corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 23 — Protestantism in England From the Times of Henry VIII

Chapter 5 — The Bible and the Cellar at Oxford – Anne Boleyn

Resource Toolbox

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20


Entrance of the Scriptures – Garret carries them to Oxford – Pursuit of Garret – His Apprehension – Imprisonments at Oxford – The Cellar – Clark, Fryth, etc., do Penance – Their Sufferings – Death of Clark-Other Three Die – The Rest Released – Cambridge – Dr. Barnes Apprehended – A Penitential Procession in London – Purchase and Burning of Tyndale's Testaments by the Bishop of London – New Edition – The Divorce Stirred – Anne Boleyn – Her Beauty and Virtues – Knight Sent to Rome on the Divorce – A Captive Pope – Two Kings at his Feet.

WHEN God is to begin a work of reformation in the world, he first sends to men the Word of Life. The winds of passion – the intrigues of statesmen, the ambitions of monarchs, the wars of nations – next begin to blow to clear the path of the movement. So was it in England. The Bible had taken its place at the center of the field; and now other parties – Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry within the country; the Pope, the Emperor, and the King of France outside of it – hastened to act their important though subordinate parts in that grand transformation which the Bible was to work on England. It is on this troubled stage that we are about to set foot; but first let us follow a little farther the immediate fortunes of the newly translated Scriptures, and the efforts made to introduce them into England.

The cardinal and the Bishop of London soon learned that the English New Testament had entered London, and that the Curate of-All Hallows had received the copies, and had hidden them in his ]muse. Search was made through all the city for Garret. He could not be found, and they were now told that he had gone to Oxford "to make sale of his heretical books." [1]

They immediately dispatched officers to search for him in Oxford, and "burn all and every his aforesaid books, and him too if they could find him." [2] On the Tuesday before Shrove-tide, Garret was warned that the avengers of heresy were on his track, and that if he remained in Oxford he was sure to fall into the hands of the cardinal, and be sent to the Tower. Changing his name, he set out for Dorsetshire, but on the road his conscience smote him; he stopped, again he went forward, again he stopped, and finally he returned to Oxford, which he reached late at night. Weary with his wanderings, he threw himself upon his bed, where, soon after midnight, he was apprehended by Wolsey's agents, and given into the safe keeping of Dr. Cottisford, commissary of the University. A second attempt at flight was followed by arrest and imprisonment. Oxford was lost, the priests felt, unless the most summary measures were instantly adopted. All the friends of the Gospel at that university were apprehended, and thrown into prison. About a score of doctors and students were arrested, besides monks and canons, so widely had the truth spread. Of the number were Clark, one of the first to receive the truth; Dalabar, a disciple of Clark; John Fryth, and eight others of Wolsey's College. Corpus Christi, Magdalen, and St. Mary's Colleges also furnished their contribution to those now in bonds for the Gospel's sake. The fact that this outbreak of heresy, as the cardinal accounted it, had occurred mainly at his own college, made him only the more resolute on the adoption of measures to stop it. In patronizing literature he had been promoting heresy, and the college which he had hoped would be the glory of Oxford, and a bulwark around the orthodoxy of England, had become the opprobrium of the one and a menace to the other.

The cardinal had now to provide a dungeon for the men whom he had sought for with so much pains, through England and the Continent, to place in his new chairs. Their prison was a damp, dark cellar below the buildings of the college, smelling rankly of the putrid articles which were sometimes stored up in it. [3] Here .these young doctors and scholars were left, breathing the fetid air, and enduring great misery. On their examination, two only were dismissed without punishment: the rest were condemned to do public penance for their. erroneous opinions. A great fire was kindled in the market-place: the prisoners, than whom, of all the youth at Oxford, none had a finer genius, or were more accomplished in letters, were marshaled in procession, and with fagot on shoulder they marched through the streets to where the bonfire blazed, and finished their penitential performance by throwing their heretical books into it. [4] After this, they were again sent back to their foul dungeon.

Prayers and animated conversations beguiled the first weeks of their doleful imprisonment. But by-and-by the chilly damp and the corrupted air did their terrible work upon them. Their strength ebbed away, their joints ached, their eyes grew dim, their features were haggard, their limbs shook and trembled, and scarcely were they able to crawl across the floor of their noisome prison. They hardly recognized one another as, groping their way in the partial darkness and solitariness, they encountered each other. One day, Clark lay stretched on the damp floor: his strength had utterly failed, and he was about to be released by the hand of Death. He craved to have the Communion given him before he should breathe his last. The request could not be granted. Heaving a sigh of resignation, he quoted the words of the ancient Father, "Believe, and thou hast eaten." [5]

He received by faith the "Bread of Life," and having eaten his last meal he died. Other three of these confessors were rapidly sinking: Death had already set his mark on their ghastly features. These were Sumner,

Bayley, and Goodman. The cardinal was earnestly entreated to release them before death should put it out of his power to show them pity. Wolsey yielded to this appeal; but he had let them out only to die. The rest remained in the dungeon.

The death of these four was the means of opening the doors of the prison to the others. Even the cardinal, in the midst of his splendors, and occupied though he was at that moment with the affairs of England, and other kingdoms besides, was touched by the catastrophe that had taken place in the dungeons of his college, and sent an order for the release of the survivors. Six months had they sustained life in this dreadful place, the fever in the blood, and the poison in the air, consuming their strength day by day; and when their friends received them at the door of their living tomb, they seemed so many specters. They lived to serve the cause into which they had received this early baptism. Some of them shone in the schools, others in the pulpit; and others, as Fryth and Ferrar, subsequently Bishop of St. David's, consummated at the stake, long years after, the martyrdom which they had begun in the dungeon at Oxford.

The University of Cambridge was the first to receive the light, but its sister of Oxford seemed to outstrip it by being the first to be glorified by martyrdom. Cambridge, however was now called to drink of the same cup. On the very same day (February 5th, 1526) on which the investigation had been set on foot at Oxford, Wolsey's chaplain, accompanied by a sergeant-at- arms, arrived at Cambridge to open there a similar inquisition. The first act of Wolsey's agent was to arrest Barnes, the distinguished scholar, who, as we have seen, had given the use of his pulpit in the Augustine Convent to Latimer. He next began a search in the rooms of Bilney, Latimer, and Stafford, for New Testaments, which he had learned from spies were hidden in their lodgings. All the Testaments had been previously removed, and the search resulted in the discovery of not a single copy. Without proof of heresy the chaplain could arrest no heretics, and he returned to London with his one prisoner. An indiscreet sermon which Barnes had preached against the cardinal's "jeweled shoes, poleaxes, gilt pillars, golden cushions, silver crosses, and red gloves," or, as the cardinal himself phrased it, "bloody gloves," was the ground of his apprehension. When brought before Wolsey he justified himself. "You must be burned," said the cardinal, and ordered him into confinement. Before the tribunal of the bishops he repeated next day his defense of his articles, and was sentenced to be burned alive. His worldly friends came round him. "If you die," said they, "truth will die with you; if you save your life, you will cause truth to triumph when better days come round." They thrust a pen into his hand: "Haste, save yourself!" they reiterated. "Burned alive" – the terrible words ringing in his ears, freezing his blood, and bewildering his brain, he put forth his hand, and signed his recantation. He fell now that he might stand afterwards.

Meanwhile a great discovery had been made at London. The five merchants who had carried across from Germany the English New Testaments of Tyndale, had been tracked, apprehended, and were to do public penance at St. Paul's Cathedral on the morrow. It was resolved to consummate Barnes' disgrace by making him take his place in the penitential procession. On a lofty throne, at the northern gate of St. Paul's, sat the cardinal, clothed all in red, a goodly array of bishops, abbots, and priests gathered around him. The six penitents slowly passed before him, each bearing a faggot, which, after encompassing the fire three times, they cast into the flames, together with some heretical books. This solemn act of public humiliation being ended, the penitents returned to their prison, and Wolsey, descending from his throne and mounting his mule, rode off under a canopy of state to his palace at Westminster.

It was but a small matter that the disciple was burning his :fagot, or rotting in a cellar, when the Word was travelling through all the kingdom. Night and day, whether the persecutor waked or slept, the messenger of the Heavenly King pursued his journey, carrying the "good tidings" to the remotest nooks of England. Depots of the Scriptures were established even in some convents. The chagrin and irritation of the bishops were extreme. An archiepiscopal mandate was issued in the end of 1526 against the Bible, or any book containing so much as one quotation [6] from it. But mandate, inquisitors, all were fruitless; as passes the cloud through the sky, depositing its blessed drops on the earth below, and clothing hill and valley with verdure, so passed the Bible over England, diffusing light, and kindling a secret joy in men's hearts. At last Bishop Tonstall bethought him of the following expedient for entirely suppressing the book. He knew a merchant, Packington by name, who traded with Antwerp, and who he thought might be useful to him in this matter. The bishop being in Antwerp sent for Packington, and asked him to bring to him all the copies of Tyndale's New Testament that he could find. Packington undertook to do so, provided the bishop should pay the price of them. This the bishop cheerfully agreed to do. Soon thereafter Packington had an interview with Tyndale, and told him that he had found a merchant for his New Testaments. "Who is he?" asked Tyndale. "The Bishop of London," replied the merchant. "If the bishop wants the New Testament," said Tyndale, "it is to burn it." "Doubtless," replied Packington; "but the money will enable you to print others, and moreover, the bishop will have it." The price was paid to Tyndale, the New Testaments were sent across to London,

and soon after their' arrival were publicly burned at St. Paul's Cross. Tyndale immediately set to work to prepare a new and more correct edition, and, says the chronicler, [7] "they came thick and threefold over into England." The bishop, amazed, sent for Packington to inquire how it came to pass that the book which he had bought up and suppressed should be more widely circulated than ever. Packington replied that though the copies had been destroyed the types remained, and advised Tonstall to buy them also. The bishop smiled, and beginning to see how the matter stood, dismissed the merchant, without giving him more money to be expended in the production of more New Testaments.

It was not Tyndale's edition only that was crossing the sea. A Dutch house, knowing the desire for the Bible which the public destruction of it in London had awakened, printed an edition of 5,000 of Tyndale's translation, and sent them for distribution in England. These were soon all sold, and were followed by two other editions, which found an equally ready market. [8] Then came the new and more correct edition of Tyndale, which the purchase of the first edition by Tonstall had enabled him to prepare. This edition was issued in a more portable form. The clergy were seized with a feeling of dismay. A deluge of what they termed heresy had broken in upon the land! "It was enough to enter London," said they, "for one to become a heretic." They speedily found that in endeavoring to prevent the circulation of the Bibles they were attempting a work beyond their strength.

The foundations of the Reformed Church of England had been laid in the diffusion of the Scriptures, but the ground had to be cleared of those mighty encumbrances which obstructed the rising of the edifice, and this part of the work was done by the passions of the men who now again present themselves on the stage. Twice had Charles V promised the tiara to Wolsey, and twice had he broken his promise by giving it to another. A man so proud, and also so powerful as the cardinal, was not likely to pardon the affront: in fact his settled purpose was to avenge himself on the emperor, although it should be by convulsing all Europe. The cardinal knew that doubts had begun to trouble the king's conscience touching the lawfulness of his union with Catherine, that her person had become disagreeable to him, and that while he intensely longed for an heir to his throne, issue was hopeless in the case of his present queen. Wolsey saw in these facts the means of separating England from Spain, and of humiliating the emperor: his own fan ,an the fall of the Popedom in England he did not foresee. The cardinal broke his purpose, though guardedly, to Longland, the king's confessor, [9] It was agreed that in a matter of such consequence and delicacy the cardinal himself should take the initiative. He went first of all alone to the king, and pointed out to him that the salvation of his soul, and the succession to his crown, were in peril in this matter. Three days after he appeared again in the royal presence, accompanied by Longland.

"Most mighty prince," said the confessor, "you cannot, like Herod, have your brother's wife. [10] Submit the matter to proper judges." The king was content. Henry set to studying Thomas Aquinas on the point, and found that his favorite doctor had decided against such marriages; he next asked the judgment of his bishops; and these, having deliberated on the question, were unanimously, with the exception of Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, of opinion that the king's marriage was of doubtful validity. [11] At this point a French bishop appears upon the scene. Granmont, Bishop of Tarbes, had been dispatched to the English court (February, 1527), by Francis I., on the subject of the marriage of the Duke of Orleans with the Princess Mary, the sole surviving child of Henry VIII. The bishop, on the part of his master, raised before the English Council the question of the legitimacy of Mary, on the ground that she was the issue of a marriage forbidden jure divino. This, in connection with the fact that the Emperor Charles V. had previously .objected to an alliance with the Princess Mary on the same ground, greatly increased the scruples of the king. The two most powerful monarchs in Europe had, on the matter, accused him of living in incest. It is probable that he felt real trouble of conscience. Another influence now conspired with, his scruples, and powerfully inclined him to seek a divorce from Queen Catherine.

Anne Boleyn, so renowned for the beauty of her person, the grace of her manners, and the many endowments of her intellect, was about this time appointed one of the maids of honor to Queen Catherine. This young lady was the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, a gentleman of good family and estate, who, having occasion to visit France, took with him his daughter, and placed her at the French court, where she acquired all those accomplishments which add such luster to female beauty. Her last years in France were passed in the elegant, intellectual, and virtuous court of Marguerite of Valois, the sister of Francis I. Attached to the person of his queen, Henry VIII had many opportunities of seeing Anne Boleyn. He was not insensible to her charms of person, and not less was he pleased with the strength of her understanding, the sweetness of her temper, and the sprightliness of her conversation. That he then entertained the idea of making her his queen we are not prepared to affirm. Meanwhile a strong attachment sprang up between Anne and the young Lord Percy, the heir of the House of Northumberland. Wolsey divined their secret, and set himself to frustrate their hopes. Anne Boleyn received an order to quit

the court, and Percy was, soon thereafter, married to a daughter of the House of Talbot. Anne again retired to France, from whence, after a short residence, she returned definitively to England in 1527, and reappeared at court as one of the maids of honor.

Anne, now twenty years of age, was even more accomplished, and not less virtuous, than before. [12] The king became enamoured of her beauty, and one day, finding her alone, he declared himself her lover. The young lady fell on her knees, and in a voice that trembled with alarm and earnestness, made answer, "I deem, most noble King, that your Grace speaks these words in mirth, to prove me; if not, I beseech your Highness to believe me that I would rather die than comply with your wishes." Henry replied in the language of a gallant, that he would live in hope. "I understand not, mighty King, how you should entertain any such hope," spiritedly answered Anne; "your wife I cannot be, both in respect of my own unworthiness, and also because you have a queen already. Your mistress, be assured, I never will be." [13] From this day forward Henry was more intent than ever on the prosecution of his divorce from his queen.

In the end of the same year (1527), Knight, one of the royal secretaries, was dispatched to Rome, with a request to the Pope, in the king's behalf, that he would revoke the bull of Julius II, and declare Henry's marriage with Catherine void. Knight found Clement VII in the stronghold of St. Angelo, whither he had fled from the soldiers of Charles V, who had just sacked the Eternal City. Clement could not think of drawing upon himself still farther the vengeance of the emperor, by annulling his aunt's marriage with the King of England; and, on the other hand, he trembled to refuse the divorce lest he should offend Henry VIII, whose zeal in his behalf he had recently rewarded with the title of "Defender of the Faith." The Emperor Charles, who had just learned from a special messenger of Catherine, with surprise and indignation, what Henry VIII was meditating, found the question of the divorce not less embarrassing than the Pope did. If, on the one hand, he should thwart the King of England, he would lose Henry's alliance, which he much needed at this hour when a league had been formed to drive him out of Italy; and if, on the other, he should consent to the divorce, he would sacrifice his aunt, and stoop to see his family disgraced.

He decided to maintain his family's honor at every cost. He straightway dispatched to Rome the Cordelier De Angelis, an able diplomatist, with instructions to offer to the Pope his release from the Castle of St. Angelo, on condition that he would promise to refuse the English king's suit touching his divorce. The captive of St. Angelo to his surprise saw two kings as suppliants at his feet. He felt that he was still Pontiff. The kings, said he to himself, have besieged and pillaged my capital, my cardinals they have murdered, and myself they have incarcerated, nevertheless they still need me. Which shall the Pope oblige, Henry VIII of England, or Charles V of Spain? He saw that his true policy was to decide neither for nor against either, but to keep all parties at his feet by leaving them in embarrassment and suspense, and meanwhile to make the question of the divorce the means by which he should deliver himself from his dungeon, and once more mount his throne.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
Search Historical Writings
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology