THE Romish party in England did not confine itself to preventing the union of Henry with the Protestants of Germany; but contended at all points against evangelical reformation, and strove to gain over the king by a display of enthusiastic devotion to his person and his ecclesiastical supremacy. This was especially the policy of Gardiner. Endowed with great acuteness of intellect, he had studied the king’s character, and he put forth all his powers to secure his adoption of his own views. Henry did not esteem his character, but highly appreciated his talents, and on this account employed him. Now Gardiner was the mainstay of the Scholastic doctrines and the most inflexible opponent of the Reformation. He was for three years ambassador in France, and during that mission he had displayed great pomp and spent a sum equivalent, in our present reckoning, to about sixty thousand pounds. He had visited the court of the emperor, and had had interviews with the Roman legate. One day, at Ratisbon, an Italian named Ludovico, a servant of the legate, while talking with one of the attendants of Sir Henry Knevet, who was a member of the English embassy, had confided to him the statement that Gardiner had secretly been reconciled with the pope, and had entered into correspondence with him. Knevet, exceedingly anxious to know what to think of it, had had a conference with Ludovico, and had come away convinced of the reality of the fact. No sooner did Gardiner get wind of these things, than he betook himself to Granvella, chancellor of the empire, and sharply complained to him of the calumnies of Ludovico. The chancellor ordered the Italian to be put in prison; but in spite of fills measure many continued to believe that he had spoken truth. We are inclined to think that Ludovico said more than he knew. The story; however, indicates from which quarter the wind was blowing in the sphere in which Gardiner moved. He had set out for Paris on October 1, 1535; and on September 28, 1538, there was to be seen entering London a brilliant and numerous band, mules and chariots hung with draperies on which were embroidered the arms of the master, lackeys, gentlemen dressed in velvet, with many ushers and soldiers. This was Gardiner and his suite. f244 The three years’ absence of this formidable adversary of the Gospel had been marked by a slackening of the persecution, and by a more active propagation of the Holy Scriptures. His return was to be distinguished by a vigorous renewal of the struggle against the Gospel. This was the main business of Gardiner. To this he consecrated all the resources of the most acute understanding and the most persistent character. He began, immediately to lay snares round the king, whom in this respect it was not very hard to entrap. Two difficulties, however, arose. At first Henry VIII., by the influence of the deceased queen, had been somewhat softened towards the Reformation. Then the rumors of the reconciliation of Gardiner with the pope might have alienated the king from him. The crafty man proceeded cleverly and killed two birds with one stone. ‘The pope,’ he said to the king, ‘is doing all he can to ruin you.’ Henry, provoked at the mission of Pole, had no doubt of that. ‘You ought then, Sire,’ continued the bishop, ‘to do all that is possible to conciliate the Continental powers, and to place yourself in security from the treacherous designs of Rome.’ Now the surest means of conciliating Francis I., Charles V., and other potentates, is to proceed rigorously against heretics, especially against the sacramentarians.’ Henry agreed to the means proposed with the more readiness because he had always been a fanatic for the corporal presence, and because the Lutherans, in his view, could not take offense at seeing him burn some of the sacramentarians.
A beginning was made with the Anabaptists. The mad and atrocious things perpetrated at Munster were still everywhere talked of, and these wretched people were persecuted in all European countries. Some of them had taken refuge in England. In October 1538 the king appointed a commission to examine certain people ‘lately come into the kingdom, who are keeping themselves in concealment in various nooks and corners.’ The commission was authorized to proceed, even supposing this should be in contravention of any statutes of the realm. f246 Four Anabaptists bore the fagots at Paul’s church, and two others, a man and a woman, originally from the Netherlands, were burnt in Smithfield.
Cranmer and Bonner sat on this commission, side by side with Stokesley and Sampson. This fact shows what astonishing error prevailed at the time in the minds of men. Gardiner wanted to go further; and while associating, when persecution was in hand, with such men as Cranmer, he had secret conferences with Stokesley, bishop of London, Tonstall of Durham.
Sampson of Chichester, and others, who were devoted to the doctrines of the Middle Ages. They talked over the means of resisting the reforms of Cranmer and Cromwell, and of restoring Catholicism.
Bishop Sampson, one of Gardiner’s allies, was a staunch friend of ancient superstitions, and attached especial importance to the requirement that God should not be addressed in a language Understood by file common people. ‘In all places,’ he said, ‘both with the Latins and the Greeks, the ministers of the church sung or said their offices or prayers in the Latin or Greek grammatical tongue, and not in the vulgar. That the people prayed apart in such tongues as they would... . and he wished that all the ministers were so well learned that they understood their offices, service or prayers which they said in the Latin tongue.’ In his view, it was not lawful to speak to God except grammatically.
Sampson, a weak and narrow-minded man, was swayed by prejudices and ruled by stronger men; and he had introduced in his diocese customs contrary to the orders of the king. Weak minds are often in the van when important movements are beginning; the strong ones are in the rear and urge them on. This was the case with Sampson and Gardiner. Cromwell, who had a keen and penetrating intellect, and whose glance easily searched the depths of men’s hearts and pierced to the core of facts, perceived that some project was hatching against the Reformation; and as he did not dare to attack the real leaders, he had Sampson arrested and committed to the Tower. The bishop was not strong-minded and trembled for a slight cause; it may, therefore, be imagined how it was with him when he found himself in the state prison. He fell into great trouble and extraordinary dejection of mind. His imagination was filled with fatal presentiments, and his soul was assailed by great terrors. To have displeased the king and Cromwell, what a crime! One might have thought that he would die of it, says a historian. He saw himself already on the scaffold of Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More. At this time the powerful minister summoned him to his presence. Sampson admitted the formation of an alliance between Gardiner, Stokesley, Tonstall and himself to maintain the old religion, its traditions and rites, and to resist any innovation. He avowed the fact that his colleagues and himself stood pledged to put forth all their efforts for the restoration of degenerated Catholicism. In their opinion, nothing which the Greeks had preserved ought to be rejected in England. One day when Bishop Sampson was passing over the Thames in a barge, in company with the bishop of Durham, to Lambeth Palace, the latter produced an old Greek book which he used to carry in his pocket, and showed Sampson several places b that book wherein matters that were then in controversy were ordained by the Greek Church These bishops, who spoke so courageously to each other, did not speak so with the king. They feigned complete accordance with him; and for him they had nothing but flatteries.
Cranmer was not strong, but at least he was never a hypocrite. Sampson, however, exhibited so much penitence and promised so much submission that he was liberated. But Cromwell no knew what to think of the matter.
A conspiracy was threatening the work which he had been at so much pains to accomplish. He observed that the archbishop’s influence was declining at court, and he began to have secret forebodings of calamity in which he would be himself involved.
Gardiner, in fact, energetically urged the king to re-establish all the ancient usages. Thus, although but a little while before orders had been given to place bibles in the churches, and to preach against pilgrimages, tapers, kissing of relics, and other like practices, it was now forbidden to translate, publish and circulate any religious works without the king’s, permission; and injunctions were issued for the use of holy water, for processions, for kneeling down and crawling before the cross, and for lighting of tapers before the Corpus Christi. Discussions about the sacrament of the Eucharist were prohibited. It was Gardiner’s wish to seal these ordinances with the blood of martyrs. He had begun by striking in anima vili; the persecution of the Dutch sacramentarians was merely the exordium; it was needful now to proceed to the very action itself, to strike a blow at an evangelical and esteemed Englishman, and to invest his death with a certain importance.
There was at this time in London a minister named John Nicholson, who had studied at the university of Cambridge, had been converted by means of his conversations with Bilney, and had afterwards been the friend of Tyndale and Frith, and by his intercourse with them had been strengthened in the faith. He was a conscientious man, who did not suppose that it was enough to hold a doctrine conformable with the Word of God, but, conscious of the great value of the truth, was ready to lay down his life for it, even if there were nothing at stake but a point looked upon as secondary. Faithfulness or unfaithfulness to one’s convictions — this was in his view the decisive test of the morality or immorality of a man. In the age of the Reformation there were greater preachers and greater theologians than Nicholson; but there was not one more deserving of honor. Having translated from the Latin and the Greek works which might give offense, and having professed his faith, he had been obliged to cross the sea, and he became chaplain to the English house at Antwerp Here it was that he became acquainted with Tyndale and Frith. Being accused of heresy by one Barlow, he was taken to London, by order of Sir Thomas More, then chancellor, and was kept prisoner at Oxford, in the house of Archbishop Warham, where he was deprived of everything, especially of books. On the occasion of his appearance, in 1532, before the archbishop and other prelates, Nicholson steadfastly maintained that all that is necessary to salvation is to be found in Holy Scripture. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is the question which is the head and whole content of all others objected against me. This is both the helm and stern of both together.’ There were forty-five points, and to these he made answer article by article. f253 Shortly afterwards, in consequence of the death of Warham and of Cranmer’s appointment to the vacant see, the Antwerp chaplain was set at liberty. He determined to remain in London, took, it seems, from prudential considerations, the name of Lambert, and devoted himself to the labors of a teacher, but at the same time adhered to the resolution to avail himself of every opportunity of maintaining the truth.
Being informed one day that Doctor Taylor was to preach at St. Peter’s Church, Cornhill, he went to hear him, not only because of his well-known gifts, but also because he was not far from the Gospel. He was later appointed bishop of Lincoln under pious King Edward, and was deprived of that office under the fanatical Mary. Taylor preached that day on the real presence of Christ in the bread and the wine. Nicholson also believed, indeed, in the presence Of the Lord in the Supper, but this presence, he believed, was in the hearts of the faithful. After the service he went to see Taylor, and with modesty and kindliness urged various arguments against the doctrines which he had been setting forth. ‘I have not time just now,’ said the doctor, ‘to discuss the point with you, as other matters demand my attention; but oblige me by putting your thoughts in writing and call again when I am more at leisure.’ Lambert applied himself to the task of writing, and against the doctrine of the presence in the bread he adduced ten arguments, which were, says Fox, very powerful. It does not appear that Taylor replied to them. He was an upright man, who gave impartial consideration to these questions, and by Nicholson’s reasoning he seems to have been somewhat shaken. As Taylor was anxious to be enlightened himself and to try to satisfy his friendly opponent, he communicated the document to Barnes. The latter, a truly evangelical Christian, was nevertheless of opinion that to put forward the doctrine of this little work would seriously injure the cause of the Reformation. He therefore advised Taylor to speak to Archbishop Cranmer on the subject. Cranmer, who was of the same opinion, invited Nicholson to a conference, at which Barnes, Taylor, and Latimer were also present. These four divines had not at this time abandoned the view which the ex-chaplain of Antwerp opposed; and considering the fresh revival of sacramental Catholicism, they were not inclined to do so. They strove therefore to change the opinion of the pious minister, but in vain. Finding that they unanimously condemned his views, he exclaimed: ‘Well then, I appeal to the king.’ This was a foolish and fatal appeal.
Gardiner did not lose a minute, but promptly took the business in hand, because he saw in it an opportunity of striking a heavy blow; and, what was an inestimable advantage, he would have on his side, he thought, Cranmer and the other three evangelical divines. He therefore ‘went straight to the king,’ and requesting a private audience, addressed him in the most flattering terms. Then, as if the interests of the king were dearer to him than to the king himself, he respectfully pointed out that he had everywhere excited by various recent proceedings suspicion and hatred; but that at this moment a way was open for pacifying men’s minds, ‘if only in this matter of John Lambert, he would manifest unto the people how strictly he would resist heretics; and by this new rumor he would bring to pass not only to extinguish all other former rumors, and as it were with one nail to drive out another, but also should discharge himself of all suspicion, in that he now began to be reported to be a favorer of new sects and opinions.’ f255 The vanity as well as the interests of Henry VIII. dictated to him the same course as Gardiner advised. He determined to avail himself of this opportunity to make an ostentatious display of his own knowledge and zeal. He would make arrangements of an imposing character; it would not be enough to hold a mere conversation, but there must be a grand show. He therefore ordered invitations to be sent to a great number of nobles and bishops to attend the solemn trial at which he would appear as head of tile church. He was not content with the title alone, he would show that he acted the part. One of the principal characteristics of Henry VIII. was a fondness for showing off what he conceived himself to be or what he supposed himself to know, without ever suspecting that display is often the ruin of those who wish to seem more than they are. f256 Meanwhile Lambert, confined at Lambeth, wrote an apology for his faith which he dedicated to the king, and in which he solidly established the doctrine which he had professed. f257 He rejoiced that his request to be heard before Henry VIII. had been granted. He desired that his trial might be blessed, and he indulged in the pleasing illusion that the king, once set in the presence of the truth, must needs be enlightened and would publicly proclaim it. These pleasant fancies gave him courage, and he lived on hope.
On the appointed day, Friday, November 16, 1538, the assembly was constituted in Westminster Hall. The king, in his robes of state, sat upon the throne. On his right were the bishops, judges, and jurisconsults; on his left the lords temporal of the realm and the officers of the royal house. The guards, attired in white, were near their master, and a crowd of spectators filled the hall. The prisoner was placed at the bar. Doctor Day spoke to the following effect: That the king in this session would have all states, degrees, bishops, and all others to be admonished of his will and pleasure, that no man should conceive any sinister opinion of him, as that now the authority and name of the bishop of Rome being utterly abolished, he would also extinguish all religion, or give liberty unto heretics to perturb and trouble, without punishment, the churches of England, whereof he is the head. And moreover that they should not think that they were assembled at that present to make any disputation upon the heretical doctrine; but only for this purpose, that by the industry of him and other bishops the heresies of this man here present (meaning Lambert), and the heresies of all such like, should be refuted or openly condemned in the presence of them all. Henry’s part then began. His look was sternly fixed on Lambert, who stood facing him; his features were contracted, his brows were knit. f259 His whole aspect was adapted to inspire terror, and indicated a violence of anger unbecoming in a judge, and still more so in a sovereign. He rose, stood leaning on a white cushion, and looking Lambert full in the face, he said to him in a disdainful tone: ‘Ho! good fellow, what is thy name?’ The accused, humbly kneeling down, replied: ‘My name is John Nicholson, although of many I be called Lambert.’ ‘What!’ said the king, ‘have you two names? I would not trust you, having two names, although you were my brother.’ ‘O most noble prince,’ replied the accused, ‘your bishops forced me of necessity to change my name.’
Thereupon the king, interrupting him, commanded him to declare what he thought as touching the sacrament of the altar. ‘Sire,’ said Lambert, ‘first of all I give God thanks that you do not disdain to hear me. Many good men, in many places, are put to death, without your knowledge. But now, forasmuch as that high and eternal King of kings hath inspired and stirred up the king’s mind to understand the causes of his subjects, specially whom God of his divine goodness hath so abundantly endued with so great gifts of judgment and knowledge, I do not mistrust but that God will bring some great thing to pass through him, to the setting forth of the glory of his name.’ Henry, who could not bear to be praised by a heretic, rudely interrupted Lambert, and said to him in an angry tone: ‘I came not hither to hear mine own praises thus painted out in my presence; but briefly go to the matter, without any more circumstance.’ There was so much harshness in the king’s voice that Lambert was agitated and confused. He had dreamed of something very different. He had conceived a sovereign just and elevated above the reach of clerical passions, whose noble understanding would be struck with the beauty of the Gospel. But he saw a passionate man, a servant of the priests. In astonishment and confusion he kept silence for a few minutes, questioning within himself what he ought to do in the extremity to which he was reduced.
Lambert was especially attached to the great severities of the Christian religion, and during his trial he made unreserved confession of them’ Our Savior would not have us greatly esteem our merits,’ said he, ‘when we have done what is commanded by God, but rather reckon ourselves to be but servants unprofitable to God... not regarding our merit, but his grace and benefit. Woe be to the life of men, said St. Augustine, be they ever so holy, if Thou shalt examine them, setting thy mercy aside...Again he says, Doth any man give what he oweth not unto Thee, that Thou should’st be in his debt? and hath any man ought that is not Thine?...All my hope is in the Lord’s death. His death is my merit, my refuge, my health, and my resurrection. And thus,’ adds Lambert, ‘we should serve God with hearty love as children, and not for need or dread, as unloving thralls and servants.’ f260 But the king wanted to localize the attack and to limit the examination of Lambert to the subject of the sacrament. Finding that the accused stood silent, the king said to him in a hasty manner with anger and vehemency: ‘Why standest, thou still? Answer as touching the sacrament of the altar, whether dost thou say that it is the body of Christ or wilt deny it?’
After uttering these words, the king lifted up his cap adorned with pearls and feathers, probably as a token of reverence for the subject under discussion. ‘I answer with St. Augustine,’ said Lambert, ‘that it is the body of Christ after a certain manner.’ The king replied: ‘Answer me neither out of St. Augustine, nor by the authority of any other; but tell me plainly whether thou sayest it is the body of Christ or no.’ Lambert felt what might be the consequences of his answer, but without hesitation he said: ‘Then I deny it to be the body of Christ.’ ‘Mark well!’ exclaimed the king; ‘for now thou shalt be condemned even by Christ’s own word, Hoc est corpus meum.’ The king then turning to Cranmer commanded him to refute the opinion of the accused. The archbishop spoke with modesty, calling Lambert ‘brother,’ and although refuting his arguments he told him that if he proved his opinion from Holy Scripture, he (Cranmer) would willingly embrace it.
Gardiner, finding that Cranmer was too weak, began to speak. Tonstall and Stokesley followed. Lambert had put forward ten arguments, and ten doctors were appointed to deal with them, each doctor to impugn one of them. Of the whole disputation the passage which made the deepest impression on the assembly was Stokesley’s argument. ‘It is the doctrine of the philosophers,’ he said, ‘that a substance cannot be changed but into a substance.’ Then, by the example of water boiling on the fire, he affirmed the substance of the water to pass into the substance of the air. On hearing this argument, the aspect of the bishops, hitherto somewhat uneasy, suddenly changed. They were transported with joy, and considered this transmutation of the elements as giving them the victory, and they cast their looks over the whole assembly with an air of triumph.
Loud shouts of applause for some time interrupted the sitting. When silence was at length restored, Lambert replied that the moistness of the water, its real essence, remained even after this transformation; that nothing was changed but the form; while in their system of the corpus domini the substance itself was changed; and that it is impossible that the qualities and accidents of things should remain in their own nature apart from their own subject. But Lambert was not allowed to finish his refutation. The king and the bishops, indignant that he ventured to impugn an argument which had transported them with admiration, gave vent to their rage against him, so that he was forced to silence, and had to endure patiently all their insults.
The sitting had lasted from noon till five o’clock in the evening. It had been a real martyrdom for Lambert. Loaded with rebukes and insults, intimidated by the solemnity of the proceedings and by the authority of the persons with whom he had to do, alarmed by the presence of the king and by the terrible threats which were uttered against him, his body too, which was weak before, giving way under the fatigue of a sitting of five hours, during, which, standing all the time, he had been compelled to fight a fierce battle, convinced that the clearest and most irresistible demonstrations would be smothered amidst the outcries of the bystanders, he called to mind these words of Scripture, ‘Be still,’ and was silent. This self-restraint was regarded as defeat. Where is the knowledge so much boasted of? they said; where is his power of argumentation? The assembly had looked for great bursts of eloquence, but the accused was silent. The palm of victory was awarded to the king and the bishops by noisy and universal shouts of applause.
It was now night. The servants of the royal house appeared in the hall and lighted the torches. Henry began to find his part as head of the church somewhat wearisome. He determined to bring the business to a conclusion, and by his severity to give to the pope and to Christendom a brilliant proof of his orthodoxy. ‘What sayest thou now,’ he said to Lambert, ‘after all these great labors which thou hast taken upon thee, and all the reasons and instructions of these learned men? Art thou not yet satisfied?
Wilt thou live or die? What sayest thou? Thou hast yet free choice.’
Lambert answered, ‘I commend my soul into the hands of God, but my body I wholly yield and submit unto your clemency.’ Then said the king, ‘In that case you must die, for I will not be a patron unto heretics.’
Unhappy Lambert! He had committed himself to the mercy of a prince who never spared a man who offended him, were it even his closest friend.
The monarch turned to his vicar-general and said, ‘Cromwell read the sentence of condemnation.’ This was a cruel task to impose upon a man universally considered to be the friend of the evangelicals. But Cromwell felt the ground already trembling under his feet. He took the sentence and read it. Lambert was condemned to be burnt.
Four days afterwards, on Tuesday, November 20, the evangelist was taken out of the prison at eight .o’clock in the morning and brought to Cromwell’s house. Cromwell summoned him to his room and announced that the hour of his death was come. The tidings greatly consoled and gladdened Lambert. It is stated that Cromwell added some words by way of excuse for the part which he had taken in his condemnation, and sent him into the room where the gentlemen of his household were at breakfaSt. He sat down and at their invitation partook of the meal with them, with all the composure of a Christian. Immediately after breakfast he was taken to Smithfield, and was there placed on the pile, which was not raised high.
His legs only were burnt, and nothing remained but the stumps. He was, however, still alive; and two of the soldiers, observing that his whole body could not be consumed, thrust into him their halberts, one on each side, and raised him above the fire. The martyr, stretching towards the people his hands now burning, said, ‘None but Christ! None but Christ!’ At this moment the soldiers withdrew their weapons and let the pious Lambert drop into the fire, which speedily consumed him. f265 Henry VIII., however, was not satisfied. The hope which he had entertained of inducing Lambert to recant had been disappointed. The Anglo-Catholic party made up for this by everywhere extolling his learning and his eloquence. They praised his sayings to the skies — every one of them was an oracle; he was in very deed the defender of the faith.
There was one, not, belonging to that party, who wrote to Sir Thomas Wyatt, then foreign minister to the king, as follows: — ‘It was marvelous to see the gravity and the majestic air with which his majesty discharged the functions of Supreme Head of the Anglican Church; the mildness with which he tried to convert that unhappy man; the force of reasoning with which he opposed him. Would that the princes and potentates of Christendom could have been present at the spectacle; they would certainly have admired the wisdom and the judgment of his majesty, and would have said that the king is the most excellent prince in the Christian world.’ f266 This writer was Cromwell himself. He suppressed at this time all the best aspirations of his nature, believing that, as is generally thought, if one means to retain the favor of princes, it is necessary to adapt one’s self to all their wishes. A mournful fall, which was not to be the only one of the kind! It has been said, ‘Every flatterer, whoever he may be, is always a treacherous and hateful creature.’ f267