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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

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

Chapter 9 — The King declared head of the Church of England

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Abolition of Appeals to Rome — Payment of Annats, etc. — Bishops to be Consecrated without a License from Rome — Election to Vacant Sees — The King declared Head of the Church — Henry VIII Undoes the Work of Gregory VII — The Divorce — The Appeal to the Universities — Their Judgment — Divorce Condemned by the Reformers — Death of Warham — Cranmer made Primate — Martyrdom of Fryth — The King Marries Anne Boleyn — Her Coronation — Excommunication of Henry VIII — Birth of Elizabeth — Cambridge and Oxford on the Pope's Power in England — New Translation of the Bible — Visitation of the Monasteries — Their Suppression — Frightful Disorders.

THE supremacy of the Pope formed the rampart flourished so rankly in England, to the oppression Shat protected the ecclesiastical usurpations which of the people, and the weakening of the royal prerogative. Now that a breach had been made in that bulwark, the abuses that had grown up behind it were attacked and abolished one after the other. Causes were no longer carried to Rome. [1] The king, as Head of the Church, had become the fountain of both .civil and spiritual justice to his subjects. No one could be cited before any ecclesiastical court out of his own diocese. Twenty years was fixed as the term during which estates might be left to priests for praying souls out of purgatory. The lower orders of priests were made answerable before the civil tribunals for murder, felony, and other crimes of which they might be accused. [2] The payment of annats and first-fruits to the Pope, by which an enormous amount of money had been carried out of England, was abolished. [3] The religious orders were for bidden to receive foreign visitors, on the ground that these functionaries came, not to reform the houses of the clergy, but to discover the secrets of the king, and to rob the country of its wealth. The purchase of faculties from Rome was declared unlawful, and no one was permitted to go abroad to any Synod or Council without the royal permission. The law of Henry IV was repealed, by which heretics might be burned on the sentence and by the authority of the bishop, and without a writ from the king. The stake was not yet abolished as the punishment of heresy, but the power of adjudging to it was restricted to a less arbitrary and, it might be, more merciful tribunal.

As we have stated in a former chapter, the power exercised by the clergy of making canons was taken from them. This privilege had been greatly abused. These canons, being enforced upon the people by the clergy, had really the force: of law; and as they were often infringements of the constitution, and expressed mostly the will of the Pope, they were the substitution of a foreign and usurped authority for the legitimate rule of the king and the Parliament. A commission of thirty-two persons, sixteen of whom were ecclesiastics, and the other sixteen laymen, was appointed by the crown to examine the old canons and constitutions, and to abrogate those that were contrary to the statutes of the realm or prejudicial to the prerogative-royal. [4] A new body of ecclesiastical laws was framed, composed of such of the old canons as being unexceptionable were retained, and the new constitutions which the commission was empowered to enact. This was a favorite project of Cranmer's, which he afterwards renewed in the reign of Edward VI.

It was foreseen that this policy, which was daily widening the breach between England and Rome, might probably in the end bring upon the nation excommunication and interdict. These fulminations had lost the terrors that once in vested them; nevertheless, their infliction might, even yet, occasion no little inconvenience. Arrangements were accordingly made to permit the whole religious services of the country to proceed without let or hindrance, even should the Pope pronounce sentence of interdict. It was enacted (March, 1534) that no longer should the consecration of bishop, or the administration of rite, or the performance of any religious act wait upon the pleasure of the Bishop of Rome. The English bishops were to have power to consecrate without a license from the Pope. It was enacted that when a bishopric became vacant, the king should send to the chapter a conge d'elire, that is, leave to elect a new bishop, accompanied by a letter indicating the person on whom the choice of the chapter was to fall. If no election was made within twelve days, the king was to nominate to the see by letters-patent. After the bishop-elect had taken an oath of fealty to the king, his Majesty, by letters to the archbishop, might order the consecration; and if the persons whose duty it was to elect and to consecrate delayed the performance of these functions above twenty days, they incurred the penalty of a Praemunire. [5] It was forbidden henceforward for archbishop or bishop to be nominated or confirmed in his see by the Pope.

This legislation was completed by the Act passed in next session of Parliament (November — December, 1534). [6] Convocation, as we have seen, declared Henry Head of the Church. "For corroboration and confirmation thereof," be it enacted, said the Parliament, "that the king, his heirs, etc., shall be taken, accepted, and reputed the only Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England, called Anglicana Ecclesiae, and shall have and enjoy, annexed and united to the imperial crown of this realm, as well the title and style thereof, as all honors, dignities, immunities, etc., pertaining to the said dignity of Supreme Head of the said Church." A later [7] Act set forth the large measure of ecclesiastical jurisdiction lodged in the king. "Whereas his Majesty," said Parliament, "is justly Supreme Head, etc., and hath full

authority to correct and punish all manner of heresies, schisms, errors, vices, and to exercise all other manner of jurisdictions, commonly called ecclesiastical jurisdiction" it is added, "That the archbishops and bishops have no manner of jurisdiction ecclesiastical but by, under, and from the Royal Majesty." [8]

Thus did Henry VIII undo the work of Gregory VII. Hildebrand had gone to war that he might have the power of appointing to all .the sees of Christendom. Not a mitre would he permit to be worn unless he himself had placed it on the head of its possessor; nor would he give consecration to any one till first he had sworn him to "defend the regalities of St. Peter." From his chair at Rome, Gregory was thus able to govern Europe, for not a bishop was there in all Christendom whom he had not by this oath chained to his throne, and through the bishops, the kings and their nations. It was this terrible serfdom which Henry VIII rose up against and broke in pieces, so far as his own Kingdom of England was concerned. The appointment of English bishops he wrested from the Pope, and took into his own hands, and the oath which he administered to those whom he placed in these sees bound them to fealty, not to the chair of Peter, but to the throne of England. As against the usurped foreign authority which the King of England now scornfully trod into the dust, surely Henry did well in being master in his own house. The dignity of his crown and the interests of his subjects alike demanded it. It is in this light that we look at the act; and taking it per se, there can be no doubt that Henry, in thus securing perfect freedom for the exercise of the prerogatives and jurisdictions of his kingly office, did a wise, a just, and a proper thing.

While this battle was waging in Parliament, the matter of the divorce had been progressing towards a final settlement. In the end of 1529, as we have already mentioned, it was resolved to put to the universities of Christendom the question, "What says the Bible on the marriage of the king with Catherine, his brother's widow?" Henry would let the voice of the universal Church, rather than the Pope, decide the question. The universities of Cambridge and Oxford, by majorities, declared the marriage unlawful, and approved the divorce. The Sorbonne at Paris declared, by a large majority, in favor of the divorce. The four other universities of France voted on the same side. England and France were with Henry VIII. The king's agents, crossing the Alps, set foot on the doubtful soil of Italy. After the Sorbonne, the most renowned university of the Roman Catholic world was that of Bologna. To the delight of Henry, Bologna declared in his favor. So too did the universities of Padua and Ferrara. Italy was added to the list of countries favorable to the King of England. The envoys of Henry next entered the territories of the Reformation, Switzerland and Germany. If Romanism was with Henry, much more will Protestantism be so. To the king's amazement, it is here that he first encounters opposition. [9] All the reforming doctors, including Luther, Calvin, and (Ecolampadius, were against the divorce. The king has sinned in the past by contracting this marriage, said they, but he will sin in the future if he shall dissolve it. The less cannot be expiated by the greater sin: it is repentance, not divorce, to which the king ought to have recourse.

Meanwhile, Cranmer had been sent to Rome to win over the Pope. A large number of the Roman Catholic nobles also wrote to Clement, beseeching him to grant the wishes of Henry; but the utmost length to which the Pope would go was to permit the King of England to have two wives. [10]

In the midst of these negotiations, Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of all England, died. The king resolved to place Dr. Thomas Cranmer in the vacant see. The royal summons found Cranmer in Nuremberg, whither he had been sent after his return from Rome on the business of the divorce. Cranmer, learning through his friends that this urgent recall was in order to his elevation to the primacy, was in no haste to return. The prospect of filling such a post under so imperious a monarch as Henry, and in times big with the most portentous changes, filled him with alarm. But the king had resolved that Cranmer should be primate, and sent a second and more urgent message to hasten his return. On his appearance before the king, Cranmer stated the difficulties in his path, namely, the double oath which all bishops were accustomed to take at consecration — the one to the Pope, the other to the king. The doctor did not see how he could swear fidelity to both. It was ultimately arranged that he should take the oath to the Pope under a protest "that he did not bind himself to do anything contrary to the laws of God, the rights of the King of England, and the laws of the realm," and that he should not be hindered in executing such reformation as might be needed in the Church of England. This protest he repeated three times [11] — first, in the Chapter-house of Westminster; next, on the steps of the high altar of the cathedral, in presence of the assembled clergy and people; thirdly, when about to put on the pall and receive consecration. After this he took the oath to the Pope. It was love of the Gospel which impelled Cranmer to advance: it was the divorce that urged onward Henry VIII. The imperious monarch was carrying on two wars at the same time. He was striving to clear his kingdom of the noxious growth of Papal bulls and prerogatives that

so covered and deformed it, and he was fighting to prevent the entrance of Lutheranism. Hardly had the mitre been placed on his brow when Cranmer had to thrust himself between a disciple and the stake. Leaving Tyndale in the Low Countries, John Fryth came across, and began to preach from house to house in England. He was tracked by Sir Thomas More, who had received the Great Seal When it was taken from Wolsey, and thrown into the Tower, heavily loaded with irons. His main crime, in the eyes of his enemies, was the denial of transubstantiation. The king nominated six of the temporal and spiritual peers, of whom Cranmer was one, to examine him. The power of the stake had just been taken from the bishops, and Fryth was destined to be the first martyr under the king. Cranmer, who still believed in consubstantiation, loved Fryth, and wished to save his life, that his great erudition and rare eloquence might profit the realm in days to come; but all his efforts were ineffectual. Fryth mounted the stake (4th July, 1533), and his heroic death did much to advance the progress of the Reformation in England.

About the time that the martyr was expiring at the stake, the Pope was excommunicating the King of England. Fortified with the opinion of the universities, and the all but unanimous approval of the more eminent of the Roman Catholic doctors, Henry married Anne Boleyn on the 25th of January, 1533. [12] On the 10th of May, the Archbishop of Canterbury, having received the royal license to that effect, constituted his court to judge the cause. Queen Catherine was summoned to it, but her only response to the citation was, "I am the king's lawful wife, I will accept no judge but the Pope." On the 23rd of May, the primate, attended by all the archiepiscopal court, gave sentence, declaring "the marriage between our sovereign lord King Henry, and the most serene lady Catherine, widow of his brother, having been contracted contrary to the law of God, null and void." [13] On the 28th of May, the same court declared that Henry and Anne had been lawfully wedded. The union, ratified by the ecclesiastical court, was on Whitsunday sealed by the pomp of a splendid coronation. On the previous day, Anne passed from the Tower to Westminster, through streets gay with banners and hung with cloth of gold, seated in a beautifully white gold-bespangled litter, her head encircled with a wreath of precious stones, while the blare of trumpets and the thunder of cannon mingled their roar with the acclamations of the enthusiastic citizens. Next day, in the presence of the rank and beauty of England, and the ambassadors of foreign States, the crown was put upon her head by the hand of Archbishop Cranmer.

Hardly had the acclamations that hailed Anne's coronation died away, when the distant murmurs of a coming tempest were heard. The affronted emperor, Charles V, called on the Pope to unsheathe the spiritual sword, and smite the monarch who had added the sin of an adulterous union to the crime of rebellion against the Papal chair. The weak Clement dared not refuse. The conclave met, and after a month's deliberation, on the 12th of July, the Pope pronounced excommunication upon the King of England, but suspended the effect of the sentence till the end of September. He hoped that the king's repentance would avert execution. Henry had crossed the Rubicon. He could not put away Anne Boleyn, he could not take back Catherine, he could not blot from the statute-book the laws against Papal usurpations recently placed upon it, and restore in former glory the Pontifical dominion in his realm, so he appealed to a General Council, and posted up the document on the doors of all the parish churches of England.

While the days of grace allotted to the king were running out, a princess was born in the royal palace of Greenwich. The infant was named Elizabeth. The king was disappointed that a son had not been born to him; but the nation rejoiced, and Henry would have more heartily shared his people's joy, could he have foreseen the glory that was to surround the throne and name of the child that had just seen the light.

On the 7th of April, news reached England that the Pope had pronounced the final sentence of interdict. Clement VII, "having invoked the name of Christ, and sitting on the throne of justice," declared the dispensation of Julius II valid, the marriage with Anne Boleyn null, the king excommunicate, his subjects released from their allegiance, and the Emperor Charles V was empowered, failing the submission of Henry, to invade England and depose the king.

Nothing could have been better; if Henry was disposed to halt, this compelled him to go on. "What authority," asked the king of his doctors and wise councilors, "has the Pope to do all this? Who made a foreign priest lord of my realm, and master of my crown, so that he may give or take them away as it pleases him t. Inquire, and tell me." In obedience to the royal mandate, they studied the laws of Scripture, they searched the records of antiquity, and the statutes of the realm, and came again to the king. "The Pontiff of Rome, sire, has no authority at all in England." [14] It was on the 3rd of :November of the same year that the crowning statute was passed, as we have already narrated, which declared the king to be on earth the Supreme Head of the Church of England.

As the Pontifical authority departs, that of the Word of God enters England. We have just seen the Church and realm emancipated from the dominion of Rome; the first act of the liberated Church was to enfranchise the people. Cranmer moved in Convocation that an address be presented to the king for an

English translation of the Bible. The Popish party, headed by Dr. Gardiner, opposed the motion, on the ground that the use of the Scriptures in the vulgar tongue promoted the spread of heresy. But in spite of their opposition, the proposal was adopted by Convocation. The king — influenced, there is little doubt, by his new queen, who was friendly to the Reformed opinions, and had in her possession a copy of Tyndale's interdicted translation — acceded to the request of Convocation. The great principle had been conceded of the right of the people to possess the Bible in their mother tongue, and the duty of the Church to give it to them. Nevertheless, the bishops refused to aid in translating it. [15] Miles Coverdale was called to the task, and going to the Low Countries, the whole Bible was rendered into English, with the aid of Tyndale, and published in London in 1536, dedicated to Henry VIII.

The next step in the path on which the king and nation had entered was the visitation of the monasteries. Cromwell was authorized by the king to appoint commissioners to visit the abbeys, monasteries, nunneries, and universities of the kingdom, and to report as to the measures necessary to reform these establishments. [16] Henry had powerful political motives urging him to this measure. He had been excommunicated: Charles V might invade his kingdom; and should that happen, there was not a confraternity of monks in all England who would not take advantage of their release from allegiance by the Pope, to join the standard of the invader. It was only prudent to disarm them before the danger arose, and divert part of the treasures, spent profitlessly now, in fortifying his kingdom. Neither Henry nor any one else, when the commission of inquiry was issued, foresaw the astounding disclosures that were to follow, and which left the Parliament no alternative but to abolish what could not be cured.

The Report of the Commissioners was presented to the Commons at their meeting on the 4th of February, 1536. It is not our intention to dwell on the horrors that shocked the nation when the veil was lifted. The three foundations, or cardinal virtues, which these institutions had been established to exemplify, were obedience, poverty, and chastity. They illustrated their obedience by raising themselves above the laws of the realm; their poverty by filling their houses with gold and silver and precious raiment; and their chastity by practices which we leave other historians to describe. Nowhere was holiness so conspicuously absent as in these holy houses. "There were found in them," says one, "not seven, but more than 700,000 deadly sins. Alack! my heart maketh all my members to tremble, when I remember the abominations that were there Wed out. O Lord God! what canst thou answer to the five cities, confounded with celestial fire, when they shall allege before thee the iniquities of those religious, whom thou hast so long supported? In the dark and sharp prisons there were found dead so many of their brethren that it is a wonder: some crucified with more torments than ever were heard of, and some famished to death only for breaking their superstitious silences, or some like trifles. No, truly, the monstrous lives of monks, friars, and nuns have destroyed their monasteries and churches, and not we." [17]

The king and Parliament had started with the idea of reformation: they now saw that abolition only could meet the case. It was resolved to suppress all the religious houses the income of which did not exceed 200 pounds a year, and to confiscate their lands to the king, to be devoted to other and better uses. [18] The number of smaller houses thus dissolved was 376, and their annual revenue 32,000 pounds, besides 100,000 pounds in plate and money. Four years later all the larger abbeys and priories were either surrendered to the king or suppressed. The preamble of the Act set forth that "the churches, farms, and lands had been made a spoil of," and that though now for 200 years it had been sought to cure "this unthrifty, carnal, abominable living," no amendment appeared, "but their vicious living shamefully increaseth." Indeed, many of these houses did not wait till sentence of dissolution had been pronounced upon them: they sought by a voluntary surrender to anticipate that sentence, and avert the revelation of the deeds that had been enacted in them. It is worthy of remark that twenty-six mitred abbots sat as barons in the Parliament in which this Act was passed; and the number of spiritual peers was in excess of the lay members in the Upper Houses. [19] In Yorkshire, where the monks had many sympathizers, who regarded the dissolution of their houses as at once an impiety and a robbery, this much-needed reformation provoked an insurrection which at first threatened to be formidable, but was eventually suppressed without much difficulty.

Some few of the monasteries continued to the close to fulfill the ends of their institution. They cultivated a little learning, they practiced a little medicine, and they exercised a little charity. The orphan and the outcast found asylum within their walls, and the destitute and the decayed tradesman participated in the alms which were distributed at their threshold. The traveler, when he heard the vesper bell, turned aside to sleep in safety under their roof, and again set forth when the morning star appeared. But the majority of these places had scandalously perverted their ways, and were simply nurseries of superstition and indolence, and of all the evils that are born of these two. Nevertheless, the immediate consequence of their dissolution was a frightful confusion in England. Society was disjointed by the shock. The monks and nuns were turned adrift without any sufficient provision. Those who had been beggars before were now plunged into deeper poverty. Thefts, murders, treasons abounded, and executions were multiplied in the same


"Seventy-two thousand persons are said to have perished by the hand of the executioner in the reign of King Henry." [20] The enormous amount of wealth in the form of lands, houses, and money, that now changed hands, added to the convulsion. Cranmer and Latimer pleaded that the confiscated property should be devoted to such purposes as were consonant with its original sacred character, such as lectureships in theology, hospitals for the sick and poor, and institutions for the cultivation of learning and the training of scholars; but they pleaded in vain. The courtiers of the king ran off with nearly the whole of this wealth; and the uses to which they put it profited neither the welfare of their families, nor the good order of the kingdom. The consequences of tolerating an evil system fall heaviest on the generation that puts an end to it. So was it now; but by-and-by, when order had emerged out of the chaos, it was found that the cause of industry of virtue, and of good government had greatly benefited by the dissolution of the monasteries.

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Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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