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HENRY THE EIGHTH
ASSUMES THE TITLE OF
SUPREME HEAD OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
From the beginning of the reign of Henry the eighth, until the period, to which the subject now leads the writer, his majesty gave his entire confidence to cardinal Wolsey. I. The character of that minister; II. The penalties of præmunire, which the whole body of the clergy was adjudged to have incurred by their submission to his legatine authority; III. The steps taken to prepare the mind of the nation for his majesty's ecclesiastical supremacy; IV. And the legislative acts, by which it was conferred upon him, will be succinctly described in the present chapter.
VII. 1. Character of cardinal Wolsey. To this distinguished personage his contemporaries, generally speaking, were unjust. The splendor, with which he was surrounded, made him an object of envý; his lofty manners created him many personal enemies; the spirit of domination, which he showed in all ecclesiastical concerns, indisposed the clergy towards him; and the friends of the reformation considered him their enemy.
Whilst he lived, nearly all hated him; after his decease, nearly all were hostile to his memory.
His extraction was mean: Henry the seventh had occasion to discover the penetration and energy of his mind; and conferred upon him the deanery of Lincoln. He was quickly noticed by Henry the eighth. He soon became his favourite, and the companion of his pleasures, and, before long, his sole and absolute minister. “ By this rapid ad“ vancement, and uncontrolled authority,” says Mr. Hume *, “ the character and genius of Wolsey “ had full opportunity to display itself. Insatiable “ in his acquisitions ; but still more magnificent in “his expense; of extensive capacity, but still more “ unbounded enterprize ; ambitious of power,
but “ more ambitious of glory; insinuating, engaging, “ persuasive, and by turns lofty, elevated, and “ commanding ; haughty to his equals, affable to “his dependents; oppressive to the people, but “ liberal to his friends, 'more generous than grate“ful ; less moved by injuries than by contempt ; “ he was framed to take the ascendant in every “intercourse with others; but exerted this superi
ority of nature, with such ostentation, as exposed “s him to envy; and made every one willing to
recall the original inferiority, or rather meanness “ of his fortune.” Such is the character drawn of Wolsey, by Mr. Humé. Even, with the dark shades, which it receives from his pen, small is the number of those, that have attained a situation equally elevated, with whom Wolsey will suffer in comparison
* Ch. 27.
That, in his conduct, much was reprehensible, must be admitted. But, surely, much excuse may be found, in the ungovernable violence, and obstinacy, of the monarch.
“ I do assure you,” the cardinal said, a few hours before he expired, to Sir William Kingston, the constable of the Tower, “ that, I have often knelt before his Majesty, some“ times three hours together, to persuade him “ from his will and appetite; but could not
It should also be observed, that the part of Henry's reign, which was subsequent to the decease of the minister, was much more criminal, than that, which had been directed by his councils.
That Wolsey was a protector of learning, his most violent enemies admit: and, if we think with them, that he was justly chargeable with an excess of magnificence, we should not forget, that, by calling forth the arts, and exciting the industry of the nation, that very magnificence was a public benefit. - At the time, of which we are speaking, the benefits which the public receives from individual magnificence like Wolsey's, was little understood.
The whole body of the English Clergy held to be liable to
the penalties of Præmunire.
THE offence particularly imputed to Wolsey, was his exercising in England the power of a legate of the
pope. From an early time, it was an acknowledged prerogative of the popes to send persons to represent them, -and to exercise their powers in foreign states. The persons invested with this high authority were often delegated to sovereign princes and states, as the guardians of the faith, and discipline, of the church ; and as the protectors of its general interests. They were the representatives of the pope, holding many of his highest powers.
It is not to be supposed, that prerogatives, such as these, would be exercised by Wolsey, with a very gentle hand. His administration gave great offence to the clergy; and became a subject of general complaint. On this account, as soon as the ruin of the cardinal was determined, his enemies indicted him for procuring from Rome, the bull, which invested him with the legatine autho'rity; and for an extravagant exercise of the powers, which it conferred upon him. The charge was ridiculous; but, such were the absolute power of the monarch, and the temper of the times, that the cardinal confessed the indictment, and sentence was pronounced upon him ;---declaring him out of the king's protection ; his lands and goods to be forfeited; and ordering him into custody.--Henry however, granted him a pardon.
This memorable event took place, in November, 1529. In January 1531, the whole ecclesiastical establishment was brought under the same law. It was alleged, that, by submitting to the cardinal's exercise of his legatine authority, the whole national church had offended within the statute of provisors. Upon this statute, therefore, the attorney-general, by his majesty's direction, indicted them. They
assembled in convocation ; confessed their guilt, and submitted to his majesty's mercy. The king accepted from the clergy of the province of Canterbury, 100,000l.; and from the clergy of the
province of York, 18,4401.--for a pardon. It was expected, that the whole body of the laity would have been considered guilty of the same offence but, after some demonstrations of anger, the king issued his pardon of them, without requiring any fine. The Commons expressed great gratitude to him for his clemency.
It is surprising, that the nation should have quietly submitted to a proceeding so manifestly unjust and absurd. On what ground, it could be gravely asserted, that either clergy, or laity, had incurred the penalties of the statutes of provisors, or præmunire, it is impossible to conceive. The first of these statutes extended to those only, who obtained from the see of Rome, provisional presentations to benefices, that were not vacant; the latter, to those only, who interrupted the proceedings of the king's courts, or prevented the execution of their sentences, by appealing from them to the see of Rome.
Measures preparing the public mind for his majesty's
AFTER this, it soon became evident, that the king was determined to abolish, in his dominions, the spiritual supremacy of the pope. He was aware,