In England the Reformation was brought about without civil war. The divorce of Henry VIII from Catherine was the occasion but not the cause of its being accomplished. The event in itself was but the natural result of the workings of a man tyrannical by nature and who could not brook interference in spiritual affairs any more than he could in temporal matters. His predecessor, Henry VII, had striven as much as possible to rule without Parliament. Flattered and submitted to by dependants, Henry VIII was unequal to the great circumstances among which he was thrown. The growth of tyrannical passions in Henry was due to the unchecked arrogance and self assertion of a stubborn will that nothing could turn from a purpose once formed. Ruin of fortune or death by the headsman’s axe were the risks run by Ministers and courtiers who, after long and faithful service should venture to thwart his aims or offend his pride. Yet he courted popular favor and he gained it. At the very outset of his reign he aimed at popular measures. The old dream of French con-quest had not yet vanished from the minds of English sovereigns and Henry was persuaded to join his father-in-law, Ferdinand of Spain, in a league against France. He sent over a demand for the immediate restitution of his just heritage of Anjou, Maine, Normandy, and Guienne. The English were as vain and insolent as their King, and made little doubt of seeing him crowned in Paris. The result was a series of brilliant but useless victories, and such was always the history of his wars. The two periods of really active warfare in his reign came at its two ends. From 1512 to 1514 was a time of war, a time of victory, on the part of England. The one year 1513 saw the defeat of the invading Scots on Flodden Field, and the conquest of Therouenne and Turnay by the King of England, in person. Again, in 1522 and 1523, Scotland and France were successfully invaded. Eighteen years later, in 1541, the Scottish wars began again; two years later England and the Empire were allied against France and Scotland. In 1544 England was again successful over both enemies. While the King in person took Boulogne, his brother-in-law burned Edinburgh and laid waste Scotland, as far as it came into his power.
Neither by his diplomacy nor his successes did Henry VIII accomplish anything for England during his reign. However, his victories enabled him to carry the people with him in his more important measures at home, such as the minimizing of the influence of Parliament and the English Reformation. The temporary dictatorship which he held by the popular will, and largely by the result of his use-less but glorious victories, enabled him to make radical changes. Henry’s right hand for many years was Thomas Wolsey, who came to the head of affairs in 1515. The son of a butcher and afterward Court Chaplain, he rose to be the only man in England at the head of both the Church and the State. He was Cardinal and Prime Minister, and aimed to become Pope. With his own ambition he mingled that of his temporal chief, and to him was due the strength of England in diplomacy and the ease with which grants of money were made from Parliament. With Wolsey at his side, Henry had become one of the most ardent supporters of the Papal authority in the struggle during the early days of the Reformation. He had even gone to the length of writing a letter in answer to Luther’s arguments, which led Leo X to grant him the right to add “Defender of the Faith” to his titles. But a woman’s face changed history. The marriage with homely Catherine of Aragon, staid and elderly, had never pleased Henry VIII, and he wished divorce, that he might wed the young and gay and beautiful Anne Boleyn, one of the maids of honor to the Queen. It is said that his desire for a male heir was also responsible for his wish for a new wife. To marry Anne; it was necessary to get rid of Catherine, and so, in 1527, Henry asked the Pope to pronounce the union null and void, on the ground that she had been his brother’s widow. The Pope was in the power of Spain, and temporized. When the time came for a choice, he dared not offend Spain by granting the divorce, even had he been willing to countenance such illegal proceedings. Catherine was niece of Charles V, the great champion of the Church in its fight against Protestantism. The King suspected Wolsey of having thwarted his plans. With Henry, to suspect was to condemn unheard. He dismissed Wolsey, who died of broken spirit before he could be tried for treason.
The period from the fall of Wolsey to the fall of his successor, Thomas Cromwell, is perhaps the most extraordinary in English history, as it is perhaps the most important. During this period Were broken, link by link, all of the chains which bound England to the Papacy, and the country disparted from that system of the Nations which men had come to regard as no less divinely ordered than the system of the heavens itself. The severance of England from Rome was carried through by Parliament of 1529 to 1536, summoned after an interval of seven years, and largely composed of the creatures of the King. Despite the coldness of the Pope, Henry was as determined as ever on his divorce, and equally determined that he would not plead his cause at Rome, which would have been a direct admission of the Papal supremacy. By way of relieving the scruples of the Pope, the case was submitted to the various Universities of Europe. Their verdict was not unanimous, but the majority declared that Henry’s scruples were justified. The Pope, however, with the fear of the Emperor before him, would not be moved from his position. And, meanwhile, the English Parliament, inspired by the King, proceeded with its work. By humbling the clergy, Henry doubtless thought that he would be most likely to bring the Pope to terms. Accordingly, one blow after another was struck at their privileges, until they were taught that their real master was, not the Pope of Rome, but the King of England. In 1531, by one of the meanest tricks that ever king played, the whole estate of the clergy was held to have fallen into a premunire, by admitting the legatine authority of Wolsey, which he had exercised with the King’s full sanction Their par-don was bought only by an enormous subsidy, and by acknowledging the King as supreme head on earth o the Church of England, a form of words now heard for the first time. In 1532, when all hope of a favorable judgment from Rome had passed by, Henry is believed to have privately married Anne. In 1533 the death of Archbishop Warren made room for the pro-motion of Thomas Cranmer to the See of Canterbury, a promotion which was made by a show of Papal authority. The first act of the new primate was to hold a court, which declared the marriage of Catherine null and the marriage with Anne lawful. Then came the great legislation of the year 1534, by which the Papal authority was wholly abolished, while the Act of Submission on the part of the clergy, subordinated all ecclesiastical legislation within the Kingdom to the royal will. The succession to the crown was settled in favor of the issue of Anne, to the exclusion of the issue of Catherine, and the punishment of treason was denounced against all who refused to swear to the succession so ordained. The title of Supreme Head of the Church of England, already voted by the clergy, was now bestowed by Parliament, and full ecclesiastical powers were annexed to it. These powers were allowed to be exercised by deputy, and in 1535 Cromwell was made Vicegerent for the King in ecclesiastical matters, with precedence in ecclesiastical convocation over the Metropolitan himself. On the other hand, a strict statute was passed for the suppression of heresy. The scheme of Henry was now fully established; the religion of England was Popery without the Pope.
Professors of reformed doctrines did not gain any direct results by the change; but a direction was taken in the toleration of dissent. So great a change could not fail to lead to further changes, and the next six years of Henry’s reign were a time in which all the influences at work were in the direction of further change, although Henry insisted that, with the exception of the headship of the Pope, all Catholic doctrines were to be observed after the strictest orthodoxy.
Thomas Cromwell’s reign of terror, as it has been well called, now sets in. It is especially remarkable for the constant use of Acts of Attainder-acts sometimes passed without giving the accused person the opportunity of making any defense. Not that in Henry’s reign a defense went for anything, even when the regular forms of trial by a man’s peers were observed. It was deemed for the King’s honor that those whom the King accused should be convicted, and the Lords or the jury convicted accordingly. In more than one case entries were found in Cromwell’s papers directing that such and such a person should be tried and executed. Meanwhile, new treasons and other crimes were invented. Martyrs were made on both sides. The supposed traitor and the supposed heretic were some-times drawn to death on the same hurdle. But the death of particular persons seemed but a small matter beside the great revolution which Cromwell wrought over the whole face of the country by his great work, the suppression of the monasteries. By order of the King, Cromwell had made a report on their condition. It justified the most drastic dealings, although the commissioners were apt to make the best possible case for the King, and they gave plenty of one-sided evidence to prove that they had outlived their usefulness and were a detriment, rather than an aid, to public morals. On the, strength of this report an act was passed (in 1536) for the suppression of all the monasteries with a revenue of less than £200 a year. The year following the suppression of the small monasteries a formidable insurrection, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, was organized in the northern counties, under the leadership of a barrister named Robert Aske. The revolt was crushed, and failed in all its objects, for the very next year Henry gave a final blow to the ancient Church by the suppression of all the remaining monasteries. The revenues of the monasteries, to the amount of nearly £161,000, were devoted to small pensions for the Abbots and Priors, and for the erection of six new bishoprics. The bulk of the revenues, however, passed to the crown and those who made themselves useful to the King. By far the greater part of the vast revenues of the monastic houses was squandered or gambled away among the courtiers. Churches and church-yards were granted to private men, to be destroyed or desecrated at their pleasure.
Cromwell was now the most powerful man in the Kingdom, but his fall, like Wolsey’s, came through the King’s passion for marriage. In 1536 Queen Catherine died, and the same year Anne Boleyn, of whom the King had tired, was executed in the Tower on the charge of infidelity to the King. The very day after her execution, Henry was married to Jane Seymour, who died giving birth to a son, afterward Edward VI. The succession being still insecure, Henry then took Anne of Cleves as his fourth wife, in hope of attaching Germany’s interests to those of England. Henry was persuaded to marry Anne by a portrait Cromwell had shown him. When he found that Anne was extremely homely in appearance, he accused Cromwell of treason, and had him executed by Bill of Attainder, without the form of a trial. Anne was divorced, and Henry married Catherine Howard, who, within a few months, was executed for infidelity in her case, proved beyond dispute. A year later, in 1543, he married his sixth and last wife, Catherine Parr, who. had the good fortune to survive him. During the last years of his reign the most important question was that of succession, and, although the King’s daughters had been declared illegitimate, they were now placed in order of the succession of the crown after Edward, without being declared legitimate. The order of succession was placed at Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth. On no theory of law could Mary and Elizabeth be both legitimate, and the law had declared that neither of them was. The point is of importance, for in truth neither Mary nor Elizabeth reigned by any right of birth, but by a mere Parliamentary title.
The reigns of his three children followed that of Henry in succession, according to the statute. The marked historical feature of these reigns is that they are the time of strictly religious reformation. It was found that the middle system of Henry could not last; that the English Church and Nation must throw its lot with one side or the other in the great controversy of the age. Under Edward the religious reformation was wrought. Under Mary the work of Edward and then of Henry was undone, and the authority of Rome again admitted. Under Elizabeth the work of both Henry and Edward was done again. Her reign, four times the length of the two reigns of her brother and sister, is the time when the religious position of England took its final form. The National Church was organized in its essential features as it still remains. A main feature of the later religious history of England has been the steps by which the first Protestant dissenters and then the Roman Catholics have been admitted to full equality with the members of the National Church.
Edward’s reign (1547-1553) was without political effect, though it lasted six years. During her reign Mary (1553-1558) married Philip II, and lost Calais, the last English possession in France. She is remembered as “Bloody Mary,” for her slaughter of Protestants, of whom 300 were burnt alive.
The reign of Elizabeth (1558-1603) is one of the most brilliant periods of English history. No nobler group of ministers were ever gathered around a council board than that headed by Lord Burleigh. Though vain, frivolous, knowing nothing of womanly reserve or self-restraint in private life, with her ministers Elizabeth became as a man, and if any trace of her sex lingered in her actual statesmanship, it was in her womanly tenacity of purpose. She was one of the ablest statesmen of her time, and her singular character has made her deserve a place in the volume on the “World’s Famous Women,” and the reader will there find references upon many events of the reign upon which we cannot dwell here. There will be found the famous story of her difficulties with Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, which was a quarrel both of women and of kingdoms.
England was at war with France, and in close alliance with Spain, at the death of Mary Tudor. This state of things lasted during the early part of Elizabeth’s reign. She helped the French Protestants, but she concluded peace in 1564. During the rest of her reign the old enmity to France died out. The accession of Henry of Navarre made Franco and England friends. As enmity for France died out, so friendship for Spain died out also. Philip, at first a suitor for Elizabeth’s hand, became her most dangerous enemy. It was he who sent the famous Spanish Armada to attack England and conquer the land which he claimed. When the news that Philip meditated the expedition came, Admiral Drake was sent to Cadiz, where he burnt a hundred vessels full of stores, and caused the expedition to be postponed for a year. But when it did come it was none the less formidable for that. It consisted of 132 ships (besides caravels), 3,165 cannon, 2,088 galley slaves, 21,855 soldiers, 1,355 volunteers, and 150 monks, with Martin Alaraco, Vicar of the Inquisition, and was commanded by the Duke of Medina-Sidonia. A rudely armed and ill-trained militia, consisting of all the men between sixteen and sixty years of age, was gathered by the English, but, fortunately, they were not matched against Philip’s veterans. By the advice of Sir Walter Raleigh, it was resolved at all hazards to meet the foe at sea and endeavor to prevent the landing of the troops. The English fleet consisted of thirty-four vessels of the navy and a number of hastily armed merchant ships. On July 19, 1588, the Armada, dispersed once by a storm in May, entered the Channel, sailing in a crescent of seven miles in width from horn to horn. Ship after ship was lost to the Spaniards by surrender and destruction, as the fleet advanced. The Spanish thought the English and their Dutch allies, who had come to their aid, would run at the sight of the Invincible Armada, as Philip called it. But they did not, and on July 29 Drake sent eight fire ships, well alight and filled with combustibles and explosives, drifting down with wind and tide among the crowded ships. In terrible consternation the Spanish tried to escape to the sea, and the English pursued them at a great advantage. A storm came up and drove the Spaniards among rocks and shoals, and the swift end of the “Invincible Armada” was that it lost thirty ships and 10,000 men, and, defeated and disgraced, sailed home again.
England, by her wars with Spain, and especially that in which she aided the Netherlands, stood out as the great Protestant power of Europe. And in Elizabeth’s reign England became more than a European power. Then was laid the foundations of her great colonial system. American colonization did not, as yet, really begin, and Indian colonization was yet more distant, but the defeat of the Armada showed the English their power at sea, and the seamen of England now broke into the maritime preserve of Spain. The English had always been considerable traders, although England formerly produced little but raw materials. The produce of England, however, steadily increased after the Wars of the Roses. The woolen manufacture sprang into being, and the English had learned from the Italian merchants, who had long since been settled in Lon-don, to improve their vessels and carry their own commodities to ports of Europe. In olden times, England had been supplied with Indian produce by an annual ship from Venice. They traded to Turkey for it as early as the time of Henry VII, and Frobisher tried to discover the northwest passage to India. Sir Francis Drake was the first Englishman to sail to the Indian Archipelago (1577-1580), and the success of his voyage turned attention to the East. The Western Continent was not neglected. Possession was taken, in the name of a whole, of a part of North America, and the land was named Virginia, in honor of the Virgin Queen. Companies were formed on the Dutch model for planting them with settlers. When Spain was shown to be too weak to drive them off, the merchants of London were not slow to compete with those of Amsterdam for the commerce which was fast slipping from the grip of the Portuguese, and on the last day of the Sixteenth Century the first East India Company was given its charter. The great seamen of Elizabeth’s day Drake, Gilbert, and Cavendish like the others of their day, were little better than pirates, plundering the natives of the lands they visited, and robbing the ships they met at sea flying other flags. Aside from piracy, carried on under the name of privateering, from Elizabeth’s day dates the English engaging in the slave trade, and the kidnaping and selling of negroes became an important part of English commerce. It is well known that the colonists in later days were forced to buy the cargoes of slaves sent them from England.
In spite of many arbitrary acts of monarchical power, the cause of popular freedom was advanced during the reign of Elizabeth. The existing laws were strained, impartial jurors punished, and men imprisoned without warrant, while troublesome members of Parliament were suspended. Yet there was some progress, in that these evils were carried to a less extent than in previous reigns. In civilization, however, in spite of the intellectual brilliancy of an age which produced Shakespeare and Bacon, England was behind other nations. Only about one-fourth of the land was tilled, manufactures were few, and the artisans unskilled. The population of 5,000,000 was ignorant and superstitious, and Francis Bacon himself refused to believe in the true theory of the solar system as expounded by Copernicus. It was still believed that the royal touch could cure scrofula. Medical science had no Ambrose Paire; witches were punished, and nearly everybody believed in all kinds of spirits, good and bad, fairies and imps, and elves and goblins. Bear-baiting, bull- baiting, and cock-fighting were the delights of the court. The foremost pastimes in the age of “Good Queen Bess” were gaming and drunkenness. In architecture was seen the chief sign of progress, with the appearance of chimneys, and of houses of brick and stone.