Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 3, 1519-1523. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1867.
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Preface, Section 5
Wars carried on in this spirit could have no other effect than that of brutalizing equally invader and invaded. The extravagance of Francis I., the methods employed by him for maintaining his numerous armies, his oppressive exactions, his insensibility to the calamities thus inflicted, had alienated from him, in a great degree, the patient and enduring loyalty of his subjects. Churches, consecrated plate and jewels, even relics, could plead no exemption from the hand of the spoiler. Apostles were consigned to the melting pot, chalices to the furnace; until, as a writer of the time expresses it, "his people were eaten up to the bones, and the Church cried for vengeance upon him." (fn. 1) In this state of things the unhappy population were comparatively indifferent whether they suffered under the rule of a native prince or of a foreigner, and they offered less resistance than otherwise they would have done to the advance of the English troops. But if Henry had employed all his study in devising means for alienating their affections, or making English domination as odious and detestable as possible, he could not have hit upon a more effectual method than war conducted on Surrey's principles, and sanctioned by himself. If the French languished under the legalized oppression of a native sovereign, they had much worse to fear from the cruelty and injustice of a stranger. The spoliations of their own kings faded into nothing when compared with the sullen barbarity of English troops, who spared neither church nor house, rick nor barn. Thirst for retaliation, as well as the necessity of defence, braced up the sufferers to exertions which could never have been extracted from their loyalty. In such wars every step adds to the danger and the difficulty of the invader;—a solitude of his own creation all around him, a barren and smoking country at his back, in front stern resistance growing every day more desperate, enemies increasing every day in numbers and exasperation. Cruelty gives birth to superstitious terror,—a Nemesis from which invading armies are rarely exempt. Their fears mirror for themselves the terrible earnestness of an implacable foe watching his opportunities for vengeance with fierce eyes and panting heart. Happily the approach of winter suspended hostilities, and gave the English commander an excuse for returning. He had been tardily supported by the imperialists, who did not want to see France in the power of their ally. Each of the two contracting powers had different objects and conflicting interests.
Charles duke of Bourbon, by blood, by marriage, by alliance, by feudal rights and territories, by position, by military rank, and personal influence, the most formidable subject, and scarce a subject, of Francis I., had taken affront at the conduct of his sovereign. The invasion of France by the Emperor and the king of England appeared to offer him an opportunity for revenge. What might be his ulterior hopes he did not live long enough to develop; nor, if he had lived, would he have had sufficient influence to accomplish. French historians have assigned various reasons for his discontent:—his ambition, his disputes with Louise of Savoy, her jealousy and her greed. Others have sought a reason for Bourbon's disaffection in the affront offered him by the King, when the command of the vanguard was assigned to the duke of Alençon, and the rear to himself and Vendôme. (fn. 2)
Unconscious or careless of the Duke's displeasure, Francis had sent him in January 1522 into Languedoc, near the imperial frontiers, with orders to place that part of his dominions in a state of defence. (fn. 3) How long he remained there—how his time was occupied—no records remain to tell. But if at this early period, far removed from surveillance, in close proximity with the Emperor's officers, Bourbon already entertained treasonable intentions, he had excellent opportunities for carrying out designs so disastrous to his thoughtless and precipitate sovereign. It is certain that long before the end of that year he had been negociating with the Emperor the terms of his disaffection. For on the 8th of September Charles wrote to his ambassadors in England, (fn. 4) informing them that the charge of the French army intended for Italy had been offered by the King to Bourbon, and refused by the latter; that Francis and the Queen-mother had eagerly sought for a reconciliation with Bourbon, but without effect. "Francis," he adds, "spends his time in the chase with the cardinal of Lorraine, and leaves all business to his mother, the admiral (Bonnivet) and the chancellor (Du Prat)." The resentment of Bourbon and his smothered indignation were aggravated by this preference of his rivals and antagonists. In what negociations he was occupied during the next few months, we are not informed; but before the close of September 1522, the Emperor had improved his opportunity so well that the terms of Bourbon's treason were already arranged, and were known to Wolsey. (fn. 5) They must already have been some time under discussion, for Boleyn and Sampson were instructed to tell the Emperor that the King was informed "by such advertisements as were lately given to the King's admiral (Surrey) by M. Beaurain, that Bourbon, not being contented with the inordinate and sensual governance that is used by the French king, is much inclined, and in manner determined, to reform and redress the insolent demeanors of the said King, and such other indiscreet and light counsellors as have induced him to this great folly and danger that he now standeth in." They are further informed that the Duke is minded to have in marriage one of the Emperor's sisters; and that the King had been given to understand that this offer, often made before, had lately been renewed by De Cares (D'Escars), (fn. 6) cousin german to Bourbon. Moreover the Duke, it is added, was unwilling at first that his proposal should be made known to the king of England; but now, in consideration of his union with the Emperor and his title to France, Bourbon had consented to join with 500 men-at-arms and 10,000 foot. The King further proposes that the Emperor should send Beaurain in disguise to negociate with Bourbon; for, if this affair succeeded, he thought that most part of the nobles of France would follow the example.
The English ambassadors found the Emperor at first little inclined to be communicative. He made excuses; complained of poverty; declined to raise more than the ordinary number of men; said that half the expenses of the Duke ought to be borne by the King; that as to giving Bourbon the hand of one of his sisters, he must deliberate, for one of them (Catharine) had been promised already to the duke of Saxony with 200,000 florins. Therefore, he proposed to compound with Bourbon, and offer him in lieu 100,000 florins, of which he thought it reasonable the King should pay half. But though Catharine might be engaged, his other sister, Eleanor, now a widow by the death of her husband, Emanuel of Portugal, in 1521, was at the Emperor's disposal. But here again the indifference of Charles to all other considerations except those of his own political advancement was conspicuously shown. Eleanor's widowhood exposed her to the importunities of her step-son John III. Her residence in the court of Portugal was too advantageous to be lightly dispensed with. "The queen of Portugal," say the same ambassadors, "is not coming," that is to Spain; "the king of Portugal (John III.) is in love with her, and will not suffer her. She has a daughter (Maria) by the King's father, and therefore refuses him!" On the same day (fn. 7) the ambassadors wrote again to say that, notwithstanding the desire expressed by the Emperor "speedily to set forth the matter of the duke of Bourbon, whom he calls his kinsman, he has delayed it from the 17th December to this day." The delay, they thought, arose from his want of money.
Meanwhile Bourbon had returned to Paris. Upon his entering the court at dinner time, he was invited by the Queen, with whom he was a favorite, to join her table, for she dined apart from the King that day. "Francis hearing of his being there, the more shortly ended his dinner, and came to the Queen's chamber. The Duke, seeing the King, was rising to do his duty. The King commanded him to sit, and not to rise from his dinner; and then saluted him with these words: 'Senyor, it is showed us that you be or shall be married. Is it truth?' The Duke said it was not true. The King said that he knew that it was so; moreover saying that he would remember it, and that he knew his traffic with the Emperor; eftsoons repeating, that he would remember it. The Duke answered and said, 'Sir, then you menace and threaten me; I have deserved no such cause;' and so departed. And after dinner the Duke went to his lodging, and all the noblemen of the court with him." The next day he left Paris abruptly. Such was the account of the rupture which the English ambassadors took down from the Emperor's lips, and transmitted to Wolsey. (fn. 8)
Never was more culpable weakness shown by a sovereign than at this interview of Francis with his powerful subject. His upbraidings were altogether untimely. Too late, if he had evidence of Bourbon's treason; too early, if he had not. But, like the obstinacy of the weak, the indecision of the rash is often more fatal than their rashness. Treason, "like the word of a lie," is the hardest stone a sovereign can throw at a subject; and, therefore, should be the last. If his suspicions were strong enough to justify so odious a charge, they were strong enough to justify and demand the apprehension of Bourbon.
It was not thus that Henry VIII. would have acted. No reckless generosity, no chivalrous disinclination to take an unfair advantage, would have prevented him from at once securing the person of his enemy under such circumstances. He would not have presumed on the innocence of the man he had once openly accused of guilt. The culprit must have produced satisfactory evidence to substantiate his innocence, or have suffered if he could not.
At the urgent request of the English ambassadors, the Emperor consented, on the 14th of January 1523, that Beaurain should be sent with letters to the Duke; within a few days he altered his mind, and Beaurain was despatched to England. (fn. 9) "Since the coming of De la Sauch," wrote Boleyn and Sampson to Wolsey. "we have perceived no small change in the Emperor." They were at a loss for the reason. Perhaps it is not so difficult to divine. In the spring of 1523 De la Sauch (La Chaux) was despatched with secret instructions to the court of Portugal. To avoid suspicion he was ordered to take England on his way;—to communicate to the King and Wolsey the ostensible purpose of his mission; that is, to take their advice about the marriage of the new king of Portugal with one of the Emperor's sisters. But there was a secret article in La Chaux's instructions, which he was not to communicate to any one,—not even to the most intimate of his English friends. It was of so delicate a nature that, if the king of Portugal enquired about the proposed marriage of the Emperor with the English princess, La Chaux was to tell him that the Emperor reserved it for himself alone to explain this mystery. Yet, in spite of the Emperor's dissimulation, his secret became known to Wolsey. Strangely enough, he had received a hint of it from the Emperor's aunt, Margaret of Savoy. Why Margaret should have betrayed it, I do not understand. As a Fleming, was she jealous of Spanish influence? Did she regard the Portugese alliance with aversion?
"There was now of late," says Wolsey, writing to Boleyn and Sampson, "a matter of right weighty importance disclosed by the lady Margaret to Sir Robert Wingfield in great secresy, to be notified unto the King's highness, which in effect was this: that the king of Portugal had not only determined to send a great man, being in most authority about him, to the Emperor, but also the Queen of Portugal, (fn. 10) with the King's sister, who is named a marvellous fair lady, to accompany her to his presence. And forasmuch as it is doubtful, what hath been treated in Portugal by M. de la Shawe (Chaux), and that the sight of so fair a lady being of mature age, with the dote of 800,000 ducats, and the inclination of the nobles of Spain, might be a great temptation to the Emperor, he being also in his flourishing youth; therefore she thinketh right expedient that the King should take a right vigilant eye thereunto, in avoiding the alteration of purpose, by blindness of love, which oftentimes not only breaks the laws of man, but also the laws of God." (fn. 11)
It is refreshing to find in the barren sands of diplomacy even so small a tribute to nature as this;—a tiny green leaf pushing out, as it were, its verdure in some unexpected and repulsive nook. It is pleasant to see grave statesmen admitting that there is a touch of nature stronger than green wax and inky parchment. On one side was Isabella of Portugal, "a marvellous fair lady," with 800,000 ducats; on the other, a princess young but not fair, an exacting father-in-law, an imperious Cardinal, obligations more convenient to assume than to keep. Charles had not fulfilled any one of his promises. In the late war the English troops had been feebly supported; they had been left to bear the brunt of the invasion. The pay of the Spanish troops had been allowed to fall in arrears, and they were ready to mutiny. At the moment when their presence was most necessary they had been suddenly withdrawn. In addition to these well-founded causes of complaint, the Emperor had not refunded a single ducat of the indemnity he had promised to the King and Wolsey; (fn. 12) and there was little prospect of his doing so. Recriminations followed. Wolsey, irritated and impatient, reproached the Emperor with breaking his promises; Charles retorted by asserting that he had failed in nothing except in deferring the indemnity, which Wolsey told him at Bruges was insisted on merely as a form to satisfy the Council. He proposed, with consummate coolness and effrontery, that the King should borrow the money, and he would engage to repay it, principal and interest, within a year. Such a proposal was little better than an insult.
Charles wavered. Could he have retracted with dignity, or consistently with his own interests, he would, even at that late hour, have broken all his engagements, and made peace with France. As early as the middle of February the same year, in violation of his arrangements with England, he had taken some steps in this direction. He had sent ample powers to the Pope to conclude a treaty with his formidable rival. (fn. 13) Through the archbishop of Bari, tempting proposals had been made to him at the same time by Francis I.; who was willing to deliver Fontarabia, and resign all his claims on Novara and Naples, on the sole condition of retaining Milan. That one condition disconcerted the project. Sore pressed as he was on all sides, Francis refused to abandon his Italian confederates. But for this, Charles would have accepted the treaty, and have left his Eng- lish ally to shift for himself. (fn. 14) By the obstinacy of Francis the treason of Bourbon was crowned with success. Thus the way was paved to the ruin of France and the captivity of its King. (fn. 15)
Shut out from this hope, Charles consented at last to enter seriously into negociations with Bourbon; but on one condition, that the king of England should contribute half the expenses. That meant, in effect, as it always did mean, that Henry should pay whatever was necessary for maintaining the war against France, and preserving the integrity of the Emperor's dominions. Strange as it may appear, the finances of the empire were exhausted. Notwithstanding the vastness of his dominions and the treasures of the New World, it was only by incredible exertions and capacious promises, never doomed to be fulfilled, that Charles contrived at this period of his reign to keep an army on foot. The despatches of his ambassadors are filled with reiterated complaints of poverty. Spanish troops, Neapolitan troops, Swiss mercenaries, German lanzknechts, are in a chronic state of insubordination, for lack of wages. At one time Francis of Sickingen, the friend of Hutten and Luther, the most efficient and unscrupulous supporter of imperial claims, is on the point of throwing off his alle- giance, and recovering arrears by pouncing on Luxemburg; at another, Margaret of Savoy falls into despair at the obstinacy of the Flemings, who refuse to contribute so much as a beggarly denier. English money advanced for the Spanish navy and the confederate cause disappears in an unaccountable manner. What has become of it? Wolsey cannot tell. "I have in good manner," he writes to the King, "showed unto the Emperor's ambassadors the lack of wages as well for his army in Picardy, as also the like lack of wages and victuals for his army by the sea._As for Lastano (the Spanish admiral), since the provision of money for his victualling, by my means, I never heard word from him, neither of the going of his ships northward, ne of the division of the same, to my no little marvel." (fn. 16) "The right moment is come," writes the abbot of Najara, treasurer to the Emperor, (fn. 17) "to ask for 200,000 ducats from the king of England for the Italian army. He can easily spare them by reducing his armaments in England, which are greater than is necessary." Harsh as the imputation may seem, it was the Emperor's purpose to make the most of his rich ally; to fight his battles at the cost of England; to keep the French king sufficiently occupied at the least possible sacrifice to himself; and thus secure Navarre, Naples and the North of Italy. The conquest of France he never seriously intended; least of all, to share it with England. Not he.
But the obstinacy of Francis, and his unwillingness to relinquish the duchy of Milan as his rightful inheritance, compelled the Emperor to digest, much against his will, the stinging reproaches of Wolsey, and hasten forward the arrangements with Bourbon. On the 29th of May, Beaurain was sent a second time to England, charged with a commission for opening negociations with the Constable. What private instructions he might have carried besides, we are not informed. If any, due care was taken that they should not be communicated to the English court, for Charles insisted that each power should treat independently of the other. Provided that England would engage to contribute 500 men-at-arms, and 10,000 foot, not omitting its share in the support of the Duke, Beaurain was empowered to enlist the Duke in the cause of the confederates; to treat with him for a marriage with one of the Emperor's sisters; to arrange the amount of her dowry, taking care to make "as small concession" as might be on the part of the Emperor. In what way his services could be most efficiently employed, was to be left to his own discretion. (fn. 18)
Beaurain had no sooner started on his mission than a despatch was forwarded by Wolsey to Knight, then resident in the court of the lady Margaret, with orders to follow him without delay. At this juncture Bourbon was at Burgus (Bourg en Bresse), whilst the French king with his Queen and his mother the Regent were idling away their time in Paris, little aware of what was passing. The precious hours were spent in visiting St. Denis, and performing a round of devotions. After a splendid and solemn mass, the King made his confession to the prior of the Celestines at Paris, in the presence of the court and nobility. Next day, Friday the 24th of July, he left his lodgings at the Tournelles, early in the morning, and proceeded, "à grande devotion," to Ste. Chapelle du Palais, to visit the holy place and the relics. This done, he returned to dinner; after dinner he started from Paris on his way to the frontier, accompanied by the Queen, the Regent, and all the nobility. Two days before his departure he visited the Hotel de Ville, to take a solemn leave of the city. Thanking the provost, the échevins and the citizens for the aid they had afforded him, he recommended to their loyal protection his affairs and his kingdom, the persons of his Queen and his mother, whom he left regent during his absence. (fn. 19) In the midst of these leavetakings and affecting solemnities Beaurain and Bourbon were hatching rebellion.
It was late in the evening of the 17th of July 1523 when Beaurain arrived at Bourg. Restless, suspicious, dreading discovery, Bourbon, under pretence of a pilgrimage to Notre Dame de Puy, (fn. 20) had left Bourg, and withdrawn into the more mountainous and inaccessible parts of his estates, establishing himself at Montbrison. Informed of Beaurain's arrival, he despatched two of his retinue to bring the imperial agent to his presence. Here for two days Beaurain was not permitted to leave his apartment openly, stealing out of his chamber by night, for fear of detection, to visit the Duke.
Among the articles stipulated, it was arranged that the Duke should espouse either the queen of Portugal or her sister Katharine, with a dowry of 200,000 crowns. A simultaneous invasion of France by the three powers was arranged at the same time. An attack on Narbonne by the Constable, and on Picardy by England, was to be supported by a rising in the interior, as soon as Francis should have turned his back upon Lyons. He was ex- pected to reach Italy about the end of August. The day after Beaurain departed, and despatched on the road his secretary Chasteau to acquaint Henry with the result of his mission.
Knight, who had been ordered to act in concert with Beaurain, never contrived to reach his destination. To escape observation he had taken the road to Basle, under color of a mission to the Swiss. From Basle he proceeded to Geneva; crossed over the Jura, and arrived within ten leagues of Bourg on the 13th July, hesitating to push on, through fear of the plague. His movements had been anticipated. Beaurain, after his interview with the Duke, had started already on the 13th, reached Pomiere, a castle in Bresse, and left the next day for Genoa, intending to take ship and return to the Emperor. (fn. 21)
The failure of Knight's mission was unfortunate. If England was to contribute half the expenses for the services of Bourbon, it was necessary to know their precise nature, and not leave them to be adjusted entirely at the Emperor's option. It did not promise well for his sincerity and fair dealing, that in a matter of such intimate concern to both parties he had insisted that each of them should make their arrangements with Bourbon apart. The English court was not satisfied. It could place no reliance on the Emperor's words, or the promises of his ambassadors. Convinced that it was the sole object of Charles to secure his own interests, Wolsey refused to listen to excuses or explanation. Resolved to judge for himself, when Knight's mission failed, he despatched Sir John Russell on the 2nd of August, in disguise, with orders to discover the Duke's real intentions.
It was the main purport of his mission to obtain from Bourbon a recognition of the King's title to the throne of France,—a project which Beaurain, of course, was little interested in urging. Further, Russell was to insist, if possible, on the suspension of warlike operations for the present year. (fn. 22) Motives for this delay were pressing. To create a diversion in favor of France, Albany had for some time been preparing to pass into Scotland, supported by French troops and assisted by French pay. The energies of England, already severely taxed by loans to the Emperor, by his failure and incompetence to keep an efficient army on foot unless backed by continual aid from England, were now to be further tested by a subsidy to Bourbon of 100,000 crowns, and the transport of an army into Picardy. The summer was rapidly waning. Long before their united preparations could be ready, the time for warlike operations would have passed away. In those days an autumnal or winter campaign was out of the question. Two wars at the same time,—one with France, the other with Scotland,—the one of choice, the other of necessity,—were an insupportable burthen. Therefore, Wolsey proposed to settle one before he entered on the other. The propriety of such a course could not be doubted. Of Bourbon's artifices to elude the vigilance of Francis I., of the incredible hesitation of the latter in taking the necessary and extreme measures for securing his powerful and traitorous subject, of the escape of Bourbon in the disguise of a merchant, and his final arrival at Genoa, I forbear to speak. The events connected with his treason and escape have been described with great ability by M. Mignet in the Revue des Deux Mondes, to which I refer my readers. (fn. 23)
For England to carry on a war of such magnitude with its ordinary resources was impossible. Therefore, once more, after an interval of eight years, (fn. 24) the King thought right to summon a Parliament. There was no wish on the part of the nation to throw obstacles in the King's way. Not only was Henry popular with his subjects, but if his popularity had been on the wane, no more effectual means of restoring it could have been devised than the prospect of a war with France. In addition to the strong feelings of aversion created by national rivalry and antipathy, popular animosity had been stimulated by the bickerings and disputes between the commanders of English and French merchant ships, and their incessant conflicts in the Channel. Old claims for reparation of injuries had stood over for the last five years without any satisfactory adjustment. The English merchant fleet, accustomed to trade with Bordeaux for most of the wine then consumed in England, had been either stopped in the passage or seized in the port. Wine was not to be had at any cost; the gentry and nobility of England were reduced for the present to their native beer, or to the small quantity of sweet wines imported from the Levant in the Venetian galleys. And, as if these wrongs had not constituted provocations enough, there was the damning fact that Francis I. was aiding the Scots to invade England, and was attempting to set up a rival claimant to the throne in the person of the exiled De la Pole. That was an offence no Englishman would or could forgive or forget. So the Parliament met in great good humor.
Its history is more than usually interesting. It brought together for the first time, and into personal contact, three of the most remarkable men of the reign,—Wolsey, Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell. It is the first, I believe, in our parliamentary annals, of which something beyond the regular official report has been preserved in the correspondence of the times. As will be seen in the sequel, the personal views, the genius, the character of its more prominent members, now rise into a significance of clearness such as is not visible in the meagre accounts of earlier parliaments.
The Commons assembled in London, (fn. 25) in the great chamber at Blackfriars, on the 15th of April; and on Saturday the 18th Sir Thomas More was presented to the King as their speaker. It is probable that their choice fell upon More as much out of deference to the King's wishes as respect for More's abilities and unblemished independence. He stood high in the King's favor. To the infinite regret of Erasmus, he had forsaken the primrose path of classical literature for law and diplomacy; he had wilfully turned his back on the tempting prospect of becoming the first Ciceronian of his day. But there is no reason for supposing that at this period of his life More regretted the change. His old literary associates looked upon his advancement with feelings not wholly exempt from envy, and wondered at the elevation of his fortunes. But no man grudged More his promotion or emoluments. He still retained his affection for literature, was still the loving friend and correspondent of Erasmus. To no other did men more readily or more frequently defer as arbiter in disputes, too common at that age, among rival scholars and theologians; and his never-failing wit, his kindliness, his integrity, his strict impartiality, undiminished and unimpaired by his high position, gave weight to his opinions and decisions. No one, perhaps, ever wore his honors with less haughtiness than More; no one was less dazzled by the favors of a King. He was now under-treasurer of the Exchequer; was either employed in negociations abroad, or attended on the King as his secretary, especially during Pace's absence. "For the pleasure the King took in his company," says Roper, "would his grace suddenly sometimes come home to his house at Chelsea to be merry with him; whither on a time unlooked for he came to dinner; and after dinner, in a fair garden of his, walked with him by the space of an hour, holding his arm about his neck." (fn. 26)
Such condescension was not peculiar, was not improbable. Unlike his father, Henry, in the earlier period of his reign, treated his nobles and his ministers with an easy confidence, wholly at variance with modern notions of court etiquette. Though he tolerated no diminution of services and respect, was harsh and severe at the least omission of duty and observance, he would at times descend from his dignity, and play the equal with men of his own choice, such as More and Pace, and even Wolsey. But if careless observers imagined from such instances of familiarity that Henry bated his dignity or surrendered his judgment to his favorites, none knew better than those favorites how little they dared presume on this condescension.
But Roper has preserved an anecdote of More's conduct as speaker, generally repeated in our English histories, which cannot easily be reconciled with authentic documents. After reporting the apology made by More on his presentation to the King, Roper proceeds to tell his readers how Wolsey felt aggrieved that nothing was done or spoken in the House "but that it was immediately blown abroad in every alehouse." To express his dissatisfaction, adds Roper, the Cardinal ventured on the liberty of soundly rating the members for their lightness of tongue, and declared his determination to be present at their debates: "Before whose coming, after long debating there, whether it were better with a few of his lords, as the most opinion of the House was, or with his whole train, royally to receive him there amongst them, 'Masters,' quoth Sir Thomas More, 'forasmuch as my lord Cardinal lately ye wot well laid to our charge the lightness of our tongues for things uttered out of this house, it shall not in my mind be amiss to receive him with all his pomp, with his maces, his pillars, his poleaxes, his crosses, his hat, and the great seal too; to the intent that if he find the like fault with us hereafter, we may be the bolder from ourselves to lay blame on those that his Grace bringeth hither with him.'"
The Cardinal made his appearance; was received as More had proposed; and after a long oration in which he advocated the necessity of the subsidy, he proceeded to ask the opinion of various members of the House, all of whom, by a plan preconcerted with More, had agreed to return no answer. "Masters," quoth the Cardinal, "unless it be the manner of your house, as of likelihood it is, by the mouth of your speaker, whom you have chosen for trusty and wise—(as indeed he is),—in such cases to utter your minds, here is without doubt a marvellous obstinate silence;" and thereupon he required answer of Master Speaker. Then More, "reverently on his knees," excused the silence of the House, as abashed by the sublimity of the Cardinal's presence among them, and showed him that it was neither expedient nor agreeable with their ancient privileges to comply with the Cardinal's demands. "Whereupon," adds Roper, "the Cardinal, displeased with Sir Thomas More that had not in this Parliament in all things satisfied his desire, suddenly arose and departed." (fn. 27)
To conclude Roper's narrative. After the close of the Parliament, Wolsey, meeting accidentally with More in his gallery at Whitehall, expressed his displeasure at More's conduct in the chair, exclaiming, "Would to God you had been at Rome, master More, when I made you speaker!" "Your Grace not offended, so would I too, my Lord," quoth Sir Thomas. Then artfully turning the Cardinal's thoughts in another direction, More contrived to mitigate for a time Wolsey's displeasure; but Wolsey took his revenge by assiduously urging the King to send Mr. Speaker on a distant embassy to Spain.
The story is so characteristic of the two men, the dry humor of the reply so like More's wit, that I feel more than usually reluctant to challenge its authenticity. And yet there are grave reasons for suspecting its accuracy. Allowing that at a time when the functions and privileges of the House of Commons were not so well understood as now, the Cardinal, not accustomed to respect too scrupulously the rights of others, might take upon himself to lecture the assembled Commons, he had certainly no cause for animosity against More. Far from it. More, as will be seen hereafter, supported the measures of the court throughout, and entitled himself, for his services on that occasion, to the gratitude of the King and Wolsey. It was no other than the Cardinal who recommended the King to grant More the ordinary fee of 100l. for his conduct as speaker, and a reward of 100l. for the better maintenance of his household: and he rests his recommendation on More's activity in promoting the measures of the court. "The faithful diligence of the said Sir Thomas More in all your causes treated in this your late parliament, as well for your subsidy right honorably passed, as otherwise considered, no man could better deserve the same than he hath done." And he adds weight to this recommendation by saying, "I am the rather moved to put your highness in remembrance thereof, because he is not the most ready to speak and solicit his own cause;"—words as honorable to More as they are to the writer, but wholly irreconcilable with Roper's account of the Cardinal's displeasure. (fn. 28)
The House commenced its sittings on the 15th of April, when the mass of Spiritus Sanctus was sung, at which all the Lords attended in their robes. Entering the parliament chamber the King took his seat on the throne. The cardinal of York and the archbishop of Canterbury sat at his feet on the right side; Tunstal, then bishop of London, took his station at a railing behind, and made the usual oration. After some general remarks on the duties of kings, and the reasons which had moved his Majesty to summon the Parliament, the Bishop reviewed, at some length and more labor, the evils of the time which called for redress. The oration ended, the Commons departed to their own house to elect a speaker. On his presentation to the King, More, according to the old usage, "disabled "himself,"—to use Hall's words, from whom these particulars are taken,—"both in wit, learning and discretion, to speak before the King, and brought in for his purpose how one Phormio desired Hannibal to come to his reading, which thereto assented; and when Hannibal was come he began to read de re militari. When Hannibal perceived him he called him arrogant fool, because he would presume to teach him, which was master of chivalry, in the feats of war." (fn. 29) His excuses, of which this specimen is sufficient, were of course set aside. Wolsey, as Chancellor, replied, "that the King knew his wit, learning and discretion by long experience in his service," and thought that the Commons had chosen him as "meetest of all." More proffered his thanks in the customary phrases, and requested the usual liberty of speech, in the manner reported by Roper.
On the 29th of April, the Cardinal, attended by "divers Lords, as well of the spirituality as of the temporality," entered the Commons House; and, after insisting upon the causes of the war, and the difficulty of maintaining it without great sums of money, proposed a subsidy, which he thought should not fall short of 800,000l., to be raised by a tax of four shillings in the pound on all men's goods and lands. This done, he left the house.
Next day the Commons met, when Sir Thomas More took up, and reinforced with more than usual energy, the Cardinal's arguments, urging that it was the duty of every man to make the required concession;—conduct in a Speaker not the least extraordinary in this extraordinary parliament.
More's arguments were not acceptable to the House. The majority were of opinion that so large a grant of ready money would not only burthen the whole currency of the country, but "that there was not so much money, out of the King's hands, in all the realm,"—a mode of reasoning which throws a new light on the economic and political history of the times. For here was a new source of power. The Tudor monarchs were the national bankers, as well as the national kings; and their numerous loans to their nobility, of which frequent examples will be found in these volumes, were not only a tie on the loyalty of their subjects, but a mode of replenishing their own exchequer. Debasement of the coinage was an easy method of doubling their property.
The Commons also further objected that as certain loans had been already granted to the King, among others four shillings in the pound by the spirituality, the demand was utterly impossible, and would reduce the nation to beggary.
It was answered, on behalf of the court, that the money demanded ought not to be considered as lost, but transferred to other hands; just as in markets, "though the money change masters, yet every one is accommodated;" and further, that no man ought to refuse to support those who fought for the honor and safety of their country. If the soldiers, it was urged, stayed at home in idleness, they would still have to be fed; and they asked no more now, when they were giving the utmost proofs of their patriotism. It might be objected, said the orator, that it would be the tendency of this measure to drain the coin from the poorer classes. Then let the rich, he exclaimed, go themselves, for the King will not refuse them this honor. But if they desire to be exempted, if they seek to impose these burdens upon others, it is not reasonable in them to grudge at paying so small an amount of wages, which even their servants at home would scarcely accept to stand bareheaded before them. If it be objected that the money will be carried out of England, and left in France, will it not carry with it the men also? And thus the expense of their support, be it at home or abroad, remains the same. But in truth, he proceeded to argue, there is no force in such an objection; for if "the French had invaded us, would the money they brought over, think you, enrich our country? Should any of us be the better for it? The worst then that can happen to you will be to eat your beef and mutton here, and wear your country cloth, while others are fighting for your liberty and security." In conclusion (urged the orator) "you need not fear the scarceness of money; for the intercourse of things being so established throughout the world, there always will be a perpetual circulation of all that is necessary. Let us, therefore, do what becomes us, and for the rest entertain so good an opinion, that the war, instead of impoverishing our country, will add new provinces to it." (fn. 30)
In the end a committee was appointed to represent to the Cardinal the sense of the House. But Wolsey remained inexorable, as might have been expected. The committee meekly requested him to move the King to accept a lower sum. He replied he would rather have his tongue plucked out of his head with red-hot pincers than induce the King to take less than he demanded.
The debate was resumed, with little apparent hope of unanimity. Then took place the scene upon which Roper's anecdote is founded. The Cardinal entered the House of Commons, and desired to debate the matter with the assembled members; but he was told that "the fashion of the nether house was to hear, and not to reason but amongst themselves."
Foiled in his purpose, the Cardinal endeavored to remove the objections urged by the committee, insisting, by a reference to the augmentation of the customs, the increase of dress, plate, servants, and luxuries of all kinds, that the riches of the kingdom were greater than they had been represented. His conclusions, warranted by facts, were very unpalatable, as might be imagined, to the audience whom he wished to conciliate. (fn. 31)
At last, after an obstinate debate, it was proposed to grant the King two shillings in the pound from incomes of 20l. and upwards; from incomes under that amount, but above 40s., one shilling in the pound; and from incomes under 40s., where the possessor was sixteen years old and upwards, four pence in the pound; the whole to be paid in two years. The proposal was creditable to the discernment and liberality of the House of Commons. Not so thought Wolsey. "The grant," says Hall, whose accuracy is remarkable on this subject, "was reported to the Cardinal, which therewith was sore discontent, and said that the lords had granted 4s. in the pound; which was proved untrue, for indeed they had granted nothing, but burdened all upon the Commons." (fn. 32)
It will appear strange to those who have taken their views of the functions of the House of Commons from modern practice, or the claims put forth by the House in its controversies with the Stuart kings, that not only this grant should have been objected to by the Cardinal, in his capacity of Lord Chancellor, but that his veto should have been deemed sufficient to invalidate a money grant of the House of Commons. More than this; whatever the practice or the theory be at present, however ancient the date of its privilege, in the reign of Henry VIII. the concurrence of the House of Lords in a vote of supplies was something more than a mere formality. It may be objected, that the reign of Henry VIII. was of too exceptional a character to be drawn into a precedent. Without examining the ground on which this objection is founded, it is enough for me to observe, that this House, of which More was the Speaker, was by no means ignorant of its peculiar privileges. The most violent opposers of the court measures never insisted on the unconstitutional nature of the proceedings. In fact, whatever the authors of the Petition of Rights might afterwards allege against the arbitrary acts of the crown under Charles I. as contrary to "law and custom," they could not have justified their assertion by appealing to the reign of Henry VIII. By the practice of the 16th century, it would not have been difficult to show that every one of the measures denounced by the Parliament of 1628 were in ordinary use among the Tudors. But that age was more antiquarian than historical.
To return. Whether any attempts were made by Wolsey to form a party in the house, as was common enough in after times, I have not been able to discover. Sir Nicholas Vaux, Sir Wm. Sandys, Sir Maurice Berkeley, all of whom had been frequently employed by the crown, and most of whom still held offices under it, were summoned as peers to the Upper House. (fn. 33) We must add to their number Sir Henry Marney, created baron Marney, and Sir Arthur Plantagenet, created viscount Lisle, of whom more will be heard hereafter. In the Lower House, a party con- sisting chiefly of those who were knights of the shire, and in the King's service, made a resolute stand for the measures of the court. Sir John Hussey, of Lincolnshire, (afterwards executed for the part he took in the Lincolnshire rebellion,) then master of the King's Wards, appealed to the country party: "Let us gentlemen (he said) of 50l. land and upwards,"—the expression "us gentlemen" is worth noting,—"give to the King, of our lands 1s. in the pound, to be paid in three years." (fn. 34) When the question was put, ten or twelve gentlemen said Yea; and when the Nay was put, "the Commons," that is the members for the boroughs, declined to vote upon the question, leaving the gentlemen to tax themselves if they pleased; "and so by ten or twelve persons the gentlemen were burthened with 1s. more than others; for the which grant Sir John Hussey had much evil will." (fn. 35) This motion was carried on the 21st of May.
"Please it your good lordship to understand, that sithens the beginning of the parliament there hath been the greatest and sorest hold in the Lower House, for payment of two shillings of the pound, that ever was seen, I think, in any parliament. This matter hath been debated and beaten fifteen or sixteen days togiddir; the highest necessity alleged on the King's behalf to us, that ever was heard of; and of the contrary, the highest poverty confessed, as well by knights, squires and gentlemen of every quarter, as by the commoners, citizens and burgesses. There hath been such hold that the house was like to have been dissevered; that is to say, the knights being of the King's counsel, the King's servants and gentlemen of the one part, which in so long time were spoken with and made to say Yea;—it may fortune contrary to their heart, will, and conscience.
"Thus hanging this matter, yesterday the more part, being the King's servants [and] gentlemen, were there assembled; and so, they being the more part, willed and gave to the King two shillings of the pound of goods or lands; the best to be taken for the King; all lands to pay two shillings of the pound from the lowest to the highest; the goods to pay two shillings of the pound from twenty pounds upwards; and from forty shillings of goods to twenty pounds to pay 16d. of the pound; and under forty shillings every person to pay 8d.; this to be paid in two years. I have heard no man in my life that can remember that ever there was given to any one of the King's ancestors half so much at one grant, nor I think there was never such a precedent seen before this time. I beseech Almighty God it may be well and peaceably levied, and surely paid unto the King's grace without grudge, and specially without losing the good wills and true hearts of his subjects, which I reckon a far greater treasure for a king than gold or silver; and the gentlemen which must take pain to levy this money amongst the King's subjects, I think, shall have no little business about the same.
"Also the Convocation amongst the priests, the first day of their appearance, as soon as mass of the Holy Ghost at Paul's was done, my lord Cardinal accited all them to appear before him in his Convocation at Westminster; which so did. And there was another mass of the Holy Ghost, and within six or seven days the priests proved that all that my lord Cardinal's Convocation should do, it should be void, because that the summons was to appear before my lord of Canterbury; which thing so espied my lord Cardinal hath addres[sed] out of new citations into every country, commanding the priests to appear before him eight days after the Ascension, and then I think they shall have the third mass of the Holy Ghost. I pray God the Holy Ghost be amongst them and us both.
"I do tremble to remember the end of all these high and new enterprises, for oftentimes it hath been seen that to a new enterprise there followeth a new manner and strange sequel. God of His mercy send his Grace of such fashion that it may be all for the best.
"Under your good favor mesemeth, and if ye think it best, it were a gracious deed for you to be mean unto the King's highness that ten or twelve thousand pounds of this money might be bestowed on the building up again of the piles and castles of our English borders, specially now that they of Scotland be prostrate by your good and high policy.
"Written at London on Ascension Day, by him that during his life shall be glad to be at your commandments with his service." (fn. 36)
This letter, evidently written by one who was strongly opposed to the grant, and clearly no friend to the Cardinal, is curious in many respects. The author of it would never have ventured to speak with so little reserve, nor have addressed such a communication to Surrey, had he not been aware that the Earl in his secret heart bore no great good will to the Chancellor. From the whole tone and tenor of the letter, from its sarcastic notice of the priests and the Convocation, it may be justly inferred that the writer did not belong to the court or the clerical party. A feeling of discontent was then springing up, destined afterwards to display itself with much greater animosity, against the higher clergy and Wolsey in particular. In fact, the high hand with which the Cardinal had carried his measures, both in Parliament and Convocation, influenced solely by a wish to please the King, tended more than any other cause to increase his unpopularity with all classes. In his zeal for the King's service he had shown too little consideration for the feelings of the nation, too little regard to the remonstrances of the House of Com- mons. It was natural that, when their opportunity came, they should resent such arbitrary conduct, and involve in the passion of the moment the whole order of which Wolsey was the most eminent member. Alone and unsupported, the Cardinal had reached a dangerous eminence; how long he should maintain his position depended exclusively on the gratitude of a master who never suffered too strong a partiality for his servants to stand in the way of his policy.
Parliament was prorogued to the 10th of June. The nation was in a ferment, and the spirit of discontent was the more to be dreaded as nine-tenths of the population, not understanding the questions under discussion, assured themselves that nothing less was intended than a general confiscation of their property. I subjoin a specimen of the popular rumors sent up to the Privy Council from the distant county of Norfolk, by Sir Roger Townsend and others, in the month of May.
On Tuesday "before the Cross days last," Peter Wylkynson, in the vicarage of Geyton, in the presence of Sir Wm. Pygote, vicar, Sir John Worme, parish priest, and Agnes, wife of Wm. Whitmore, said he heard it reported that every man of the value of 40s. should pay 20s. to the King; and every man of 20s. should pay 10s.; and every man of 10s., 5s.; and that if every man would do as he would, he would take him by the head and pull him down. The vicar asked him whom would he pull down; and Wylkynson answered, "Harry with the crown." When he was cautioned against using such language, Agnes Whitmore remarked, "And I had spoken any such words, I were worthy to have been brent."
According to the deposition of the said Agnes, Wylkynson further said, "And if it be as my master say, we must have three more taxes, and every man will have to pay half what he is worth. But, and every man would do as I would, we should get him by the head, and bring him down." (fn. 37)
Such rumors, greedily reported, and evidently received, as in this case, with the lively sympathy and secret concurrence of the hearers, even when compelled to turn King's evidence, show how unsettled was the temper of the times, and how dangerous the ground on which the Cardinal was treading. A volcano was smouldering at his feet, ready to burst forth at any moment, and at the touch of any accident to break forth with uncontrollable fury. In London, as the borough members emerged from the House, they were greeted with signs of disapprobation they had certainly done little to deserve. "We hear say, my masters," exclaimed the angry crowd with ironical cheers and shouts of derision, "that you will grant four shillings in the pound. Do so and go home, we advise you." (fn. 38) In the temper of the nation and the House of Commons at the time, the first dawnings of that spirit of independence may be discovered which afterwards manifested itself more clearly in the Parliament of 1530. But I cannot agree with the statements of certain modern historians that such increased vigor and independence of the Commons was exclusively due to the novel circumstances in which the nation found itself after the death of Wolsey; or that freedom of discussion, and the right of members to originate measures, unfettered by the Crown, were then for the first time acknowledged and allowed. In 1530 new ideas undoubtedly came with the discussion of new and graver questions; —questions more profound and more important than any that had ever been submitted to the discussion of the House;—but it was essentially the same Commons of England, whether discussing war, peace and subsidies in 1523, or the Royal supremacy, and the relations of Church and State, ten years afterwards.
When the House re-assembled after the recess, the knights and gentlemen who, by the short-sighted and selfish policy of the borough members, had been allowed to tax themselves, and impose a shilling in the pound upon land assessed at 50l. and upwards, resolved to take their opponents at disadvantage, and moved that a similar rate should be levied from goods of the same amount, in the fourth year. The motion was obstinately resisted by their opponents; an angry debate ensued; fierce recriminations passed from one side to the other. The advocates of the motion were taunted with being the enemies of their country. The house divided: the knights of the shire voted to a man in favor of the question; the burgesses with equal unanimity against it. The dispute was carried on with so much passion and vehemence, that one half of the house was prepared to impeach the other half, and drive measures to extremity. At last, by the persuasion and management of Sir Thomas More, peace was restored, and the measure passed.
In its complete and final shape the whole Act stood as follows: For the first and the second year a rate of 5 per cent. was imposed on all lands and goods of the value of 20l. and upwards; 2½ per cent. on goods between 20l. and 2l.; and 12/3 per cent. on goods of 40s., or on yearly wages averaging 20s. In the third year 5 per cent. on all land of 50l. and upwards; and in the fourth or the last year, 5 per cent. on personal property of 50l. and upwards. These rates were doubled in cases of aliens. The Act was not to extend to Ireland, Wales, Calais, to the counties of Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmoreland, to Chester, to the bishopric of Durham, or to Brighton in Sussex.
It was with no small feeling of satisfaction that Wolsey announced the result of the measure to the King. He had been watching for some time, with no small anxiety, its slow and precarious progress through the House, aware that any hitch or failure could scarcely fail of being most perilous to himself. "Sir," he says, "though it was thought by the speaker (More) and others of the Commons' House that the book (bill) for the grant now to be passed should have been perfected and brought unto me as yesterday, yet nevertheless the same cannot come till tomorrow at the hithermost. And forasmuch as after the [introduction of the bill] into the Upper House, it will require a good tract [of time to] oversee and groundly digest the same to your most profit, and that it [will not be expedient] after the repair of your Highness unto Bridewell to remain long, the [extremity] of sickness reigning somewhat thereabouts considered, it may therefore please your Grace to give commandment for ordering of your provisions ... the certain time of your coming to Bridewell, till such season as [your Grace be informed of the] exhibition of the said book." (fn. 39)
But though this debate upon the subsidy excited, as might be expected, the greatest passion, and was contested with the utmost vehemence, it was not the only subject, nor for modern readers the most interesting, on which the House was occupied. In a speech delivered by a member of no less eminence than Cromwell,—for to no one else can it well be attributed,—the whole policy of the Government was carefully reviewed. For what borough he sate I have not been able to discover. The accounts of his early career, hitherto accepted, without examination, on the authority of Foxe the martyrologist, cannot easily be reconciled with the authentic information now furnished by this volume. (fn. 40) His employment as a military adventurer under the duke of Bourbon, his presence at the siege of Rome, his subsequent travels as a commercial agent to a Venetian merchant, are either wholly fictitious, or so much perverted as to be no better than fictions. (fn. 41) One part only of this biographical romance, in which he is represented as beginning life as a clerk in the English factory at Antwerp, carries with it some appearance of probability; and yet even that is far from certain. That he traded with Antwerp and Middelburgh is clear; but this he might have done without ever leaving England. The statement of cardinal Pole, who was evidently well acquainted with Cromwell and hated him, is perhaps not far from the truth. He reports that Cromwell was born of poor parents in a small village near London (Putney), where his father carried on the business of a cloth- shearer, (fn. 42) an employment in which he was certainly succeeded by his son.
The earliest authentic notice that I can find of him is as a servant in the family of the marquis of Dorset (Grey). Cecily, the dowager marchioness, (fn. 43) daughter of Edward IV., writes to him to send in haste her trussing bed, and deliver the tents and pavilions in his custody to her son Leonard Gray. (fn. 44) The exact date of this letter is uncertain, but it was certainly written some years before 1522. In 1518 he was certainly residing in London. In 1522 he is addressed as "Mr. Thomas Cromwell, dwelling by Fenchurch in London;" (fn. 45) sometimes with the honorable addition of "worshipful" or "right worshipful." (fn. 46) At this period of his life (1522) he combined the employments of merchant, cloth-dyer, and scrivener; lending money at interest in the last capacity, and acting as an attorney. (fn. 47) In the year 1523 he sate as burgess in parliament, and in the December of that year he served on the inquest of the wardmote, in the ward of Bread Street. (fn. 48) In 1524 he came into Wolsey's service. He had a wife and mother-in-law, named Prior, living at this time. (fn. 49) Of his sister's family we shall hear afterwards. Among his acquaintances I find the names of the great Italian merchant and banker Antonio Bonvixi, and of Richard Pynson, the celebrated printer, but no mention of Frescobald. Even at this early period of his life, Cromwell was remarkable for the fascination of his manners and the attractiveness of his conversation, as appears by the following letter addressed to him by an English factor named Creke, who followed the Emperor Charles V. into Spain when he left England in the summer of 1522. After addressing Cromwell as "Carissimo quanto homo in questo mondo," the writer continues, "My love toward you resteth in no less vigor than it did at our last being together. My heart mourneth for your company and Mr. Woodal's as ever it did for men. As I am [a] true Christian man, I never had so faithful affection to men of so short acquaintance in my life; the which affection increaseth as fire daily. God knoweth what pain I receive[d] in departing. When I consider our ghostly walking in your garden, it make[s] me desperate to contemplate. I would write longer, [but] my heart will not let me." (fn. 50)
In his speech (fn. 51) in Parliament, after touching upon the topics insisted on, "as well by the mouth and report of my lord Legate's good grace, as by the recapitulation of the right worshipful, best assured and discreet Speaker," he expresses a hope that the preparations for war will be prosecuted with vigor, and that their debates will be made known to the King by their "discreet and excellently lettered Speaker." Then, after apologizing for addressing an "audience of so many sage and notable persons," he proceeds to detail the advantages already gained by the confederate arms, and the successes of that "fortunate and sage captain, the earl of Surrey, who remained in the French dominions with a small number of men for six or seven weeks, when all the power of France durst not give him battle. I trust (he says) the same valiant captain will subdue the Scots, whom the French have so custuously entertained against us." (fn. 52)
He then proceeds with great earnestness to deprecate the proposal of the King to conduct the war in person, of which the Cardinal had informed the House. "I am sure (he argues) that there is no good Englishman which can be merry the day when he happeneth to think that his Grace might perchance be distempered of his health; so that, albeit I say, for my part, I stomach as a sorry subject may do the high injuries done by the said Françoys (the king of France) unto his most dear sovereign, yet, rather than the King should go so forth, I could, for my part, be contented to forget [them] altogether."
Then enlarging on the dangers to the army, and the nation in general, if any mischance should befal the King, he insists on this part of his subject in a strain of loyalty, which in any other period of our history would be deemed fantastical. But, in justification of the earnestness of the orator on this head, it must be remembered that he probably spoke the feelings of most of his countrymen at that time. Personal attachment to the King was one ingredient in the general loyalty; for, in spite of his many failings, it cannot be denied that Henry was popular with his subjects. The remembrance of a past century of civil war, and the dread of an uncertain succession if the King were cut off or his life were in jeopardy, justified any extremities, as afterwards in the reign of Elizabeth, not in arguments only, but in actions. The King de facto was a state necessity; a law indispensable to all laws. As the speaker urged on this occasion: "How needful is it for us (considering in what case we be) to entreat our sovereign, for our sakes and his daughter's, upon whose wealth and circumspect bestowing, next his noble person, dependeth all our wealths, to restrain his high courage!"
Then, applying to himself More's illustration of Hannibal and the sophist, the speaker proceeded to discuss the ways and means for war, and more especially that most difficult of all problems, the commissariat; insinuating that the harm which could be done by the army in France would not be so great as the expense incurred at home by its support. His arguments on that head are curious. He assumes that before three summers were past the necessities of the army would exhaust all the coin and bullion in the realm, which, according to his conjectures, could not much exceed one million; for if (he continues) the value of the whole realm exceed not four millions, as my lord Cardinal has told us plainly, of which the possessions (the goods and chattels) are to be reckoned at one million, there can be no doubt that the corn, cattle, commodities, apparel of men and women, which were never so sumptuous as now, added to the native productions and imports, which are more abundant than in any past period of our history, amount to two millions more. So, he argues, we should be reduced to coin leather, "as once we did." And if the King were made prisoner, such money would not be taken for his ransom. "If they will nought for their wines but gold, they would think great scorn to take leather for our prince."
After conjuring up this imaginary danger, he proceeds to discuss with great caution the hazards of a French campaign in all its aspects. To march upon Paris, he argues, would expose the army to the danger of being cut off in detail, and to the greater peril of leaving strong garrisons in its rear. An invasion of Normandy, Brittany and the neighboring provinces would involve the necessity of diminishing the main army by placing troops in the conquered towns; and the difficulty of victualling them while they remained there must not be overlooked. Past experience, he told the House, furnished a very useful lesson of the danger and expense attending such warfare, of which the King himself had too good experience in the winning of Terouenne, which "cost him more than twenty such ungracious dog-holes could be worth."
Throughout the course of his argument the speaker insinuated that little real help could be expected from the Emperor or his council, who were either in the pay of France or devoted to French interests. "Even my lord of Chièvres, who was most bound to the Emperor, I heard my lord Cardinal say, was corrupted by their policy and gifts; and since his majesty's return to Spain, the governors of his archdukedom have granted safeconducts to French and Scotch merchants; which is a marvellous hindrance; for if our commodities had been as well kept from them as theirs from us, many a thousand French artificers, who have no living but by working our wools, would have been compelled to cry to the King for peace."
When the speaker had thus, with great ingenuity and little appearance of opposition to the King's wishes, demonstrated the unadvisableness of a foreign war with France, he proceeded to enunciate his own policy. He proposed that the King should devote all his efforts to the subjugation of Scotland; for if Scotland were once con- quered, then both kingdoms would be brought under one obeisance, law and policy for ever. This, he said, would procure for his Majesty higher honor than had ever yet been attained by any of his predecessors, and prove "the greatest abashment" of France. And though, he continued, it be a common saying that in Scotland there is nothing to win but strokes, there is another saying, Who that intendeth France to win, with Scotland let him begin." It is, he urged, mere folly to think of keeping possessions in France, severed so far from us by the sea, while we allow Scotland, belonging to our island, to recognise another and an independent prince. Let it be once united to England, and all other possessions will be easily retained.
Making allowance for occasional extravagance and over-refinement, pardonable in an orator, the speech is remarkable for the vigor of its style, the breadth of its view, and the general soundness of its policy. In all these qualities, in the accurate knowledge it displays of contemporary and past history, it rises far above the general oratory of the times. It gave evidence, moreover, of more than ordinary foresight; for the anticipations of the speaker were justified by the events of this war, and of many wars in centuries to come. It clearly bodied forth the policy pursued by the Tudors towards Scotland, and furnished its only justification. But what he is here satisfied with slightly enunciating as a passing caution, became with the Elizabethan statesmen a fixed idea—an undoubted maxim: It is folly for England to aim at political aggrandisement abroad, and suffer Scotland—in effect, a part of England—to pay homage and allegiance to an independent prince. So, if Mary had been a saint,—if she had esta- blished her innocence ever so triumphantly—a consummation English statesmen never could have sincerely desired or sincerely endeavored to aid,—the result would have been the same. It was the policy of Henry VIII. to intercept all communication between France and Scotland; to bring his nephew to England; to detain him in honorable captivity—foreshadowing in this the perpetual incarceration of his daughter Mary. (fn. 53) But James, more cautious than his daughter, or more popular with his subjects, gave no such opportunity as Mary did for admitting English interference. Consolidated under Roman Catholic rule, the Scotch sacrificed their nationality to Knox and presbyterianism, furthered the designs of English statesmen, which their fathers had triumphantly defied, and lost their independence.
If this speech is rightly attributed to Cromwell,—and I know of no one else to whom it can be as-signed with greater probability,—it would justify him, as a burgess, in voting with his party against a measure fatal, in their estimation, to the prosperity of the country. Yet the moderation of its tone, the loyalty of its sentiments, the deference paid throughout both to the Cardinal and the Speaker, must have gone far to disarm any resentment that might otherwise have been felt at an opposition so vigorous and so skilful. In heart, also, Wolsey must have acknowledged the force and accuracy of the speaker's reasoning. No one knew better than he the difficulties of the design in which he was engaged, or the hazard of trusting to any earnest aid or hearty co-operation on the part of the Emperor. In violence to his best convictions, he had departed from the policy he had formerly pursued in 1517 and 1518. He had been compelled to give way before a powerful combination,—to relinquish a peaceful alliance with France for an offensive league with the Emperor; a step from which no possible advantage to his honor or interest could be derived. The opposition had been humbled by the death of the duke of Buckingham; but the ambition of Henry VIII. remained, stimulated by Pace, by Suffolk, by Surrey, and, not the least, by Katharine; in short, by every one who enjoyed the King's favor, and wished to usurp his confidence. In this perplexity the Cardinal was compelled to give way, or perish. He chose the former;—a more circuitous, but equally certain, road to destruction. For not only the death of the duke of Buckingham and the imperial alliance, but the exaction of the loans and subsidies required by the war, and the part taken by Wolsey in this parliament, laid the foundation of that unpopularity which, fomented by nobles and by satirists, eventually prepared the way for his fall. (fn. 54)
In the speech delivered by Wolsey, as Chancellor, to the two Houses, at the prorogation of parliament, after expressing his Majesty's satisfaction for the manner in which they had taken into consideration the propositions submitted to them in his behalf, the Cardinal thus proceeded: "Whereas for the furniture of the said war, both defensive and offensive, ye have, after long pain, study, travel, great charges and costs, devised, made and offered an honorable and right large subsidy, which ye now have presented, in the name and behalf of all the subjects of this his realm, unto his majesty, his Grace doth not only right acceptably and thankfully receive, admit and take the same, but also therefor giveth unto you his most hearty thanks; assuring the same that his Grace shall in such wise employ the said subsidy and loving contribution as shall be to the defence of his realm and of you his subjects, and the persecution and pressing of his enemy; for the attaining of good peace, recovering of his rights, and redress of such injuries as hath been done to you, his loving subjects, in time past. And semblably, my Lords, both spiritual and temporal, the King's highness giveth unto you his most cordial thanks, as well for that ye have agreed and given your assents to the said subsidy, (fn. 55) as also by taking long pain, travel, study, costs and charges in devising such statutes, acts and good ordinances as be for the common weal of this his realm." (fn. 56)
The words are remarkable; for though formally the proceedings of the crown might appear in many respects irreconcileable with modern notions of the independence of the House of Commons, and fatal to its control over the public expenditure, this explicit assurance that the money they had granted should be employed only for constitutional purposes, that the King's cause was the cause of the nation, and the injuries to be redressed as much theirs as his, was in effect a distinct acknowledgment of the great principle on which all the rights and privileges of the House are founded. That the sovereign was as much a part and representative of the nation as the Lords or the Commons themselves, — that the Commons, therefore, "as the express image" and concrete expression of the feelings and principles of the nation as a whole, should reflect the wants, opinions, and feelings of the whole, and not of a mere part, however large,—was a juster view of its functions and constitution than is to be found in the speeches of many modern politicians. Nor would there ever have been any necessity to have fenced and guarded its just rights with so many ordinances had this truth been always as clearly recognized and acted on as it was on this occasion. (fn. 57)
In a brief and lively letter to his friend Creke, Cromwell thus sums up the history of this parliamentary session. (fn. 58)
"Supposing ye desire to know the news current in these parts, for it is said that news refresheth the spirit of life; wherefore ye shall understand that by long time I, amongst others, have endured a parliament which continued by the space of seventeen whole weeks, where we communed of war, peace, strife, contention, debate, murmur, grudge, riches, poverty, penury, truth, falsehood, justice, equity, &c., and also how a commonwealth might be edified and also continued within our realm. Howbeit, in conclusion, we have done as our predecessors have been wont to do; that is to say, as well as we might, and left where we began. Ye shall also understand the duke of Suffolk, furnished with a great army, goeth over in all goodly haste, whither I know not; when I know I shall advertise you. We have in our parliament granted unto the King's highness a right large subsidy, the like whereof was never granted in this realm."
This, of course, is not to be interpreted strictly. Besides various private acts affecting the family of the late duke of Buckingham, Sir Wm. Compton and others, the House had been employed in regulating the sale of woollen cloths, the dressing of worsteds, the reform of the coinage, the incorporation of the physicians of London, and the privileges to be conceded to those who took part in the war.
From this detailed account of the parliament of 1523, it will be seen how far the assertion is correct, that a new spirit was infused into the House at a later period of the reign, which had no existence in Wolsey's administration. So little jealousy, it has been urged, was entertained of the power of the crown before 1530, so distasteful was a residence in London to the burgess and the country gentleman, that they were compara- tively indifferent to their parliamentary duties. Measures, it has been stated, were rarely submitted to discussion, but accepted unchallenged from the hands of authority; and further, that, to enforce their attendance, the expenses of the members until 1530 had to be defrayed by considerable salaries, and their presence secured by compulsory enactments.
But, in the first place, these "considerable salaries" were not confined to the reign of Henry VIII. They reach as far back as the reign of Edward I. In the time of Edward IV. they were fixed at four shillings per day for knights of the shire, and two shillings at least for burgesses, in addition to the charges of going and coming; and they continued to be made long after the whole line of the Tudors had been gathered to its rest. (fn. 59) Secondly, as to the statute of 6 Henry VIII., to which reference has been made as enforcing the attendance of reluctant members, the exact words of the enactment will show more clearly its true character and purport. "Forsomuch" (says the statute) "as commonly in the end of every parliament divers and many great and weighty matters, as well touching the pleasure, weal and surety of our sovereign lord the King, as the common weal of this his realm and subjects, are to be treated, communed of, and by authority of parliament to be concluded; so it is that divers knights of shires, citizens for cities, burgesses, &c., long time before the end of the said parliament, of their own authority, depart and go home into their countries, whereby the said great and weighty matters are many times greatly delayed;"—be it enacted, that from henceforth no member shall depart or absent himself without licence of the Speaker and the House, on pain of losing his wages.
The object, then, of this enactment was not, as has been represented, to bring reluctant members of distant boroughs and counties to London, and secure their attendance in parliament, but to prevent them, when there, from departing before the session was ended, with out leave of the House. Before 1514 the members returned to their homes before the sessions closed without leave, as at a later period with leave. Undoubtedly then, as now, their zeal and attendance would be quickened when questions of the deepest and widest interest fell under debate. Burgesses and country gentlemen who might think that discussions about cordwainers or "draping of worsteds" could very well be settled in their absence, would require no threat of forfeiting their wages if they refused to attend in their places when the papal supremacy, or the impeachment of the clergy, constituted the exciting topics of the day.
Convocation, as usual, was summoned by the Archbishop concurrently with the parliament, and assembled in St. Paul's. On the first day of its meeting, the Cardinal, after mass, cited the clergy, by virtue of his legatine authority, to appear before him at Westminster. (fn. 60) An objection was raised against the legality of these proceedings, on the ground that the clergy had been previously cited to appear before the Archbishop. The objection was allowed; a new summons was issued for the 7th of May. (fn. 61) The convocation, consisting of the two provinces of York and Canterbury, again met at Westminster on the 2nd of June, and granted to the King a moiety of one year's revenue of all benefices in England, to be levied in five years. (fn. 62) Of that grant I shall speak presently.
This assertion of his legatine authority exposed the Cardinal to great obloquy. (fn. 63) Skelton, at that time the most popular poet in England, the most audacious and unsparing critic of the Cardinal's fame and conduct, expressed his own sense, and that of many others, in an epigram repeated from one end of England to the other:
For Peter of Westminster hath shaven thy beard." (fn. 64)
Nor did so large a grant pass without fierce opposition. It is stated on the authority of Polydore Vergil, (fn. 65)—and we may trust him for the facts, since, as dean of Wells, he would have taken his place in convocation,—though not for the malicious insinuations he mixes up with them,—that the grant was energetically opposed by Fox bishop of Winchester and Fisher bishop of Rochester. Rowland Phillips, the celebrated vicar of Croydon, the most eloquent preacher of his age, signalized himself at first by his determined hostility; but by the machinations of Wolsey, says Vergil, was induced to absent himself, much to the loss of his reputation.
It had been computed that the subsidy granted by the Commons would produce 800,000l. It would be im- portant to discover on what data this estimate was founded; for, whatever may be thought of its policy, this first attempt at taxation on a scientific and impartial basis is a conspicuous proof of the genius and extraordinary audacity of Wolsey. After all the studies of the economists during the last two centuries, we have reverted to the principles and almost to the practice of the great minister, who, with no complete statistics, no means, no organization, such as modern financiers can abundantly command, struck out in the necessity of the moment, under the pressure of a great war, a financial scheme, which has never yet been surpassed in the sweep and fairness of its operation, or the general correctness of its theory. That he should have stood alone,—that alone in spite of all opposition from the clergy and the laity he should have carried his project,—are indications of confidence in his powers, and in the fertility of his resources. Three measures had to be passed,—all equally difficult, in the fairness and equity of their incidence, all alike sure to provoke strong opposition, and encounter the pressure brought against them by the most influential classes in the realm. To no clamor and no combinations did Wolsey yield. That he was justified in his anticipations, although, in the strong prejudices of his opponents, the burthens imposed by him were considered fatal to England, is clear from the fact that the national prosperity was not impaired by them.
Of these measures, the subsidy granted by the House of Commons consisted of a graduated tax on real and personal property, commencing at five per cent., to be paid in four years. The tax fell much more heavily on the clergy, being no less than fifty per cent. income tax, to be paid by instalments in five years. But besides these grants, a property tax, in the shape of a loan, had been already arranged, before Parliament met, and its execution entrusted to certain commissioners appointed under the King's sign manual. (fn. 66) These officers had orders to distribute themselves in different hundreds and wapentakes. Without creating alarm, or betraying their intentions, they were empowered to make a survey of every man's property, and receive declarations on oath. If such declarations were not satisfactory, they could examine the neighbors of the declarator as to the value of his possessions by common report, extending their inquiries to spiritual dignities, benefices, brother-hoods, gilds, hospitals, merchandise, implements, including property of every kind; church plate, jewels and shrines excepted. Artificers and journeymen moving from place to place were to be included in the returns. Spiritual persons were appointed to take, in the presence of one or more of the commissioners, the oath of such spiritual men as objected to take an oath before temporal men. The scruples of masters and fellows of colleges in Oxford and Cambridge, bound by their statutes not to divulge their property, were duly regarded. They were exempted from the inquisitorial powers of the commissioners, and Wolsey himself determined the rate of their contributions; with what unsparing equity will be seen below.
On property of 20l. and reaching to 300l. (in modern equivalents, 200l. to 3,000l.,) the rating was fixed at 10 per cent. On property from 300l. to 1,000l., it was 13⅓ per cent. On higher sums than these the rating was left to the discretion of the commissioners. They were, besides, to urge, if possible, the immediate payment of the loan, on promise of repayment out of the grants to be made in the forthcoming Parliament.
It was calculated that the maintenance of the war in Flanders and Scotland, with the expenses for the navy, would amount in six months to 372,404l. 18s. 4d. (fn. 67) The subsidy granted by the clergy was estimated to produce in one year 24,000l.; of the laity, if there be no mistake in the figures, 104,285l. 18s. 5½d. (fn. 68)
Many of the items of the loan thus levied on the clergy deserve the reader's attention. It is clear that Wolsey had no intention of sparing his own order. The charge upon himself amounted to 4,000l. (from 40,000l. to 50,000l. in modern computation); on the Archbishop, to 1,000l.; on Fox, bishop of Winchester, to 2,000l.; on London (only lately consecrated), to 333l. 6s. 8d.; Norwich, Ely, Lincoln, Lichfield, Exeter and Chichester, paid 1,000l. each; the rest smaller sums.
The abbots of Abingdon and Bury paid 1,333l. 6s. 8d. each; Westminster, Reading, Ramsay and Glastonbury, 1,000l. each; St. Augustine's, Canterbury and Gloucester, 666l. 13s. 4d. each; the rest, sums varying from 500l. to 20l.
Each of the priories of Christ Church, Canterbury, St. Swithin's, Winchester and Ely were taxed 666l. 13s. 4d.; Lewes, 500l.; Leeds, Durham, Coventry, Worcester, Walsingham, 333l. 6s. 8d. each; the rest, in smaller sums.
In the university of Oxford the highest sum of 333l. 6s. 8d. was paid by Magdalen and New College. All Souls was charged 200l.; Merton and Corpus, severally, 133l. 6s. 8d. The rest paid sums varying from 100l. to 40l. At Cambridge, King's and King's Hall were assessed at 333l. 6s. 8d. each; Queen's, at 200l.; St. John's and Christ's, at 100l.; Benet, at 66l. 13s. 4d.
On individual clergymen the burthen must have fallen with extreme severity. The archdeacons of Richmond and Lincoln, Dr. Chambre, the King's physician, and our old friend Peter Carmelianus, poet and lutanist, had to contribute severally 333l. 6s. 8d.; whilst Polydore Vergil, the historian, Dr. Denton, chaplain to Mary the French queen, Dr. Taylor, clerk to the Parliament, Mr. Larke—(whose connexion with Wolsey is well known)—were severally rated at 200l. (fn. 69)
In judging of the magnitude of these sums it is necessary to bear in mind that they must not only be increased tenfold in order to raise them to their present equivalents, but that they had to be paid in current coin. Whatever the scarcity of the precious metals, or the difficulty of procuring them, it does not appear that the commissioners had any power to make any change in the mode or date of payment; and as there must have been at times a scarcity in the currency, the sums paid rather exceeded than fell short of the nominal rates. There are no exact means at present for deciding on the amount contributed by the laity; but in a paper of a later date than 1522 or 1523 the following sums are set down against the names of the nobility and gentry, whether representing the whole or a part of the loans contributed by them I cannot decide. Lord Arundel, lord Dacre of the North, the duchess of Norfolk, Master Palmer, the Steelyard of London, are charged 1,000l. each; the Italian merchants, 2,000l.; Sir William Saye, lady Parr, lord Clifford, the executors of Sir Thomas Lovell, 1,000 marks each; the earl of Northumberland, 500l.; Sir Thomas Boleyn, lord Marny and others, 200l. each; (fn. 70) and so of many others.
Taxation so oppressive, and yet so general, argues either the greatest boldness in the minister who projected it, of which we have no parallel in history, or his well-founded belief in the prosperity and elasticity of the nation. Perhaps both. If also it be remembered that this pressure was to last five years, at a period when agriculture was less assisted by science than it is at present, and when a bad harvest entailed distress which no commerce could relieve, it will appear impossible to exaggerate the magnitude of the hazard incurred by Wolsey. Whatever might be the hardship or the temporary evils entailed by these measures, the whole weight of their responsibility fell on his shoulders. He might urge in his own defence that he was one only of the King's advisers,—that the Council and the Parliament sanctioned and shared in those proceedings. Such a defence availed nothing; it was felt that in reality his brain alone had conceived and concerted these measures, that to his energy and to his authority they owed their existence. Whilst the King, from policy or dislike to business, was scarcely seen,—often spent whole days in the chase, (fn. 71) and, Tudorlike, incurred no responsibility,—he could, like a Deus ex machina, when the storm beat too vehemently, graciously interpose, and exclaim, in the language suited to the gods of Epicurus:—
The war with France was now resumed with great animosity and vigor. In August, Charles Brandon duke of Suffolk was appointed to the command of the troops destined for the invasion. Cooler and less interested heads than Henry VIII. might have reckoned on the fall of that kingdom as imminent, and the coronation of an English sovereign at St. Denis as more real than a day-dream. In one of his most characteristic letters to Wolsey, More has touched off this settled persuasion of the King in his graphic way. When More was acting as secretary, and was soliciting the King to sign certain papers just received from the Cardinal which required expedition, "his Grace laughed, and said, 'Nay, by my soul, that will not be, for this is my removing day soon at (to) Newhall. I will read the remnant at night.'" At night, that is, six o'clock, after the King had dined, More again presented himself with his portfolio. The King signified his readiness to sign. "Whereupon," continues More, "at my parting from his Grace yesternight, I received from your Grace a letter, addressed unto his, with which I forthwith returned unto his Grace in the Queen's chamber, where his Grace read openly my lord Admiral's (fn. 72) letter to the Queen's grace, which marvellously rejoiced in the good news, and specially in that, that the French king should be now toward a tutor, and his realm to have a governor. In the communication whereof, which lasted about one hour, the King's grace said that he trusted in God to be their governor himself, and that they should by this means make a way for him, as king Richard did for his father." (fn. 73)
By various letters received from French correspondents and spies, the King had been led to believe that France was greatly dissatisfied with its monarch; that the old dynasty in Normandy and Guienne, as in the days of the Plantagenets, would be more palatable to the inhabitants, worn down by oppressive taxation and the violence of mercenary troops, than the rule of their native sovereign. Such reports appeared to be countenanced by the revolt of Bourbon and other noblemen of his party. Resisting all the offers of Francis for accommodation, Bourbon had persisted in his sullen resolution. Trusting either to the generosity of Francis I., or his unwillingness to proceed to extremities, Bourbon had fluttered in the rear of the King's army, now far advanced on its road to Lyons in the direction of Italy. Escape had been easy at any time, yet Bourbon did not attempt to escape. His capture was no less easy, and yet Francis made no effort to detain him. He was certainly aware of the Duke's treason. To what then must we attribute such apparent irresolution on one side, such audacious disregard to safety on the other? If conjecture may be allowed, Francis was reluctant to offer violence to one so nobly allied and so popular as Bourbon. Perhaps, also, he was yet uncertain of the full extent of his conspiracy, and how far other nobles were implicated in it. There still remained enough of the old spirit of feudalism in France to make it perilous to seize a suzerain of Bourbon's wealth and importance in the midst of his estates. Bourbon at a distance from the Bourbonnois could not so easily elude justice. Lured into the King's presence under the promise of commanding the vanguard in Italy, he would be removed from the neighbourhood where his strength was greatest, and might then be safely apprehended. On the other hand, Bourbon himself, powerful in the midst of friends and dependants, could only dictate terms to Charles V. and Henry VIII., marry the sister of one, and take the pay of the other, if he was able to set Francis at defiance, and persuade others to join in his defection. In September he threw off the mask. While Francis was staying at Grenoble, a page betrayed Bourbon and his confederates. (fn. 74) Francis returned instantly to Lyons, apprehended St. Vallier and others; "and for the time of their being in his presence showed unto them good visage, as though he had nothing known; but before they came to their lodgings they were attached." The head and leader was still at large. One Perrot (fn. 75) was despatched to apprehend the Duke, and bring him into the King's presence. The Duke returned for answer, "that right shortly the King should both hear of him and see him also." Within a few hours after he had escaped in disguise, and the opportunity which Francis failed to take at the flood now ebbed away, never to return.
When the treason was known, France was in an uproar. It was impossible to ascertain at first how far the defection had extended. Uncertain of his movements, distrustful of his nobles, Francis shut himself up for a time within the gates of Lyons. (fn. 76) Vendôme, next in authority and influence to Bourbon, was detained in a sort of honorable imprisonment. (fn. 77) Lorraine was suspected. Arrests were made from day to day. Not only the expedition into Italy, on which Francis had set his heart, was now effectually stopped; but the Duke, popular wherever Francis was unpopular, proved a formidable accession to the hostile combinations by which France was menaced. It was necessary to dissemble. To win the Duke back at any concession Francis offered Bourbon the hand of madame Renée. (fn. 78) He proposed to meet Bourbon with six gentlemen only, and settle the terms of their agreement. He promised never to trouble Bourbon in any way, to allow him undisturbed enjoyment of all his lands in France, and even to let him serve the king of England or the Emperor, provided it was not against himself or his kingdom. But Bourbon remained inexorable. The King, he replied, and the Emperor, might do as they pleased; but as for himself, nothing should ever induce him to trust Francis again, or make peace with him on any terms. To put an effectual end to all further communication, he bade the envoy depart at once, with this assurance, that if any more such messengers were sent to him from the French king he would certainly hang them. (fn. 79)