UNION OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND WITH THE PROTESTANTS OF GERMANY. (1534 TO 1535.)
HENRY VIII. having thrown down the pillar of the papacy — the monks felt the necessity of strengthening the work he had begun by alliances with the continental protestants. He did not turn to the Swiss or the French Reformers: their small political importance, as well as the decided character of their Reform, alienated him from them. ‘What inconsiderate men they are,’ said Calvin, ‘who exalt the king of England. To ascribe sovereign authority to the prince in everything, to call him supreme head of the Church under Christ, is in my opinion blasphemy.’ Henry hoped more from Germany than from Switzerland. As early as 1534: three senators of Lubeck had presented to him the Confession of Augsburg, and proposed an alliance against the Roman pontiff, Anne Boleyn pressed the king to unite with the protestants, and in the spring of 1535 Barnes was sent to Wittemberg, where he induced the Reformers to claim his master’s protection. Melanchthon, who was more inclined than Luther to have recourse to princes, since he did not refuse to unite with Francis I., did not reject the advances of Henry VIII. ‘Sire,’ he wrote in March 1535, ‘this is now the golden age for Britain. In times of old, when the armies of the Goths had stifled letters in Europe, your island restored them to the universe. I entreat you in the name of Jesus Christ to plead for us before kings.’ The illustrious doctor dedicated to this prince the new edition of his Common-Places, and commissioned Alesius, a Scotchman, to present it with the hope that he should see England become the salvation of many nations, and even of the whole Church of Christ. Alesius, who had taken refuge in Saxony, was happy to return to that island from which the fanaticism of the Scotch clergy had compelled him flee. He was presented to the uncle of his king, and Henry, delighted with the Scotchman, said to him: ‘I name you my scholar,’ and directed Cranmer to send Melanchthon two hundred crowns. They were accompanied by a letter for the illustrious professor, in which the king signed himself: Your friend Henry.
But it was not long before the hopes of a union between Germany and England seemed to vanish. Scarcely had Melanchthon vaunted in his dedication to Henry VIII. the moderation of the king a moderation worthy (he had said) of a wise prince — when he heard of the execution of Fisher and More. He shrank back with terror. ‘Morus,’ he exclaimed, ‘has been put to death, and others with him.’ The cruelties of the king tortured the gentle Philip. The idea that a man of letters like More should fall by the hands of the executioner, scandalized him. He began to fear for his own life. ‘I am myself,’ he said, ‘in great peril.’ Henry did not suspect the horror which his crime would excite on the continent, and had just read with delight a passage of Melanchthon’s in which the latter compared him to Ptolemy Philadelphus! He therefore said to Barnes: ‘Go and bring him back with you.’ Barnes returned to Wittemberg in September and delivered his message. But the doctor of Germany had never received so alarming an invitation before. He imagined it to be a treacherous scheme. ‘The mere thought of the journey,’ he said, ‘overwhelms me with distress.’ Barnes tried to encourage him. ‘The king will give you a magnificent escort,’ he said, ‘and even hostages, if you desire it.’ Melanchthon, who had More’s bleeding head continually before him, was immovable. Luther also regarded Barnes with an unfavorable eye, and called him the black Englishman. The envoy was more fortunate with the elector. John Frederick, hearing that the king of England was desirous of forming an alliance with the princes of Germany, replied that he would communicate this important demand to them. He then entertained Barnes at a sumptuous breakfast, made him handsome presents, and wrote to Henry VIII. that the desire manifested by him to reform religious doctrine augmented his love for him, ‘for,’ he added, ‘it belongs to kings to propagate Christ’s gospel far and wide.’ Luther also, but from other motives than those of the elector, did not look so closely as Melanchthon; the suppression of the monasteries prepossessed him in favor of his ancient adversary. The penalties with which the Carthusians and others had been visited did not alarm him.
Vergerio, the papal legate, who was at Wittemberg at the beginning of November, invited Luther to breakfast with him. ‘I know,’ he said, ‘that king Henry kills cardinals and bishops, but...’ and biting his lips, he made a significant movement with his hand, as if he wished to cut off the king’s head. When relating this anecdote to Melanchthon, who was then at Jena, Luther added: ‘Would to God that we possessed several kings of England to put to death those bishops, cardinals, legates, and popes who are nothing but robbers, traitors, and devils! Luther was less tender than he is represented when contrasted with Calvin. Those hasty words expressed really the thoughts of all parties. The spiritual leaven of the gospel had to work for a century or more upon the hard material of which the heart of man is made, before the errors of Romish legislation, a thousand years old, were banished. No doubt there was an immediate mitigation produced by the Reformation; but if any one had told the men of the sixteenth century that it was wrong to put men to death for acts of impiety, they would have been as astonished, and perhaps more so, than our judges, if they were abused because, in conformity with the law, they visited murder with capital punishment. It is strange, however, that it required so many centuries to understand those glorious words of our Savior:
The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. ( Luke 9:56) The condition which the protestants placed on their union with Henry VIII. rendered the alliance difficult. ‘We only ask one thing,’ said the Reformers to Barnes, ‘that the doctrine which is in conformity with Scripture be restored to the whole world ;’ but Henry still observed the catholic doctrine. But he was told that the Lutherans and Francis I., thanks to Melanchthon’s mediation, were probably coming to an agreement, and that a general council would be summoned. What treatment could he expect from such an assembly, he who had so grievously offended the papacy! Desirous of preventing a council at any price, the king determined in September, 1535, to send a more important embassy to the Lutherans, in order to persuade them to renounce the idea of coming to terms with the pope, and rather to form an alliance with England.
Consequently Fox, bishop of Hereford, a proud and insolent courtier, and Archdeacon Hare, an amiable and enlightened man, with some others, started for Germany and joined Barnes and Mount who had preceded them. On the 24th of December they were admitted into the presence of the Elector of Saxony, the Landgrave of Hesse, and other protestant deputies and princes: ‘The king our master,’ they said, ‘has abolished the power of the Roman bishop throughout his dominions, and rejected his pretended pardons and his old wives’ stories. Accordingly the pope, in a transport of fury, has summoned all the kings of the earth to take arms against him. But neither pope nor papists alarm our prince. He offers you his person, his wealth, and his scepter to combat the Roman power. Let us unite against it, and the Spirit of God will bind our confederation together.’ The princes replied to this eloquent harangue, ‘that if the king engaged to propagate the pure doctrine of the faith as it had been confessed at the diet of Augsburg; if he engaged, like them, never to concede to the Roman bishop any jurisdiction in his States, they would name him Defender and Protector of their confederation.’ They added that they would send a deputation, including one man of excellent learning (meaning Melanchthon), to confer with the king upon the changes to be made in the Church. The Englishmen could not conceal their joy, but the theologian had lost all confidence in Henry VIII. ‘The death of More distresses me: I will have nothing to do with the business.’ Nevertheless the treaty of alliance was signed on the 25th December, 1535. The catholic party, especially in England, was troubled at the news, and Gardiner, then ambassador in France, lost no time in writing to oppose designs which would establish protestantism in the Anglican Church.
While the king was uniting with the Confession of Augsburg, his relations with the most decided partisans of the papacy were far from improving.
His daughter Mary, whose temper was melancholy and irritable, observed no bounds as regards her father’s friends or acts, and refused to submit to his orders. ‘I bid her renounce the title of princess,’ said Henry in a passion. ‘If I consented not to be regarded as such,’ she answered, ‘I should go against my conscience and incur God’s displeasure.’ Henry, no friend of half-measures, talked of putting his daughter to death, and thus frightening the rebels. That wretched prince had a remarkable tendency for killing those who were nearest to him. We may see a father correct his child with a stripe; but with this man, a blow from his hand was fatal. There was already some talk of sending the princess to the Tower, when the evangelical Cranmer ventured to intercede in behalf of the catholic Mary. He reminded Henry that he was her father, and that if he took away her life, he would incur universal reprobation. The king gave way to these representations, predicting to the archbishop that this intervention would some day cost him dear. In fact, when Mary became queen she put to death the man who had saved her life. Henry was content to order his daughter to be separated from her mother. On the other hand, the terrified Catherine endeavored to mollify the princess. ‘Obey the king in all things,’ she wrote from Buckden, where she was living, ‘except in those which would destroy your soul. Speak little; trouble yourself about nothing, play on the spinet or lute.’ This unhappy woman, who had found so much bitterness in the conjugal estate, added: ‘Above all, do not desire a husband, nor even think of it, I beg you in the name of Christ’s passion. ‘Your loving mother, CATHERINE THE QUEEN . But the mother was not less decided than the daughter in maintaining her rights, and would not renounce her title of queen, notwithstanding Henry’s orders. A commission composed of the Duke of Suffolk, Lord Sussex, and others, arrived at Buckden to try and induce her to do so, and all the household of the princess was called together. The intrepid daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella said with a firm voice: I am the queen, the king’s true wife.’ Being informed that it was intended to remove her to Somersham and separate her from some of her best friends, she answered: ‘I will not go unless you bind me with ropes.’ And to prevent this she took to her bed and refused to dress, saying she was ill. The king sent two catholic prelates, the archbishop of York and the bishop of Durham, hoping to soften her. ‘Madam,’ said the archbishop, ‘your marriage being invalid...’— ‘It is a lawful marriage,’ she exclaimed with passionate vehemence. ‘Until death I shall be his Majesty’s wife.’ — ‘Members of your own council,’ continued the archbishop, ‘acknowledge that your marriage with Prince Arthur was actually consummated.’ — ‘It is all false!’ she exclaimed in a loud tone. ‘The divorce was consequently pronounced.’...— ‘By whom?’ she asked. — ‘By my lord of Canterbury.’ — ‘And who is he?’ returned the queen. ‘A shadow! The pope has declared in my favor, and he is Christ’s vicar.’ — ‘The king will treat you like a dear sister,’ said bishop Tonstall. — ‘Nothing in the world,’ answered Catherine, ‘neither the loss of my possessions nor the prospect of death, will make me give up my rights.’
In October, 1535, Catherine was still at Buckden. That noble but fanatic woman increased her austerity, indulged in the harshest practices of an ascetic life, prayed frequently bare-kneed on the floor, while at the same time a deadly sorrow was undermining her health. At last consumption declared itself; and as her condition required a change of air, she was removed to Kimbolton. She longed for the society of her daughter, which would no doubt have alleviated her sufferings; but she asked in vain with tears to see her. Mary also entreated the king to let her visit her mother: he was inflexible. Henry’s harshness towards the aunt of Charles V. excited the wrath of that monarch to the highest degree. He was then returning victorious from his first African expedition, and determined to delay no longer in carrying out the mission he had received from the pope. To that end it was necessary to obtain, if not the co-operation, at least the neutrality of Francis I. That was not easy. The king of France had always courted the alliance of England: he had signed a treaty with Henry against the emperor and against the pope, and had just sought an alliance with the Lutheran princes. But the emperor knew that the acquisition of Italy, or at least of Lombardy, was the favorite idea of Francis I. Charles was equally desirous of it, but he was so impatient to re-establish Catherine of Aragon on the throne, and bring England again under the dominion of the pope, that he determined to sacrifice Italy, if only in appearance. Sforza, duke Of Milan, having just died without children, the emperor offered Francis I. the duchy of Milan for his second son, the duke of Orleans, if he would not oppose his designs against England. The king of France eagerly accepted the proposal, and wishing to give a proof of his zeal, he even proposed that the pope should summon all the princes of Christendom to force the king of England to submit to the See of Rome. The love he had for Milan went so far as to make him propose a crusade against his natural ally, Henry VIII. The matter was becoming serious: rarely had a greater danger threatened England, when an important event suddenly removed it. At the very time when Charles V., aided by Francis I., desired to rouse Europe in order to replace his aunt on the throne, she died. About the end of December, 1535, Catherine became seriously ill, and felt that God was bringing her great sorrows to an end. The king, wishing to keep up appearances, sent to inquire after her. The queen, firm to the last in her principles, sent for her lawyers and dictated her will to them. ‘I am ready,’ she said, ‘to yield up my soul unto God... I supplicate that five hundred masses be said for my soul; and that some personage go in pilgrimage for me to Our Lady of Walsingham. I bequeath my gowns to the convent, and the furs of the same I give to my daughter.’ Then Catherine thought of the king: to her he was always her husband, and despite his injustice, she would not address him but with respect, Feeling that the end was not far off, she dictated the following letter, at once so simple and so noble: — ‘My most dear Lord, King, and Husband: ‘The hour of my death now approaching, I cannot choose but, out of the love I bear you, advise you of your soul’s health. You have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles; but I forgive you all, and pray God to do likewise. I commend unto you Mary our daughter, beseeching you to be a good father to her.
Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.’ The queen, therefore, sought to bid farewell of him who had wrought her so much evil. Henry was moved, and even shed tears, but did not comply with the queen’s wish: his conscience reproached him with his faults. On the 7th January Catherine received the last sacraments, and at two o’clock she expired.
Anne felt at the bottom of her heart the rights of this princess. She had yielded to her imagination, to the absolute will of the king; her marriage had given her some moments of happiness, bug her sold was often troubled. She thought to herself that the proud Spanish woman was the one to whom Henry had given his faith; and doubted whether the crown did not belong to the daughter of Isabella. Catherine’s death removed her anxieties. ‘Now,’ she said, ‘now I am indeed a queen.’ She went into mourning, but according to the custom in France at that period. The tears of the people accompanied to the tomb that unhappy and (to say truth) superstitious woman; but she was an affectionate mother, a high-spirited wife, and a queen of indomitable pride. This decease was destined to effect great changes in Europe. The emperor, who was forming a holy alliance to replace his aunt on the throne, and who, to succeed, had gone so far as to sacrifice the northern part of Italy, having nothing more to do with Catherine, sheathed his sword and kept Milan. Francis I., vexed at seeing the prey slip from him which he had so eagerly coveted, and fancied already in his hands, went into a furious passion, and prepared for a war to the death. The emperor and the king of France, instead of marching together against Henry, began each of them to court him, desiring to have him for an ally in the fierce struggle that was about to begin.
At the same time Catherine’s death facilitated, as we have said, the alliance of the king with the protestants of Germany, who had maintained the validity of his marriage with the princess of Aragon. One of their chief grievances against Henry VIII. had thus disappeared. Both sides now thought they could make a step forward and strive to come to an understanding theologically. The points on which they differed were important. ‘The king of England,’ they said at Wittemberg, ‘wishes to be pope in the place of the pope, and maintains most of the errors of the old popery, such as monasteries, indulgences, the mass, prayers for the dead, and other Romish fables.’ The discussion began at Wittemberg. The champions in the theological tournament were Bishop Fox and Archdeacon Heath on one side; Melanchthon and Luther on the other. Heath, one of the young doctors whom Queen Anne had maintained at Cambridge University, charmed Melanchthon exceedingly. ‘He excels in urbanity and sound doctrine,’ said the latter. Fox, on the other hand, who was the king’s man, showed, in Philip’s opinion, no taste either for philosophy or for agreeable and graceful conversation. The doctrine of the mass was the principal point of the discussion. They could not come to an understanding. Luther, who thought it would be only a three days’ matter, seeing the time slip away, said to the elector: ‘I have done more in four weeks than these Englishmen in twelve years. If they continue reforming in that style, England will never be inside or out .’ This definition of the English Reformation amused the Germans. They did not discuss, they disputed: it became a regular quarrel. ‘I am disgusted with these debates,’ said Luther to vice-chancellor Burkhard, ‘they make me sick.’ Even the gentle Melanchthon exclaimed: ‘All the world seems to me to be burning with hatred and anger.’ Accordingly the theological discussions were broken off, and the ambassadors of Henry VIII. were admitted on the 12th of March into the presence of the elector. ‘England is tranquil now,’ said the bishop of Hereford; ‘the death of a woman has forever terminated all wrangling. At this moment the creed of Jesus Christ alone is the concern of his Majesty.
The king therefore prays you to make an alliance between you and him possible, by modifying a few points of your Confession.’ Whereupon the vice-chancellor of Saxony addressed Luther: ‘What can we concede to the king of England?’ — ‘Nothing,’ answered the reformer. ‘If we had been willing to concede anything, we might just as well have come to terms with the pope.’ After this very positive declaration, Luther softened down a little. He knew well, as another reformer has said, ‘that some men are weaker than others, and if we do not treat them very mildly, they lose their courage and turn away from religion; and that Christians who are more advanced in doctrine are bound to comfort the infirmities of the ignorant.’ The Saxon reformer, retracing his steps a little, wrote to the vice-chancellor: ‘It is true that England cannot embrace the whole truth all at once.’ He thought it possible in certain cases to adopt other expressions, and tolerate some diversity of usages. ‘But,’ he said, always firm in the faith, ‘the great doctrines can neither be given up nor modified.
Whether to make an alliance or not with the king, is for my most gracious lord to decide: it is a secular matter. Only it is dangerous to unite outwardly, when the hearts are not in harmony.’ The protestant states assembled on the 24th of April, 1536, at Frankfort on the Main, required Henry VIII. to receive the faith confessed at Augsburg, and in that case expressed themselves ready to acknowledge him as protector of the evangelical alliance. The elector, who was much displeased with certain English ceremonies, added: ‘Let your Majesty thoroughly reform the pontifical idolomania in England.’ It was agreed that Melanchthon, Sturm, Bucer, and Dracon should go to London to complete this great work of union. England and evangelical Germany were about to join hands.
This alliance of the king with the Lutherans deeply chafed the catholics of the kingdom, already so seriously offended by the suppression of the monasteries and the punishment of the two men to whom Henry (they said) was most indebted. While the Roman party was filled with anger, the political party was surprised by the bold step the prince had taker. But the blow which had struck two great victims had taught them that they must submit to the will of the monarch or perish. The scaffolds of Fisher and More had read them a great lesson of docility, and moulded all those around Henry to that servile spirit which leaves in the palace of a king nothing but a master and slaves.
They were about to see an illustrious instance in the trial of Anne Boleyn.