Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

him only one English duke and one English marquis; he limited their retainers, and restrained by means
of the Star Chamber their habits of maintaining lawbreakers, packing juries, and intimidating judges. By

a careful distribution of fines and benevolences he filled his exchequer without taxing the mass of his

people; and by giving office to ecclesiastics and men of humble origin he both secured cheaper and more

efficient administration, and established a check upon feudal influence. He was determined that no

Englishman should build any castle walls over which the English king could not look, and that, as far as

possible, no private person should possess a franchise in which the king's writ did not run. He left to his

son, Henry VIII, a stable throne and a united kingdom.

The first half of Henry VIII's reign left little mark on English history. Wolsey played a brilliant but
essentially futile part on the diplomatic stage, where the rivalry and balance of forces between the

Emperor Charles V and Francis I of France helped him to pose as the arbiter of Christendom. But he

obtained no permanent national gains; and the final result of his foreign policy was to make the emperor

master of the papacy at the moment when Henry wanted the pope to annul his marriage with the

emperor's aunt, Catherine of Aragon. Henry desired a son to succeed him and to prevent the recurrence

of dynastic wars; he had only a daughter, Mary, and no woman had yet ruled or reigned in England. The

death of all his male children by Catherine convinced him that his marriage with his deceased brother

Arthur's widow was invalid; and his passion for Anne Boleyn added zest to his suit for a divorce. The

pope could not afford to quarrel with Charles V, who cared little, indeed, for the cause of his aunt, but

much for his cousin Mary's claim to the English throne; and in 1529 Henry began the process, completed

in the acts of Annates, Appeals, and Supremacy, by which England severed its connexion with Rome,

and the king became head of an English church.

It is irrational to pretend that so durable an achievement was due to so transient a cause as Henry's
passion for Anne Boleyn or desire for a son; vaster, older, and more deeply seated forces were at work.

In one sense the breach was simply the ecclesiastical consummation of the forces which had long been

making for national independence, and the religious complement of the changes which had emancipated

the English state, language, and literature from foreign control.

The Catholic church naturally resisted its disintegration, and the severance was effected by the secular
arms of parliament and the crown. The nationalism of the English church was the result rather than the

cause of the breach with Rome, and its national characteristics - supreme governance by the king, the

disappearance of cosmopolitan religious orders, the parliamentary authorization of services in the

vernacular, of English books of Common Prayer, of English versions of the Bible, and of the Thirty-nine

Articles - were all imposed by parliament after, and not adopted by the church before, the separation.

There were, indeed, no legal means by which the church in England could have accomplished these

things for itself; there were the convocations of Canterbury and York, but these were two subordinate

provinces of the Catholic church; and, whatever may be said for provincial autonomy in the medieval

church, the only marks of national autonomy were stamped upon it by the state. York was more

independent of Canterbury than Canterbury was of Rome; and the unity as well as the independence of

the national church depends upon the common subjection of both its provinces to the crown. This

predominance of state over church was a consequence of its nationalization; for where the boundaries of

the two coincide, the state generally has the upper hand. The papacy was only made possible by the fall

of the Western Empire; in the Eastern Empire the state, so long as it survived, controlled the church; and

the independence of the medieval church was due to its catholicity, while the state at best was only

national. It was in defence of the catholicity, as opposed to the nationalism, of the church that More and

Fisher went to the scaffold in 1535, and nearly the whole bench of bishops was deprived in 1559. Henry

 

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