by  Winston  Churchill

The Break with Rome

CRANMER'S idea of an appeal to the universities about Henry's marriage to Catherine had proved a great success, and the young lecturer was rewarded with an appointment as Ambassador to the Emperor. Even the University of Bologna in the Papal States declared that the King was right and that the Pope could not set aside so fundamental a law. Many others concurred: Paris, Toulouse, Orleans, Padua, Ferrara, Pavia, Oxford, and Cambridge. The King had known all along that he was right, and here, it seemed, was final proof. He determined to mark his displeasure with the Pope by some striking measure against the power of the Church of England. Why, he asked, was the right of sanctuary allowed to obstruct the King's justice? Why were parsons permitted to live far away from their parishes and hold more than one living while underpaid substitutes did the work for the absentees? Why did Italians enjoy the revenues of English bishoprics? Why were the clergy demanding fees for probate on wills and gifts on the death of every parishioner? The King would ask his learned Commons to propose reforms.

Some years earlier, in 1515, a celebrated case had shaken the Church in England. A London merchant tailor, Richard Hunne, had stood out against Church fees, and the dispute had expanded into a bold challenge to ecclesiastical authority. As a result Hunne was arrested, and imprisoned by the clergy in the Lollards' Tower, where he was subsequently found hanged. Was it suicide or murder? Opposition in Parliament and the City grew in volume, and reached up to the Bishop of London himself. But these early rumblings of a Reformation had been silenced by the then immovable power of Wolsey. Now the Commons eagerly resumed their interrupted task. A committee was formed of all the lawyers in the House, and they drafted the necessary Bills in record time. The House of Lords, where the bishops and abbots still had more votes than the lay peers, agreed to the Bills reforming sanctuaries and abolishing mortuary fees, which affected the lower clergy only, but when the Probate Bill came up to the Lords the Archbishop of Canterbury "in especial," and all the other bishops in general, both frowned and grunted. Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, a representative of the old school, warned the Lords that religious innovation would bring social revolution in its train. He pointed to the national Czech revolt led by John Huss.

"My lords," he said, "you see daily what Bills come here from the Commons house, and all is for the destruction of the Church. For God's sake see what a realm the kingdom of Bohemia was; and when the Church went down, then fell the glory of the kingdom. Now with the Commons is nothing but down with the Church, and all this meseemeth is for lack of faith only."

The Commons soon heard of this bold speech, and Members pointed out the implication of the last words—that laws the Commons made were laws made by pagans and heathen people and not worthy to be kept. They formed a deputation of thirty leading Members, headed by the Speaker, and went off to complain to the King. Henry summoned the offending bishops and asked Fisher to explain. Fisher shuffled. He had only meant, he declared, that the Bohemians lacked faith, not the Commons. With this interpretation the other bishops agreed. "But this bland excuse," we are told, "pleased the Commons nothing at all." Sharp exchanges took place before the Probate Bill could be forced through the Lords, and rancour grew. Thus from the outset the Reformation House of Commons acquired a corporate spirit, and during its long life, longer than any previous Parliament, eagerly pursued any measure which promised revenge against the bishops for what it deemed their evasion and duplicity over the Probate Bill. Hostility to the Episcopate smouldered, and marked the Commons for more than a hundred years.

The King was already delighted With what they had done, and went about telling everybody, including the Imperial Ambassador. "We have issued orders," he said, "for the reform of the clergy in our kingdom. We have already clipped their claws considerably by taking away from them several taxes imposed by their own excessive authority on our subjects. We are now about to undertake the Annates [the first year's income which the bishops paid to Rome on consecration] and prevent ecclesiastics from holding more than one benefice." But he made it clear at once that he remained fully orthodox in matters of doctrine, that he was merely adhering to the principle of Colet and other leading divines whom he had known in his youth, that men could be Catholic though critical of Papal institutions. "If Luther," he declared, "had confined himself to denouncing the vices, abuses, and errors of the clergy, instead of attacking the sacraments of the Church and other divine institutions, we should all have followed him and written in his favour." After this blunt though reasoned statement the negotiations in Rome for annulling the King's marriage encountered even greater obstacles. But Henry all his life was only spurred by opposition, and he determined to show he was in earnest.

During December 1530 the Attorney-General charged the whole body of the clergy with breaking the fourteenth-century Statutes of Praemunire and Provisors which had been passed to limit the powers of the Pope. This they had done by acquiescing in Wolsey's many hj|h-handed actions in his role as Papal Legate. Henry, after defeating the bishops in the matter of probate by enlisting the support of Parliament, knew that Convocation would not defy him. When the Papal Nuncio intervened to stiffen them against the King all the clergy present were astonished and scandalised. Without allowing him even to open his mouth they begged him to leave them in peace, since they had not the King's leave to speak with him. In return for a pardon for contravening Praemunire and Provisors the King extracted large sums from Convocation, £100,000 from the province of Canterbury and £19,000 from York, which was much more than at first they were prepared to pay. After further negotiation he also obtained a new title. On February 7, 1531, the clergy acknowledged that the King was "their especial Protector, one and supreme lord, and, as far as the law of Christ allows, even supreme head."

Parliament, which had been prorogued from month to month since the great doings about probate in 1529, was now recalled to hear and disseminate the royal view on the divorce. Lord Chancellor More came down to the House and said, "There are some who say that the King is pursuing a divorce out of love for some lady, and not gut of any scruple of conscience; but this is not true," and lie read out the opinions of twelve foreign universities and showed a hundred "books" drawn up by doctors of strange regions, all agreeing that the King's marriage was unlawful. Then the Lord Chancellor said, "Now you of this Commons house may report in your counties what you have seen and heard, and then all men shall openly perceive that the King hath not attempted this matter of will for pleasure, as some strangers report, but only for the discharge of his conscience and surety of the succession of his realm."

Throughout these proceedings Queen Catherine remained at Court. The King, although he rode and talked openly with Anne, left Catherine in charge of his personal wardrobe, including supervision of the laundry and the making of his linen. When he required clothes he continued to apply to Catherine, not Anne. Anne was furiously jealous, but for months the King refused to abandon his old routine. A new attempt was then made by the Boleyn party to persuade Catherine to renounce her rights. On June 1, 1531, she was waited on by Norfolk, Suffolk, and Gardiner, Anne's father, now Earl of Wjlishire, Northumberland, and several others. As before she refused to renounce anything. Finally, about the middle of July, Anne took the King on a long hunting expedition, away from Windsor Castle, longer than any they had ever made together. Catherine waited, day after day, until a month had gone by, but still there was no news of the King's return. At last the messenger came: the King would come back. But his Majesty did not wish to see the Queen; she was commanded to retire instantly to Wolsey's former palace at Moor, in Hertfordshire. Henceforward she and her daughter Mary were banished from Court.

The winter of 1531-32 was marked by the tensest crisis of Henry's reign. A form of excommunication, or even interdict, had been drafted in Rome, ordering the King to cast off his concubine Anne within fifteen days, only the penalties being left blank. The shadow of Papal wrath hung over England. At Court Christmas was kept with great solemnity. "All men," states a chronicler, "said there was no music in that Christmas, because the Queen and ladies were absent." But, as in the dark days in the early part of the reign, after the failure of the Bordeaux expedition, the King pursued his inflexible course to the end. Opposition merely confirmed him in his plans. The Annates Bill of which he had boasted to the Imperial Ambassador was drafted as a fighting measure, in case the worst occurred. It armed the King for a greater struggle with the Papacy than had preceded Magna Carta. If the Court of Rome, its preamble ran, endeavoured to wield excommunication, interdict, or process compulsory in England, then all manner of sacraments and divine service should continue to be administered, and the interdict should not by any prelate or minister be executed or divulged. If any one named by the King to a bishopric were restrained by Bulls from Rome from accepting office he should be consecrated by the Archbishop, or any one named to an Archbishopric. Arid the Annates, a mainstay of the Papal finances, were limited to 5 per cent of their former amount.

This was the most difficult Bill which Henry ever had to steer through Parliament. He was obliged to go down to the House of Lords himself at least three times, and even then seemed likely to fail, until he thought of an entirely new expedient—the first public division of the House. "He thought of a plan that those among the Members who wished for the King's welfare and the prosperity of the kingdom (as they call it) should stand on one side of .the House and those who opposed the measure on the other. For fear of the King's indignation a number of them went over," and with considerable amendment the Bill was passed.

The next step was to make the clergy submit to the royal supremacy. Henry got the Commons to prepare a document called the Supplication against the Ordinaries, directed against the authority of Church courts. "Ordinaries" was the legal term for bishops and their deputies who enjoyed rights of jurisdiction. Although Convocation was truculent at first, making submission only in vague and ambiguous terms, Henry refused to compromise, and at the third attempt they agreed to articles of bis own, making him effective master of the Church in England. On the very afternoon these articles were submitted for the royal consent, May 16, 1532, Sir Thomas More resigned the Lord Chancellorship as a protest against royal supremacy in spiritual affairs. He had tried to serve his sovereign faithfully in everything; now he saw that Henry's courses must inevitably conflict with his own conscientious beliefs.

Thus the English Reformation was a slow process. An opportunist King measured his steps as he went, until England was wholly independent of administration from Rome. Wolsey had done much to prepare the way. He had supported the Papacy during some of its most critical years, and in return had been allowed to exercise wide and sweeping powers which were usually reserved to the Pope himself or to one of his visiting legates. England therefore was more accustomed than any other province of Christendom to Papal jurisdiction being vested in one of its own priests, and this made it easier to transfer it to the Crown. Wolsey had also brought Papal authority in his own person nearer to men's lives than it had ever been, and this unsought familiarity bred dislike.

The death in August of old Archbishop Warham, principal opponent of the King's divorce, opened further possibilities and problems. Henry did not hasten to appoint a successor. He had to consider how far he could go. If there were a struggle could any of his bishops be trusted to forget the oath which they had sworn to the Pope at their consecration? Would there be a rebellion? Would the Emperor, Queen Catherine's nephew, invade England from the Low Countries? Could the King rely on French neutrality?

In order to weigh these factors at first hand the King went over to Boulogne with only a few friends, including Anne Boleyn, for personal discussion with Francis I. He returned reassured. Confident that he could carry through even the most startling appointment to Canterbury, he recalled Cranmer from his embassy. Cranmer had been married twice, the second time in Germany after ordination, in the new German fashion for priests, to the niece of a well-known Lutheran. Since the marriage of priests was still illegal in England, Cranmer's wife went ahead in disguise. Cranmer himself took leave of the Emperor at Mantua on November 1st, 1532, and left the following day, arriving in London in the middle of December. A week later he was offered the Archbishopric of Canterbury. He accepted. Henceforward, until Henry died, Cranmer's wife was always hidden, and if she accompanied him was obliged, according to popular repute, to travel with the luggage in a vast chest specially constructed to conceal her.

A month later Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn. Historians have never discovered for certain who performed the ceremony, or where. Cranmer himself was not the priest. Both he and the Imperial Ambassador reported subsequently that the marriage had taken place in January 1533. Undoubtedly, in the eyes of the Roman Catholic world, Henry VIII committed bigamy, for he had been married nearly twenty-five years to Catherine of Aragon, and his marriage had not yet been annulled in Rome, or even in England, by any court or any public act. He simply assumed he had never been legally married at all, and left the lawyers and clergy to put the matter right afterwards.

Cranmer became Archbishop in the traditional manner. At the King's request Bulls had been obtained from Rome by threatening the Papacy with a rigorous application of the act of Annates. Cranmer swore to obey the Pope with the usual oath, though reservations were made before and afterwards, and he was consecrated with the full ceremonial. This was important: the man who was to carry through the ecclesiastical revolution had thus been accepted by the Pope and endowed with full authority. Two days afterwards however a Bill was introduced into Parliament vesting in the Archbishop of Canterbury the power, formerly possessed by the Pope, to hear and determine all appeals from the ecclesiastical courts in England. Future attempts to use any foreign process would involve the drastic penalties of Praemunire. The judgments of the English courts were not to be affected by any Papal verdict or by excommunication, and any priest who refused to celebrate divine service or administer the sacraments was made liable to imprisonment. This momentous Bill, the work of Thomas Cromwell, which abolished what still remained of Papal authority in England, passed through Parliament in due course, and became known as the Act of Appeals. The following month Henry himself wrote a letter describing his position as "King and Sovereign, recognising no superior in earth but only God, and not subject to the laws of any earthly creature." The breach between England and Rome was complete........