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 8
Towards the close of July, the Turk commenced the assault by erecting a battery opposite the Spanish and English bastions. But his fire was soon silenced by the guns of the Rhodians, directed by the Brescian Mar- tinengo, who had entered the town on the 24th of the same month. The attempts of the enemy to renew their works proved equally unsuccessful. The ground, a hard impenetrable rock, dismantled of every tree, cottage and projection which could afford shelter or baffle the artillery of the besieged, exposed them to the incessant and fatal fire of the town. The Rhodians, grown familiar with danger, sallied out, and completed their discomfiture with the sword. A month had elapsed, and the invaders had made no progress. Baffled in their hopes of an easy victory, unaccustomed to the hardships and perils of a protracted siege, exposed to the continual fire and sallies of the garrison, without fuel, scantily supplied with water and provisions, the Turkish soldiers grew every day more reluctant to obey, more inclined to insubordination, when Soliman himself entered the camp. (fn. 1)
His appearance was the signal for fresh efforts and more formidable tactics. Anxious to wipe off the disgrace they had incurred, the Turkish generals exerted themselves to the utmost, and pushed forward their works with renewed vigor. The wretched pioneers were again forced to the trenches with the bastinado or the sword; and Lisle-Adam, unwilling to venture the loss of a single man against such fearful odds, resolved to remain on the defensive.
The Rhodians were chiefly annoyed by two batteries; one of which, mounting twelve brazen mortars, shot stone balls into the town seven palms in circumference; and the other, of forty guns, carried balls, some of nine, and others of eleven palms in circumference. (fn. 2) Shells filled with combustibles, bursting in the air, and scattering fire on the besieged,—"a thing very inhuman and "fearful," and little used among Christians,—carried dismay among the unfortunate Rhodians. By degrees, however, they grew accustomed to the danger, and learned to avoid it. Precautions also were adopted—among others, the ringing of a bell—to warn the inhabitants when an explosion was expected. So out of 2,000 balls ten only proved fatal.
The vast numbers of the Turks, roughly reckoned from 150,000 to 200,000, enabled them to carry on their operations without intermission, and keep the besieged incessantly employed. They had already raised two mounds overtopping the walls by ten or twelve feet, and advanced their works to the counterscarp. The Knights performed prodigies of valor; even the Turkish slaves seemed to have been animated by the enthusiasm of their masters, and to have labored with incredible activity and pertinacity. The courage of the Rhodians was kept alive by the eloquence of the Genoese archbishop, Leonardo Calestrini, and other religious men of the town. (fn. 3) By the skill of Martinengo the breaches were repaired as soon as formed. The besiegers, everywhere driven from their works, in despair of making further progress by bombardment, proceeded to countermine the walls.
They had already advanced so far in their works that on the 5th of September they had blown up a great part of the English bastion, and planted seven ensigns on the ruins. The Grand Master was engaged at the time in hearing mass at the neighboring chapel. The officiating priest had just pronounced the versicle, "Deus, in adjutorium meum," when the whole town was shaken, by the explosion of the mine, as if by an earthquake. "I accept the augury," exclaimed Lisle-Adam, and rushing to the breach, now filled with the enemy, compelled them to give way. The Turks fell back over the battlements and the broken wall with precipitation. In vain their general attempted to stem the flight of the fugitives by cutting them down with his own sabre. Knights and townsmen fought in the breach without distinction. Whenever the Turks repaired their losses and renewed the fight with fresh reinforcements, they were met by showers of stones, pitch, and sulphur. Nothing could resist the impetuous onslaught of the Rhodians, whose courage was animated by despair. At last the Turks, deaf to command, fled in consternation; and their own batteries, turned against the retreating columns, produced a terrible carnage.
Yet, notwithstanding this ill success, the assault was renewed a few days after. Even the Rhodian historians cannot withhold their tribute of admiration for the indefatigable energy and undaunted bravery displayed by the Infidels on these occasions. Fifteen assaults were given on as many different days in the course of a month, and with no better success than the first; yet the besiegers were not to be disheartened, nor did they betray any symptoms of abandoning the enterprise. Their sufferings were great, their privations increased as the year advanced; reinforcements were daily expected by the Rhodians; winter was coming on. To abridge the protracted horrors of a siege scarcely less disastrous to the Turk than the Christian, Soliman resolved by one vigorous effort to make himself master of the town. On the 24th of September he brought up into the port of Rhodes a hundred galleys to support his land forces. The Spanish and English bastions were again selected as the main points of attack. An unusual excitement in the camp of the besiegers, the evening before, led the Grand Master to suspect their designs. But his scanty and daily decreasing numbers could do little towards repairing their tottering defences; and, worn out with incessant fatigue and exertion, they were scarcely able to man the walls. At daybreak the Turk doubled the strength of his batteries, and, under cover of the smoke, advanced to the attack, assaulting the town in different quarters. Animated by the presence of the Sultan, who beheld the fight from a small eminence visible to the whole army, the Turks fought with more than usual vigor. Their commander was the first to mount the wall, standard in hand, when a shot from the Rhodian guns swept him headlong over the parapet. Undismayed at the spectacle, rage, pity and revenge took possession of the hearts of his followers. They exposed themselves recklessly to danger, resolved to avenge his fate, and put their enemy to the sword. Again and again they advanced with blind ungovernable fury. If they recoiled a few moments before the steady fire of the Rhodians and the resistless lances of the knights, it was only to sweep back again, like an angry wave, with greater might, and in more overwhelming numbers. Here, at the English bastion, the press was the greatest,—the fight deadliest,—the whole thoughts and energies of besiegers and besieged nerved and contracted to the uttermost. But whilst the attention of the Grand Master and the Knights was thus fully occupied in one direction, a body of the Turks contrived to obtain possession of the Spanish bastion unobserved. Mounting the walls they shouted to their companions to join them, and were quickly reinforced. An obstinate struggle ensued, and lasted for six hours. The Turks, aware of their advantage, were determined to maintain it. Inch by inch the Rhodians were driven back, and the Turkish standard floated on the battlement. Just then a cross fire from the Rhodian guns, sweeping the breach made by the enemy, cut off the approach of the Turkish reinforcements. One of the knights, with a handful of followers, mounting the bastion by the casemate, reached the platform sword in hand. Falling on the Turks like an exploding planet, he compelled them to give way; cleared the walls, turned the fire of the guns against those who were preparing to scale, tore down the enemy's standards, and rescued the town from its most imminent danger. Women and children, the sick and the wounded, took part in this dreadful action, as vigorously pressed as it was obstinately resisted. Those who were too young or too feeble for manlier tasks supplied the defenders with bread and wine; the stronger piled up earth and stones, to assist in repairing the breaches, or to serve in annoying the assailants. The fight had lasted six hours, when the Grand Master, cautiously withdrawing 200 fresh men from the tower of St. Nicholas, compelled the janissaries to give way, but not until they had left 15,000 of their comrades dead in the foss or on the ramparts.
Foiled at all points, Soliman resolved to abandon the siege. He had already lost several of his bravest bashaws, more than 100 standards, and 60,000 of his janissaries. He was persuaded by an Albanian renegade, who had stolen out of the town, to persevere in his efforts, as the Rhodians were reduced to great extremities, and had nothing left but bread and water. Of the knights, 300 only survived; and the rest of the garrison scarcely amounted to 3,000. (fn. 4)
From time to time rumors had penetrated the nearest ports of Europe of the heroic and hopeless defence of the Knights. By letters from Candia, two days since, writes Hannibal, then at Rome, to Wolsey, (fn. 5) "the Pope has word that the Turk hath given two cruel assaults, and they of the city doubt sore of the third. They had never so little provision within the city as they have now." There is no news, writes another correspondent, some time after, except from Rhodes, which is being besieged, and in great extremities; the Turks press the siege, though they have lost 60,000 men. (fn. 6) But with these came other and conflicting reports;—that the Turk, despairing of success, had resolved to abandon his attempt; that he had put his bashaws to death, in a fit of rage; and his troops were on the eve of rebellion. And even the long and animated defence of the Rhodians flattered the hopes of men at a distance, whose minds were idly stirred by tales of suffering and endurance from which they were themselves exempt.
Lisle-Adam had not failed, in this extremity, to send out messengers to procure additional supplies, and quicken the sympathy and aid of the Pope and the princes of Christendom. But Adrian, as we have seen, was in no capacity to do more than weep, and recommend their cause to the charity of others. Unhappily also it seemed as if Heaven and the elements had combined for their destruction. A convoy laden with men and provisions, which had started from Marseilles under the orders of certain French knights, encountered a storm, and never reached its destination. The succors collected by another of their number, Sir Thomas Newport, were lost by a similar casualty. The prior of St. Martin, returning with reinforcements, fell in with the Turkish galleys before he could enter the port of Rhodes, and was compelled to abandon his enterprise. Left to their fate, deprived of all assistance, the Knights resolved to sell their lives dearly, and die rather than fall into the hands of their enemies.
Taught caution by experience, the Turk abandoned his previous tactics, and confined himself to undermining the walls. His chief efforts were directed, as before, to the English and Spanish bastions. Notwithstanding the difficult nature of the ground, the ingenious defences of Martinengo, and the resistance of the Knights, the works steadily advanced. The town was fast becoming a mere wreck. If we may trust the historians of the time, it had been pierced and honeycombed by sixty different mines. The steeples of the churches had been beaten down; the wall of the English and Spanish bastion was levelled with the barbican. By the 17th of October the enemy had turned the defences of the English quarter, and, ammunition failing, met with little resistance from the Spanish. To add to their misfortunes, Martinengo was disabled by a stray shot in the eye, and could no longer direct the defences. According to Lisle-Adam they had already made such a breach in the wall that thirty or forty horsemen could enter abreast, and had carried their trenches 150 paces within the town. (fn. 7) Once more, therefore, on St. Andrew's eve (29th November) the Turks advanced in great numbers to the breach, resolved to carry the town by assault; but they were again driven back, leaving 11,000 of their men dead upon the field. The loss of the Rhodians amounted to 180.
"After that day," says Roberts, "the Turks purposed to give us no more battle, but to come into our town by trenches, insomuch that they made ... (fn. 8) great trenches, and by the space of a month did come almost into the midst of our town, insomuch that there lay nightly within our town ... thousand Turks. The trenches were covered with thick tables, and holes made in them for their spingardes, that we could not approach them. And a month after that, [though] we saw precisely that the town was lost, we would never give "over, in esperance of succors. And at such time as we "saw that there came no succors, nor no succors "ready to come, and considering that the most part of "our men were slain, [and that] we had no powder, nor "no manner of ammunition or victuals, but alonely "bread and water, we were as men desperate and determined to die upon them in the field, rather than to be "put upon stakes; for we thought not that he would give us our lives, considering that there were slain so many of his men. And in the mean season they came to parlement with us, and did ask of us whether we would make any partido, and said that the Great Turk was content that if we would give him the walls of the town he would give us our lives and our goods. The commonalty of the town hearing this great proffer, came to the Lord Master, and said that, considering that the ... and strength of the town is taken, and all the munition spent, and the most part of your knights and men slain, and also seeing there is no succors ready to come, we determine to accept this partido that the Great Turk giveth us, for the lives of our wives and children. The Lord Master, hearing the opinion of the whole commonalty was to take the partido, fell down almost dead; and what time he recovered himself, he seeing them continue in the same mind, consented to the same." According to Lisle-Adam's letter, already quoted, Soliman further offered to treat with lenity such of the inhabitants as chose to remain; they were to continue free of all tribute for five years, and their children exempt from serving as janissaries, as was usual in other parts of Greece. He adds that this liberal offer of Soliman was due to Divine grace, "seeing the advantage the enemy had over us, the injury and expense he had incurred by the siege, during which we had no aid or succor except from God only." On the Knights' side there had fallen 700, on the Turks' more than 80,000, by war or sickness.
To settle the preliminaries of the treaty a deputation was appointed to wait upon the Grand Seignior, of whom Nicholas Roberts was one. (fn. 9) He found Soliman "in a red pavilion, standing between two gold lions, marvellous rich and sumptuous, sitting in a chair, and no creature with him in the pavilion; which chair was of gold, and the work of fine gold;—his guards standing [outside], to the number of 22 ...; they be called Sulakys. This number is continually about his person. He hath the number of 40,000 of them. They wear on their heads a long white cap, and at the top of the cap the white ostrich feather, which giveth great show."
The preliminaries were interrupted by the dissatisfaction of the townspeople, who now refused what they had before desired; and the siege recommenced. On the 17th of December an engagement took place, but negociations were again resumed at the instance of the citizens, and terminated on the 28th of December. It was agreed that 24 knights should be given as hostages. A band of 4,000 janissaries were sent to take possession of the town, and, if we may believe the Christian historians, committed great cruelties and excesses. They broke up the tombs of the knights, destroyed the images in the churches, and turned the sick and wounded out of the hospitals.
But such barbarities must not be attributed to Soliman. In his treatment of the Grand Master there was a mixture of barbarism and dignity, of tenderness and heedlessness, such as history has taught us to expect in Oriental monarchs. On one occasion he allowed the Grand Master, who was advanced in years, to stand before his tent from daybreak, for many hours, in a dense shower of rain and hail, without offering him any refreshment. When the two met, they regarded each other for some time with silent admiration; Soliman suffered his hand to be kissed by the Grand Master, and urged him to enter the Turkish service. Complimenting the Sultan on his generosity, Lisle-Adam replied that a ruler ought to incur any indignity rather than abandon his people in misfortune;—a sentiment in which Soliman concurred, and dismissed the Grand Master with respect, presenting him, and each of the knights who attended him, with a scarlet robe.
On another occasion Soliman entered the city, and, visiting the Grand Master unexpectedly, found him engaged in making preparations for his departure. As the Grand Master would have fallen on his knees, Soliman forbade him; and moving slightly his fez with his right hand,—a species of reverence never paid by the Turkish Sultans except to God and their Prophet,—he addressed the Grand Master with the word "Babba" (Father),—a term of the highest regard and affection. I would rather not believe Fontani, who says that the Sultan had given secret orders to put the Grand Master and the rest of the knights on board a war galley, and carry them off to Constantinople. At the same time it must be admitted that such tokens of Eastern affection have been often reported, and can scarcely be wholly devoid of foundation. The same writer, who had seen the Turk on horseback, though he did not admire his manner of riding, admits that Soliman was not deficient in dignity. In complexion he was slightly bronzed, was erect in stature, and, notwithstanding his black and rather fierce eyes, had a pleasant and commanding countenance.
After many hardships by sea, the Knights landed in Crete. They reached Messina in the May following; thence to Rome, where Lisle-Adam was met on his arrival by the Cardinals and others, and conducted to the Vatican amidst the universal sympathy of the spectators. (fn. 10)
Is there a conservation and transmission of force in the moral as well as the physical world? Whilst politicians were thus tormenting themselves and others with ingenious and barren combinations,—whilst the old props and buttresses of Christendom appeared to be fast crumbling to decay,—there was growing up a new power in an obscure and forgotten corner, which, like the Turk himself, seemed to gather life out of death, and thrive on the ruin and confusion of the times.
Among the latest and the least esteemed of the religious communities of Europe was the Saxon Congregation of Augustinian friars. (fn. 11) It had given no doctors of eminence to the schools, like other Orders,—no popes or rulers to the Church. Founded at the close of the 15th century, distinguished by its poverty, its spirit of independence and fervid religious zeal, it was regarded with suspicion even by the general body to which it nominally belonged. For two centuries the Dominican and Franciscan had ruled absolutely over the realm of thought and theological speculation. If popes were its ostensible heads, the masters of the schools commanded its real obedience. Professing a nominal submission to established rules of faith, they had habituated their own minds and those of their followers to the freest and most daring speculations. What doubts have since been mooted, what difficulties suggested, in morals, religion or politics, during three centuries of unfettered religious inquiry, which they, the schoolmen, have not anticipated and dissected with the calmness of scientific anatomists? The real precursors of the Reformation, which, after their labors, had become inevitable, with a subtlety, patience and "unwearied travail of wit," never surpassed, they had pierced and drilled, by their "vermiculate questions," the solid body of the general belief, until under the guise of its defenders they had become its most dangerous enemies. Every form of difficulty or error which had ever entered the brains of others or themselves, had been so carefully stated, so laboriously refuted, that doubts which might have died of themselves, or have obtained at best a narrow and precarious existence, gained a fatal immortality and activity by their writings. For error is too subtle to yield to dialectics; and such is the perverseness of the human mind, the poison remains when the antidote is forgotten. (fn. 12) Long since the time had passed away when the simple Franciscan or zealous Dominican thought his mission fulfilled if he brought back into the fold the erring flock and ignorant multitudes of populous towns. His real kingdom was the battle-field of the schools, and there he claimed to rule alone by the undivided supremacy of his intellect.
It was fortunate, perhaps, for Luther's independence of thought and action that he did not enrol himself in these more eminent Orders, where his ardor, his indefatigable industry and extraordinary logical acuteness, might have found a congenial sphere and unremitting occupation. Popular writers are fond of insisting on the more obvious side of his character,—on his courage, his homeliness, his broad humor,—overlooking the influences of his scholastic training, his logical acuteness, his love of foiling his opponents with their own weapons—weapons which he had learned to wield with more ability than they. For no man was better versed than he in the writings of the schoolmen, none knew better than he their weakest points,—their most flagrant contradictions. For the few grains of precious ore that might perchance be found he had, with unslaked thirst and unbiassed assiduity, turned over and sifted the controversial dustheaps of the day. Everywhere he shows himself much better versed in that learning he is accused of impugning than his opponents who undertake to defend it. He is more at home with the Canonists than the Cardinals themselves; more familiar than the most approved teachers of his time with the subjects of their teaching. For between him and them there was this vital [difference,—of men who had painfully toiled with no higher motive than professional responsibility, or desire of fame, and the fainting wretch, sick with the love of truth, who must die or find it, indifferent to all other considerations. That truth is, that it is to be found, that it passes all price, is the spur to exertion in such men. It is the sustaining energy against their own weakness and hesitation, the opposition of the world, the serried ranks of prejudice and error, the clouds and darkness which seem to settle down at mid-day on their plainest path. That is the faith of all great pioneers for truth,—a faith afterwards enunciated by Luther in terms more precise and theological, but which was working in him, perhaps unconsciously, long before his controversy with Tetzel or his rejection of the Papal authority.
It has been thought that the success of the Reformation was mainly due to the purity of the morality it inculcated, or rather to the general corruption of all classes,—of the clergy in particular,—in the 15th century. The declamations of moralists and theologians, the invectives of satirists, even the evidence of criminal courts, on such a subject as this, whether in the 16th or the 19th century, are too partial to be decisive. Neither authentic documents, nor the literature and character of the times, nor, if national ethics are essentially connected with national art, its artistic tendencies, warrant us in believing that the era preceding the Reformation was more corrupt than that which succeeded it. (fn. 13) It is impossible that the clergy can have been universally immoral, and the laity have remained sound, temperate, and loyal. But if these general arguments are not sufficient, I refer my readers to a very curious document in this volume, dated the 8th of July 1519, (fn. 14) when a search was instituted by different commissioners, on Sunday night, in London and its suburbs, for all suspected and disorderly persons. I fear no parish in London, nor any town in the United Kingdom, of the same amount of population, would at this day pass a similar ordeal with equal credit.
But, however this may be, it is clear from the writings of Luther himself during these three years, and still more from his most celebrated work De Captivitate Babylonica, that he did not rest his teaching on the moral, but the theological aspect of the questions in dispute. To the latter, not to the former phase, was it indebted for its popularity. It might be a more than Babylonish captivity, that the Church should disfigure the doctrine of the Sacraments,—that it should determine of its own authority their nature, and the mode of their administration,—should give them here, and withhold them there, as a tyrant over Gold's heritage;—but the immorality consisted in the slavery, not in the consequences to which that slavery had led,—in the confusion between things divine and human, with which the Pope for his own purposes had succeeded in perplexing the consciences of men. (fn. 15)
The dispute with Tetzel might have been forgiven; the burning of the Pope's bulls might have been attributed to the rude and rough extravagance of the German; but Luther's attack on the cardinal doctrine of Sacrifice,—interwoven as it was, not merely with the accepted theology of the day, but with all that was lovely and attractive, in the self-abasement, loyalty and devotion of the old world,—could not be mistaken, or its purpose overlooked. The sentence had gone forth to the world that all sacrifice had been abolished in one great sacrifice, all action absorbed in one great suffering and satisfaction. It was more blessed to believe than do, to receive than to give; for the empty hands of faith were more acceptable in God's sight than the full heca- tombs of charity. Christendom stood aghast; its deepest emotions were roused. Not only was the veil rudely torn away from the sanctuary it had hitherto regarded with distant awe and unquestioning reverence, but that sanctuary itself and its services were now held up to the world as no better than a whited sepulchre, the court of Death, the stronghold of Antichrist.
Some time before the appearance of this celebrated treatise, Henry had determined to signalize his theological acquirements and his devotion to the Church by writing against the prevailing heresies of the times. That he had entertained this intention at an early period of Luther's career is plain from a letter of Pace to Wolsey, dated 24th June 1518, in which the writer refers to the commendations given by Wolsey to the King's book. He states, as from his Majesty, that though the King does not think it deserving of so much praise as it had received from the Cardinal and other "great learned men," yet he is glad to have "noted in your Grace's letters that his reasons be called inevitable, considering that your Grace was some time his adversary herein, and of contrary opinion." (fn. 16) It is clear, therefore, that the King must have been employed, some time before the date of this letter, on his self-appointed task.
The authors of the history of the Augustinian Friars claim for Bernard André, the poet, the credit of engaging the King in this novel path of theological controversy. Whatever might have been Henry's intentions in the first instance, they received a fresh impulse and a more definite direction in 1520, by the appearance of Luther's treatise De Captivitate Babylonica. The opinions of Luther had already gained so much notoriety that Tunstal, then at Worms, states in a letter to Cardinal Wolsey (fn. 17) that the Germans were so addicted to Luther, that, rather than he should be oppressed by the Pope's authority, who had already condemned his opinions, they were resolved to spend a hundred thousand of their lives in his defence. "He hath written a book," says Tunstal, "since his condemnation, De Captivitate Babylonica Ecclesiæ, wherein he holdeth that four of the sacraments be only de jure positivo, by the Pope's ordinance, so called, viz., Confirmatio, Ordo, Extrema Unctio and Matrimonium; and that Baptismus, Eucharistia and Pœnitentia, be de jure divino et evangelii. They say there is much more strange opinion in it, near to the opinions of Boheme. I pray God keep that book out of England."
In spite of Tunstal's warnings, before April 1521 the dreaded book had found its way into England. On the 21st of that month Pace writes to Wolsey: "At mine arrival to the King this morning, I found him looking upon a book of Luther's. And his Grace showed unto me that it was a new work of the said Luther's. I looked upon the title thereof, and perceived by the same that it is the same book put into print which your Grace sent unto him by me written." After some further conversation, he assured the Cardinal that "the King was very joyous to have these tidings from the Pope's Holiness at such time as he had taken upon him the defence of Christ's Church with his pen;"—and had resolved to "make an end therein the sooner."
This letter was followed by another from the King himself, on the 21st of May, to Leo. X., in which he expresses his anxiety to suppress the Lutheran heresy; and, to testify his zeal for the Faith, he proposes to dedicate to the Pope this the first offspring of his intellect, that all men may see he is as ready to defend the Church with his pen as with his sword.
Notwithstanding this urgent speed, the King's book was not completed until the 25th of August 1521, (fn. 18) probably in consequence of the duke of Buckingham's trial. Then Wolsey writes to Clerk that the King's book is completed, and he sends the ambassador directions how it is to be presented to the Pope. Clerk is to deliver a copy of it, privately, to his Holiness, covered with cloth of gold, and subscribed by the King's own hand;—"wherein the King's grace hath devised and made two verses inserted in the said book by the King's own hand." If, on perusal, it was approved by the Pope, the ambassador is charged to have it set forth with the papal authority, and request leave to present it publicly in full consistory, there to receive the papal sanction. With this despatch Clerk received twenty-eight copies in the month of September. (fn. 19) One of them, bound with cloth of gold as directed, he presented to Leo,—"the trim decking" of which his Holiness liked very well; and, opening it, read successively five leaves of the introduction "without interruption." "And, as I suppose," adds Clerk, "he would never 'a ceased till he had read it over." "At such places as he liked, and that seemed to be at every second line, he made ever some demonstration, vel nutu vel verbo; whereby it appeared that he had great "pleasure in reading. And when his Holiness had read "a great season I assure your Grace he gave the book a great commendation, and said there was therein much wit and clerkly conveyance; and how that there were many great clerks that had written in the matter, but this book should seem to pass all theirs. His Holiness said that he would not 'a thought that such a book should have come from the King's grace, who hath been occupied necessarily in other feats, seeing that other men which hath occupied themselves in study all their lives cannot bring forth the like." Then, taking the book from the Pope's hand, Clerk drew his attention to the verses written by the King in honor of his Holiness; "and because the King's grace had written the said verses with a very small pen, and because I knew the Pope to be of a very dull sight, I would have read unto his Holiness the said verses; and his Holiness, quadam aviditate legendi, took the book from me, and read the said verses three times very promptly, to my "great marvel, and commended them singularly." (fn. 20)
On his telling the Pope that he had received a number of other copies "no worse manner covered and clasped" than that which his Holiness held in his hand, Leo desired to have five or six more, "to the intent he might deliver them to sundry cardinals learned." What opinions might have been expressed by other members of the Sacred College we have no means of ascertaining; but Campeggio in his letter to Wolsey is unable to restrain the transports into which he was thrown by a perusal of the King's "aureus libellus." Nothing, he assured Wolsey, could be better expressed or better argued;—the King was inspired more by an angelic than a human spirit. (fn. 21) Thus fortified, Clerk prepared for his great coup in the consistory held on the 2nd of October for this special purpose.
Either from apprehension of carrying the farce too far,—for no Pope ever possessed more worldly sagacity,—or dreading some disturbance if too much notoriety was given to this affair,—Leo declined Clerk's urgent request for a public consistory. If, said he, a public consistory were summoned, besides the clergy, a great crowd of laymen would be present; and whereas Lutheranism has been silenced for a time, and the minds of men are quieted, "this act should put them in fresh remembrance, and renew the old sore." (fn. 22) It was urged by Clerk, that if any such there were, they would be brought to reason "by the gravity of this act," and the conclusive arguments contained in the King's book. But the Pope remained inflexible. He was, in fact, bent upon getting through this business with as little notoriety as he conveniently could, without giving offence to any. Therefore, on the Wednesday when Clerk, according to appointment, attended at the palace, after hearing mass "his Holiness went into the place where consistories were accustomed to be kept; and within a little while called in such prelates as were tarrying without to the number of twenty. And immediately after," continues Clerk, "the master of the ceremonies came unto me, and informed me somewhat of the ceremonies; and amongst other that I should kneel upon my knees all the time of mine oration. Whereat I was somewhat abashed, for methought I should not have my heart nor my spirits so much at my liberty. I feared greatly lest they should not serve me so well kneeling as they would standing. Howbeit, there was no remedy; and needs I must do as the master of the ceremonies did tell me. And so following him, I entered the place of th .., where the Pope's Holiness sate in his majesty upon a [dais], three steps from the ground, underneath a cloth of [estate]. Afore him, in a large quadrant, upon stools, sate the bishops in their consistorial habits, to the number of twenty." He was then presented by the master of the ceremonies, and after three obeisances the Pope allowed Clerk to kiss his foot; but as he attempted to rise, "his Holiness," he says, "took me by the shoulders, and caused me to kiss first the one cheek, and then the other." Then, returning to the stool which had been placed for him, Clerk pronounced his oration on his knees. (fn. 23) The Pope made a complimentary reply. He thanked God for raising up such a Defender of the Faith, and inspiring him with the power and the wish to grapple with such an abominable monster as Luther. On calling two or three days afterwards, his Holiness condescended "to use very good words" touching Clerk's oration, and took occasion at the same time to assure him that the Holy See would do as much for the confirmation of the King's book, as ever was done for the works of St. Augustine or St. Jerome."
The day after Clerk's appearance in the consistory, the title of Fidei Defensor was conferred by the Pope on Henry VIII. (fn. 24)
The news reached England at the end of October. On the 4th of November, Pace, then at court, wrote to Wolsey, stating that the King had received his extracts from Clerk's letters, and was rejoiced to hear "of the Pope's singular contentation of his book against Luther, and how honorably and lovingly it was accepted by his Holiness." He repeated the same information on the 17th of the same month, adding, that "whereas the King perceived the great honor, laud and commendation he had attained by the writing of his book against the detestable heresies of Martin Luther, and that it had pleased the Pope's holiness, in memory of that Catholic work, to give unto him the high and most excellent title of Defensor of the Faith, to the perpetual renown and glory of him and all his successors, his Highness saith that though God hath sent unto him a little learning, whereby he hath attempted to write against the erroneous opinions and heresies of the said Luther, yet he never intended so to do afore he was by your Grace moved and led thereunto. Wherefore his High- ness saith that your Grace must of good congruity be partner of all the honor and glory he hath obtained by that act." (fn. 25)
Owing to the rank of its author, and the imposing ceremony with which it was ushered into the world, the King's book passed rapidly through various editions. It was translated into German and published at Leipsic in 1523; into English a few years later. "It was multiplied into many thousands," says Cochlæus, "by various printers; and filled the whole Christian world with joy and admiration." (fn. 26)
Luther had scarcely returned from his Patmos in the castle of the Wartberg, when his attention was called to the King's book. He suspected its real author was Edward Lee, the enemy of Erasmus, afterwards archbishop of York, who had drawn down upon himself the animosity of the Germans, both Protestant and Catholic.
To the man who has grappled with Apollyon in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, any Goliath of Vanity Fair, however gigantic, must appear no better than an empty wind-bag. In the flush of his might he is sometimes liable to forget the weakness and ignorance of his fellow men. So was it with Luther. The spirit of victory was strong upon him. In his reply, dated from Wittemburg, 15th July 1522, he shows the King no mercy. "The King's book," he says, "has been put forth to his everlasting disgrace." "He was a fool for allowing his name to be abused by a parcel of empty-headed sophists, and for stuffing his book with lies and virulence, reminding the world of nothing more than of Lee or his shadow, and of such fat swine as are mewed in the sty of St. Thomas. The Pharoah of England, like the tyrant of old, is not without his false prophets, Jannes and Jambres." Then, by way of apology for this indecorous severity, he continues: If the King had been guilty of error such as is common to men, he might have been treated with indulgence. Now that—damnable rottenness and worm as he is—he knowingly and wilfully sets himself to compose lies against the Majesty of my King in Heaven, it is only right that I, in the cause of my King, should bespatter his English majesty with his own mud and his own filth, and treat under my feet that crowned head (coronam) which thus blasphemes against Christ.
"And since it is notorious that these Thomists are a dull and heavy-headed race of sophists, than whom in the whole range of human nature there is nothing more stupid and blockish,—and as our good Henry wishes, in this book of his, to be reckoned a first-rate Thomist, whilst he dreams and snores, among other matters, de charactere et vi sacramentali in aquis,—absurdities which even his brother sophists in their universities have abandoned as untenable,—I have thought it right to snub and to pinch him with sharp words, and rouse him, if possible, out of his lethargy ... His book is a favorite with our sophistical neighbors, for no other reason than that it is so intensely Thomistic;—and asses love nettles." (fn. 27)
My reader may easily guess, from this specimen of the prelude, the style and temper of Luther's reply. The King's book contained nothing, it must be confessed, that could enlighten the consciences of men, or shake the convictions of those who had already adopted the Lutheran doctrines. It reproduced, without novelty or energy, the old common-places of authority, tradition and general consent. The cardinal principles of Luther's teaching the King did not understand, and did not therefore attempt to confute. Contented to point out the mere straws on the surface of the current,—the apparent in consistencies of Luther, his immoderate language, his disparagement of authority,—the royal controversialist never travels beyond the familiar round; and reproduces, without force, originality or feeling, the weary topics he had picked up, without much thought or research, from the theological manuals of the day. Even his invective is as mean and as feeble as his logic. Even when discussing the Papal supremacy he puts on the blinkers with his harness, and is as docile and as orthodox as if he had never opposed the publication of a papal bull, or refused admission to a papal nuncio.
Such being the case, we may wonder at Luther's needless violence and acrimony; of which he himself seems to have been ashamed, and attempted afterwards to excuse in a letter to the King, on the ground that he was instigated to write in this bitter fashion by certain persons who were not favorable to his Majesty. Who they were he nowhere states, nor have I been able to discover. He adds, that he hears the King is beginning to favor the professors of the Gospel, and has grown weary of his former councillors.
But in his apology, whilst magnifying the King's clemency, he fell into the mistake, on some false information, of affecting to disbelieve the authorship of the King's book. He attributes it to some cunning sophists, who had abused the King's confidence, without being aware of the danger they were incurring from the King's indignation when the facts should be discovered,—"especially that monster the cardinal of York (Wolsey), the public detestation of God and man, the plague of your Majesty's kingdom!"
This letter, written in September 1525, is curious, as Luther had received some intimation, probably from Christiern II., that Wolsey had fallen under the King's displeasure;—but his invective against the Cardinal was premature. It is not surprising that Henry rejected his advances with scornful coldness, and bluntly contradicted every one of his insinuations.
The violence and bitterness of Luther called forth replies conceived in the same offensive tone and temper;—among others, from Sir Thomas More, under the pseudonym of William Rosse, (fn. 28) no less foul and scurrilous. I should be glad to believe that More was not the author of this work. That a nature so pure and gentle, so adverse to coarse abuse, and hitherto not unfavorable to the cause of religious reform, should soil its better self with vulgar and offensive raillery, destitute of all wit and humor, shocks and pains, like the misconduct of a dear friend. For round no man in this great reign do our sympathies gather so strongly as round More; in no man is humanity with its various modes,—its sun and shadow, its gentleness and kindliness, its sorrows and misgivings,—so attractively presented as in More. But this was precisely the danger, the fatal danger, to which men of More's temperament were exposed by Luther's heedless and unnecessary violence. They turned away in disgust from doctrines defended in such a style, in a temper so impatient and so arrogant. The cause of truth was imperilled, when taunts and ridicule, and all the ignobler shapes of controversy, took possession of the field. To Luther it mattered not. In this outspoken unreserve, this lava-like passion, pouring out the whole torrent of his feelings without stint or measure, his bluff German temperament found health and relief as in a violent kind of exercise. To others the injury was irreparable.
Far as this summary has extended, I have not been able to notice the various illustrations which these volumes afford of the personal history of the King, his court and his ministers, and of the general condition and social manners of the times. There is, however, one point connected with the early life of no less a personage than Ann Boleyn, to which I must draw my readers' attention. Scanty as is the information we possess of her earlier history, there are some authentic notices of her in these papers which will go far towards removing the misstatements circulated about her and her relations with the King. The earliest notices we have of her career are to be found in Cavendish's Life of Wolsey. They have been followed, with little examination, and some additions, by all historians since. Cavendish states that "Mistress Ann Boleyn, being very young, was sent into the realm of France, (fn. 29) and there made one of the French queen's women, continuing there until the French queen died. And then was she sent for home again; and being again with her father, he made such means, that she was admitted to be one of queen Katharine's maids, among whom, for her excellent gesture and behavior, she did excel all others, insomuch as the King began to kindle the brand of amours." He then goes on to say that lord Percy, who at that time attended upon Wolsey, used to resort to the Queen's chamber, and then fell in love with Ann Boleyn, and they were at length "insured together," intending to marry. But when the affair came to the knowledge of the King, his Majesty consulted with cardinal Wolsey how this "precontract between them" might be broken off. The Cardinal, finding he could not induce the lord Percy to give up his intentions, sent for his father the earl of Northumberland; and after long debating, it was resolved that the lord Percy should marry one of the earl of Shrewsbury's daughters, as he afterwards did, and break his contract with Ann Boleyn, who was so greatly offended with the Cardinal that she never forgave him.
Queen Claude died in July 1524. Allowing some little time to have elapsed between Ann Boleyn's supposed return and her admission to be one of Katharine's maids, the story of lord Percy and Henry's affection for her must fall, according to Cavendish's account, in 1525 or 1526. Now, in the documents printed in this volume, it will be seen that in the commencement of 1522, (fn. 30) Francis I. complained, as a proof of the hostile intentions of England, that the English scholars at Paris had returned home, and with them the daughter of Mr. Boleyn. That this was not Mary Boleyn is certain, for she had been already married to Mr. Carew on the 4th of February 1520, when the King made an offering of 6s. 8d. at the wedding. (fn. 31)
In the March of 1522 I find Mistress Ann Boleyn mentioned with other ladies as having charge of certain garments and dresses which had been used at a royal revel on the 4th of March in the same year; in other words, officially attached to the royal wardrobe. (fn. 32) That she left her post and returned to France a second time, during the progress of the war, or followed the fortunes of Margaret on the death of queen Claude, no one has ever supposed, and is too improbable to be surmised. So much for this portion of Cavendish's statement.
With regard to her supposed "pre-contract" with lord Percy, we have the following curious facts. Shortly after Mary Boleyn's marriage the King was anxious to ascertain whether Sir Piers Butler, then earl of Ormond, would consent to a match between his son and Sir Thomas Boleyn's daughter (that is, Ann, then living in France); and he wrote to Surrey, at that time lieutenant of Ireland, to propose it. (fn. 33) Although the project was for a long time under discussion, it failed to take effect. For I find in a letter from Wolsey to the King, written from Calais in November 1521, that the Cardinal intended on his return to devise (talk) with the King on this subject. (fn. 34) Ann returned to England in the spring of 1522, and nothing more is heard of these proposals. Her acquaintance with lord Percy cannot have commenced, as Cavendish supposes, in 1525; for long before 1524 Percy was engaged to the lord Steward's (Shrewsbury's) daughter; and their marriage was arranged, if not actually consummated, in September 1523. (fn. 35) If it be thought that the pre-contract to which Cavendish alludes might have taken place in the interval between Ann Boleyn's return to England in 1522 and Percy's engagement with the Earl's daughter in 1523, even then Cavendish's story is substantially incorrect. For it must be remembered that Percy was employed in 1523 as warden of the East and Middle Marches, (fn. 36) and was apparently away in the North. So the main framework of Cavendish's circumstantial anecdotes relating to Ann Boleyn and her early history falls to the ground, and with it the inferences drawn from it, and generally accepted by modern historians.
Partly by adopting a smaller type and double columns in the descriptions of the Patent and French Rolls, the Signed Bills and Privy Seals, I have endeavored to economize the space of these volumes. I have also thrown into smaller type all lists, accounts of property and the like, though I am fully aware of the valuable information which such papers often furnish for the social and domestic history of this country.
In the chronological arrangement of the documents the most difficult portion of an editor's task consists. The accuracy of that arrangement, which is of paramount importance to students of history, must depend on the general harmony and consistency of one part of the correspondence with the other. To show the special reasons on which the several dates are assigned to undated letters, the editor has no other choice except either to interrupt the course of his work by inserting notes, and stating the grounds on which he has adopted one date in preference to another, or to discuss the whole matter connectedly in the Preface. The latter method has been adopted, and I think with good reason; for an editor is thus compelled to reconsider the whole work when all the materials of it are before him, and give it the benefit of a careful revision. I think that the opinions of a man who has by the nature of his work been compelled to study the original documents with impartiality and extreme minuteness will be considered as of some value by candid judges. Let me add, in my own defence, that though these Introductions may increase the bulk of the volumes, they entail no expense on the nation beyond the printing and the paper. They are written at leisure hours, without additional remuneration.