and broken up. A secret press that issued a series of scurrilous tracts against the official church the Marprelate tracts was discovered and destroyed. But Puritanism survived to become a factor of enormous importance in the seventeenth century and to leave a permanent mark on the English character.
There were probably fewer Catholics in England than there were Puritans, but in some ways the Catholic problem was a more difficult one for the government, because of its implications for foreign affairs. Since the number of Catholics in England and their real loyalties could not be known, there was always a lurking fear that, in the event of an invasion by one of the great Catholic powers, England would face not only the enemy from abroad but also a grave danger from within. In these circumstances, as compared with some other countries placed in similar situations, the government of Elizabeth was remarkable for its coolness and refusal to yield to hysteria.
The queen herself was remarkably tolerant for her times. She claimed that she did not want to make windows into men's souls that is, she did not care what her subjects thought in the matter of religion, as long as they conformed outwardly by attending the services of the established church. For the first dozen years of her reign, Catholics were to a large extent left alone. The situation changed in 1570, when Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth and released her subjects from their allegiance to her.
This attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of a heretical state by turning subjects against their ruler was typical of the papacy of the Counter Reformation, which did not hesitate to use intrigue, dissensions, and even assassination against Protestant rulers. In 1571 the English Parliament passed laws aimed at Catholics. It became treason to affirm that Elizabeth was not or ought not to be queen, or that she was a heretic, schismatic, tyrant, or usurper. It was also treason to introduce papal bulls and other instruments from Rome. From then on, some Catholics became recusants that is, they absented themselves from the services of the Church of England.
In 1568, William Allen, an English Catholic in exile on the Continent, set up an English college at Douai to train priests for the reconversion of England. These young men, knowing that they were seeking martyrdom, flocked to the seminary, and more such schools were opened in other cities. Many of these men, returning to England, were caught and put to death, but more kept coming. By 1580 over one hundred seminary priests were in England.
In 1580, the first Jesuits arrived in England. They were backed by Pope Gregory XIII, who was determined on the destruction of Elizabeth. The Jesuits were able and dedicated men and very effective both in the work of conversion and in strengthening the faith and morale of those who were already Catholic. Their appearance in the country brought a tightening of governmental measures against Catholics. During the next few years, recusancy became subject to extremely heavy fines, attendance at Mass was punished by fine and imprisonment, and conversion to the Catholic faith was treason. All Jesuits and other priests were ordered out of the country on pain of treason.
It is often pointed out in favor of Elizabeth's tolerance that no Catholics were executed for heresy in her reign. Those who were put to death were charged with treason. Many received lesser penalties, such as fines, prison, and banishment. Yet the fact remains that, whatever the charges may have been, their offense was being Catholic. It is difficult to prove that they were really a danger to the state, because they came to England as loyal subjects, without subversive political purposes. The Jesuits were forbidden to speak against the queen or to discuss politics. Anyone who reads the Jesuit John Gerard's account of his work in England must be impressed by his nobility and devotion and by the unsavory character of the professional Catholic-hunters, or pursuivants. He tells of the wretched conditions under which Catholics were imprisoned, and vividly describes the tortures to which he was subjected. The tragedy is that the government and the priests were talking two different languages, completely failing to understand one another. For the government, religion was to be considered simply in the light of politics. For the priests, nothing mattered except men's souls.
Yet there was a political danger from Catholics. In 1569 came the Revolt of the Northern Earls, a plot against Elizabeth involving some of the great noblemen, including the duke of Norfolk, the highest in rank of all Englishmen outside the royal family. It had as its purpose the overthrow of Elizabeth and the Protestant establishment, and the restoration of the old church. Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland, now a prisoner in England, was to be freed and placed on the throne. This rising was crushed, but only after it had become very serious.
The problem of Mary Stuart complicated all of Elizabeth's other problems. In 1568 she arrived in England after being deposed from the throne of Scotland. As the nearest heir to Elizabeth and a Catholic, she was the natural rallying point of Catholic discontent. Mary involved herself in one intrigue and plot after another in the effort to gain her freedom and the throne of England. Elizabeth's unmarried status made her particularly vulnerable, because her life alone stood between Mary and the crown.
After being a party to a number of plots against Elizabeth, Mary finally implicated herself so deeply in the Babington Plot of 1586 that she was tried and found guilty. The clamor for her execution, which had been growing for years, became more insistent than ever. In spite of Elizabeth's reluctance to execute a queen, Mary was finally beheaded on February 8, 1587.
The following year saw the sailing of the great Spanish fleet, the Armada, against England. English relations with Spain had been deteriorating since the death of Mary Tudor. Conflicts had been taking place in the New World, with the Spanish attempting to protect their imperial trade monopoly against English interlopers like John Hawkins. In the Netherlands, where a revolt against Spanish rule had been going on for years, the English had been helping the rebels. At first the aid was unofficial, but after the assassination of William of Orange in 1584 (See Chapter 18), Elizabeth intervened openly.
Philip had been preparing for an invasion of England since 1585, but his preparations were broken up and the invasion delayed when Francis Drake in 1587 raided the harbor of Cadiz and did grave damage to the Spanish fleet. By the following year the Armada was ready to sail. It was a formidable assemblage of 130 ships, and posed a real threat. However, the defeat of the great Spanish fleet was brought about by deficiencies in Spanish planning, the greater firepower and maneuverability of the English ships, and the conditions of the weather. The Spaniards were prepared to fight the older type of sea battle, in which the aim was to grapple the enemy ships, land soldiers on their decks, and fight what amounted almost to a land battle on the sea. The English, however, used a different method. Their ships stood off and, with their bigger guns, fired at the enemy's ships. The war did not end with the Armada, but continued indecisively until after the deaths of both Elizabeth and Philip II.
The help that England gave to the Protestant rebels in the Low Countries illustrates a prominent feature of Elizabeth's foreign policy. Surrounded by potential enemies, England had to take advantage of any opportunities to embarrass them. One such opportunity arose when Protestant rebellions broke out. Elizabeth's motives were not religious; she did not see herself as the champion of the Protestant cause, as some of her advisers would have wished. Her interest was always in the security of England. It was in the interests of England's security that Elizabeth got involved not only in the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain, but also in the affairs of Scotland and France. In the case of relations with France, Elizabeth had two weapons. One was the Wars of Religion, the other her own status as an unmarried queen. Catherine de' Medici, the French Queen Mother, had a number of sons, three of whom became kings of France. Two of these sons were proposed at different times as suitors for the hand of Elizabeth. The more serious negotiations involved the duke of Alenon, who later became duke of Anjou, but never king. He was more than twenty years younger than Elizabeth; nevertheless, he wooed the queen on various occasions with what appeared to be serious intentions. In the long run the negotiations came to nothing. To this day we cannot know how seriously Elizabeth ever considered marrying him.
In 1562, civil war broke out in France between the Catholics and the Protestants, known as Huguenots. The French Wars of Religion, as will be shown in the next chapter, lasted for more than three decades, devastating France and weakening the monarchy. By rendering the French incapable of external aggression, the situation proved advantageous to England. Once more, national interest rather than religious sympathy drew Elizabeth to the side of the rebels. English subjects who wished to fight on the side of the Huguenots were not discouraged from doing so. In 1572, the English were horrified by the news of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of Protestants. This increased their fears of a great international Catholic conspiracy and further aroused sympathy for Protestants. Later, when Henry of Navarre, the future Henry IV, became the leader in the French Protestant cause, Elizabeth assisted him with money, thus helping him eventually to mount the French throne.
One of the reasons for England's vulnerability, and a source of anxiety to Elizabeth's subjects, was her unmarried state. At first, there was the fear that, as a woman, she was incapable of ruling by herself and needed a man at her side. Elizabeth's qualities as a ruler managed to dispel this fear, but there remained the worry about the succession that plagued the entire Tudor period. What sort of internal chaos and external attack would follow if the queen should die unmarried and childless: Elizabeth's parliaments brought up the question of the succession a number of times, urging her to marry, but she always managed to avoid marriage. The queen had always refused to name her successor; knowing, as she put it, that it would cause people to abandon the setting for the rising sun. Shortly before her death, she named James VI of Scotland, son of Mary Stuart, as her successor. Elizabeth died on March 24, 1603, and the Elizabethan Age, as well as the Tudor Age, came to an end.
During the reign of Elizabeth, England's horizons expanded far beyond the island kingdom as English sailors struck out across the seas in all directions. Their motives included the search for new trade opportunities, the fight against Spain, the love of knowledge and adventure, and, in at least a few cases, some faint intimations of England's imperial possibilities.
The Elizabethan sailors were carrying on in this field an impulse that had begun earlier. After the hiatus of Henry VIII's reign, activity resumed under Edward VI. John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, was the leader in this movement. One of its results was an expedition led by Richard Chancellor and Sir Hugh Willoughby to find a northeast passage to Asia by sailing through the North Cape. Willoughby died in the attempt, but Chancellor found the White Sea, the town of Archangel, and the route to Moscow. There he established relations with Tsar Ivan the Terrible. The result was the foundation of the Muscovy Company in 1555 for trade with Russia.
This in turn led to the establishment of commercial relations with Persia, through the efforts of Anthony Jenkinson, who worked for the Muscovy Company and reached Persia in 1561, obtaining a trade agreement with the shah. When the Turkish conquest closed the route by which Persian goods had been reaching England, the English entered into an agreement with Turkey, which led to the foundation of the Turkey Company in 1581. In 1538 a Venice Company was founded to trade with Venice and her possessions, and in 1592 the amalgamation of the Turkey and Venice Companies brought about the creation of the Levant Company.
Interest also existed in the Far East. Ralph Fitch, who left England in 1583, reached Agra, Bengal, Burma, and Malacca, returning to England in 1591 to find that he had been given up for dead. In 1600 the English East India Company was founded. When its first fleet went out to the East in the same year, it marked the beginning of an amazing career that was to be inseparably linked for centuries to English imperial expansion in Asia.
Attempts by Martin Frobisher and later by Sir John Davis were made to find a northwest passage to Asia. Although they did not find what they were seeking, their voyages added significantly to geographical knowledge.
Some Englishmen became interested in the possibilities of the New World of America as a place for English settlement and English trade. Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583 set out to establish a permanent settlement in Newfoundland, but his death ended the scheme. His half-brother, Walter Raleigh, was also passionately interested in the New World. In 1585 a settlement sponsored by him was made at Roanoke Island, but the settlers returned in 1586. In 1587 Raleigh sent out another group, but it vanished completely, for causes that remain mysterious. This was the famous "Lost Colony."
Of all the Elizabethan voyages, one of the most spectacular was Francis Drake's circumnavigation of the world from 1577 to 1580. Since Drake had been devoting himself for years to fighting Spain, until his very name struck fear into Spanish colonies in the New World, it is likely that one of his main purposes was to attack the enemy once again, especially since he brought back a great treasure that he had plundered from the Spanish. He may also have had some commercial and colonial purposes in mind. He landed on the coast of California near San Francisco, claiming that area for the queen. He also made a trade treaty with the sultan of the islands in the Moluccas. In 1586 88, Thomas Cavendish led another circumnavigation.
When the queen died, England possessed no overseas territory, yet the seeds of the empire had been planted. Whether it was England's island location, the spirit of her seamen, the vision of men like Gilbert and Raleigh, or the genius of the queen, a start had been made on the process which was to build the British Empire.
The condition of Scotland at the beginning of the sixteenth century has been described as "feudal anarchy," as "a poor, primitive, and far-away country which the civilized nations of Europe regarded with contempt and romantic fascination."11 The kings, members of the Stuart family, were unable to dominate the nobles, who possessed the preponderant political power. In external relations, perhaps the most constant factor was the age-old hostility with England, complemented by the long-standing alliance with France.
As far as the Scottish church was concerned, there was a widespread and insistent demand for reform, centering on the lives and behavior of the clergy, rather than on any demand for changes in theology or ritual. Monastic life was in decline. While monks were not, on the whole, guilty of flagrant immorality, they tended to live in idleness and comfort, paying little attention to their religious calling or intellectual pursuits. The nunneries were in even worse condition: The nuns were illiterate, and discipline had almost completely broken down. The friaries maintained somewhat higher standards: Most of the preaching in Scotland was done by friars.
One of the most serious problems arose from the neglect of the parish churches. The revenue of these parishes was being diverted to other types of ecclesiastical foundations; consequently, there were insufficient funds to pay qualified priests, and the intellectual and moral level of the parish clergy was, therefore, low. Surviving records of the large number of legitimations of the children of priests testify to a laxity of moral standards among the secular clergy.
In contrast to the poverty of the parish priests was the wealth of some of the more fortunate members of the clergy cathedral canons, bishops, abbots. To add to the abuses, these lucrative positions were often kept within one family, and many noble families drew a good part of their incomes from the control of church offices.
The greatest beneficiary of lay interference in the Scottish church was the crown. After England's break with Rome in the reign of Henry VIII, the papacy was so anxious not to lose the obedience of the church in Scotland that it virtually surrendered control to the king. The crown took full advantage of its opportunities, appointing members of the royal family to lucrative positions and using church property and income freely for its own purposes.
In these conditions Protestant ideas began to make headway in Scotland, entering the country at first from the German towns of the Hanseatic League. The first documentary evidence of this is a law passed by the Scottish Parliament in 1525 against Lutheran works. The first martyr in Scotland was Patrick Hamilton, burned in 1528. Other executions followed, the most notable being that of George Wishart in 1546.
The religious situation in Scotland, as elsewhere, had political connections. Protestantism was associated with the pro-English party, while the Catholic party was anti-English and hence pro-French. Not long after the execution of Wishart, Cardinal David Beaton, archbishop of St. Andrews and the leader of the Catholic and anti-English party, was murdered in St. Andrews Castle (May 29, 1546). The murderers were joined in the castle by a number of Protestants, among whom was John Knox who had come there in April of the previous year.
John Knox (c.1514 72) is the most important of the religious leaders of the Scottish Reformation. He was ordained a priest in 1536, and about 1543 he was converted to Protestantism. In 1545 he met Wishart and became one of his followers. It was in St. Andrews in 1547 that Knox first preached. In July of that year, the French sent a fleet to St. Andrews and took the castle. Knox, along with a number of others, was taken prisoner and sent to serve in the galleys. He served as a galley slave, with harmful effects on his health, until the end of February or the beginning of March 1549.
From 1549 until the accession of Mary Tudor, Knox lived in England, preaching at Berwick and Newcastle. His preaching in Berwick encouraged the Protestants in Scotland, who had suffered a great setback when their leaders were taken by the French at St. Andrews in 1547. Many came to hear Knox preach and even remained in England to form part of his congregation.
In 1552 the duke of Northumberland, who now dominated the English government, visited the north of England. After hearing Knox preach, Northumberland invited him to come to court, where he preached before the king in the autumn of 1552. In one of his sermons at court he denounced the practice of kneeling at communion. This had been retained in the Second Book of Common Prayer, which had been officially adopted and was due to come into force on November first. His sermon had so much influence that at the last moment, at the end of October, a statement was inserted in the Prayer Book to the effect that kneeling to receive the sacrament did not imply adoration of the bread and the wine, and that Christ was not corporally present in the elements. This statement, which became known as the "black rubric," was the first explicit official English rejection of the Real Presence, and was due to Knox's influence.
When Mary Tudor ascended the throne, Knox decided to leave England, and early in 1554 he was on the Continent. For a while he was at Frankfurt, where he became involved in conflicts with his fellow exiles that led to his expulsion from the city. He went to Geneva, where he became a Calvinist and a great admirer of Calvin.
In 1554, Mary of Guise, widow of James V, succeeded in becoming regent of Scotland. In order to consolidate her power in her new position, she found it expedient to conciliate the Protestants and tolerate, at least provisionally, the exercise of their religion. Taking advantage of this favorable turn of events, Knox returned to Scotland. He was there only from the fall of 1555 to the summer of 1556.
This trip of Knox to Scotland, brief though it was, had great significance for the future religious development of the country. He gave Protestantism a firm hold in Edinburgh, where it had not previously been strong. He unified the Scottish Protestants and made them into a militant, cohesive party with a Calvinistic doctrine. He had a very shrewd political sense, and knew that for the movement to succeed in Scotland, it must have support among the one class that determined events in that country the nobility. On this trip, therefore, he made a special point of talking to those nobles who were Protestant or receptive to the Protestant message. He succeeded to such an extent that the Protestant party was provided with a group of noble leaders, who directed the movement and, in the long run, were responsible for its success.
Among those nobles there were some whose devotion to the Protestant cause was based on sincere religious motives. One of these was Lord James Stewart, later to be earl of Moray, illegitimate son of James V, and thus a half-brother of Mary Stuart. In the years to come, Moray was to be the single greatest factor in ensuring the triumph of Protestantism in England and Scotland, and consequently made a great contribution to its survival in Europe as a whole.
It was probably only a matter of time until a clash took place between the regent, French and Catholic, and the increasingly militant Protestant party. The Scottish Protestants were encouraged by the death of the Catholic Mary Tudor in England and the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558. When Mary of Guise showed signs of abandoning her policy of toleration toward the Protestants, conflict came to a head, and in 1559 civil war broke out. Protestantism and anti-French feeling combined in the attack on the government of Mary of Guise. The leaders of the revolt were known as the Lords of the Congregation. Also in 1559, Mary Stuart, daughter of Mary of Guise and James V, became queen of France when her husband ascended the French throne as Francis II. Mary Stuart had been queen of Scotland almost since her birth.
In October 1559, the Lords of the Congregation, in the name of Francis II and Mary, declared Mary of Guise deposed as regent. However, military success lay with Mary of Guise, who had French troops at her disposal. The only hope of the Protestants lay in getting help from England, and this help was eventually made available. With the arrival of an English fleet and army, and the death of the regent in June 1560, a settlement was reached. In the following month, the Treaty of Edinburgh provided for the removal of foreign troops and marked the victory of the Protestant, pro-English party. In the absence of the queen, Scotland was to be ruled by a council, whose leaders were Protestant.
Knox, meanwhile, back on the Continent, published The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558), in which he called for the English to overthrow Mary. Later he went so far as to advocate putting her to death. The First Blast contained an attack on rule by women, and made a permanent enemy for Knox in Queen Elizabeth. In view of the dependence of the Scottish Reformation on English help, it can only be regarded as a blunder on the part of Knox, explainable by his distance from Britain at the time and his ignorance of Elizabeth's character. When he asked for permission to travel through England in 1559 on his way back to Scotland, it was denied. Knox was back in Scotland by May of 1559.
He was quick to see that English intervention was necessary for Protestant success, and was the most active of the Scots in securing it, but his success here helped spell the decline of his influence. The direction of the Scottish Reformation was to be in the hands of political forces, the English government and the Scottish Protestant nobles.
In August of 1560 with the Protestants victorious, there took place the meeting of the Parliament, which is known in Scottish history as the Reformation Parliament. It abolished papal jurisdiction, forbade the Mass, approved a Protestant confession of faith, and authorized the compilation of a new Book of Discipline, to set up the government of the church.
Francis II and Mary refused to give their consent to the work of this Parliament, which meant that its measures were illegal. In fact, the sovereign had never consented to the calling of the Parliament, so that it had actually been illegal from the beginning. Nevertheless, it was the most important Parliament in Scottish history, and helped to establish the Reformed church as the official church of the nation.
This new church had numerous problems. Because the incumbent bishops were members of the most powerful families in the country, they could not be dispossessed, whether or not they chose to conform to the newly established faith. This meant that the property and wealth of the old church were not available to the new one, which consequently lacked adequate financial resources. Furthermore, the ruler, Mary Stuart (Francis II died in 1560), had not officially recognized it; there were for several years two ecclesiastical organizations in Scotland.
Further difficulties arose when the widowed Mary returned to Scotland to take up her position as queen. Though she found it expedient to conciliate the Protestants, she was a Catholic and hoped to restore the Catholic church in Scotland. To this end she was prepared to use force if it should ever become available, but for such force she was dependent on France or Spain. As it turned out, neither country was ever both able and willing to supply it.
With the arrival of Mary, the Scottish Reformation became even more inextricably interwoven with politics and with international relations. Had Mary Stuart triumphed over her enemies at home and succeeded in overthrowing Elizabeth in England, Protestantism might have been crushed in the British Isles, and this would have added great strength to the Catholic forces in France, Spain, and the empire. The whole future of Protestantism thus depended to some extent on the course of events in a small, poor, and backward country on the edge of European civilization.
The influence of events abroad was even felt in the religious evolution of Scotland. For some years the new church developed along the lines of the Elizabethan church in England. Bishoprics continued to exist, and the Book of Common Prayer was followed.
The presbyterian form, which became characteristic of the Scottish church, or "kirk," was a foreign importation, brought to Scotland largely by Andrew Melville, who returned from Geneva in 1574. In spite of opposition, he was able to acquire enough influence in Scotland to implant the presbyterian polity.
Seen in the British and European perspective, the deposition of Mary Stuart in 1566 marks a turning point in religious history. She was succeeded by her son, James VI, who was still a baby; and the government came into the hands of Protestant nobles. James was brought up as a staunch Protestant, though his early experiences gave him a strong bias against Presbyterians. In any event, Protestantism was, henceforth, safe in Britain, and consequently had a much enhanced prospect of survival in western Europe as a whole.